Final Blog Submission – Lee Meachen – The Arboretum

Framing Statement

 The notion of time can be viewed upon and spoke about  in many different ways, whether it be travelling in time, getting lost in time or even keeping time. Throughout our site specific performance we use these different concepts of time to engage and interest the audience as they had a tranquil walk around the Arboretum. In this blog, I will be discussing the ideas, the inspiration and process me and my group had throughout our site specific experience.

Our group were not given a specific site, we were given a broad range of choices where we could go, and the only specific theme we had to abide by was to take our audience members on an audio tour using recordings we had created, edited and finalised ourselves. With this information we strolled around Lincoln with the hope something we see or a location we find would give us the motivation and inspiration to begin working on our piece.  Eventually we came across the Arboretum, from walking through the entrance and looking at the information board, we began realising how many attractions it had to offer and instantly we all started to propose several different ideas out for each aspect of the Arboretum.  When we got into the midst of proposing ideas and thinking of actions that could go with them, we found a quote from a book called “The Timekeeper” by Mitch Albom from which we salvaged a quote about imagining a life where nobody in the world keeps track of the time and we managed to interpret this quote into our audio tour. With this quote, we were aiming to get the audience to think about how little they really think about time, yet everyday it rules what they do and when they do it.

Another Influence to our performance came from Punchdrunk’s performance ‘The Borough’, in which they take audience members on individual journeys around a town that the protagonist lived in. We all agreed that the thought of individual journeys could work really nicely through the Arboretum and built on the idea. Although we wanted to utilise different notions of time, we had to realise it was impossible to manipulate the space itself, therefore we could not only use past tense and talk solely about the history of the space as the public area may have ruined the illusion we were trying to create through the audio.

At the beginning of the tour, the audience found themselves standing in front of a door, just outside of the Arboretum, which had clearly been out of use for quite some time. We used this door to immediately get the audience thinking about time, the paint on the door was worn, the handle was rusty and the doorbell next to the door was pretty much non-existent.  We had decided our characters in previous meetings and had to come up with repetitive actions for each of us to perform that would help the characters we were portraying become clearer to the audience.

Analysis of Process

Our process began with a drift around Lincoln starting from the LPAC and seeing where we ended up. We walked through the high street hoping something or someone would inspire us for an idea or two. We finally found ourselves at the Arboretum; we immediately took notice of the information board and took notes and pictures of the different locations that were in the park.

Arboretum Information Board

One of the locations which seemed to attract our interest the most was the Cold Bath House, this was because it was explained that it had been bombed during World War Two and there was not much that visibly remained. The history and the story behind the Cold Bath House was what we found most interesting which is why we began proposing ideas to each other with this location as the stimulus of the piece. Researching the history of the Arboretum and the locations inside it showed to be rather enjoyable as we spent a lot of time in the library researching newspaper archives so we could gain further knowledge of the site we had chosen, “A large part of the work has to do with researching a place, often an unusual one that is imbued with history or permeated with atmosphere”. (Gleave, 2010). We certainly felt the location we had chosen was full of historic potential which helped us become sure and cement the site for our performance.

One the first ideas we decided to go forward with was that the audience member listening to the audio would follow a young man through the Arboretum as he made his way to leave his family and friends to war. Along the journey, the young man and the listener would meet his girlfriend and his two younger sisters, all of which, he had to say his farewells to, also along the way he would see a warden who would finally lead the young man along his final path before he leaves. Whilst we had this idea, we began to use the sound editing programme Audacity. Using a free sound website we all had a browse through the range of different sounds and spoke about what we thought could work and what was less likely too. The first track we had was compiled of three or four different sounds which would begin at different points in the audio tour. The track was assembled around the sound of quiet footsteps which would play throughout the piece, increasing in pace and volume when we thought appropriate. We believed that whilst the young man was walking through the maze, air sirens could begin to fade in, alerting him of incoming danger, he would then duck down and get the audience to duck as well to get them involved in the performance. Once the man and the audience member reached the centre of the maze, his family would be there to have their final goodbye, during this goodbye we had added gunshots into the audio recording which resembled what one might hear on the battlefield. In the midst of the gunfire, the man was going to get shot and pass away in the arms of his family, the sirens and gunfire would fade away and the warden would appear again to lead the audience member towards the final location of our piece which was the large steps that are central to the arboretum. Hayley drew a picture of the large steps as it was another form of documenting our drift. Furthermore, we thought that these steps could be an aesthetic way to end our performance. Mike Pearson makes a point about incorporating the process into our performances. One suggestion is “Describe the location, orientating your listener: Sights, Sounds, Smells.”(Pearson, 2011). From this he gives us the idea of engaging the audience member(s) into our performance using these techniques and how describing these senses can immerse the audience further into our tour.

When we showed our tutor the location we had chosen for our performance and also explained the ideas of audio and characters we had come up with, she explained to us that we were thinking to literal about the performance and focusing too much on characters than the site itself. Also she made it a lot clearer that it would be way too difficult to make the performance specific to the time period of the World War because, once again, we would be unable to manipulate the space how we would want it to appear to the audience. After receiving this information, we met as a group and discussed further ideas about how we could alter our performance to make it more specific to the location. As we were talking about the history of the location and how we were trying to incorporate it in to the performance, we began talking about the idea of time and how many different ideas of time people may have. From this and the influence from Punchdrunk’s The Borough we finally agreed that we wanted to take the audience on a journey, not only through the arboretum but through time as well. Hayley found a quote from Mitch Albom’s book The Timekeeper which we decided to use as an incentive and inspiration to create a performance, we recorded Hayley reading the quote and used it to start off the audio tour and we also used it to bring the tour to an end as we thought using the quote twice would make it more memorable and with the hope it would make the audience ponder the notion of time after even after they had left our performance space. This is the quote we used, “Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.” (Albom, 2012,).

To add to the idea of time, we tried to make sure we could start our audio tours on the hour, the reason for this being, just before the tour started or during the first speech, the Cathedral bells would ring and they could clearly be heard from the starting point of our tour. The first person the audience would meet once the tour had started was me; I was portraying the man who had the Cold Bath House built, Henry Kirk Hebb. Myself and a couple of other group members met in the library to try and find out more about the history of the people we were attempting to give the audience an insight too. After finding a sufficient amount of information about the Cold Bath House, we found out, Henry Hebb had a gardener hired for the house, this man was named George Smith and he was going to be represented through Sarah and her repetitive actions. We believed, because of what had researched, we had good ideas to propose to the rest of the group which could really make our audio tour stronger in the sense of specificity. Once we had explained our research and ideas to the rest of the group we had come to realise it could be difficult to merge both the idea of time in the present and also the history of the location we had previously researched without the result being too confusing. We told our tutor the problem we had encountered and she told us that if we felt we needed to, we could split in to two separate groups and pursue our own ideas. After talking to each other for quite some time, we eventually came to conclusion that we will stick together as a group but we were all open to slightly altering our ideas so it would be easier to fuse the two together. The change that occurred was to try and make both ideas a lot clearer to the audience that the notion of time was an obvious theme to the tour as we wanted to show the past, present and future all in one performance.

To help the audience get more of a natural feel to the tour, we had previously recorded backing tracks that were recorded directly from different parts of the Arboretum that the audience would be visiting or walking past such as; birds singing in the trees, the flowing water sound from the various water fountains in the park and the noise of footsteps on the path of gravel inside and around the maze. We believed having these sounds in the audio track would give audience member a feel for the natural essence of the park they were walking through and it also helped very much to ensure we gave the audience something to listen to in between the talking parts of the tour rather than a mere, tedious silence until the next voice is heard. When it came to editing our recordings, we had previous tutorials to help us understand audacity to a level we could comfortably use it without any help, from the first tutorial I had already found myself rather comfortable using the programme so I began offering help to people in my group who may have been finding it more difficult. Me and other members of the group offered to edit the recordings as we felt content with using the editing programme. Once the editing of the backing tracks was finished we decided to go back to our site so we could get a final decision on the route we would be taking the audience on and also so we could attempt to get a helpful timing frame between the start of each voice recording, to ensure a recording didn’t start too early or too late. Our monologues were next on the agenda, we all wrote and recorded our speeches whilst giving help and guidance to each other during the process. We spent a lot of our time editing the speeches in to the audio, having to change volume of different sounds to make sure the audience would never be struggling to hear what we wanted them to.

All of the recordings were finished, we knew the time we had between each encounter and the edits of the audio track had finally come to an end, all that was left was rehearsal and then the final performances. For our first main rehearsal, we had Sara wear the headphones and act as our audience member so everyone else could practice making their repetitive actions effective whilst also getting a final idea of timing for the performance. The audience member would start at a raggedy unused door outside the Arboretum, we agreed this was an effective place to start the audio tour as the door represented as a metaphor, a new beginning but also represented, through vision, that the door was damaged and old showing how much time it had been there vacantly waiting for use.

Hayley, one of our runners was portraying how people keep time of themselves during activities in the present as her and her jogging partner Sara would be constantly looking at their watches and running at different times with different motions. Hayley greeted the audience member at the door and then began her route of the arboretum leaving the listener to their own devices. The next point in the tour was meeting Henry Hebb under a tree outside the Arboretum gates, represented by me. As the audience listened to my speech which was about the Cold Bath House and how proud Henry would have been to be able to look over Lincoln. At the time of our performance, the Cold Bath House was not visibly in sight, so I had to describe the building whilst also drawing a picture of it as I stood which the audience member was able to see. The play park was the next point of interest as Emma was sat inside; she spoke about her childhood and new beginnings in her speech, with the intention of getting the audience to think back to their childhood and the time that has passed since then. The listener was then told to stand at a ledge just next to the play park and look over the Arboretum and just think about the concept of time, from this ledge they could see Sara and Hayley, the two runners. As I explained earlier, they were involved in the theme of time as they both were timing themselves on their runs. The maze which had George Smith, the gardener, standing inside is where the audio tour led the listener to next. Sarah who was portraying the gardener would be tending to the bushes and grass that was in the maze, in her speech she spoke about the seasons that change the appearance of the Arboretum, we also thought the maze was an appropriate positon to be in because just as you can get lost in a maze, you can also get lost in time, both of these showing the theme of time.  From the maze, the listener was then told to walk to the lion statue which is in the centre of the whole park, when they arrived at this location they heard the a speech from Fred Hurt as he told the audience member his accounts of the Arboretum in the past when the park was unfortunate enough to be a victim of the bombings in World War Two. The final recording of the performance was the quote from The Time Keeper we had used at the beginning of the performance so we could try and make the audience member think about time as they would have at the start of the tour. During this final recording, my group and I congregated at the steps opposite the statue and either sat or stood whilst still showing our repetitive actions as we believed it could be a strong ending to our performance.

Evaluation

Our performance seemed to run smoothly throughout, there was one point though in which an audience member had to ask a performer where the lion statue was. This was because we had not considered how visible the statue was going to be when trees and bushes had blossomed leaving the statue out of sight. This made us re-evaluate what we could do to make sure other audience members did not have the same problem, if we had encountered the same problem again, we decided Sarah would lead the listener to the statue and then sit on the steps awaiting the final part of the tour. We got told in our feedback that it could have been more of a special moment if the audience member had been invited into the maze and was able to walk around, maybe even gets lost, until Sarah would eventually lead them to the way out. One of the reasons we could not incorporate this idea in to the tour was because of the audio player we were given to use, there was no pause button on the device therefore we could not estimate the amount of time someone may need to get in and out of the maze before starting the next voice recording. This would have been the main point I would have altered  if given the opportunity to do the tour again, other than that I enjoyed the process of this performance, having to research different locations gave me a lot better insight to delivering a successful site specific performance.

Works Cited

Albom, M. (2012). The Time Keeper. New York: Hyperion.

Gleave, J. (2010). THE RECIPROCAL PROCESS OF THE SITE AND THE SUBJECT IN DEVISING SITESPECIFIC PERFORMANCE. 1st ed. [ebook] Birmingham. Available at: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3510/2/Gleave_12_MPhil.pdf [Accessed 14 May 2015].

Punchdrunk.com, (2015). Punchdrunk. [online] Available at: http://punchdrunk.com/past-shows [Accessed 15 May 2015].

Photography by Lee Meachen.

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