Our performance was an audio tour of The City of Lincoln. The influence for our final performance came from when my group and I went on a drift. We started at the LPAC on the university campus and ended at The Museum of Lincolnshire Life. When we entered the museum we found it very interesting. We found out a lot about Lincoln that we had not known before. For example, we did not know how much influence Lincoln had on World War 1. We thought this would be a good starting concept for our performance for the reason that we wanted others to know how influential Lincoln was. As we were an all girl group we decided focusing on the women in WW1 would be interesting as women are usually not spoken about when discussing the war for the reason that people mainly think about the soldiers. With this in mind, we decided women would be an interesting topic for our piece.
Our practical piece was an audio tour. We looked into different practitioners who have used audio in their site-specific work. The company Punchdrunk used audio in their performance of The Borough (2013) which took “audience members on individual theatre journeys” (Punchdrunk, 2013). The performance was through the streets of Aldeburgh, inspired by George Crabbe’s poem. This was similar to our performance as ours was through the streets of Lincoln. Likewise, we wanted to take our audience on an individual journey listening to stories inspired by the women of Lincoln in 1915. The performance included “worlds within worlds and layers within layer” (The Guardian, 2013). Layers are something we had discussed in lesson, as there would be many different layered sounds on the audio. We wanted our audio to exist “simultaneously in the mind and out on the streets” (The Guardian, 2013) which was what Punchdrunk’s performance achieved. As well as layered sounds, having the audience out on the streets whilst listening to the audio was another layer. “The ‘host’ is already the layered ‘space’ formed by lived experience, so that the givens of site-specific performance comprise” (Turner, 2004, 374) of experiences lived by others. Therefore the involvement they are experiencing at that time is layered with someone else’s experience.
Our final performance was on the 8th May 2015. The City of Lincoln was our inspiration before we began this module. After our drift our final destination was The Museum of Lincolnshire Life. As a group we discussed what would be the most thought-provoking walk to our final destination. Steep Hill is very famous in Lincoln therefore we thought it would be riveting to walk our route up there towards the museum. We believed this would be interesting as people usually walk up Steep Hill without thinking about the past lives of the people of Lincoln. Consequently we thought it would be interesting to get the audience to think about people who may have walked up this hill hundreds of years ago. We wanted our audience members to relive the walks these women could have taken. Also, on the route to the museum there were some lovely places were we were able to have interactive moments with the audience members.
Analysis of Process
We read “Mapping the Terrain: a Survey of Site-Specific Performance in Britain” by Fiona Wilkie. During this reading we discussed what our performance would be classed as because the discussion as to what site-specific work actually is, is still being debated. Wilkie asked the question “’Does “site-specific” imply “site-exclusive”?’” (Wilkie, 149). This had us discussing this question because if something is specific for a site, in theory it should not be able to tour. However, if the site were a library, for example, then the performance would be able to be performed in any library. This still makes it site-specific, as the performance has to be in a library. Therefore we came to the conclusion it would depend on what type of site you would be performing and “[its] relationships to place” (Wilkie, 149). As we are taking our audience on a walk through Lincoln to the destination of The Museum of Lincolnshire Life our performance was site-specific, as we would not be able to perform this anywhere else. Also the context of our performance was about women of Lincoln and therefore the material would not be as powerful if the performance was set somewhere else.
When we first decided upon our idea we went away and researched different women who influenced World War 1. In the museum there was a woman named Amy Beechey, who had five sons die during the war. She lived in Lincoln and we decided to use her in our audio, as her story was very touching. We also researched into women who worked in factories; this is where we found out about Florence Bonnett and her work in the William Foster Factory. We felt her story would be interesting to include as she was only young and gave up working with her family to help during the war. We began our research into these through the Internet, but we ended up at the Lincolnshire Archive finding out more about Amy Beechey and her sons. We read the letters they sent her. This was very touching and we thought it would be a good idea to include in our performance since we wanted the audience to understand the pain mothers had to go through when they sent their children to war. We felt these two women were good representations of the lives women lead during the war, for the reason that they are on different ends of the spectrum. Beechy had to let her children fight in the war whereas Bonnett changed careers to help in the war. Both of these women helped towards the outcome of the war but in very different ways.
Along side researching the women for our audio we also researched different practitioners who have used audio for their performances. We felt this was essential to do as Site Specific work was something we had never done before. We had also never performed using an audio tour, for this reason we looked into other practitioners. The first was Blast Theory. They helped to inspire us in many different ways. However, the performance that helped us with the audio was Fixing Point (2013) that was an audio tour where you “pick up a smartphone, put on your headphones and start to explore” (Blast Theory, 2013). This included history from the 20th century, which is similar to our performance as we are also using history to help create a story. As the audience used their own phones it sparked us to think about what would happen if the audience got their phones out during our performance. However, we felt they would not as they would be listening to the audio and when they stopped listening to it they would be interacting with the cast members. The next practitioner that inspired us was Dreamthinkspeak’s performance of Don’t Look Back (2003-2008). This performance was “recreated for twelve sites” (dreamthinkspeak, 2008) which is opposite to what we were looking to do for our performance. However, we thought the journey the audience go on with Don’t Look Back could inspire our performance. As we do not want our audio to be 100% monologue, we wanted it to be layered with different sounds and music. We looked to dreamthinkspeak as their performance was “told through beautiful scenarios and an equally beautiful soundtrack” (Australian Stage, 2008). This gave us hope that our performance would be able to take the audience on a journey without the whole audio being dialogue. This motivated us to include soundscapes, poems and narration in our audio alongside the monologues of the women.
When we first developed our idea we found it difficult to figure out how we would portray the 1915’s, as we were using audio and we wanted to walk through Lincoln streets. At first we thought it would be possible for the actors to dress up in post Edwardian clothing whilst the audience listened to the audio. However, with further thought we decided against this idea, as it would look unauthentic, as we would not be able to access genuine Edwardian clothing. With further discussion we came to the conclusion that when the audience had their headphones on they were in the past and once they took them off to interact with the cast members, they were in 2015. We decided upon this, as it would be unachievable to represent 1915 Lincoln for our audience whilst they listened to audio walking through Lincoln in 2015. Combining the two centuries makes “it a paradoxical space: objects and identities are both separate and merged, simultaneously” (Turner, 2004, 379).
We thought if the audience interacted with us in the present day they would be able to see the connection between the audio and the interactions they were involved in. The practitioner that inspired us to think about the ‘here and now’ was Blast Theory and their performance Can You See Me Now? (2001-2010). This was an online game where the audience were playing whilst competing with the actors of Blast Theory whilst they ran through the streets. This performance toys with the idea of space and ‘liveness’ as the performers and audience are in separate areas, “issues of presence and absence run through the game” (Blast Theory, 2001). For the player to be out of the game the runner has to take a photo of the empty space where the player is on the game, “each player is forever linked to this anonymous square of the cityscape” (Blast Theory, 2001). This relates to the discussion we had in class about ‘liveness’ because the game is being played live and the runner is there in the moment, however to catch the player the runner has to take a picture of a space, not a person. Therefore the person is not in the same ‘now’ as the runner as they are in different locations. However, you could argue they are in the same ‘now’ because they are both involved in the same game at the same time. With this discussion, we had to consider the idea of ‘now’ in our performance. Using technology in our performance connects the two ‘nows’ together. The now of 1915 and the now of 2015 worked well, I believe, as we intertwined the work well through the audio and interactions. Meaning our audio and interactive movements “present themselves as two inseparable aspects, not as two separable ideas” (Turner, 2004, 376).
Our initial idea was to have three monologues focusing on the three women we had researched into; Florence Bonnett, Amy Beechey and a woman teacher. However, that would be a ten minute monologue for each and we thought it would be very dull for the audience members. This is when we decided it would be interesting to include performative actions and pause the audio to bring the audience into the 21st century. Our performative actions were related to the audio so the audience members could see the relation to the two.
We thought it would be interesting and necessary to have layering in the audio as twenty minutes of monologues could become monotonous for the audience members. This is when we decided that having a narrator in the piece would be stimulating and would be able to introduce the performance and the monologues. We also included soundscapes as we thought this would give the audio more dimension. We layered different sounds of the sweet shop, including the sweets being poured and the ring of the bell when the customers open the door. With layering these sounds, it gave the listener a sense of where they were about to enter into. We included pieces of information about Lincoln, for example about what the Ruston, Proctor and Company factory was, and how there are still Royal Air Force (RAF) bases near Lincoln now. Connecting the past and present together in the audio allowed the audience to see how the past has affected the present Lincoln and how it will affect the future. We initially were going to include the song “We’ll meet again” by Vera Lynn. However, we discovered that it was written in 1939, a later era than the one in our performance and therefore we were unable to include it. Consequently, we decided to include a poem from 1915 instead. Using a poem meant we were able to layer the sounds of soldiers marching over the talking which brought the poem to life.
For the final performance, we included performative actions that we had not thought about when we first began. I believe these actions helped to bring the piece to life and allowed the different periods to be brought together in a smooth transition. The layering of sounds we included in the audio was something we had not first thought about. This allowed us to discover the different actions and emotions that were in Lincoln during the time of the war. The layering of sounds gave the monologues more depth and allowed for the audio to bring the audience through different emotions with the women on the track.
There were many different key moments in our performance as we included audio and interactive actions. During the performance the audience members would meet other cast members during their walk. This first encounter was when the audience member was near the sweet shop at the bottom of Steep Hill. As all the monologues of the women spoke about saying goodbye to loved ones, we wanted to reverse this in the present day. For this reason, when we saw an audience member we would wave to say hello. When the audience members were going to be asked to stop their audio the cast members would wave. This was to show the audience although the women on the track had said goodbye to people, today the audience would be saying hello to the cast.
The second performative moment was at the top of Steep Hill. It was after Florence Bonnett’s monologue, a young girl who worked in The William Foster Factory, building tracks for tanks in the war. At the top of the hill the actors built paper aeroplanes and threw them down the hill with the audience members. We did this because we wanted the audience to build something as they had just listened to how Florence built tanks for the war. We used paper aeroplanes because later on in the audio we spoke about the Ruston, Proctor and Company Factory in Lincoln that built planes for the war. We thought the two tied in well with each other as both companies built vehicles for the war. At first we wanted to make daisy chains with the audience members, to show that Florence was young. She should have been building those instead of tracks for tanks. However, she was sixteen at the time and sixteen year olds do not usually make daisy chains. For this reason, we believed the aeroplanes worked better, as it also tied in well with the sound later in the track.
During our performance it was torrential rain and as our performance was an outdoor tour this affected it. The rain meant the audience had to turn the volume up on the MP3 players and although they did this, there were still some parts of the audio that they missed. Meaning they did not feel the full effects of the audio or they may have missed key parts of the dialogue. The rain also affected two of the performative interactions. The first was building the paper aeroplanes. Because of the weather the planes did not fly. We wanted to measure how far the planes went, but because of the rain they did not fly at all and therefore there was nothing to record for the audience members. For the second interaction the group and I were meant to be sitting on individual benches, however the rain was so bad we all had to sit on one bench under a tree. This did not give the effect of a school classroom therefore this interaction did not display what we wanted.
I believe the strongest part of our performance was the audio. We used layering to enliven the piece. There was many different emotions and feelings involved in the monologues. Including the soundscapes of the sweet shop, aeroplanes and playground gave the audience something diverse to listen to rather than twenty minutes of speaking. Having these soundscapes allowed the audience to look around at their surroundings and process what the monologues had been talking about. Although it did rain, it did not hinder the whole performance. It helped enhance the sadness of Amy Beechey and also gave the audience a sense of how the soldiers would live in the trenches.
Our audience was only able to be a maximum of two per show, as we did not have enough MP3 players and headphones for more than that. With it being a tour, we wanted the audience to be small so they were able to interact with the performance more easily. For example, if we had a big audience they would not all fit into the sweet shop at the same time, therefore the experience would not be the same as it was when we had a small audience for the reason that they would not have the individual time spent with the actors. Greeting the audience and interacting with them was a large part of our performance. Hence, if the audience were large this one-on-one interaction would not be able to occur.
Previously we had never discussed having the performance anywhere other than the walk up Steep Hill, as we wanted the audience to end up in The Museum of Lincolnshire Life. After the tour we wanted the audience to go into the museum to discover more about the women we had spoken about. Nevertheless, after the performance we thought that we could have set the performance in a factory, or where one of the women we mentioned lived, as two of them lived in the city of Lincoln. Then the site we were in would have been related to the women we were discussing.
However, as we were speaking about three different women it would be peculiar to set the tour in one location related to one of the women. The other two women would not be related to the site. Therefore, in my opinion, setting it on a walk through Lincoln was more appropriate as all the women have a connection to the city. Our monologues allowed the audience to picture themselves walking side by side to the women rather than becoming the woman they were listening to.
Before I began this module I did not know much about site-specific work. However, after this module I believe I only know about guided site-specific tours. Although this has been helpful to me for the performance it has not expanded my knowledge of site-specific as a genre. As site-specific has such a broad spectrum there were many different options we could have followed. The reason we looked into audio walks was because that was the task we were set at the beginning of the semester. With further research into what site-specific is I discovered there are also many different site related works, for example site-generic. I believe it would have been ideal if we had these options opened to us. As site-specific work is so broad the module was not long enough to look into all of the options. With this in mind, I know more about site-specific now than I did before, although there is a lot more I could learn.
Australian Stage. (2008) Don’t Look Back : dreamthinkspeak. [online] Available from http://www.australianstage.com.au/reviews/piaf/dont-look-back–dreamthinkspeak-1113.html [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Blast Theory. (2010) Can You See Me Now? [online] Brighton: Blast Theory. Available fromhttp://www.blasttheory.co.uk/projects/can-you-see-me-now/ [Accessed 16 March].
Blast Theory. (2011) Fixing Point. [online] Brighton: Blast Theory. Available from http://www.blasttheory.co.uk/projects/fixing-point/ [Accessed 16 March].
Dreamthinkspeak. (2008) Don’t Look Back. [online] Dreamthinkspeak. Available from http://dreamthinkspeak.com/productions [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Punchdrunk. (2013) Past Shows: The Borough. [online] London: Punchdrunk. Available from http://punchdrunk.com/#past-shows/article/the-borough [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Turner, C. (2004) Palimpsest or Potential Space? Finding a Vocabulary for Site-Specific Performance. New Theatre Quarterly, 20, (4) 373-390.
The Guardian. (2013) The Borough – Review. [online] The Guardian. Available from http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/jun/11/borough-review [Accessed 16 March 2015].
Wilkie, F. (2002) Mapping the Terrain: a Survey of Site-Specific Performance in Britain. New Theatre Quarterly, 18 (2) 140-160.