Community Performance project
After looking at various local historical sights our group decided on Moseley Old Hall as the setting for our community project. Our research brought to light its wonderful history and established it as the perfect venue. Use of the internet and library allowed us in-depth knowledge into the story of King Charles’ visit to Moseley, this provided us with a multitude of ideas we could incorporate into our piece. Our aim was to retell the story but add a contempary edge for a modern audience.
We chose to devise our piece in the style of Brecht, like his work “Mother Courage” [historical theme to create the story] we wanted to make our audience think about the story during and after the performance. The Brechtian style also allowed freedom to look across the three art-forms and experiment with the use of poetry, dramatic changes of style and tempo, music to tell the story and breaking down the 4th wall to involve our audience in the performance. To begin the devising process we created a mind map of our ideas for further development.
One of our first ideas which went on to influence the dance, song and even title of the piece was the game of hide and seek. This was inspired by the flight of the King and the man hunt which ensued. The idea of comparing life or death situation to a children’s game filled the quota for an original perspective and enabled creativity in the devising process. Another initial idea was to include a news report to give “headlines” of what had occurred at the battle of Worcester. This gave the audience some background knowledge and added another angle to our piece by changing styles.
We wanted to use nominal set and costumes- this was another Brechtian influence but was also practical as an outdoor piece involving dance and a promenade would have been hindered by excessive costume. Our piece had to be performed outdoors due to lack of space and danger of damaging the inside of the house, this meant wrapping up warm, the sub-zero temperatures of a wet February evening were not really the ideal conditions for a performance! Ideas were flowing for the dance and musical aspects so we had to develop more on the acting front.
We wanted to include more characters so the idea came about to include the children of the Whitgreave family to introduce the audience to the King upon his arrival. Because the piece had to be performed outside we decided to use this to our advantage creating a promenade performance to show the audience more of the house and to add interest by following the story through its settings. This is a Brechtian idea as it removes the audience from the fact that they are watching a ‘play’ and the episodic format we decided to use helped us move through time.
In developing our ideas we needed a structure. We decided that the news report would be the ideal introductory starting point. From an outline of events at the battle of Worcester we picked out crucial occurrences and researched them to enable us to script a report for our two stereotypical news readers in glasses and suits to deliver in-between their frantic paper shuffling and ‘live link’ to Oliver Cromwell. This scene provided humour to the piece and made it feel less like a play.
We needed something to link this scene to the next which would be the promenade leading the audience to the gate where the King arrived so we used a very Brecht inspired idea and created a poem through mind mapping and improvising to both tell the audience the next part of the story and that we wanted them to follow us in a promenade. (For poem see appendix 2. ) For the promenade we first needed music. We created a piece of Renaissance style music using the chordal structure typical of the Dorian mode.
By improvising simple drum beats on a table then incorporating a tune on the recorder which is a typical period instrument the piece was given instant Renaissance character. Texture was added with the use of small percussive instruments and a guitar was added later in the developmental stages. We created the lyrics in the true Brechtian style- to tell the story. This piece we performed whilst leading the audience to the gate [for music and lyrics see appendix 1 & 2 at back], it provided a distraction whilst two actors went to the gate to play Mr. Whitgreave’s children.
To develop the children’s characters we did some paired improvisation work focusing on voice, body movements and gestures. We played and teased one another in character then created a short script to tell the audience that the King was expected to arrive at the house. This use of children would lead into the dance so set the mood for its beginning. For our dance we took our original idea of hide & seek as our starting point. Due to the time of year we were aware that it would be dark so we chose to introduce torches a both a focus device and to illuminate our performance.
We improvised some stylized movements which linked the progression into the dance with the previous acting. This involved the torches and following them with our bodies using levels & intertwining our bodies created an image of seeking for something. We also experimented with the idea of being in a line behind one another and popping out to show that we were hiding, an idea we took from previous dance workshops. We used this as our starting point then dispersed to the cover provided by the trees at the sight we intended to perform it.
During one of our visits to Moseley we mapped out the location of the trees in relation to one another to enable us to create the dance in school. Our intention with the dance was to confuse our audience so they had to think about what they were seeing, a typical trait of Brecht. We also wanted to use a sharp contrast in the style of music and the dance, we had used contempary dance before with brilliant results so decided to incorporate it into this performance. Our intention was to liken the Kings flight to a child’s game and then follow the contempory theme to make to piece progressively more sinister and violent.
This Brechtian technique was created by changing the music dramatically and also the type of movements, creating that sinister feel. The children’s game was created by improvising a game of follow the leader. We tried to use childlike movement and experimented with skipping and a stumbling run as a method of travel. For this part of the dance we chose a light hearted piece of Renaissance music to keep it very upbeat and childish then changed to a very modern piece of music which had a simple beat sounding like the cracking of a whip and felt much more violent and threatening.
At this point the use of our torches changed dramatically, as children they were used just to follow one another’s steps but with the change in music and mood they were used like flashlights hunting for our ‘king’. We also chose to incorporate short solo movements created through improvisation that showed us breaking through a door and looking for someone then transferring to the person being searched for and hiding. This made the piece very threatening to demonstrate the fact that that King was in a very dangerous situation.
This half of the piece used more rigid and quirky movements with a more contempory feel, we also used some minimal contact work as the King slipped away from or broke free of his hunters. The composition of the dance was quite challenging as we had very minimal opportunity to rehearse it in the setting. This proved to be a problem when we came to perform as we had created the piece in a smaller space so had to rework some parts to fit in with the amount of space we had to cover.
We also did not consider how low the branches of the tree’s we were working with were; this resulted in a lot of crouching and the loss of my hat during the performance! One of the last things we decided to add to the piece whilst developing other ideas was the Kings monologue. This involved using period language and expression and was included to provide an insight into the impact the recent events and current situation had had on the king. It gave an emotional and more in depth account of what he had experienced.
After seeing the chapel in the house where Charles had actually prayed we decided to turn this monologue into a prayer with God as Charles audience. As we were unable to perform inside the house (it was not practical to lead a procession through the house due to lack of space and he amount of time it would take), we set the monologue in a gazebo in the gardens. This change of setting from an open lawn to a small building was another Brechtian influence – it again required thought from the audience and removed the “theatre” feeling.
The monologue itself was created through hot seating one another in character as the king, we questioned one another to gain an idea of emotions and thoughts we perceived Charles may have been experiencing (See Appendix 3 for monologue). This monologue added another scene which was entirely individual in style to all the others, in keeping with our chosen practitioner’s technique. In response to our continued research came the “village scene”. We found out that the Pendrel brothers who accompanied the king from Boscobel House to Moseley Hall were asked by Mr.
Whitgreave to go into Wolverhampton to see if any rumours we circulating in the town concerning the king’s whereabouts. Aside from the dance, this was the most contempary piece in style. We chose to use two of the Pendrel brothers as flies on the wall listening in on town banter with the division between the kings and Cromwell’s supporters clearly shown through a chant of treason by the anti-royalists who, with the strength of their words and oppressive behavior, tower above the king’s loyal followers and almost sway them from their beliefs.
This scene incorporated contempary dance-like movements into our acting creating a link between the art forms. The Pendrel brothers had the ability to freeze the scene and asked each person if they knew where the king was hiding. After they were confident his whereabouts were still unknown they unfroze the scene and life resumed as normal. This power to control we have usually bestowed upon a narrative figure so this was a new experience and provided a quirky, un-naturalistic angle to what could potentially have been a mundane portrayal of events.
It also carried a strong political message – despite being out numbered and threatened the royalists stayed true to their beliefs. To conclude our piece we decided upon a poem in the true Brechtian style. This concluded how the king escaped from Moseley Hall in the company of Miss Jane Lane from another near by house posing as her servant and made it to the coast where they sailed to France. This concluded our re-telling of the king’s visit, but we included a suggestion that the audience if curious should look to the internet for more information.
This random change in topic is typical of Brecht; he was known to throw random comments into his plays which were completely out of keeping with the rest of the piece and totally out of context. This stretches us to the absurdist style of theatre as in Beckett’s work. We created the poem to close the piece as in our rehearsals we found we needed something to bring everything together as Brecht usually does in his plays. The aim of this was to leave our audience with the initiative to find out more.
We felt the use of a poem was best as it drew together song (verses and choral speech) and acting creating a link across the art forms. As well as the need for a closing scene out rehearsals highlighted other things the piece would benefit from having added. A lot of our idea development occurred through rehearsals. Improvisation exercises to expand on ideas often led to new avenues for exploration . As well as helping us to create lines or movements through the trial and error of rehearsal we were also made aware of any problems our initial plans would face.
The hide and seek dance was probably the best example of this. We had rehearsed at school, often in rooms too small for dancing in, using only a rough idea of the layout of the eight trees we were working with and using in our routine. When we did come to rehearse at Moseley Hall we found we had to adapt movements and methods of travel to suit the real setting. Initial scripting and blocking of the scene involving the children had created their characters, personalities and gestures but it had been decided that they should be sat up a chestnut tree to make use of the setting as part of our set.
This use of natural surroundings s a prop would have added levels and interest to the scene; however when we came to rehearse the scene on-site we found the tree was not suitable for climbing and our second choice of seating- the garden wall- was too high and could have been dangerous. Due to these previously unforeseen difficulties we had to resort to using a bench. For the basic script see appendices. Running through and rehearsing each scene assisted us in remembering our lines and actions, create characters more thoroughly and deliver a more rounded, fluid and polished performance.
Problems were encountered and tackled and feeling more comfortable in knowing our roles allowed vocal projection and physicality to be improved. We often used improvisation even in our most final rehearsals, this enabled us to add new lines, accents or phrases that came naturally when we were in character and also to change or enhance any movements that did not look or feel right. Throughout the whole devising and rehearsing process we offered one another constructive criticisms and advice to enable us to better our performances.
As we had, in the Brechtian style, chosen to remove the fourth wall our rehearsals allowed us to perform to each other to clarify our projection and communication with the audience. Running through all the scenes as they were developed helped us to build stronger links between the art forms, the use of song to tell the story throughout the promenade and the introductory and closing poems created a strong link between the art forms, enabling the performance to flow smoothly between scenes of acting, dance and abstract performances.
Although we used the Brechtian theme of using all the forms together, which could have been quite confusing if very clear links are not established, the piece did not merge together in a confusing mish-mash so we succeeded in our use of the style. The final performance was very successful, everyone was much more focused than had been in rehearsals so the piece ran more smoothly, characters and movements were more thoroughly expressed and every one was much more in character.
This may have been due to the fear factor of having an audience present or just that we had spent the whole day rehearsing at Moseley and the surrounding had helped us fall into our roles more naturally. Although the final piece ran smoothly we did leave our on-sight rehearsals quite late, every thing we had done was on paper and had been developed in school, and it didn’t get put into practice until the performance date was nearly upon us.
This would be something I would change given the opportunity to create another community piece; from the word ‘go’ at every possible opportunity we would have rehearsed at the location. This would enable us to change and mould our ideas around the setting we would perform in. However, we did carry the piece off successfully. Performing in the dark gave the piece a more menacing feel that had never really been present in rehearsals but it also hindered it.
A sinister atmosphere was created for the second, more menacing half of the dance but also meant we kept bumping into branches and each other; this was beneficial to the childlike first half as it made us more active as characters with more stumbling travel and lots of ducking and weaving. After the dance the general response from the audience was one of confusion, although some of the children present knew exactly what they had witnessed. This meant we had achieved our goal, like Brecht we wanted our audience to question what they were seeing and make them think about the story that our dance was telling.
We had a couple of minor problems; with the noise of our audience during the procession and the louder than expected rush hour traffic noise from the nearby M6 our singing during the promenade was too quiet, this is definitely something that could have been improved upon as the words were important to the story telling. We had a similar problem with the dance; the music was not very loud so it was a bit tricky to keep in time as we could barely hear the beat. However, we persevered and the dance ran smoothly.
Other than that we did not experience any major problems, there was a sticky moment after the news report when myself and Luke had to change backstage in the dark and lost parts of our costume but we pulled it together and managed to be out front to start the promenade on time! Apart from the freezing, dark conditions our community project was great fun to do. It enabled us to experiment with Brechts technique, develop our ability to use real settings and natural props in our performance and also gave us a great historical insight into our local heritage.