Welcome to the second instalment of Unscene Suffolk’s project blog!
Welcome to the second instalment of my drama project blog; giving an inside view, as Workshop Assistant, into how an Unscene Suffolk production develops from initial idea to full-blown performance.
After a restful Christmas break it’s been good to see everyone again. Our trip to the pantomime at the New Wolsey Theatre was a wonderful treat, and now the group is hard at work putting together a show of its own, although perhaps with slightly fewer false eyelashes and definitely no pantomime horse.
The first few workshops of the year have seen significant developments, and the play is really beginning to take shape. We had an enthusiastic new member join (and return the following week!), which is fantastic, and there was another addition to the group as one of the existing participants brought her newly acquired guide dog. He was a little unsettled at first (the dog, not the new member) but has soon got used to the strange noises and movements around the room from our warm up games and improvisations.
Carrying on the original idea of a tree as a central focus, Jenni revealed that the name of the show – which has to be decided in January in order to make it into the New Wolsey Theatre’s Open Season publicity material – is The Tree of Dreams. Pursuing this theme, the group improvised some scenes in groups, considering the ‘family’ relationship between their characters in the scenario of the impending destruction of their tree. Some lovely animal characters came out of this exercise: Ray Ven, Maggie Pie, Mrs Crow and Granny giraffe, as well as a skunk, a mouse and a horse. It was brilliant to see such great diversity within a family unit. Jenni then talked to the group about her story ideas and the concept of dreams as metaphor for the fears we have in real life, and how this could be explored as a narrative between a husband and wife in later years. The group discussed the idea and the themes of life, love, illness and death, and whether it’s always necessary to have a happy ending.
To this end the group then explored nursery rhymes and their narratives, and what would happen if the traditional happy ending didn’t occur, or something completely unexpected happened. What if Baa Baa Black sheep didn’t have any wool because aliens had come down and sheared it all off? What if Mary didn’t want her little lamb to follow her around and he got left behind and injured in a road accident? And what if Little Bo Peep just couldn’t find her sheep (even on the FindMySheep app), because they’d escaped to the local pub and paid for their drinks on a ‘baaa-claycard’? These and other (dreadful) puns were the source of much hilarity. Jenni also introduced the group to a newly penned song, ‘The Tree of Dreams’, and everyone (helpers included!) had a first try at learning it, accompanied by Jenni on the ukulele.
Another great step forward in the devising process was the group’s first session with Nathan Geering of Rationale Method. Nathan, who comes from Ipswich originally, has formulated a dynamic approach to audio description (AD) which uses vocal sound effects (including beatboxing) to create soundscapes which heighten the experience for both blind and sighted audiences. He is working with Unscene Suffolk to integrate his approach as part of the creative process. I managed to ply Nathan with chocolate biscuits in our tea break, and ask him to explain a bit about the project. He said: “I’m very excited to be working with Unscene Suffolk on this production. We’re able to work right from the project’s conception and it’s a real collaborative process, not only with myself and Jenni, but also with the visually impaired participants. What’s great is we can actually get creative with the audio description accessibility, and how the means of accessibility can be used as a valuable tool within the creative process. It goes beyond being something that’s just accessible to something that everyone can enjoy on every single level. This is going to be amazing in terms of how you invent access from a production’s inception, and I’m really excited about that”.
Nathan began the session with some character work; asking the group to consider how their character might walk, talk and stand, and how they would express different emotions physically. He then asked them to differentiate between the physicality of the human characters they may portray in the ‘real’ world and the animal character they could play within a dream. Next Nathan used sounds to accompany movement as a way for the characters to transition between one world and the other. It was fascinating to see how a specific sound designated how long the movement would take, and allowed people to synchronise perfectly with one another. One of the participants turns out to be an amazing beat boxer and so created some of the sounds himself. As a final task, Nathan used the sounds to get all members of the group to transition from their human physicality in a ‘scene’, to form the shape of a tree in the dream world. The device was so effective and I caught a first glimpse of how the dynamic audio description works, and how the show might look. Very exciting and I can’t wait to see how the AD, and the show, will come together.
We’re taking a week off for the half term now while Jenni works on the script, but we’ll be back at the end of February and raring to go!