Daisy and Pablo are preoccupied with hope. They’re making a show about it. For two weeks in September 2014 they went to visit their respective families. They spent those weeks writing postcards to each other, one for each day they spent apart. Each one was photographed and sent via WhatsApp. The object of the exercise was to try to keep the project fresh in their minds during the break and give them a chance to reflect on their process so far. They didn’t begin the postcards with the intention of publishing them, so they are pretty open and unplanned (spelling mistakes and all). Below is the second of fourteen pairs. You can read the first set here.
HOPE #1 (12/09/14)
This is technically post card no 3, but I’m writing it as no 1.1 I feel bad you did one for the first night. So this is ‘brackets-post-card-number-one-close-brackets’. Also my favourite brown pen has run out.2 I walked out to the beach today (it’s about a mile out of the town). The tide was right in, but even so, everything felt vast and possible. —————————– >
I love it best when the tide is right out and the beach seems to go on forever. Also, that thing where the sea and the sky seem to melt into one another.3 What is it about sea and space that feels [sic] hopeful? I do feel like I can breathe. Is this similar the swelling [sic] in the chest we have talked about – so often felt with music?4 I wonder how this relate [sic] to theatrical space? (Wilson?)5
1 If you didn’t read the first column: I got confused about how many postcards we would write to each other and when the exercise would begin. The numbering of all my fourteen postcards is ‘creative’ (i.e. properly wonky) and not in sync with Pablo’s.
2 Stabilo Point 88 Fineliner (Brown).
3 Cringe. It was all the sea air that made me write that. I am aware it sounds like a line from a bad romance novel, but in a rushed and unfiltered way, I guess I am clumsily attempting to conjure the landscape. I do think the sea can often have this effect, but particularly the north Norfolk coast, which is famous for its ‘big blue sky’ and its flat and open terrain.
4 One thing is for certain, we need (and want) to do some research into the affect of music on us. A quick Google search has suggested that what we might want to look into is ‘Psychoacoustics’, but I think there is more to it than that (Phenomenology? Neuroscience?). This is definitely going to be part of our process, so I think we should try to equip ourselves with the knowledge to talk about it. ‘That feeling where your chest swells when you’re listening to music’ is proving an inefficient online search. I am looking at a lot of websites about heart attacks. This seems like a better place to start.
5 In wondering about music/landscape/theatrical-space, my mind goes immediately to Robert Wilson. Just look at those photos (follow the link). His use of space, depth, sculptural structures and light makes my heart do flip-flops.
HOPE #2 (12/09/14)
If a certain quality of feeling or emotion were to be expressed in sound vibration & in a body part, then perhaps here is where we meet was a low & rumbling in the gut…1 And this new yet un-named thing? This could vibrate at a high frequency, higher and higher with a swelling in the chest2. ——- >
I am not afraid of emotion in performance, and I am convinced that it does not necessitate plot or character3 (Her [sic] Goebbels knew a thing or two about that.)4 Anyway I do think we want to make emotional pieces. We do want to move people.5
1 I wish I had continued learning an instrument at school. Music is very important to me and I regret not being able to play properly. Despite or because of this I do like to and find it helpful to think of performance in musical terms – particularly when it comes to structure and tone. Over the years I have become increasingly interested in musicality. The overture of Wagner’s Das Rheingold is one of my favourite examples – how the drone slowly fills the abyss of silence, which then builds/develops/grows into a whole world (totalling 16 hours of music and narrative). here is where we meet was definitely the first time we had a distinct awareness of musicality from the start of making a piece. This owed a lot to the fact we had resolved from an early stage to use Gavin Bryars’ music. Also we were lucky enough to work with David Roesner on the piece. Composed Theatre, Aesthetics, Practices, Processes, a book he co-edited, is a good introduction to questions of musicality.
2 As we are finding in our rehearsals so far, we don’t think the show will follow this increasing and upward trajectory. It won’t go higher and higher. Rather, it will be a series of up and downs, from darkness into light and back again. We think this is closer to the experience of hope, and its tentative dance with hopelessness.
3 The assertion that for performance to generate emotion it does not require plot or character may seem obvious to some, but we have had heated debates about this with some theatre professionals in the past.
4 We have seen a few of Heiner Goebbels‘ productions, a German composer-cum-director. His work employs musical principles, and is also highly visual.
5 Music can be emotionally manipulative; emotion can lean towards sentimentality, etc. Although simple and somewhat silly, I do think that writing that we want to “move people” was an important realisation for me. On a diet of postmodernism and cynicism, it can feel somewhat dirty or even shameful to admit that you want to make people feel, that you want to (even) make them cry (with sorrow or joy) – particularly with a subject such as hope.
It is the start of another year. Looking through our postcards in the murky chill of January 2015, we notice that it’s been four months since we wrote them. Reflecting on them, we are struck by how much of what we wrote still feels present and important. Having said that, there have been developments, so let’s catch you up with those. Shortly after sending this to be published we’ll also be pressing send on our contribution to Robert Daniels’ second book on DIY performance (the first volume came out last year and can be found here). We have been writing about the connections between DIY approaches to theatre-making and hope. Excitingly, the show (which we have finally – we think – titled How the light gets in) has received support from Escalator Performing Arts 2015. So here’s a little toast to the New Year and to new things.
As we write this we are listening to the playlist we created for the project on Spotify. It’s one of the first things we did, even before we went into that empty retail unit in March 2014 for our mini residency with Quarterhouse. Since then, we’ve added to it – there are tracks we’ve used in rehearsal and tracks that have simply filled the silence as we have thought, doodled and planned. In the rehearsal room, this playlist has provided the soundtrack to us playing with a skipping rope, dancing (like no one’s watching), blowing bubbles (trying to keep them in the air) and balancing pots of plastic flowers on our heads.
It’s not an exhaustive list of every hopeful song in the world ever; it is a collection of daft, ironic, moving, rousing tracks that go from the obvious to the unexpected. If you have any suggestions for additions please let us know! The mention of hope is not a requirement. It’s about the associations that come with the music, or what the song actually does to you. We don’t mean just any song that pulls at your heartstrings. We are specifically interested in songs that generate a particular sensation, a kind of swelling in the chest. Do you know that feeling? Those songs or pieces of music that move you and which move you upwards. They lift you out of yourself before your defences or your cynicism can kick in.
We don’t want to use them as emotionally manipulative tools. Whilst there will be music in the show itself, it looks like we will also be utilising music – its constructions, its shifts, its ephemeral magic – as a dramaturgical device to actually build this performance (see Pablo’s footnotes for juicy musicality stuff if you’re interested). Whilst certain songs trace the up and down movement between hope and hopelessness, others are not just about the lyrics and melody but also about voice, about a voice joining a voice, about voices together. There is something in the act of making music together, and particularly singing together, which clearly resonates with the idea of communitas with which we are so taken. We would love this show to have other voices within it, not just ours. For this reason, at this point in the research and development, we are really keen to involve a choir. We’ll see …
At the end of her postcard, Daisy asks how the effect of music might relate to space. She likens the feeling of looking at a vast and unending Norfolk coastal landscape to listening to a piece of music that does that lifting thing. She is a bit embarrassed by this postcard, but there’s a valuable evocation there – she says, “I do feel like I can breathe”. The connection between music and space and landscape feels like something really important for us. Maybe it’s because we began to work on this project in Folkestone, in an empty shop with huge windows on all sides allowing a kind of panorama. The floor was covered a vivid green scratchy carpet that we loved, and which reminded us of AstroTurf. Maybe it was the walks on the beach. Maybe it was that feeling of geographically, being at the very corner, at the very bottom edge of this funny landmass. Maybe it’s because of these things that we have come to think of the stage as a landscape, vast and dominated by a broad horizon. Within this wide and open space the performance will unfold. There’s something we can’t quite put our finger on, but it lies at the intersection between space and music. Isn’t the openness of a landscape or a view similarly affecting to the kinds of music we’ve been talking about? Can’t they both generate that swelling in the chest? Don’t they make us breathe more deeply, more deliberately? Don’t they have the power to fill us with hope?
And what does that do? If it’s achievable – if we elevate our audience, if we open them up and invite them to feel hopeful – what happens then? If that is possible, what does an audience do with that when they leave? Do they just deflate, like a balloon with a pinprick in it? How does this speak to our concern that hope is a kind of activism? Is a desire for an audience to leave lifted enough? Perhaps it is a small shift that could lead to something (change?). That’s a lot of ifs and question marks for a concluding paragraph …
It suddenly feels like hope isn’t only a big subject, it’s also a big aim. This hope thing is hard.