Features Published 3 August 2015

Some People Talk About Barrel Organ

Barrel Organ discuss their sophomore show, their roundabout method, and the shows they left unmade.
Barrel Organ

We’re looking at some people.

EUAN: Hello, my name is Euan and I’m going to talk to you about working with people.

KATHERINE: Hello, my name is Katherine and I’m going to talk to you about expectations.

KIERAN: Hello, my name is Kieran and I’m going to talk to you about ideas.

PERKINS: Hello, my name is Perkins (it’s actually Jack but there are two Jacks in the company so I’ll go with Perkins) and I’m going to talk to you about making stuff.

EUAN: Barrel Organ is a funny thing. We have existed as a proper entity for less time than our debut show, Nothing. That show was created at the University of Warwick and came out of a frustration with how our student drama was working at the time. We didn’t want sets or costumes or naturalism or puppetry or anything other than playful, honest performance and theatre that is both simple and theatrical (there is nothing wrong with sets, costumes, naturalism or puppetry; we just wanted different things). Nothing was originally a five­-show run, with each in a different location, but it took on a life of its own and we’re still doing it when we can. We formed off the back of Nothing and like a foal we’re still finding our feet.

PERKINS: As a company we frequently find ourselves taking the hard route. Often pointedly and sometimes unknowingly. We investigate the ‘how’ of making theatre alongside the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of the show itself. We began the company frustrated with the restrictive roles we’d had as solely performers, directors, writers, designers, and that continues to motivate our work.

KATHERINE: Beginning work on the new show brought us a raft of new perspectives on our own work and our reasons for doing it. As well as considering the nature of the content we deal with in the show, most days of making brought us into contact with our own individual expectations of the company’s collaborative work.

KIERAN: The central idea for this show was formed around conversations with Lulu we had around a year ago. We spoke about creating a show centering around the notion of violence in which nothing traditionally ‘violent’ happens; thus the notion of violence becomes much more of a thematic concern as opposed to a dramatic action. The process of removing the physical act of violence from the play has created a vacuum at its centre and instead the play becomes about the act of filling this vacuum. Once the blood, gore, adrenalin, excitement and terror have been removed from the violent act what takes its place? What can we re-­name as ‘violent’? What are its contributing factors?

Office Cubicles

KATHERINE: Our expectations of the show have evolved massively since we first got together and began looking at the text ­ it’s been great and we’ve been really lucky to have each other whilst navigating our company’s relationship to new ways of performing a story. The thrill of owning a single narrative completely for a performance which we became familiar with in Nothing translated into the thrill of pushing our best creative traits as a company to new limits in a new narrative environment to try and retain as much as possible of the ‘us’ness which we love to share with audiences.

EUAN: None of us has any training, really. We’ve all got degrees and Joe went to clown school for a bit. We’re all slashes, or so we think. Everyone is an actor/theatremaker/designer/poet/chef/plumber/jockey/taxidermist or similar. Yes, this is great because it means we have a huge range of skills to draw upon, and our influences are diverse. However, it can also be a nightmare because everyone thinks they’re right and is very good at explaining why. One of the things our sophomore show Some People Talk About Violence has taught us is that sometimes people need to talk less about violence and just get on with making shows about violence.

PERKINS: In the last five months we’ve found the shows that aren’t this show, shows we’re not making, shows we will make. Led by the title and some initial scenes, we’ve made some of our best discoveries about the show in circling around it. In collaborating with written text and without, talking and playing, and when stuck not trying to tackle problems head ­on.

KIERAN: The process of creating this show has, for the most part, been about exploring these thematic off­-shoots. We’ve spent a long time picking apart and wrestling with several ideas about differing ways of representing violence and the socio­-economic factors which we feel are creating a more violent society. This process of expansion and exploration has created a show with themes that feel very open to interpretation.

Cake Recipe

PERKINS: We’ve found shows about bog­-bodies; microwaves; Hamlet on a Shopping Channel set in the future; tales of high­ fantasy inside an office; radioactive fallout; shows about tourism, travel agents, and the homogenous, exotic ‘abroad’ they sell; shipping, manufacturing and hidden processes, invisible hands; the inherent violence that runs through our lives.

KATHERINE: Having a constantly changing group in the room has been useful for keeping ourselves in check with regard to what we expect to make ­ creatively, politically, and humorously. We challenge each other to evaluate our expectations and complacencies in rehearsal as much as possible, which means at this point we’re very open to the expectation of being proved clangingly wrong; indeed, more than being open to it we’re sort of just welcoming it back with a masochistic air of excitement and a lot of stupid messy games we can’t wait to play.

KIERAN: As a company we always feel it is important for the content of a performance to be reflected in its form and the openness of interpretation is also present in the machinations of our performance of the text. The show is built around a rotating cast and each performer is able to play multiple parts. Each performer has been given licence to interpret the text on their own terms and perform it accordingly. One performer may choose to present one particular theme or aspect of our research in one performance whilst another performance might have a different interpretation. There are thirty­-six different combinations of casting for this show and hopefully each incarnation will explore the re­naming of violence in subtly differing ways.

PERKINS: And when, in a roundabout way, we return to the exact things we rejected or purposely avoided – ­action-­ing characters, finding their objectives – it is all the more fruitful for the mound of work beneath it. By finding meaning in moving far and wide from our point of origin, and applying scenarios to performance that find drama in the struggle between two opposing forces.

EUAN: Our two shows so far have been made by all eleven of us. We’re the same size as a football team and theatre companies aren’t really meant to be that big (not if you have dreams of getting paid well). However, we’re proud that we’ve made it work, defying logic, sense, our finances, the odds and gravity. In a world where even publicly funded art has to become a commodity or commercially-­viable enterprise, our over-sized band of mates is a big two fingers to ‘How Things Work’. I’m sure we’ll scale down our operations soon, but for now we’ve stuck to our guns.

KATHERINE: Making this show has been an exhausting process on every faculty and idea we have brought to the table, as it should be with new work. We knew we wanted to explore the representation, expectation, and viewing of violence onstage, but getting the resulting moments and thoughts on their feet and mingling with text has been surprising to all of us in different ways. A wonderful thing when working with a large and fluid group who existed & worked as individual makers/writers/actors/taxidermists/gardeners/temps/plumbers/chefs before a cohesive practical company emerged is that all of those lives and plans continue to exist ­ they are what populate our rehearsal room, and therefore our expectations of our collective work must, and have always ridden shotgun alongside our expectations of ourselves as individuals. I think that is one of the reasons why within the gang we are able to expect so much of each other when making stuff.

PERKINS: There exists a show about the violence we know, and act on or choose to ignore. And there is our show which interrogates the inherent violence that we not only ignore but never recognise as violent in the first instance. There are demands in presenting that; bringing an audience with us into that way of thinking, emphasising the necessity of the work as a piece theatre, to re-frame what is violent collaboratively in the space between what the audience bring with them, what we do and show in those fifty­-five minutes, and how all of that falls under the umbrella of Some People Talk About Violence.

EUAN: We’re making it up as we go along but it seems to be working okay for now.

Some People Talk About Violence is at Summerhall (Venue 26) ​ at 10.40am 5th-23rd August. Production photo: Richard Davenport.

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