Essential Videos on Devising: Part 2

We are going to continue to mine the internet for brilliant videos on the topic of devising. This week we are going to focus on The Builders Association.

The Builders Association, an award-winning intermedia performance company founded in 1994, develops its work in extended collaborations with artists and designers, working through performance, video, architecture, sound, and text to integrate live performance with other media. Its work is not only cross-media but cross-genre — fiction and nonfiction, unorthodox retellings of classic tales and multimedia stagings of contemporary events. This book offers a generously illustrated history and critical appraisal of The Builders Association, written by Shannon Jackson, a leading theater scholar, and Marianne Weems, the founder and artistic director of the company.

Andy Lavender’s chapter in Making Contemporary Theatre edited by Jen Harvie and Andy Lavender offers insight into The Builders Association’s rehearsal processes.


Continuous City

CONTINUOUS CITY is a meditation on how contemporary experiences of location and dislocation stretch us to the maximum as our “networked selves” occupy multiple locations. From Shanghai to Los Angeles, Toronto to Mexico City, CONTINUOUS CITY tells the story of a traveling father and his daughter at home tethered and transformed by speed, hypermodernity, and failing cell phones. The characters they interact with pursue their own transnational business, from an internet mogul exploiting networking across the developing world to a nanny who blogs humorous stories about the people and places within her universe. (Read her blog here.)

These excerpts from CONTINUOUS CITY were shot during a performance at BAM in 2008. They show scenes that reflect the production’s themes of disconnect and distance that can be created by the same technology we use to remain connected. In the first scene, performer Rizwan Mirza negotiates his relationship with an online date who threatens to become real. In the second, a traveling father (Harry Sinclair) talks remotely with his daughter (Olivia Timothee). The excerpt also highlights the use of the multiple screens that were employed as part of this production. Austin Switser, who will be designing video for ROAD TRIP, was the assistant on this production.

CONTINUOUS CITY from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

Super Vision

Conceived and created by The Builders Association & dbox.

SUPER VISION explores the changing nature of our relationship to living in a post-private society, where personal electronic information is constantly collected and distributed. The data files collected on us circulate like extra bodies, and these “data bodies” carry stains that are harder to clean than mud or sin; from birth certificates to bad credit, every moment of activity contributes to the construction of one’s own data body.

In this scene recorded during a performance at BAM, an international traveler (Rizwan Mirza) attempts to cross the border into the US. As he is questioned by a border control agent (Joseph Silovsky) his medical data is progressively revealed and superimposed over his physical body. At a time when people were just becoming aware of internet privacy issues, Super Vision explored the increasing ways in which our personal information might be collected and distributed.

SUPER VISION (1) – data body from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

Also recorded at BAM, in this scene a father (David Pence) is in the process of manipulating aspects of his young son’s identity (Owen Pence). This scene also illustrates the way the Builders use recorded images and video that intersect and interact with the live performer on stage.

SUPER VISION (2) – Dad from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

Sontag: Reborn

Adapted from Susan Sontag’s early journals by performer Moe Angelos, SONTAG: REBORN traces Sontag’s private life from the age of 14 to her emergence as a world-renowned author and activist. The young Sontag wrestles with her emerging sexuality and precocious intelligence, fraught with doubt and insecurity yet driven by her willfulness, ambition and voracious curiosity. The refuge of her diary became integral to her development as a writer, Sontag says herself, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could in person. I create myself.”

Directed by Marianne Weems and using The Builders Association’s signature synthesis of poetic video and sound, this tightly-crafted story of self-discovery and sexual identity is both exuberant and intimate, exploring the private life, loves and idiosyncrasies of the iconic intellectual.

This excerpt from REBORN is included as another example of the immersive use of video and the interaction between live performance and recorded. Younger Sontag is portrayed by performer Moe Angelos on the stage as the same performer recorded on video as older Susan reacts and responds to her early journal writings.

SONTAG: REBORN – Excerpt from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

House / Divided

Using John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath as a narrative backbone, HOUSE / DIVIDED (formerly ROAD TRIP) tells contemporary tales of foreclosure, following economic refugees and migrants from two different American eras. Steinbeck’s Joad family moves along the great Dust Bowl migration, while a contemporary house rooted to its site — yet connected to a web of global finance and investment – becomes a container for stories from the current, evolving crisis. HOUSE / DIVIDED explores the changing meaning of home, homelessness, and place both in the present moment and in the broader context of the American mythos.

This excerpt from the beginning of the piece establishes the construct used to move between the two worlds. It also highlights the different ways that media is used to tell the story, from the construction of the house itself to interviews with people affected by and involved in the crisis.

HOUSE / DIVIDED – Excerpt, Wexner (2011) from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

HOUSE / DIVIDED (Excerpt) 2012 from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

Elements of Oz

ELEMENTS OF OZ draws on one of the richest examples of escapist American entertainment, The Wizard of Oz. We revel in the multiplicity of interpretations of this iconic example of popular culture, and examine how tens of thousands of people across the country (and across the globe) have made Oz their own. Through the use of YouTube tributes, a re-contextualization of the film, and the incorporation of new technologies, ELEMENTS OF OZ celebrates and deconstructs this incredibly rich cultural artifact.

ELEMENTS OF OZ: Trailer from The Builders Association on Vimeo.

The Week in Theatre Podcasts

Your week of podcast listening:

Monday

Stage Left with Jen Harvie – Jen meets Scottee

Jen Harvie talks with performance maker and artist Scottee whose work consistently addresses the experiences of being an outsider – affected by class, race, and/or sexuality. We discuss his move from London to the Essex seaside, mental health, neurodiversity, hospitality, and class, and how all these things relate to his performance, especially Bravado, which is touring in 2017.

Tuesday

Theatre Voice – Mark Fisher talks to David Grieg

From taking The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart on a tour of pubs to putting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway, David Greig is one of Britain’s most wide-ranging and prolific playwrights. Since 2016, however, he has also been in charge of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum. What happens when a playwright becomes an artistic director? What has he learnt about running a repertory theatre? Does he take responsibility for the race and gender balance on stage? And where is he most at home: on Broadway or on a scratch cabaret night?

Wednesday

Stage Directions – Dan Rebellato with Nadine Holdsworth, Chris Megson and Aoife Monks

In this episode Dan talks to Nadine Holdsworth and Chris Megson about British theatre and Brexit. He reports from an academic conference in Reading and ask, what are academic conferences for? And he talks to Aoife Monks about something she’s seen and something she’s read.

Thursday

Thompson’s Live – Chris Goode with Chris Thorpe

Friday

National Theatre Podcast – In Public

How does culture shape the character of a neighbourhood, a city, a country? They speak to visual artist Jeremy Deller, DJ Dave Haslam and celebrate the NT’s River Stage festival by looking at art in public spaces, and the impact it’s had on the people who pass through them.

Saturday

Off Book from the Young Vic – Paul Mason

Journalist Paul Mason pops in to the Young Vic to talk about his play about revolution and the networked generation, Why It’s All Kicking Off Everywhere, based on his acclaimed book.

Sunday

Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast – April de Angelis talks to Simon Stephens

Introduction by Simon Stephens:

“April De Angelis has been writing for the theatre since the mid –eighties. Starting her career as an actor for the significant feminist theatre company Monstrous Regiment, she wrote her first play Breathless in 1987. Since then she has applied her ferocious spirit of enquiry and crackling wit to over twenty plays that have been produced widely in Britain’s most important theatres and throughout the world”

Her first play produced at the Royal Court, Hush, directed in 1992 by Max Stafford Clark, explored the political and psycho-dynamics underpinning the disappearance of a fifteen year old girl. It was, she said at the time, an attempt to consciously move away from the didacticism and certainties of some of her earlier feminist plays. Since then I think she has explored the gaps between her political commitments to gender equality and the contradictions and uncertainties that define her characters experiences. Her 2005 play Wild East was a savage surreal exploration of the capitalism of an office workplace. Her play Jumpy, produced at the Royal Court in 2011, is something of a modern classic. It puts the relationship between a woman and her daughter at the heart of an exploration of the nature of identity in this century and explores and interrogates a generation of women who might identify themselves as post-feminist.

She is a prolific theatre maker. She has engaged in adaptations and written libretti, she has written plays staged at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and is as likely to write short plays for the Theatre503. The range and energy of her work is unified by her intelligence and her spirit of enquiry and her caustic, self deprecating wit.”

 

World Theatre Traditions – Butoh

Extract from A Short Introduction to Butoh by Frances Barbe

So what traits might we consider to be ‘butoh’? A definitive description would never satisfy the breadth of artists involved in it, but a few recurrent themes are useful by way of introduction. Butoh is an attempt to uncover the dance that already exists, it must emerge from within, and not be imposed from without. Butoh uses ‘reduction’ to great effect, for example, stillness and slow motion are well known to audiences of Butoh. Done well, highly charged stillness and very embodied slow motion can heighten the awareness of the dancer and their audience to the detail of movement, and it can explore timeframes beyond the everyday. Reduction or distillation heightens presence, though stillness and slow motion themselves do not account for the absolute presence associated with butoh. Often observed as a kind of ‘trance’, it is more accurate to say the butoh dancer is in a state of ‘hyper-presence’, aware of everything going on around them and within their own body. The fact that butoh dancers often seem ‘other’ than themselves is the result of their skills in transformation.

The two original founders of butoh, Kazuo Ohno and Tatsumi Hijikata offer seemingly contradictory advice on the process of transformation. Ohno might say, ‘find the spirit, and form will take care of itself’. Hijikata might say, ‘find the architecture of the cat, and the spirit will enter’. They approach the same point from different perspectives. Another distinctive aspect of transformation in butoh is that performers don’t necessarily use only human characters as a source. Equally ready to explore transforming into a stone or a wet rug the butoh dancer draws on the full range of textures available in the natural world and attempt to manifest those physical and psychic materials in their bodies. Yoko Ashikawa, one of the earliest female exponents of butoh, danced a tree enduring the changing seasons. For the audience though, her body can become an old woman or their grandmother reliving all of life’s experiences. To think of an old woman is not necessarily the best way to transform into old woman.

Extract from Kazuo Ohno Doesn’t Commute: An Interview with Kazuo Ohno by Richard Schechner

Kazuo Ohno on how he makes the movements:

My mother was my director. She was the one I thought about. The movement motifs of My Mother came from what I thought I was doing in my mother’s womb. I was in her-what was I doing there? Then came the costume-how to wear the costume. I feel that the costume is the cosmos. I must wear the cosmos and move within it. The other motif is cats. I studied their movements and looked at pictures of them. Even in pictures you get a certain kind of movement.

Extract from Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh by Kurihara Nanako 

Kurihara Nanako on Butoh lessons with Ashikawa Yōko, a leading disciple of Hijikata Tatsumi.

In Ashikawa’s class, there were routine basic exercises. One of them was called mushikui (insect bites). A student is first told, “An insect is crawling from between your index finger and middle finger onto the back of your hand and then on to your lower arm and up to your upper arm.” The teacher rubs a drumstick back and forth across a drum, making a slithering sound. Then she touches those particular parts of the body to give some physical sense to the student. The number of insects increases one by one and finally, “You have no purpose. In the end, you are eaten by insects who enter through all the pores of your body, and your body becomes hollow like a stuffed animal.” Each insect has to be in its precise place. One should not confuse or generalize the insects even when their numbers increase. The most difficult part of this exercise was that one had to “be it,” not merely “imagine it.” This was emphasized in the class again and again. The condition of the body itself has to be changed. Through words, Hijikata’s method makes dancers conscious of their physiological senses and teaches them to objectify their bodies. Dancers can then “reconstruct” their bodies as material things in the world and even as concepts.’ By practicing the exercises repeatedly, dancers learn to manipulate their own bodies physiologically and psychologically. As a result, butoh dancers can transform themselves into everything from a wet rug to a sky and can even embody the universe, theoretically speaking.

Butoh Documentary – Piercing the Mask

Using contemporary footage of leading Butoh performers, this documentary presents the history of the development of butoh dance, interviews the creator of this Japanese modern dance form, Tatsumi Hijikata and other artists and explores the cultural significance of the Butoh dance form in Japan.

Butoh in Europe

This is a six part documentary of two weeks of workshops and performances exploring European interpretations of the Japanese movement form Butoh held at schloss Bröllin in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North East Germany in the long hot summer of 1995.

 

The Week in Theatre Podcasts

Our weekly list continues with a few new faces.

Monday

Jen Harvie talks with performance makers Nic Green and Rosana Cade about Cock and Bull, created with Laura Bradshaw for the eve of the 2015 UK General Election and touring in spring 2017 including to London’s Southbank, 25-30 April. We discuss how the show sampled rhetorical language and gestures from the 2014 Conservative Party Conference, then broke them down in a precisely scored and choreographed exorcism towards a hoped-for new future. We talk about politics, inequality, formalism, bodies, music, anger, people, work, task-based performance, and how to make performance without funding, and with passion.

Tuesday

Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast – Dennis Kelly and Joe Penhall talk to Simon Stephens

Introduction by Simon Stephens:

“This afternoon’s recording is going to be something of a break from convention. This afternoon I won’t just be interviewing one of the world’s leading playwrights, but two of them together.

Joe Penhall first came to wide recognition in 1994 when his play Some Voices was produced down the corridor from this room in the celebrated Theatre Upstairs. A passionate, bruising study of love and brotherhood and illness and survival, it launched a career that has seen Joe work in the world’s leading theatres and write with phenomenal success for television and film. His musical Sunny Afternoon is thriving in the West End, after cleaning up at last year’s Olivier Awards. His films include Road and Enduring Love, he has seen massive acclaim for his television series’ Moses Jones and The Long Firm, his multi-award winning 2000 play Blue/Orange has just been revived with startling force at the Young Vic. But it is here, I think, at the Royal Court with plays like Pale HorseDumb ShowHaunted Child and Birthday that Joe has continued to push himself and cement his reputation as one of the world’s leading dramatists for stage.

Dennis Kelly too is, I think, one of Britain’s most significant living playwrights. It’s something of an anomaly, and I think a fascinating one, that his work has rarely been staged here. His Royal Court debut, his first play produced by current Artistic Director, Vicky Featherstone; The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas, opened here in 2013 but it was actually his ninth major play. His coruscating, lyrical debut Debris opened at the Theatre503 in 2003 and in the following 12 years his plays, amongst which are Orphans, After the EndOsama the Hero and Love and Money, have been celebrated for their savagery and intelligence, searing wit and restless formal exploration and produced all over the world. His television series’ Pulling and Utopia have been hailed as masterpieces of the form. His musical collaboration with Tim Minchin, Matilda, a musical based on Roald Dahl’s much-loved novel, has been a magnificent success, both commercially and critically, on the West End and Broadway for the duration of this decade.”

Wednesday

Theatre Voice – Matt Trueman talks to Peter Brook

As he launches his new book, Tip of the Tongue, the legendary director tells Matt Trueman why it’s time to reassess the idea of the empty space for a new theatrical era and discusses the value of a life in theatre. Recorded at the Rembrandt Hotel, London on 13 September 2017.

Thursday

Thompson’s Live – Chris Goode with Natalie Ibu

Chris is back this week with a conversation with Natalie Ibu, Artistic Director and CEO of Tiata Fahodzi.

http://www.tiatafahodzi.com

Friday

National Theatre Podcast – New Work

Cush Jumbo explains how writing a play changed the fortunes of her acting career, and we talk to dramaturgs, directors and a 17-year-old playwright to learn the untold story of how plays really come to life.

Saturday

Stage Directions – Dan Rebellato with Bryce Lease, Sophie Nield and Ellen McDougall

In this episode Dan Rebellato discusses Donald Trump and performance with his colleagues Bryce Lease and Sophie Nield. He talks about a paradoxical and strange evening of theatre in January 1886. And he has a chat with Ellen McDougall about her first season as Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill.

Podcast outline:

  • 00.00.00 Introduction
  • 00.00.49 Donald Trump and Performance: Introduction
  • 00.07.57 Donald Trump and Performance: Discussion
  • 00.35.54 Strange Evenings of Theatre: 27 January 1886
  • 00.47.56 Interview: Ellen McDougall
  • 01.15.02  End

Sunday

Off Book from the Young Vic – Zoë Svendsen and Paul Mason

Theatre maker and Dramaturg Zoë Svendsen joined us earlier in 2017 to discuss the important role dramaturgy plays in theatre and how she discovered Dramaturgy was part of what she wanted to do.

Zoë also discusses the Berlin theatre scene and recent productions at the YV with Joe Hill-Gibbins; Measure for Measure and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We also hear about the development of Shakespearonomics with journalist an economist Paul Mason.