A little Foo-nouncement......

Amongst all the rehearsal chaos we have a little FOO-NOUNCEMENT to make....... we are pleased to be able to finally spill the beans that we have been selected as one of 5 In Good Company Associate Companies!!! An East Midlands Artist dev scheme being offered by fab 3 partner venuesDerby Theatre Embrace Arts and Create Theatre. Thanks for having us guys, it's going to be an exciting year for the Foo! 
We will be amongst Good Company too as we are joined by La Pelle's Factory, Nonsuch Theatre Spiltmilk Dance and graduate company Zealous. BRING IT!!!!

1 WEEK TO GO!!!!

With less than a week until the National Tour of Pendulums Bargain Emporium opens our guest blogger Becky from ZEALOUS lifts back the rehearsal curtain and reveals what been going on in Derby Theatre's rehearsal rooms.....

My time in the Foo’s rehearsal has come to an end. It’s been a fun two weeks and in that time I’ve learnt a lot. I also can’t get the shows songs out of my head! 

Last week there were major changes to the story; the shoemaker has become almost a completely different character and this has had a knock on effect on everything else.


Here’s my Foo diary of week 2!

Monday.

Today was fun. The Foos had buckets of energy (probably had something to do with having a rest day). They dived straight in, and when they popped back up again they’d got new airhosts, cute but creepy puppet babies, and some poetry. There was lots of playing and experimenting today. The Foos were happy with the script for these scenes, and today they wanted to focus on the visual aspects; creating an airplane cabin, developing the babies’ movement, and showing the shoemaker being captured by consumerism.


Tuesday.

Tuesday was renamed “the day to crack the beast”. The reworking of the script has lead the story on a different path, the original ending has been scrapped and now they are feeling their way towards a new one. It’s been mostly a day of discussion, and it felt like the Foos were frustrated, they knew how they wanted it to end ultimately, they just didn’t know how to get to that point.


Wednesday.

Cracking the beast continues. Yesterday the Foos decided on three possible endings. Today they’re working out what the turning points are in the play which leads to the conclusion.  Each turning point now has to have more impact, and to link back to the theme that they’re weaving into the show. Last week the Foos set a theme ‘discontent’, however now they are questioning if this is the right wording. Could there be something appropriate that applies to everyone?


Thursday.

When I got in this morning Kate and Beth asked everyone if they could have ten minutes by themselves to think. A few minutes later Kate bounced into the kitchen exclaiming “I think we’ve cracked it!” the new message had been found and it fits perfectly. I’m not going to give it away and tell you what it is, you’ll have to come and see the show to find out. The new message needed to be reworked into the play at each turning point. There’s been a lot of script editing and experimenting, and the Foos seem to have their mojo back.


Friday.

My last day in the Foo rehearsals! Today’s mission was to complete a run through with the reworked script. There’s been a few issues with set and props not being in the right places, but other than that the script is running well. Watching the run I realised that some ideas that had been developed in the first week had now been taken out. The over exaggerated sniffing has now gone, and where it fitted in last week’s edit, it no longer does in this weeks. I left the Foo to do one last full run through before they broke for the weekend. 


So next week will see the Foo in intensive rehearsal mode, moulding and reshaping their new ideas to flow into the moments that still remain. Then they will head on into a 2 day tech. They open next Friday (3rd October) at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham and I can’t wait to see the the finished product! Check out www.maisonfoo.co.uk/garage for full UK tour details.

Becky

BEHIND THE SCENES AT REHEARSALS

With under 2 weeks until we open, rehearsals have begun! Our guest rehearsal blogger Becky from graduate theatre company ZEALOUS has been fly on the walling all week in our rehearsals for 'Pendulums Bargain Emporium', read on to see what behind the scenes antics her fly has been spying......

I saw Pendulums Bargain Emporium at Derby theatre’s DEparture Lounge Festival in 2013. It was the first piece of work I’d seen by Maison Foo and I didn’t know what to expect. Suffice to say I loved it. It was quirky and original, surreal but rooted very much in truth. So when I was invited to observe their rehearsal process I jumped at the chance! Here are a few of my musing from my first week with the Foo …

They start off the day loud and kicking! Warming up with full body stretches, games, shouting, and the occasional howl. The energy in the room is palpable. The Foos are ready to begin!

This week the original opening scene has been reworked by the cast. The Foos meticulously pick apart every detail with a why and a what. Why are they saying this? What is its purpose?

 So when the Foos looked at their Shoemaker they asked themselves, is this story a tragedy for him? Well to answer that question they then had to ask, what is the meaning of tragedy? Was the Shoemaker fated to his end or could he have done something about it? What are the consequences of the passive? The role of the Shoemaker has begun to develop and change; he has new purpose and actions that define him.


Physicality plays a big part in shaping the piece and characters. The opening shop sequence was experimented with by using the 7 deadly sins as inspiration. The Foos find the physicality in each sin. They became driven by gluttony creating hungry, bloated, sluggish characters that started eyeing up the customers for dinner.  Wrath provoked them into becoming sharp and vicious; there movements were quick and aggressive, shoving each other out of the way, waspishly snapping at customers. It’s all about trial and error. If all that comes out of it is a look or a gesture, it’s another layer added. That look might be the action that the scene is devised around. 

A different drive has emerged for Hilary, Beatrix and Sue. They’ve taken on more wolfish characteristics. The trio can now smell your desire for more, and once the pack have latched onto the scent they become predatory, luring in their prey with a paragon of life which can be achieved with Pendulum’s help, all you have to do is buy.

5 top tips I’ve picked up from the Foo to take into my own rehearsals.

  1. Try out every idea. You never know what gem you might glean from it.
  2. Record your rehearsals. If you can’t see it how do you know if it’s working or not?
  3. Eat healthy. If you live on sugar you will crash before the day is done, not so productive!
  4. Invest in a printer you can bring to rehearsals so your script edits are clear, instead of trying to remember why you’ve underlined that word 3 times. 
  5. Don’t try and force it. Take a break, find inspiration in a quote, play a game, whatever will help to get you back in the zone.

With my second week coming up I’m ready to get back into the rehearsal room and see what the Foo do next!

Becky

PENDULUMS BARGAIN EMPORIUM will be opening it's doors throughout the UK from the 3rd October at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham. For full tour details go to our touring page www.maisonfoo.co.uk/garage

PENDULUMS TV GOES LIVE!

 We know our Foo family love a bit of creative marketing so to celebrate our Autumn tour of Pendulums Bargain Emporium we pulled on our shoulder pads and 1980's slacks and delved into the wonderful world of the shopping channel, just for you!

We have just launched the 1st of 4 weekly installments of these titivating shopping channel spoofs that we hope will brighten up your September.This is the first of four weekly instalments in which you will meet the ever charming host Daphne Dee and her sidekick Cheryl! Here's episode 1 D.E.B.T (Deeply Evocative Bracelets and Trinkets) HOUR for your viewing pleasure. We hope you enjoy ;)

Our Pendulums scrap book is up and running!

Just a quick post to say we've joined Tumblr! On our Tumblr site we have launched a Pendulums Scrap Book woohoo. In the scrapbook we will be posting lots of pics and antics from the making of our touring show Pendulums Bargain Emporium to date and will be adding lots of antics during the re-rehearsals and whilst we are on the road touring the uk!

So click this link http://maisonfoo.tumblr.com/ and keep checking in for all the latest goss!!!!

We're on the hunt for a General Manager!

The Foo are looking for a General Manager to join the team!!!! If you're interested, read on......

Maison Foo are a national touring company based in Derby. We devise visual theatre that takes on the form of Touring Theatre and Street Theatre. We also love to inspire and encourage creativity and imaginative thinking in others through our participatory work, which spans a wide range of activity and settings including arts and health, community outreach, creative consultancy and education. We are a project by project based company.

This is an exciting time to join Maison Foo’s team as we are about to embark on our second National Tour with critically acclaimed show Pendulums Bargain Emporium.

For details about the company please visit www.maisonfoo.co.uk

JOB TITLE: General Manager

To provide operational & marketing support for Maison Foo and its forthcoming national tour of Pendulums Bargain Emporium, including basic administration and financial monitoring.  Contract/Line management of the General Manager will be provided by the Joint Artistic Directors and Producer 

TERMS OF ENGAGEMENT                                            

Type of Engagement: Temporary freelance – you will be responsible for your own national insurance contributions and tax

Contract length: July 2014 to end of Nov 2014 with possible extension (dependent on funding)

Hours: 16 hours a week                                                                                                              

Fee: £10 per hour                                                                                                                      

Pro Rata: £20,800                                                                                                         

Expenses: to be agreed in advance                                                                                     

Place of work: Maison Foo has a flexible approach to home working though some time will be required at the company offices

HOW TO APPLY: If you are interested in applying for this position please click the link below for a full job description and send: 

  • A 500 word statement detailing why you are interested in this position, outlining relevant marketing experience, in particular social media marketing and project management experience.
  • A C.V including 2 referees 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/h78sfrovure5h9b/Maison%20Foo%20-%20General%20Manager%20Job%20Description.pdf?n=3971703 

Please send to: info@maisonfoo.co.uk

Closing date for Submissions: 12pm Wednesday 28th May

Interviews: 9th June with secondary interviews if required on 12th June.

Successful applicants will be notified of interview by Monday 2nd June.

This position is project funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

A Fly On The Foo Wall At Edinburgh Festival

By Seana Maggs Cooke

Maison Foo’s expedition to the Fringe is over!

After a Month of performing at 4.20 every day in the Pleasance King Dome, Beth, Kate, Matt and Morgan have left Pendulums behind them... for the time being.

I joined in on The Foo Festivities at Edinburgh for the duration of their final week at the Fringe Festival and discovered just how much effort, and behind the scenes extra work was required to drive the show and entice audience members.

The apartment up 3 flights of stairs on Dundonald Street had been home to the resident Foos for 3 weeks prior to my arrival. Upon entering for my first evening I could sense the atmosphere was clearly already one of a close knit family unit; after an extremely warm hearted welcome and acquaintance to the literal ‘Maison Foo’ I soon discovered that the evening ritual for the group consisted of sharing and distributing the task of cutting out reviews and stapling them to pre-made Pendulums flyers whilst another Foo occupied themselves for 45 minutes waiting for the peculiar tank-like bath to fill up. 

Maison Foo are up by 8am on Monday Morning- my first morning in Edinburgh, and I am taken on a swift tour of the city by Beth and Kate; from which I learn quickly that Edinburgh is A. The most beautiful city I’ve ever visited, but also B. Feels like it could potentially be the busiest place on the planet!

Either way, the hustle and bustle of the Fringe, entwined with the masses of ‘general public’ is of course the intrinsic ingredient for enticing audiences; or enticing audiences is exactly what my mission for the week required. 

After a morning meeting I am told that the usual protocol is to split up and flyer for a few hours in different areas of the city; Beth and I retreat to ‘the half price hut’ where Pendulums, along with many other shows are selling a number of tickets for... Half price. After half an hour of analysing Beth’s ‘golden method’ (as I’ve named it) of approaching and pitching Pendulums Bargain Emporium to people waiting in half price queue I felt inspired to trial out this honest and genuine people focused approach on the public... I soon learn however that the key to flyering is patience- and patience was something I needed to get me through the week, and is, no doubt what Maison Foo needed to endure a month of persistent flyering at the Fringe!

The tag team flyering lasts until 3pm, when the Foo retire to the Green Room of the King Dome and await their call time for Pendulums. I join Beth Kate for a pre-show pick-me-up coffee and the excitement of the day comes from Kate picking up the days copy of ‘Three Weeks’- An Edinburgh paper renowned for giving credited reviews, and discovering that Pendulums Bargain Emporium has been given 5 stars! I find myself rejoicing out loud with Beth and Kate and immediately begin a quest to inform as many members of the public as I can find, equipped with flyers for extra promotion.

I sit in for the first show in the final week of the run and rediscover Pendulums all over again. It’s changed  from the last time I saw it at DEparture Lounge Festival at Derby Theatre; it encapsulates me just as before but the performance feels even more stunning, and as the Promotional Flyers state, ‘a visual blend of puppetry, comedy and live music’ mixed with satire, brilliantly paced humour and an undertone of social injustice.

After rediscovering the Emporium I felt as thankful to the excellent reviews for Pendulums as Maison Foo. There is no possible way of summing up how brilliant a show Pendulums Emporium is to a passer-by or someone queuing for show tickets- the reviews for Pendulums massively speak for themselves! A Must see stamp from The Stage along with several 4 star ratings from The Scotsman and The British Theatre Guide, along with the new 5 star review from The Three Weeks equipped us all at Team Foo with the tools we needed to promote the show as much as possible and give it a massive send off.

 

From witnessing the Foo at work in Edinburgh, I have learnt that The Fringe Festival is by no means for the faint hearted: after all the effort and dedication gone into creating Pendulums as a show and from when I first joined The Foo in February, to finally having it polished and at The Fringe Festival- it isn’t a case of merely performing everyday and waiting for reviews to come out. Every single company at the Fringe work tirelessly to give their shows credit; and this was certainly the case for Maison Foo.

7.30am is a tedious time for anyone, but for the Foos it’s a standard time to be up and ready to take on Edinburgh once more. For the rest of the week I assign myself as stapler and chief cutter of reviews to prepare flyers for the day ahead; you become an almost automaton when you start this task, and before you know it hundreds of flyers have been stapled-  it seems fairly efficient and almost therapeutic! Everyone in the Foo abode is eager and willing to share the work load, and the once drawn up rota has been disregarded for the last week of the festival and instead everyone seems more lenient about when and where the flyering takes place- but one thing never changes with M Foos routine, and that is the hours that go into flyering the public and promoting the show!

This is a basic summary of a day in the life of an average Foo at Edinburgh: Get up- 7.30-8am, cut out reviews and staple them to flyers (if not completed the night before.) Trek to the city centre and split up between 3 areas: The ‘half price hut’, the Dome and the pleasance courtyard and begin flyering for a few hours at a time... Grab lunch and continue flyering until 3pm and prepare for the show... perform and undergo a quick get out of all props and scenery whilst the next show prepares a get in at the same time...Manage to watch a show in the evening or go out for a cheeky meal (if fortunate or not too exhausted), retire to the apartment and prepare to begin the routine all over again... My week with The Foo really has been that spectacularly busy! 

By Wednesday I feel more than adequate to be left to wonder Edinburgh on my own and flyer for the show. It’s an exciting achievement talking to people about a show you’re passionate about and having them reciprocate that passion by purchasing a ticket; every audience member is an achievement and is usually someone who has been persuaded through the art of Foo charm and casual conversation, I begin to understand why the hard work is necessary and how rewarding it feels to attain audience members. In a way, Maison Foo share every essence of their work with the public- even after shows they are approached and congratulated for their work, it’s a humbling sensation.

As the week draws to a close and the weekend approaches there is a triumphant feeling amidst the Foo! Beth and Kate have told me that this year has been in many ways harder than the last time Maison Foo conquered the Fringe with Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin. It’s been a tough run and one that has seen the team persevere and achieve excellent praise around the festival, and very deservedly so!

There is no time for a night of celebratory drinks when the last show is finished- instead it’s an organised but rushed get out and a trip to ‘Fat Pats’ for a slice of victory cake! I ask each of the Foos what it’s like to return to ‘normality’ and the answer is one that suggests there is no such thing as normality if you’re in ‘the arts’, which after my week in Edinburgh I can now understand. 

Now Maison Foo has the acclaimed reviews they need to take Pendulums on tour, and they’ll embark on yet another journey with ‘The Retail store that offers more than you bargained for.’ During cake time the group reminisce on their time at Edinburgh and take turns to pick out their top ‘highs and lows’. It’s refreshing to know that even professionals have their ups and downs, and Maison Foo are always completely open when it comes to sharing theirs. Again, I feel privileged to be part of this Fringe-concluding discussion. The unanimous ‘ups’ of the Fringe experience were, as Matt said: ‘when the show finally clicked.’ This, to me proves how in sync the 4 artists are with each other un-phased by early mornings or oodles of stapling and crucial meetings- they conquered The Fringe as a admirable unit. 

The last night sees us all tidying and cleaning the apartment, working again, and as always as a team; Pizza, Mojitos by Morgan, and cheesy tunes by Beth are our celebration, and it feels like a fitting last way to spend the last night of the fringe.

 Sunday is followed by a rigorous get out of loading the entire set into the Derby Theatre van, with the help of JB: the Theatre technician and M-Foo chauffeur who dropped the group off over a month ago. We wave goodbye to Matt who is making his own way home and embark on our journey home which for Maison Foo feels melancholic, but greatly anticipated.

When I eventually return home to me ‘normality’ I can’t help but ponder over my time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have in all senses been a member of the Foo family for a week and have been witness to all aspects of Fringe life as an honorary member of the theatre company! Being able to share my love of theatre and admiration of Maison Foo through marketing for them has been a remarkable and brilliant experience, and now I can only ponder as to what their next conquest and project will be- but until then I’m sure Pendulums Bargain Emporium will be making an anticipated and marvellous reappearance!

A snippet if those Edinburgh reviews

A snippet if those Edinburgh reviews

That 5 star Three weeks moment!!!

That 5 star Three weeks moment!!!

Ready for DEparture??!

Pendulums Rehearsal blog... 2 days to go until Derby Theatre and Latitude!

By Seana Maggs-Cooke

I greet Kate at the Green Lane doors ready to encounter my last rehearsal of Pendulums before the finished version is performed at Derby Theatre this Friday (19th July). 

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Last time I caught up with The Foo they were carefully rerecording sound for the show in Matts makeshift studio. For this last rehearsal week each day is spent finalising and polishing every ounce of the piece.

I enter the rehearsal room to find Morgan grabbing a caffeine boost and Kate sewing a pillow- one of the props for the show. Beth enters and declares 'we need to preset the stage,' and this is what the group immediately set about doing. Everyone's hands on here- I feel guilty for sitting and observing. Instead of this being a tedious procedure, Morgan treats the group to some musical classics via his phone and the task becomes an almost routine.

Each time I view the set I'm pleasantly surprised by how minimalist yet intricate it appears; it's simple, and yet the ingenuity and purpose of each prop is only one reason an audience won't help but deeply appreciate the aesthetic of Pendulums. Two supermarket cages are the predominate feature of the set and they are used efficiently in every scene (as you will observe yourselves when you come and see the show.) The set is full of surprises and the amount of props the cast need to remember is beyond impressive. 

The Preset session is like watching a sitcom in itself and the cast are in high spirits as always, ready to embark on a full run. I'm excited to watch and delighted to be promoted to my old role of sound technician.

All I can do is sit back and enjoy the show: it's the first time the group have attempted a full run with all 'the new bits' added. I become engrossed immediately and am treated to The Foos enchanting fairy tale; layered with comedy, narration and topped with nightmareish themes, the run through is simply mesmerising to watch and the conventions used to tell the story are as imaginative as The Foo are renowned for. 

I am only able to join Maison Foo for the duration of the morning, but we are also joined by Oz and Andy, the technicians on board for Pendulums. I am spoilt once more and am able the view one more run before I have to leave, and I can't help but feel deeply grateful for being able to view The Foo and pendulums at its best. Matt informs Oz that '60% of the piece is new', this percentage of new additions has only come about since the preview tour, where audience feedback has proved pinnacle to how The Foo have modified and progressed the play.

The second run through proves to be an improvement on the first, and Pendulums can only become more perfected- although I have no doubt that the group will tweak and change as much as they can before the week's up to make their creation the best it can possibly be. Maison Foo seem to be their own strictest and most constructive critics, which is why the standard of this devised piece is so profoundly high!

Now I leave Green Lane and Maison Foo to their last day and a half of rehearsals to return to Derby theatre, where I await to see Pendulums Bargain Emporium on Friday as an audience member...and I can't understate how excited I am!

Departure Lounge here we come!

The Foo and their Emporium ready for takeoff at DEparture Lounge festival this Friday 

By Séana Maggs-Cooke

I’m back again with Maison Foo and it’s as if I’ve never left! They’re rehearsing PENDULUMS BARGAIN EMPORIUM in Derby Theatre's Green Lane building (the same as February), the only differences being the room size and The Foos summer attire as opposed to coats and scarves. 

I am dropping in each evening for an insight on how the new rehearsals are going for the run up to their final preview performance of PENDULUMS BARGAIN EMPORIUM at Departure Lounge festival at Derby Theatre on Friday July 19th and indeed the polished version ready for Latitude Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

I enter Monday’s rehearsal late in the afternoon to discover that the aim of the day has been to rework the ‘Desperate Tango’ scene- which is my favourite scenes from the play (if I was desperately forced to pick a favourite.) To my surprise I discover that the scene has changed quite dramatically from when I last witnessed it just before Pendulums first showcase at Deda; the tempo has changed quite a lot, as have the lyrics- but the same catchy melody remains and I am instantly bobbing along and singing to the song as I had done some 3 months previously.

I am informed by The Foo that things with Pendulums have changed almost radically in some places: the same plot and conventions remain but a larger focus on the fairytale aspect and the tale of the Elves and the Shoemaker has been added, and as such a story telling element has been entwined into the whole piece.

One of the main characters in this tale, The Shoemakers Wife is portrayed as a manikin, and things seem to have changed with the image of even this character: She is no longer represented as a Manikins head with electric Blue hair, but has been given her own accessories and full costumes to represent her status throughout the play. It’s amazing to see just how many details have been added to the piece since its first showcase tour.

The Foo spend most of their time on their feet and on the move, but I realise from watching them that sometimes the best and only way to work is by sitting at a laptop and scripting crucial lines for a scene. This is always followed by a get-up and go ad-libbing session, whereby so many obscure words and phrases are produced by the cast, it seems to be almost a game of ‘who can out bizarre the other.’ Nothing is too peculiar in this refining rehearsal process; every word and movement is acknowledged and re-visited for potential future use. The cast are completely in tune with each other and random outbursts of personal Foo jokes add to the optimistic atmosphere that devising Pendulums brings; even the notion of the Emporium stocking a ‘Travel Iron’ is revisited, and soon a whole hilarious side story is developed for some light-hearted relief (it really is as bombastic as it sounds.) Moments of frivolity such as these are what make The Foo live up to their name: Mischievous Mad Fools. Indeed!

A new routine has been adapted for the first song in the play and now a conveyor belt has been added; this scene involves Kate and Beth manipulating gift bags from behind the Pendulums counters to give the aesthetic of travelling down a conveyor belt- it’s slapstick and hilarious as ever, and these intentional moments of blissful cheese are ones that you cannot help but adore. 

Matt, as always is the self designated sound effect man- he also multi roles as the protagonist of the play, which is pretty nifty for someone who isn’t ordinarily an actor. If an effect is needed Matt will assuredly have the sound; this he proves by immediately producing a ‘crash’ effect on cue with the improvisation of the conveyor belt scene and unfortunate death of ‘travel iron’- which gains a laugh of approval from us all. He also spends some time conjuring ‘fashion music’, the stereotypical high street hipster beats that lures the youth of today into shops (Ie, me!)

Just as every word is utilised to full potential, the props are equally as well thought out in this rehearsal process, even up to the tackiness of Morgan’s glasses when he plays the character of the game show host. At one point of the rehearsal Matt throws a hammer at me- to which I flinch but discover on impact that it’s a polystyrene invention of Morgans, and just goes to show that resourcefulness is everything!

Beth and Kate show me their handy work in the form of three hand-knitted babies which are used to great effect when the girls demonstrate their puppetry expertise; they develop subtle movements which performed in unison gives life to the ‘blanket babies’. This is far more sophisticated and intricate than a ‘Punch and Judy’ show, but conventions such as these add to the eerie fairytale dynamic of this entire story.

By the time I enter Wednesday’s rehearsal; the team are contemplating and discussing the ending of Pendulums. This was originally worked out in February, but it seems that the new dimensions of the play have created a loop hole to explore potential new endings. After a much needed one minute free-style dance session The Foo gather around the oracle: Beth’s lap top, and type as much dialogue as possible, testing it practically as they go. Kate exclaims ‘we’re almost there!’  And that they are! This seems like the hardest part of the whole process by a mile, and I’ve soon realised after all the endless hours of work that Maison Foo have put into this play, finding and polishing an ending for Pendulums Bargain Emporium will also mark the end of every rehearsal and every idea ever explored long before The Foo ever entered this Green Lane building, it’s a ground-breaking achievement for team Foo. 

Reworking the entire play seems like a rigorous procedure, especially considering the effort put into the original devising process, but the cast seem to be enjoying the challenge. Beth discusses with me the revelations and differences that have come out of these recent re-rehearsals. I feel that I’m watching a new piece entirely, and now I’m equally as teased and excited for the rest to be revealed to me as I was a few months ago.

You can get tickets to see the final preview of Pendulums Bargain Emporium at Derby Theatre's Departure Festival (19th July) before it heads to Edinburgh by clicking here  

To have a peek at the promo trailer click this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXNxVjVcFzE&list=FLunFlS6sO3xGmUl2Rq-f-jA 

The Foo's are brewing up!

Well we seemed to have leaped straight from making Pendulums into making a new street theatre show. Our new Street theatre baby is THE TEA BAR, we've been having loads of fun in the rehearsal room developing a variety on new eccentrically english blends of tea that will all be brewed up with theatrical gusto! If you are around on Saturday 20th the Tea Bar will be opening it's doors for the first time to customers 12 - 3.30 on Derby Market Place to try out it's menu as part of Derby LIVE St Georges day celebrations. We will be serving a range of teas from your standard builders to moana-tea-nos and cluedo tea a drop of Morcambe and Wise Breakfast tea. 

Here's more info on our facebook page


We'll let you know how it goes but in the meantime here's a picture of Beth in a costume fitting in her tea lady costume in the making!

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Testing ...one...two - Rehearsal Blog day 15

Maison Foo production journal - day 15 - by Séana Maggs-Cooke    

The morning gets underway with a Morgan-made filtered coffee, and a discussion between Oz, Kate and Beth, or, ‘Bate and Keth’ as Matt comically names the duo. The discussion consists of attempting to work out lighting accompaniments for the show; deciding which type of lighting will emphasise each scene. Oz states that he has an idea of what The Foo want, and his job is to compliment the play with his lighting design; he also reinstates to the girls that the show is in 3 days time, and that getting into the studio space will be helpful in exploring the full potential of the lighting rig. Getting into the space is exactly what The Foo intends to do; tonight, the company move their masses of props and equipment, and vacate tomorrow they begin to tech at Deda- the auditorium where the show will be performed in. 

I disappear from the conversation to retain my second, doorwoman duty, by letting designers; Tina and Kate into the gothic-looking residence that is Green Lane, and help them carry a few of their many boxes and bags full of bits and bobs into the rehearsal area. When Tina and Kate join ‘discussion corner’ I leave to investigate the make-shift recording studio that Matt is setting up in the disused store cupboard, just off the rehearsal room. Matt relays a fun fact to me: apparently Thin Lizzy recorded one of their albums in this very building, although, I can’t imagine it being recorded in a paint storage cupboard...

 I occupy the cupboard with Matt and Morgan to witness a sound-testing session (I also, finally discover the purpose of ‘One, two-ing’ that soundmen/women repeat all the time.) Morgan gives some fine training-video-esque voice demonstrations of how to use paint safely and correctly, (read from a nearby safety poster,) this trial run then confirms that the Maison Foo recording studio is open for business.

When, Tina and Oz leave the building to visit Deda, (and designer Kate positions herself upstairs in the balcony, unbeknownst to anyone...) the cast take it in turns to read to use the cupboard-studio to recording separate voice-over sections of the play... and rather unexpectedly, I am honoured with the voice over role as tannoy announcer, and spend some time in the cupboard recording my own voice- to my extreme excitement!

There is a lot of concentrated silence in the Green room when the cast aren’t needed for recordings; Morgan types up the final version of the last ‘manic’ sections of shop scenes, and Kate proof reads and edits the script, (sadly, no peculiar concentration faces are pulled.) It seems to be full speed ahead today for everyone, and Kate confides to me that bringing a show together in that last week is a scary process, but also states that everything does come together in the end. Everything certainly seems to be coming together at Green Lane- if not quickly then certainly efficiently and in a qualitative manner.

During lunch, Beth and Kate find themselves in a design meeting with Oz and Tina- and Matt and Morgan find themselves stranded in the cold until I let them in. I rejoin the company-conference picnic in the Green room, but by the time I’ve finished typing up my first set of notes, the predominate part of the meeting has finished; now, a battle plan is being formulated for emptying the rehearsal room of all Foo-goods this evening; separating what is being used for the show, and what is being disregarded.

 Before an afternoon of rehearsal antics begins, Kate and Tina expertly fix and adjust any props/costumes that need altering; they are the much cherished problem fixers of the group, ‘the elves’ and ‘workers’ as Foo Kate states. Everyone needs their own Kate and Tina on hand to save the day! Now, The Foo is in full swing; professionalism and focus is fundamental to this whole day! 

Beth confessed that this process is a stressful one, but designer Kate reassures her that everything will work out for the best on Saturday; she also says ‘it’s good to be optimistic,’ and indeed it is, and indeed The Foo forever are positive about their work- and for every reason. Ideas started for the over half a year ago (or, as far as I’m aware.) This last week is predetermined to be a stressful and enduring one. Beth declares that she tries to aim for perfection every time; perfection is measured differently by everyone and for The Foo, I think this goal is very attainable.

Oz, Kate and Tina take up a desk just in front of me to make essential notes on the next run through, but before long, everyone is on their feet again, tending to jobs of their own. Beth, Kate and Morgan are arranging Pendulum bags, and attaching them to ribbon in preparation for setting up the next scene; the opening of Pendulum stores around the world. After Matt has finished his tweaking and arranging of the voice recordings from earlier, a preview of some sound effects blasts around the rehearsal room, and we hear, for the first time the proper sounds that will be used in the show; loud, aggressive, and frightening noises of trains, ships and lorries, signalling the transportation of children; it’s creates a menacing and unnerving tone. Not fully content with the already impressive sound effects, Matt fine-tunes some more, and creates a fairy-tale, twinkling-like music layered with horrific baby cries to accompany the travelling sounds; this gives the scene another, much darker intonation. This kind of fine tuning is the standard of perfection that The Foo strives for, and is, indeed an example of it being achieved.

Beth and Morgan, frantically and consistently practice their manic running around as the shop assistants in the end scene, and Kate aids Matt in his cutting and pasting of sound effects, meanwhile; upstairs the designers are also hard at work- it’s impossible to keep track of everything going on. Show week is a frenzy of occurrences- today being the busiest so far!  

Kate talks to Oz about needing an itinerary of batteries for the torches being used in the play; I am forever more astounded by just how much preparation is involved in the creation of Pendulums Bargain Emporium. After I record one last tannoy announcement, (and then recoil at the sound of my own voice being played back,) I re-enter the rehearsal to find Kate and Morgan practising a ball dancing routine with an invisible manikin- it’s like a contemporary dance display. Tina occasionally wonders downstairs for costume fittings, and gives Kate and Morgan a tutorial on how to open the gift-box masks correctly; the most bonkers lesson I’ve ever seen. Oz and designer Kate make some important phone calls- to important people, about other aspects of the show; organised ‘chaos’ is a good simile for this afternoon’s events.

A half 6 tea break is welcomed with arms, and following it, another attempted full run of the show; to which I am again requested as sound technician. Oz, Tina and Kate participate as audience members, and make notes on what is needed now to complete the Emporium.  After an exulting run, it’s time to pack up and say goodbye to the home of the Foo for nearly 2 weeks, and my home for almost 2... Here, the accomplishments and triumphs made by Maison Foo have been recorded-to the best of my ability and reflected in the progress of their extraordinary show. All that remains for the rest of the week is to finalise, tech and re-tech the show to perfection- The Foo standard.

Show and tell block block block!!! -Rehearsal blog day 14

Maison Foo production journal - Day 14 - By Séana Maggs Cooke

The beginning of the day starts as every other has; Beth announces ‘Company Stretches’ and The Foo get to work. Today, everyone requests a body part that they would like to warm up; Morgan rather appropriately suggests ‘the brain’. The group begin to work on tension in the body, and somehow this makes me glad to be watching from the sidelines with a brew; as some strenuous positions are attempted. When Beth mentions ‘pilates’, and Kate proposes ‘lunges’, I can’t help but pity the boys, somewhat. Like a teacher in an infant school PE lesson, Beth supervises the stretching session, and now some childlike interpretation has been added to the warm up as a source of merriment. As ever, fun and humour slowly turns serious, as concentration and a hard working persona is adapted by the group; each cast member takes turns to suggest techniques- much like they normally do during a full rehearsal session, it is a display of cooperation.

A vocal warm up consisting of siren sounds and all manner of inhuman noises follows the physical one; a sing through of the songs from the play is incorporated into this warm up, and Matt demonstrates how to get the timing right for the ‘desperate woman’ song by pressing the correct buttons on his Mac and regaining his role as music-man and conductor of the vocal warm-up. What follows, proves to be the best run through, I have seen of the ‘Desperate Woman’ song, so far! A definite promising start to the day.

 When trifling with the ‘Secret of Success’ song, a range of alto-soprano tones are constituted; it makes the song a pastoral and pleasurable experience to listen to. Matt attempts to give the cast the correct starting note, and when a few off-key notes are sung, it is unconcealed that the song works better once the meaning of the lyrics is depicted through the way the characters sing it. The characters in this scene are greedy, and almost nasty; therefore, a nasty, squawking tone is adopted, it becomes almost crow-like. When the song is attempted again with this new revelation, it still manages to retain its comical integrity, but creates a more, well established meaning. Morgan does a tremendous job of becoming 3 different roles in one in this song alone; his Yorkshire accent used as characterisation of ‘Mr Wholesaler’ never ceases to make me laugh!

After the show songs are revisited, The Foo begins to pickup from where they left off yesterday. ‘The Baby Scene’ is being revisited now and the puppetry I saw more than a week ago is being reused; baby shoes are utilised as puppets and made to represent the crying mouths of babies. The cast showcase their ability to make strange noises, again, by making the crying noises for the babies; creating a loud, horrible and overwhelming intensity of noise. This scene marks the only one in the show that the ‘Shoemaker’ interacts with the other characters in the play- in this case the characters are babies; it depicts an amalgamation of eras. The cast also demonstrate their ability of being able to play a generation of ages, by becoming the children, and during the scene, Morgan, Kate and Beth enter in what appear to be pram-like shopping baskets with wheels; they almost look like a toddler’s toy car. I have no doubt that this imagery and use of props is for a symbolic purpose. No automated or Matt-complied Mac music plays; instead the ‘children’ sing a simple and melancholic melody of ‘lalalas’, which acts as an overriding soundtrack for the scene. As an incentive for getting into role, Kate discloses to the group that ‘the essence of children and play’ and ‘childhood’ needs to be captured within this scene; this is certainly something which is achieved through the use of props and childlike ‘lalala’ tune. The children come in as a train of joint trolleys-again the symbolism here is prominent, and the children attached to each other both, metaphorically, and physically depicts their relationship to one-another.

This scene, like most of the others, presents a surreal and unpleasant undertone and a whole depth of meaning is unearthed. It is revealed that these children are in fact the shop assistants from the beginning of the play, and the audience get an insight into the background of these characters. Like an almost, Pied-Piper-esque character, Matt plays a tune on his piano-flute and the Shoemaker joins in on the infant-like play, here; his character is genuinely happy, in juxtaposition to the usual pensive soliloquies displayed by the Shoemaker throughout the rest of the play, and as an audience member, the scene distinguishes itself as a heart warming  occurrence. Towards the end of the scene, however, each child gets taken away, and when the the ‘lalala’ tune gradually dies out; the silence gives an unnerving convention to the whole scene.

After a couple of run-throughs of this scene, the ‘lalalaing’ is disregarded for now, and instead, a choreographed sequence and ‘trolley dance’ is focused on.  This becomes, possibly the most outlandish thing I have seen the Foo attempt, to date. There seems to be so much to consider in this one scene; the proxemics between each actor has to be maintained, and controlling the trolleys proves to be a difficult task by itself; as Morgan displays, when he manages to tip himself out of his...

 Like a complexly layered, absurd looking onion; The Foo seem ever more determined to make the scene doubly intricate, by throwing synchronised head movements into the mix. Now, an amalgamation of harmonious ‘lalala’s’, and a routine in a wheeling basket, whilst maintaining a childlike character have all been bestowed upon Beth, Kate and Morgan. Mick- the man of many talents, gives some judicious encouragement, and offers some simplistic advice to help break down the routine, and make it more manageable; as usual, success is never an obstacle, and the scene begins to refine itself almost effortlessly.

I leave the rehearsal for a couple of hours to attend a lecture, and when I return I find the company still hard at work. Now, the next scene and ‘the beginning of the end’ is being established. The voice over’s and recordings of awards and store openings on Friday are being used to tell a story of how Pendulum’s Emporium is becoming famous around the globe. In the background, a warped, manic, past paced version of the original ‘retail music’ is being played; the characters speech becomes distorted and staggered and what is more surreal is the fact that now both Kate and Morgan had dubbed an electric blue wig and are joining Beth in the physical representation of the ‘Shoe Makers Wife’. Here, this character distinguishes herself as a disjointed and overpowering character; shopping bags among shopping bags are placed on Matt- ‘The Shoemaker’ and he is being overwhelmed by Pendulums. It seems like the pivotal and pinnacle moment of the play. (I haven’t spoilt it, it’s much better in real life!)

Mick is only with the group until this evening, so The Foo soldier on in an attempt to show off the grand finale. This scene is still not fully scripted and the essence of exploration exposes a new, heart breaking concept. During the ‘court scene’, Matt positions himself centre stage and proceeds to stare out into the audience, listening to the shop assistants he once knew as children give evidence. His reaction is one of massive grievance and sorrow, and I am certain that this will register with the audience on an emotional level unlike any other section of the piece. Once another exulting completion of the final scene is completed, another, yet more polished run through of the show is undergone as a showcase to Mick; for some final proposals and propositions for The Foo to work on during the remainder of the week, which, no doubt I shall be witness to.

After today’s rehearsal I notice; more than ever how this show, does indeed, ‘tickle the audiences imagination’-as is in Maison Foo’s mission statement; more than that, it also allows the audience to unravel the story for themselves, in a playful and eccentric manner. The equivocalness and ambiguity of Pendulums Bargain Emporium gives a very clear message, but also manages to leave room for plenty of interpretation. Tomorrow marks the 3rd day of production week and 3 days until show day! So far, this Foo-layered onion hasn’t caused any tears of sadness, and is forever peeling away to reveal new layers of potential!

Makeup and Madness - Rehearsal Blog day 13

Maison Foo production journal - day 13 - By Séana Maggs-Cooke 


This Monday morning marks the start of week 2 in my time with Maison Foo! The company and I arrive with buoyant spirits, and outside eye Mick Barnfather rejoins today’s rehearsal to be on hand to give some all-important feedback. Everyone seems ready to embark on another hectic week of rehearsals, perseverance and a lot of hard work! It is, of course, production week, and in 6 days time (including today,) The Foo will be preparing to perform their first show of Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium at Deda.

As usual, the day begins with a warm up. Here, no face is too ridiculous to pull! An energetic game of tag with a twist kick starts the morning’s proceedings, and Kate states that, ‘the plan of attack is to block the whole play’; an ambitious but necessary task. Over the weekend, Beth has clearly been busy editing and finalising what is now a full version of the script-there is no rest for The Foo. Everything I watched being modified and improvised last week has been consolidated, and now I’m watching a near full run of the show, in brief. (I should mention now that the revelation of last week occurred after I finished writing my Friday blog, whereby the end of the show was devised to great effect and of a unanimous felicity.)

This intended ‘blocking’ session transforms into a detailed run once the group’s directorial instinct kicks in; fuelled by Mick, Kate and Beth who take turns to tag in and out as actors and moderators of the rehearsal. More careful attention is being paid to Matt’s opening monologue, and it’s a beneficial practice for Matt to return to the naturalistic character of the Shoe Maker. With the input of the girls and Mick and a spured on momentum, the monologue once again becomes an absorbing realistic performance; an almost, Stanislavskian style of method acting comes into play. Matt is encouraged to become emotionally attached by however means possible, and this results in some aggressive handling of cardboard boxes and some aggravated grumbles. I can’t help but feel that Matt deserves his own blooper section in a Foo video; he has a tremendous ear for musical timing but sometimes not so much for performance timing. Having said this, the supervision from the cast, and Mick, as well as Matt’s determination to retake a scene and throw every emotion he can into his performance; once again proves triumphant in establishing another hearty, and extremely engaging performance. The rest of this morning’s run through predominately contains a trial and error of transitions; a lot of going backwards and forwards to finalise details of blocking occurs.

Next, the company skip the ‘Desperate Woman’ number of the play and begin to re-explore a scene I have not yet had the privilege to view. It is called ‘Pendulum’s makeover’, or as Beth refers to it, ‘demonstration corner’. This scene consists of Kate being, once again, volunteered as a cosmetic guinea pig; Beth becomes makeup artist ‘Beatrice’ and Morgan takes up the role of stylist, ‘Hilary’; It is a mockery scene and very funny indeed! Kate states that the scene is meant to become ‘grotesque’, and this cockamamie affair is certainly a useful attribute in establishing the nonsensical, absurd tone wishing to be established. It takes retail and cosmetic parlours to a new level of ridiculousness and becomes a step-by-step guide of how to give someone a horrendous makeover. Even Morgan (Hilary) gets a makeover, and after this point, I once again give up on my typing role to revel in this comedy sketch; it is masterfully ludicrous. After a couple of attempts at the scene, a walkthrough/write up follows; this delves into more detail of the movement and actions taking place... Even in a comedy sketch, blocking is integral. Some inventive speech is written to describe Kate’s character ‘Sue’ as a ‘plain Jane’. After some consultation of the costume case for more inspirationally awful shoes and accessories, Sue is given a truly unfortunate appearance! Kate then declares, ‘the idea is, you’re seeing something that isn’t there’, and this seems like a good metaphor for what the retail/ beauty industry in fact considers as ‘beauty’. Matt escapes the face painting by entering his oasis of instruments, consisting of a keyboard, xylophone, saxophone and accordion; wearing his headphones, he begins to tap away and play silent melodies- no doubt to be used somewhere in the show.

Even during lunch, Beth exhibits how much work is involved in the whole process of creating a show by tucking into some administrative duties. After lunch, Clare, the play’s Producer and ‘Magic’ Oz arrive at the Green Lane Foo abode, and now, the next song of the piece ‘Secret of Success’ is revisited. The boxes made into masks; which I first thought to represent opening windows, are now, in fact revealed to be gift boxes with doors that open to uncover the faces of Beth, Kate and Morgan. Physically these characters become anthropomorphic characters; this representation adds another dimension to the whole eccentric facade of they play, and it does lend itself to have an almost ‘south park’ effect, as Kate suggested last week. The ritual of putting the gift boxes on becomes a task in itself, but with a few pointers from Mick, Clare and Matt, some simple choreography and a slow-mo fade-in effect establishes this transition smoothly; The original problem being that this scene was intended to surprise the audience, (apart from this blog spoiling the suspense...)instead of secrecy, it is decided that the whole routine deservers to have an introverted, obvious reveal; due to its incontrovertibly cheesy- for the sake of being cheesy stance. The Foo are not dancers, as was stated last week; but they are masters of performing a routine whilst wearing gift boxes on their heads! The synchronicity of opening the doors on the boxes and moving heads with rhythm is highly laudable. 

The character of the Shoe-Maker adds a grounded aspect to the whole play. Each comedy scene is broken down to involve Matt’s character; an equilibrium of comedic and serious tones runs through this whole play. There’s a foreboding feeling of something menacing taking place in the setting of the shop, and this becomes more apparent than ever during the infamous ‘secret of success’ scene, when the Shoe-maker watches the whole stand-up scene from a distance, giving a darker significance to the performance.

After ‘Secret of Success’ is refined, a run through of the play is attempted, to show both Michael and Clare the direction of the first half, (with me on music duty.) It goes very smoothly, considering that most of the final blocking has only taken place this morning. After a much deserved tea break (more by the company, than me,) Beth and Kate have a discussion with Clare about the show in general, and an attempt at blocking the next set of scenes prevails. Now an airport scene is being brought to life, and the mise-en-scene is being crafted from the props used in most of the earlier scenes: Beth and Morgan are now playing air hostesses and the trolley used earlier are now being used as aeroplane refreshment trolleys. Kate transforms from plain-Jane Sue to a pregnant, European traveller-looking character. It’s both a baffling and mirthful experience to watch this scene, again. After some practice of hoisting the now pregnant traveller, Kate onto a trolley, Kate displays some hilarious birthing skills. the scene is now blocked (or, a lot more so than last week) and now The Foo becomes ever closer to completing this Emporium of curiosity!

Today, a giddy feeling of suppressed realisation seems to settle among Maison Foo. It’s going to be a demanding and ambitious week ahead for the company, but I am fully confident that by Friday this rehearsal period will now be an impressive run through of the whole of Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium. Luckily, I don’t need a ticket to see it!

Trials and Tribulations - Rehearsal blog day 12

Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 12 - by Séana Maggs Cooke

Originally, I had an emotive beginning and concluding paragraph planned, depicting how brilliant my time with Maison Foo has been, and how poignant this last day will be; and although that first part is true, it turns out- I might be making a reappearance next week too! ...I thought I’d include this information as a substitute to my moving paragraph.

The morning begins with a conference in the Green Room; or, the kitchen. Today, Green lane is residence to only the 4 cast members and me, and in comparison to the appearance of Foo associates dropping in throughout the week, today feels slightly lonelier. The benefit of having fewer people is that the head-count for tea-making should prove an easier task. With note pads, laptops and pens at hand, a bullet point formation of the scene ordering is undergone. Beth points out that: the team need to run through the whole story so far, and determine what facts need to be added to help the audience make sense of the characters. Kate adds, that today, the team need to be ‘economical with time’- words of great wisdom! The flaw in the plan of note-taking is exposed to be that sat in the comfort of the kitchen, the vital ‘post-it note wall’ is not in view... and so we opt to return to the main rehearsal room, where The Foo and I retire to a cosy, loft-like balcony overlooking the room, and Matt stays on the ground with his sound equipment to create a musical script of his own.

What appears peculiar to me is how back-to-front this way of devising theatre appears to be, in comparison to adapting an already scripted play. It is only now that the company have started to document the end of their play on paper, and that is, of course, because they only improvised it yesterday. The four of us settle around a table and shift one of the lights from the rig above us to shine on our table for some extra heat. It seems fitting that we then almost look like we’re about to take part in a police interview; as the context of this session is to script the ‘court scene’.

The colloquialisms or ‘Foo dialects’ that have presented themselves throughout this week are comical and idiosyncratic, an example being Morgan talking about: ‘the dancy, dancy, singy, singy’ part of a scene (or so I assume,) and now, even the motion of turning on the heaters is dubbed as a ‘boost.’ So, once we’ve been given a boost and have settled around our ‘interrogation table’, The Foo cast become law students for a while. A lot of specialist linguistics is needed to write a scene set in court, so internet sources from yesterday are revisited to ascertain some appropriate terminology. Thankfully, the group are actors, not lawyers, and the element of absurdum is helpful in providing some lenience to play with in this scene. 

The shop assistances return in this section: Hilary, Beatrice and Sue; and a type of talk-through hot-seating technique is discussed by the actors, to help them breakdown each character’s portfolios.  A lot of brain racking is required here; (I give credit to myself on providing the team with sufficient brain food, as an end of week treat, in the form of cookies.) It is these cookies (and the amalgamation of The 3 Foos superb minds, of course) that helps to bring this script to life. An astonishingly witty section of the play reveals itself from this discussion and, as chief note taker, Morgan writes some stand-up comedy; which, when you come to see the play is supposed to be slapstick, and not necessary ‘laugh out loud’ funny, (I wouldn’t be that insulting without reason.) The humorous phrases heard earlier in the play from these facetious characters are recycled to great effect, and manipulated to set the scenario for this, new section of the play.

This trial is shaping up to become an almost satirical sketch, and watching the cast talk through the script is like watching a comedy panel show; no suggestion is too over the top here- the more bizarre, the better! It seems like the most effective way of affecting an audience on an emotional and social level is by enticing them through comedy, which is, in this case, presented by the 3 slapstick shop workers; and when the last section of this scene is scripted, it becomes apparent to me, that The Foo wants to present their audience with a sudden brick wall of realism.

Some masterful, improvised, collaboration starts to take shape after the court-room scene is rounded off; Beth, Kate and Morgan take up the performance area and Matt composes some on the spot music as an accompaniment, and I stay put in my toasty, upstairs office for a good view point of the action. The middle of the play is being experimented with here; ribbons are handled and thrown around the space to signify the opening of shops; it adds an elegant and artistic layer- to the now about 10 tiered Pendulum Foo cake. (I don’t take many notes for this scene; instead, I observe and enjoy an excuse to photograph the shenanigans.)

After lunch and tea, Maison Foo, (and I) trial the props- in this case the makeup used by the shop assistants. Kate is volunteered by Beth to become Guiney Pig, and even Morgan and Matt get ‘roped’ into the cosmetic testing; a perfect way to start on characterisation! Next, follows some more ‘circle time on the floor’ for discussions about appropriate place names, plus some alternative well-known magazine names that could be used in the ‘ribbon scene’; it also becomes a suitable time to laugh at some flamboyant suggestions. Then, the cast are back on their feet; Morgan displays a graceful routine of ribbon twirling, which opens yet another door on an improvisation session; Matt plays some samba-type tunes on the keyboard to provide some up-beat momentum to kick-start the creativity. Ribbons are then woven in and out of props and set, and streamed across the performance area; this jungle of ribbons adds another dynamic to the room for the actors to work with. Beth bestows an electric blue wig and becomes the ‘Shoe-makers Wife’, and gradually, the idea of the other two Foos puppeteering her arrives. As always, it’s hard for me to concentrate on the reporting task at hand, I become engrossed in witnessing this- sort of, interpretative dance being unveiled with multicoloured ribbons. In no derogatory terms; I can liken this improvisation to children building a den; creating a new and free environment out of any material they can scout,

The main part of the afternoon involves more ribbon-based experimentation, balanced by useful talks about inventing other scenes. A news broadcast idea is toyed with, and Matt creates several news themes to try out in an attempt to establish an appropriate atmosphere for this ambiguous scene. After a well placed tea break, more concentrated talks about content and how sound recordings will fit into the play ensues; as usual, Matt steps up to his composer role and uses his Mac, or “theatre in a box”-as he calls it, and ingeniously manages to warp the sound of Beth, Kate and Morgan’s voices to somehow turn them into completely new characters, that can be used as voiceovers in both news, and court scenes. The different accents, tones and volumes, and the way Matt’s programming is able to change the type of room the voice produced comes from, is astonishing! 

I’m sure the weekend will be full of admin-based antics for The Foo, hopefully as well as some much deserved rest. It’s a week of triumph, with some trials and tribulations, (all of which have been over-come.)  Today, a Friday-feeling of relief and jubilation seems to be shared. The framework for the whole play has almost been established! In 8 days time the first show will begin, and I am intrigued to find out what new experiences production week will throw at us all!

Speaking with shadows - Rehearsal blog day 11

Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 11 - By Séana Maggs Cooke

This morning proves to be probably the most complex of the week so far, and I follow the group (minus Matt,) into a second and darkened room; a disused treasure trove of costumes and goodies galore! Morgan and I take no time in investigating some of these treasures, (for anyone from Derby Theatre reading this, don’t worry- we didn’t touch anything!) 

The aim of the day is to explore shadows; and the pragmatics discussed includes: Gauzes, cycloramas and backdrops (more theatrical terminology to look up.) These pieces of set are apparently crucial for shadow puppetry, and production manager, Oz, points out that the company should not be ‘venue specific’ when it comes to thinking about purchasing set; this is mainly due to the fact that not every venue will have the equipment the company need to use in their show; this is clearly a dilemma faced by a touring piece of theatre. I am getting a glimpse into all the nitty-gritty aspects of pre-show production. 

Everyone plays their own part in this production meeting: Designer Kate has been busy beautifully crafting delicate cartoon images on templates, to be used during the shadow puppetry scenes; whereas Oz, seems to take on the practical and realistic role- and he’s a useful adviser when it comes to giving his artistic opinion. Beth and Kate; the Foos leading ladies know exactly of the aesthetics they want to create- today is just a case of making them work!

Even without a cyclorama, when a light is shone on Kate’s marvellous puppets, they are shadowed on the wall entrancingly; it gives us all a great sample of how the shadows will look in the final show. Beth plays with layering the puppets and then shining a light through them; the imagery starting to come from this is truly mesmerizing, almost haunting. It is amazing to see the action of shining a light through images placed on tissue paper creates such different tones, and colours of sepia and frost; it adds an almost poetic aesthetic of nostalgia- I am awed by it. I am told that these shadowed images will be brought to life and illustrated by an interjecting voice and soundtrack; they are merely exerts and accumulative elements in revealing a darker, more nightmarish theme in this play.

Everyone sits on the floor whilst Beth and Kate assess the use of semiotics created by the puppetry; During this conversation, I disappear from the room of shadows to hear a ‘bing bong’ of a tannoy in the corridor, and, rather embarrassingly, I stop to listen to the announcement and then realise it is, in fact, Matt trialling sound effects on his mac. Walking from room to room is like changing channels on a creative television network; walking from a sound teching booth into a puppetry lesson, and an integration of the arts is taking place. Matt occasionally pokes his head in the puppet room to make a few enquiries about the mechanics of shadow puppetry and I’m relieved when designer Kate admits that even she is struggling to grasp the lighting concept of shadows.

In many aspects, this process is like revisiting a physics lesson from school: the distance and positioning of the light determines the size and focus of the shadows... I’ve always found physics hard to fathom, but it is certainly curious to watch. In a briefer description, Maison Kate states, that: the rules of shadow puppetry require either; a flat source of light and/or a target scene...

After much discussion over the focus needed to create both abstract and full focus shadows, it is decided that the component of a lens is required to synthetically enhance and adjust the shadow-creating light. As usual, Oz “the man in-the-know”-in Kate’s words, appears with an OHP (Over Head Projector,), and now new capabilities have been unlocked on this shadow puppet discovery. Beth states “we’re working out the narrative we’re trying to tell”, and the image of a puppet cog is perhaps, the most symbolic images in the whole piece... it also proves to be the most difficult design to place in the narrative effectively; the lighting is too harsh to give the shadow the ambiguity of appearing abstract and still having a strong impacting message. 

The most remarkable event of this mind-sizzling morning is how unexpectedly, and in true Foo style; an idea sparks out of the blue- or, out of the dark. In no technical terms:  A light is placed on the trolley used in the ‘annoying shop assistant’ scene, and perfume bottles are placed on top of boxes; Beth  then begins to push the trolley backward and forwards through the industrial cages and the shadowy figure of what, remarkably looks like a factory with chimneys appears on the back wall. It is an unprecedented occurrence; this one image speaks volumes for what this scene needs to illustrate. I have witnessed yet another revelation in the making of this play! This is a pleasing outcome for The Foo- and rightly so; It also seems like a very fitting place to break for lunch...

After a late lunch, the rest of the afternoon is spent deciding on where the story telling of the puppetry will be placed. In order to do this, the last 1/3 of the play needs to be improvised...and this is exactly what starts to occur. Matt partakes is some quick fire improvisation, whereby he becomes a lawyer questioning a defendant: the manikin’s head- otherwise known as ‘the shoe-makers wife’. Again, the moveable set is being utilized brilliantly; the industrial shop cages are now being used as stands/ witness boxes, and I am enlightened, once again by this excellent use of re-using props.

After the improv session, the cast then settle themselves on seats and begin a political discussion about how a trial in court works. I am so used to viewing the company up on their feet, that this period of deliberating over sources and information takes time- in comparison to their usual physical experimentation of finding solutions, the sitting down feels like a form of procrastination, but also proves to be an ideal opportunity for a much needed brew break too! After Morgan manages to source some, the team soon get back in their feet to physicalize their next scene. The rest of the afternoon contains more court room improvisation which slowly combines the use of torches and shadow puppetry; all of this, is something as a theatre student, I try to absorb in great detail, mainly because Maison Foo are connoisseurs of the devising process!

Today has been another voyage of discovery; with plenty of room for trial and error.  Now that the clamorous element of puppetry has been explored in depth, the next chapter of Pendulums Bargain Emporium can be unravelled. What I am learning from The Foo is that quality and content does not by any means need to include large pyrotechnical devises to stun an audience. Maison Foo conjures up and uses highly sophisticated theatrical facets: puppetry is only one convention used to tell their story, and from what I have seen of it today, highlights and makes me realise that this Foo fairytale might not have a ‘happily ever after’.

The Foo variety show! - Rehearsal blog day 10

Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 10 - by Séana Maggs Cook

I arrive to find Beth and Kate talking to ‘Magic Man’ Oz about important lighting decisions. From what I can gather, they’ve opted to use torches in the piece due to their suitability, and effectiveness of creating the moods and styles which The Foo wishes to establish- but most importantly they don’t strain budget! I over hear Beth stating that this play is, “the next Foo Fairytale for Grown Ups.” What I find most interesting about this whole concept is how Maison Foo uses devices such as; puppetry and mime (conventions which usually have a childlike connotation,) and they put them in the context of a play for adults... It is something I highly commend this theatre company for being able to achieve... I don’t have much of an idea about these behind the scenes aspects of theatre, but as they say, it is indeed ‘ where the magic happens.’ It is also fascinating conference to walk in on and start the day.

For a while, (and then later for practically the rest of the day...) I am placed on door duty: opening the door for Matt, Morgan and finally, designer Kate. Tina, The Foo’s lovely other designer, and their knowledgeable mentor, Michael are not joining the team today, but the plan is to “crack on” from ‘Desperate Woman’- the song worked on rather vigorously yesterday. There is a much more serious working persona adopted by the team today; especially whilst analysing the choreography in depth- which seems to be the overriding plan of action. The ‘desperate woman’ sequence isn’t as free for ad-lib and play; instead, it requires much more focus and scrutiny. A lot of tweaking of music and changing of lyrics takes place to help the coexistence of the new rhythms against the pace of the music. In a way, this morning feels like it has been a less impelling environment for the company to rehearse in; in comparison to the previous couple of day’s worth of lively antics. This solid blocking of choreography feels like a mile stone for the play, and It means they now have the security of a completed scene to move on from- which is certainly impressive.

Two discussions begin to take place at once: Matt and Oz begin an in-depth consultation about sound, and a whole matter of technical discourse is used: ‘synching’ is probably the only word I recognise. Experts in their field, clearly! Kate and Beth discuss design ideas with other Kate- and worryingly I hear the word ‘hacksaw’ mentioned more than a few times... Rather Interestingly the idea of creating a ‘curtain of shoes’ is brought up; I am bewildered to see how this invention is conjured up, but, from seeing the resourcefulness and practicality of the creative team, from having had a sneak peak at the templates of their brilliant shadow puppets the other day, I am sure it won’t be a problem!

Next, follows the ever amusing but professional warm-up session. Matt, begins a game of saying the alphabet all as one word- have a go at home... Beth displays a truly graceful sequence of stretches; making yoga look like Mickey Mouse business, and rather eloquently, Morgan showcases the Alexander technique and gives a few hearty ’hums’ (a bit of theatrical terminology for you there.) This is then followed by my now proclaimed favourite vocal warm-up, and I am serenaded by some quite bizarre “na na na’s” to unclog the nasal passages. When Kate turns off the heaters for the start of the rehearsal I can’t help but feel that I wish I’d joined in on the warm up session...

Rather disappointingly, Oz, the real technician and production manager is here to take up his position at the mac book and to learn his cues- but luckily he nips out and I jump at the chance at being the re-appointed sound girl. I am boggled the amount of technology contained in Matt’s Mac book pro, he uses it as a specialist tool and explains that is allows a composer to edit music as they go; which is something Matt tends to do with every spare moment he has in a day. 

 The Foo begins by fine-combing the all important ‘Desperation Tango’ choreography that began yesterday. “We are not dancers”, Beth exclaims- but this does not deter team Foo from attempting some intricate routines. I have to laugh, and pity Matt in some way; dancing is not his strong point (nor, I profess, is it mine.) He is thrown into the deep end by the other 3 Fooers and gives a good, sporting attempt at learning to Tango. The problem is that this scene is so stylized it requires Matt to do 3 things at once: singing and playing the accordion, which he does marvellously; but the new element of Tango clearly needs some practice... On the other hand, Beth too is demonstrating multi-tasking of a different kind; In this scene, the mannequin’s head is used as a catalyst and she is merely the puppeteer.  The way this head is manipulated to become the other protagonist of the play is extraordinary. 

This is a testing scene; every flick of the foot, and turn of the mannequin’s head is coordinated to a micro precision, and on an aesthetic level, watching the mannequins’ head being brought to life by the actors is mesmerizing. It’s also extremely difficult to choreograph, which is why I can see it requires delicacy and time. I sit in silence for the main duration of the morning; every now and then I find myself nodding to ideas with enthusiasm- I feel like by sitting here, observing the process over the past few days, I have involved myself in this rehearsal week on a certain level. I get excited by watching scenes come together, and have discovered that it is impossible to sit here and stay passive towards a piece of theatre that (without sounding cheesy) that moves you in some way- which is definitely what The Foos latest piece does.

When Matt returns to the sanctuary of his keyboard and escapes the tango, Morgan replaces him in the performing area with Kate and Beth. They trial a highly complex routine which requires all three of them walking around in an imaginary figure of 8 whilst “chucking” and “grabbing” a stick with the mannequin’s head on- thus I name it: “chuck and grab”. This manoeuvre proves unmistakably difficult to grasp for a while and unexpectedly, on his return, Oz steps up to offer some words of wisdom to correct the sequence... He really is ‘The Magic Man’. Part time production manager-full time dance expert. 

Before lunch, Team Foo congregates around ‘idea wall’ for some heavy conversations about ordering the scenes and yet more important notes are jotted down from the morning’s session. The company visually tick off what they have done on their post-it note check list and prioritise what needs running over next. When I look at the wall again, I realise it isn’t just a thought shower of yellow-sticky notes, it is, in fact a chronological notation of the whole show-so far- A splendid find, and one which I take time to study.

After lunch the atmosphere of the room and the team seems to shift dramatically- a caffeine boost sets me up for yet more typing, door opening and sound teching; but more important than me- of course, are Maison Foo; and the frivolity present during the previous days has returned with full force! I look up from my laptop to find Morgan trimming an outline of a box to fit on his face; this marks the start of the exploration for the next scene, and the window-headed-boxes have returned. 

I might add: I have been singing the songs I first heard two days ago almost constantly in my head since, and if not in my head than at home or quietly around the street... My head continues to bob even as I type this...

The hilarity of this next scene is spectacular! Beth describes it as ‘Musical Theatre- gone South Park’ and that seems to be the perfect analogy of this next song and dance. There seems to be something remarkably inspiring and inventive about choreographing a scene whilst wearing a box on your head. Nothing more can be said about this scene- I laughed at it almost continually since lunch! It is a marvellously light-hearted way to round off the day!

I have thoroughly enjoyed today’s rehearsal. It has been what can only be described as: a variety show of conventions and styles! What tomorrow brings for The Foo and I, no one knows!