Maison Foo Production Journal – Day 2 – by Christie Inman-Hall
Despite the heavy snowfall early this morning, the cast all arrived full of energy and ready to face another day of devising 'Pendulum's Bargain Emporium'.
By the time I’m called to the theatre, the group has already done their warm ups and other morning ablutions that all Thespians must go through in order to be ready for a day of intense creation.
As I arrive, Jedi Mick is leading the creative process as Matt tries to improvise a story in order to develop the piece. The remaining cast sit by and watch, making notes and throwing in suggestions – once again collaboration seems to be the watch word for the day, this cast is beginning to become one cohesive unit, soulful, helpful and utterly inventive, at home in their own fictional world of fancy and wonder it becomes clear that, at least for now, the cast can see the Emporium.
It is within this heightened state of realism that true theatre lies; as Kate stands up, uncalled and unprompted, and joins the drama, Matt responds naturally, as though it were part of the character's everyday life, a stitch in the tapestry that makes up this very fictional, yet very truthful world. As an outside eye it appears confusing at first, strange yet in the context of the drama, the minds of the actors and the world of the Emporium, it's an average occurrence. Nothing unusual, nothing out of the ordinary... Business as usual.
When Matt is finished and Mick calls for him to stop, he sighs and says, casually, with an air of matter-of-fact nonchalance, “That's hard, isn't it!”, impressively enough, it didn't look it.
All the while this is going on, I can't help but notice that Beth is writing feverishly away in her notebook, clearly something she is seeing is giving her ideas for the show, thoughts to be revisited, reworked, and touched upon later on in the process.
It's clear today that none of the wit or charm from yesterday's work has been abandoned or lost overnight, what has happened, however, is a refinement, a natural progression from what I witnessed yesterday that implies that the show is well on track to reaching its' full potential, to becoming the show that Beth and Kate imagined not too long ago.
Once a makeshift set is assembled the trio of remaining cast is put to work, improvising throughout, in an attempt to strike upon some theatrical gold to be retained, refined and reworked in order to make it gel with the rest of the show.
Initially the experimental nature of devising is sporadic and haphazard, the cast plays around the space, slowly working through different ideas and potential gags or moments of dramatic clarity; this way of working has both ups and downs, while a scripted piece is quick and easy to block, stage and perform, a devised piece has the downside of taking considerably more work. However, this allows the performers a more creative and influential role in the show as opposed to just having to hit their marks and say their lines.
It is interesting to watch as the actors respond to various stimuli from Mick and take dramatic revelations in stride. It is obvious that the performers are well equipped for the show and that, in time, they'll settle upon certain character traits and idiosyncrasies that make for such classic and memorable performances. The improvisations are fascinating to behold as, slowly, the raw materials of the piece get beaten into shape and polished into a recognisable form with strong entertainment value.
It's bemusing to notice that for the cast, it isn't all high energy and excitement, no, for the first time, I see The Foo fall silent, take a seat and think... Fascinating though this is, it's initially unnerving to see these usually animated people, sitting quietly and putting pen to paper; this is a stark contrast to the entire process thus far but makes for an intriguing change. Each member of the team is studiously, thoughtfully jotting down ideas for the show; scenes, skits, characters. Anything they feel may be of some use to at a later date in the process.
The notes are cryptic, Morgan, for example, has written the words:
“Beatrice – How to escape?”
What it all means, I don't know... but I’m sure, as the week (and the drama) unfolds and develops, we'll find out.
Ensemble: Kathryn Lowe, Bethany Sheldon, Morgan Brind and Matt Marks
Outside eye/Clown Mentor: Mick Barnfather