Maison Foo Production Journal – Day 3 – by Christie Inman-Hall
As midweek greets Maison Foo, as indeed, it does us all, the team are still in high spirits and working hard towards the end-game of the show that seems so clear in the collective group consciousness.
Today is a big day for the design team, Designer-Kate, (not to be confused with, resident 'Foo', Actor/Director-Kate), is working, full throttle, on experimenting with various pieces of set and the overall look of what will eventually become the backdrop for our story. Tina, the second half of the design team will join us later on for further development.
This morning is no different than the rest of the week, in so much as, when it comes to the sheer levels of creativity and joy experienced by the team when working on forging the potential moments that will make or break the show. Now that resident mentor and Jedi Master, Mick is no longer available for the week it's interesting to observe a more slapstick way of working ensue. The group seems to have been possessed by the ghosts of the Marx Brothers overnight.
The truly open atmosphere of the rehearsal room seems to have ushered in a new breed of creativity for the group; a breed that, while inventive, insightful and entertaining is silly and loud. As Kate so succinctly states, “We're like kids in a playground!” that they are; and, after such a tough day yesterday, a morning of silliness and jovial experimentation is a welcome breath of fresh air and positive energy.
As Designer-Kate builds boxes, out of which the set will emerge, the cast warms up and, slowly but surely, they become ready to begin a day of devising and refinement. After the huge leaps forward made yesterday's rehearsal, it shall be interesting to see whether the cast continues ever onward towards an end point for the show, or simply revisits and reworks the material created just a few short hours previously. Regardless of the avenue in which the team will find themselves today, all is a positive progression, and, in effect, a means to an end. Both of these stages of the development process are equally important and the order in which they are implemented holds very little bearing over the finished product.
Further improvisation is taking place about the beginning of the piece; as Matt plays a melancholy accordion refrain the remaining trio build a street out of the surrounding boxes ready for our lonely shoe-maker to begin his tale. It's impressive to note that the cast is working even more cooperatively, more like a unit than ever before; they bounce off one another, creating eccentric constructs of whimsy. For the first time, to my eye, the fairy-tale elements of this story come to the fore and sit well with the performance, a performance being created out of nothing.
It's astonishing to behold the sheer level of ease with which these talented performers create such engaging and emotive stories from nothing but the sound of an accordion or the lament of a fictional character. The deftness and speed at which these tales take shape in the minds of the audience and of the actors is impressive, to say the least.
As the cast works with the design team to work out the mechanics of making a shoe behave like a puppet, (a pair being a metaphor for a human relationship), the opening moments of the piece really begin to take shape and it becomes apparent that the crew is capable of creating strikingly original and entertaining theatrical moments. I’m looking forward to seeing the work done so far on these opening moments come together to form a strong and engaging opening stanza for the show.
Once the improvisations have run out of steam (at least for the moment), the design team takes a minute to chat to the cast about their vision for the set and overall construction of the world in which the drama is to take place. Many ideas are bandied around and a discussion of visual suggestion and the textures of the industrial world of consumerism takes place. This will, undoubtedly, lead to some interesting revelations.
As the day progresses, a hushed tone falls across the gang as they sit and chat about the nature of the story, how it should be told and the conventions which should be used to help the audience to understand the characters, the themes and, above all, the central message of the piece. As with most theatre and all devised work, the best tactic for finding ones way through the labyrinthine nature of the creative process is simple trial and error.
Throughout the afternoon the team continue to separate the diamonds from the rough. The moments of genuine dramatic worth begin to reveal themselves fairly obviously and very regularly; the cast and crew are driving ever onwards, toward the communal goal of seeing this story brought to life in the most entertaining and enjoyable way possible, all the while keeping its' message and moral in tact and in sight. It is obvious that 'Pendulum's Bargain Emporium' has mileage abound and that the experiments and iterations of tale explored today are just the tip of the iceberg for these characters and this particular set; however, it's certainly as witty, warm and woeful as the story needs to be, and, it could be argued, as the shoe-maker himself might well have been.
Ensemble: Bethany Sheldon, Kathryn Lowe, Matt Marks, Morgan Brind
Designers: Tina Bicat and Kate Rigby