This week’s rehearsal and development of Hereford College of Arts production of ‘A bottle of Happiness’ by Pippa Goodhart and Ehsan Abdollahi was all about finding practical solutions to transition between one scene and the next. The four flats that we are using are instrumental in helping to define the space that our scene is set in. The flats are set out next to one another, giving an impression of space in Happy Town – space to be happy, creative, expand. This is contrasted with the design of Frown town, where the flats are placed in various places on stage, giving the impression of an enclosed space, with limited room to move and it gives a sense of overcrowding.
At the start of the week the flats had no paint on them, so we had to use our imagination during Mondays rehearsal, but we experimented and found some fluid ways of transferring from Happy Town to Frown Town.
The set was painted on Thursday morning in the beautiful sunshine, with some happy music helping us work. Happy town is reflected in the set with patches of colour in the various sections of the wooden flats. The various colourful patches make reference to the patchwork seen in Ehsan’s illustrations throughout the story book.
A small dedicated production team also took the time to go out and purchase all the props we will require for the performance. We have one more rehearsal next week, before we have a long rehearsal break and we are determined to have everything ready to go, as soon as we meet again.
Costumes were reconsidered and photos taken and labels made, so that our costume team (3 lovely HCA textile students) can start making their costume designs become reality.
Music students met together without the performers this week to expand on the music material that they have created so far, so that we have various material to play and work with next week. Similarly performers spent some time in Happy Town creating short sequences of interaction between various members of Happy Town, so that we can piece all the material together when we return to the rehearsal room with the music students.
Much of the week has been spent developing the first journey Pim undertakes to Frown town. This scene will be created using Shadow puppetry.
Once we had established the sequence of events on Pim’s journey from Happy Town to Frown town, we then played out the sequence using the shadow puppets. I asked the performers to vocalise the thought process of their character, or to tell the story as they were going along to ensure that all 5 puppeteers were on the same page and were able to work out where within the journey they were.
Performing Arts and Music students working on the Journey scene
Once we had staggered through the journey we then worked on ways to ensure that the shadow puppets were travelling smoothly throughout the created world. Adjustments were made as to who would be holding and operating which puppets.
It is one of those performance methods that if badly performed could ruin the performance, but if done well the audience wouldn’t even recognise the amount of work that is required to ensure that the scene runs smoothly. I foresee many reruns in rehearsal to make this section look like an easy performance tool.
Further work was created and developed this week for ‘Happy Town’. We have names, ages, likes and dislikes of the various inhabitants of Happy Town. We also have the characters physicality worked out, with individual greetings between characters. There was lots of laughter again within the rehearsal.
Ideas as to how we will put happiness into the bottle in the middle of the performance was discussed and all agreed that audience participation would be fantastic at this point. Getting members of the audience to laugh into the bottle for example or share jokes with the rest of the audience. An idea that will continue to be developed.
During our rehearsal session with the musicians we shared the various elements of the shadow journey that we envisaged Pim and Tiddle encountering and doing. Musicians shared the material that they had created so far for the shadow journey section from Happy Town to Frown Town.
Our created Happy Towners were also introduced one-by-one to the musicians and improvised scenes from Happy Town were shared so that musicians had some inspiration to go by to develop the Happy Town song.
Overall lots of material that now needs to be developed further and created in
Claire Coache worked on getting the performers to develop their individual Frown town characters. We revisited the ‘silly walk’ exercise and each performer needed to decide which body part should be used to lead the rest of their bodies for their own Frown town character. This was layered with the LeCoq’s seven state of tension exercise. Both these exercises enabled the performers to make creative choices and find their own embodied Frown town character. Performers were then asked to add their characterisation to their already created choreography. It is fascinating to see how the different techniques add layer upon layer of detail to the choreography and characters. The choreography was first developed by myself using Laban’s movement theories in mind, yet LeCoq’s techniques have brought a different aspect to the choreography and enriched it. The beauty of collaborating with people who bring different skills and techniques to a performance project!
Creating the shadow puppetry section for the journey between Happy town and Frown town was full of experimentation – experimenting with lighting options, characters and shapes.
A morning with the Hereford College of Arts Music students was spent sharing creative material we have created so far and listening to music that the Music students have created in response to the story so far.
In two separate creative spaces we both created a mountain goat that Pim and Tiddle will meet on their journey of the mountain, which was a delightful realisation…we clearly are all having similar ideas.
Next week we will be working further on Happy Town and we look forward to continue to work on the Shadow puppetry in the rehearsal room together with the Music students.
During this weeks rehearsal and development process for A bottle of happiness we have been preparing for the shadow puppet rehearsal, which is scheduled for next week. The shadow puppetry will be used for the three journey’s that Pim and Tiddle make over the mountain range that separates Happy Town from Frown town. We decided what the weather may be like on either side of the mountains and what characters Pim and Tiddle may meet along the way. A mountain goat will definitely be met.
Claire Coache – Artistic Director for Open Sky – also joined us for our rehearsal. Claire got the performers to explore their physicality using the LeCoq method, with a particular focus on creating the bodies of characters for Happy Town. By using one body parts to lead the rest of our bodies the performers identified what kind of character the body represented, from clumsy to curious to confident – a whole array of different embodied characters were found.
The rehearsal was filled with lots of laughter, as you would expect to find in Happy town.
Textile students also joined the rehearsal room to develop colour and design ideas and to observe the character creation process.
A further task we managed to work on this week was a smooth transition from the Happy town set to the Frown town set – transitions are always incredibly important to me and finding ways of making these slick requires rehearsal time.
Within 10 seconds we manage to transform the stage with just a few simple movement.
The contrast between the two different countries within the book were drawn out and the rich country was quickly named ‘frown town’ by the students. It is important to us to make the different places very clear within the performance and we are doing this through costume, set, movement and music, with some inspiration drawn from the illustrations by Ehsan Abdollahi.
In Frown time space is limited, like when one is in a city – no eye contact or physical contact is made between individuals, people are on their mobile phones. The actors will be wearing suits and black shades. The set is grey and placed to allow little room for movement. The movements that the actors make are monotonous and angular, moving on straight lines and only able to move forward, backwards or side to side and never coming into direct contact with any of the fellow frown towners.
We played with this idea and used various different music to find a beat that would work best for the scene, as this beat will be passed on to the music students as a basis to create the ‘frown town soundtrack’. We found that using music that was electronic would suit, as it would imitate the technology that the actors are engaging with on stage – their mobile phones. The beat was found to be around 120 beats per minute.
We discussed how all of ‘Frown town’ could then be contrasted in happy town, by setting the set up so there is far more space to move, actors engaging with one another through eye and physical contact, laughing, sharing, dancing and singing with one another. In terms of movement the contrast will be seen in curved lines and circles and freedom in movement, rather than the rigidity displayed in Frown town. The set will be colourful to match the patch work costumes of happy town. Happy town will be worked on in the weeks to come.
Finally this week we had BA Textile students joining us to commence the process of deciding upon and making costumes for the people of happy town. Every actor was given a base garment and textile students will be adding to this to create the happy town costumes for the performers.
Busy, busy, busy….are the three words to describe the last couple of weeks of our Little Black Fish process.
The final rehearsals involved tweaking the ending of the performance and adding further material into already created sections to give the little old lady a narrative throughout the performance that would draw the audience in and allow them to relate to the story.
The rehearsal in the Starlight Tent at the Hay Festival gave us the opportunity to further tweak our created material and identify any areas that we would need to further consider in regards to the space that we performing in.
The preview performance at the Hereford College of Arts on 24th May, gave us the opportunity to identify any areas that we would need to develop in the remaining rehearsal time available to us, before the premier of the Little Black Fish. Feedback from Performing Arts and Music students and staff was useful and allowed the performers to be aware of points within the performance that the audience may react to.
During the Hay Festival performance the show started off with a child from the member of audience being so involved in the performance from the outset that he got off his chair to help the little old lady puppet reach for the ball of wool that represented the little black fish. A very beautiful moment.
Realising the importance the story of the little black fish holds in publisher Delaram’ s life and seeing her and her team from Tiny Owl publishing company being moved by the performance meant the world to the performers, Purvin (Aritistic Director from The Fetch) and myself.
After the performance we were thrilled to help Tiny Owl Publishing with the 50th Birthday Celebration for ‘the little black fish’ book. 50 years since it was first published. The children at the Festival got to walk around and follow the puppets and everyone enjoyed a fantastic slice of cake.
A fantastic project that has involved so many people from various disciplines come together