Certain fragments

Feature in Issue 8-2 | Summer 1996

John Quinn of Really Deep Dance Theatre attended Certain Fragments, Forced Entertainment’s residential workshop last April, and reports on how to turn the usual unsuspecting workshopper into an unusual suspecting performer.

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1. Arrive in a strange city with three separate maps, cross-referenced with coloured highlighter pens.
2. Make contact with any other ordinary people with same colour coded maps and/or lost/hopeful grins.
3. Arrive at pre-arranged pub to meet members of the company.
4. Members of the company in a bewildered and confused state – move operations to a pub 100 metres down and along to the opposite side of the road.
5. Meet with members of the company not in confused and bewildered state, just in time for the pub quiz.
6. Note the pub quiz questions carefully in a plain exercise book for further reference. These events on their own are innocent enough, but together they point to a conspiracy to turn ordinary people in the 90s into pieces of forced entertainment.

The workshop began like any other – Terry O’Connor, Richard Lowden and Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment introduced themselves and mapped out the ground we would be covering during the week. Next came the introductions, each of us giving some account of who we were and why we were there. Here was a group of people either studying, making or interested in theatre. Although I didn’t know it at the time this was the best place for me to be. I knew I could bide my time, after all this was only day one, page one, line one of a completely different book, lying on a forgotten shelf in some place I may have visited once and only once, as I remember.

After five years of sporadic workshopping with the dance and physical theatre gurus of the age and four years of making and touring Really Deep Dance Theatre, I was about to throw in the towel. I was feeling lost. I arrived seeking courage and inspiration. I arrived full to the brim of gurus and slick theatre tricks. I arrived on empty. I arrived with a personal view.

My Mission Objectives:

1. How to get actors to move and dancers to speak.
2. How to navigate through the unknown and often treacherous waters of devising.

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I remember waking up and thinking I was in Spain, halls – hot as hell. BRIGHT sun FULL ON, day one

Forced Entertainment were trying something new this year. The week was to be more experimental than previous residencies. The days, on the other hand, were structured – with technique or ground rules in the morning and devising and improvising in the afternoon. The ground rules focused on accessing and scaling physical and emotional states and developing the physical and spatial awareness necessary for responsive improvising.

We were shown some of Forced Entertainment’s working methods and worked from some of their obsessions (difficult utterances, questions, peripheral performers, etc). After each of the exercises and improvisations we were given the chance to discuss what had happened – what worked and how things could be developed. Everyone felt comfortable enough to voice their opinion. It was heartening to see such a collaborative and collective approach to devising.

Then the mid-week crisis swept in. We’re not doing anything new, they’re just copying what everyone else does. What am I doing here? Then we had to get a performance ready for Saturday. People were coming.

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…I remember not knowing what day it was and a lot of things happening in the dark with torches and I remember Terry playing ‘hardcop’ and Richard being ‘Dad’ and doing Elton John impressions and I remember the drink running out and the music going bad and we lost sight of land for many days.

My Director Found Fragment No.1:

1. Start with what interests YOU.
2. Take the time for a full exploration.
3. Pare it down.
4. Trust your material, give it real time to evolve.
5. Let the text, set, costume evolve as the piece evolves.
6. If you see someone else doing something you like USE it (this is particularly liberating for people from the dance world who get caught up in ‘who did that in their show first?’).

What did I discover? The actor in me found that just because you’ve done an exercise once doesn’t mean you’ve got it. Remember your body takes longer to learn, but doesn’t forget! And don’t forget to keep your brain switched on. The dancer in me found a voice by asking… when is a performer a performer? Don’t answer by acting.

I arrived back in the North and began untangling the beleaguered company. I was invigorated and ready for action. Working as an independent theatre practitioner can lead down many blind alleys and cause many heads to be banged. Entering someone else’s wonderful world-of-devising, even for a short time, is like a tap on the shoulder, saying ‘there’s all this space over here on this side, over here, take a look’. So take a look!

This article in the magazine

Issue 8-2
p. 16