What an amazing week! What a delightful group of imaginative and exciting people we had in and what interesting results! For those of you interested I’m going to write a quick overview of the highlights.
Entering the Space
Every workshop we started with an improvisation with a collection of mismatched cards. This would start before the players arrived, so they would enter the Babel basement in silence and be welcomed into the game before any trivia such as names was discussed. Some people would perform, some would make silent connections and some would just concentrate on the cards. It was always a relaxed atmosphere of calm coexistence…except on one day where the card game broke out of the circle and started turning into a scene. However, the point of the game was to practice welcoming an audience member (or new player to the circle) into an activity as an equal.
Higher and Lower Status
We then practiced welcoming audience members in as higher status, as unrivalled experts on cards, though some people struggled with the idea that they were audience members and not actors. The more resistant the ‘audience’ was to the status they were given the funnier and more engaging it was to watch. By the time the last person entered the circle the players would be falling over each other in their enthusiasm. After that we did the same game but with the players welcoming in the audience as lower status. This usually resulted in “Mean Girls” with audience members isolated in corners and given impossible tasks, giggled at as they failed. They would rebel, sulk or just give in. Different people enjoyed being treated differently and so much of “Cirque Tsuki” will be about trying to work out which people to give which status.
Objects and Stories
I asked the actors to bring black and white objects in. We sat them in a pile next to a bowl with pieces of paper with attitudes towards object on them. One player would pick an attitude and then pick an object and play around with it. We would then send someone in to be an audience member. The player’s job was to try and persuade the audience to take the same attitude to the object as them. While this silent improvisation was going on, the rest of the gang wrote down what story they saw happening. Afterwards we drank tea and reviewed the stories. Usually the writers on the outside saw very similar stories that the player was totally unaware of. Here are three moments that I remember, though I don’t have anyone’s stories now, in these ones we almost all saw the same thing.
1. A small dead mouse/rabbit cupped in her hands as she stroked its soft, lifeless body.
2. A hot candle moved by idiots across the floor, setting things on fire as it went.
3. She lost her temper at the cards/his old clothes and stamping on them, spitting on them, destroying them, she binned them.
Creating Immersive Sketches
First I put the performers into groups and they picked a place. The places were things like: outside the gates of the underworld, home, a sumptuous feast, a funeral, a birthday party, palace, etc. The two or three players would have ten minutes to turn Babel into a new world and welcome the rest of us into it. Here are three descriptions of my favourite ones, though there were so many:
1. She arrived upstairs, black glasses on. She gave us a card to hold each and then led us into the basement with a hand on each shoulder, like a conga line. We entered the dark, cold basement following her torch light to an archway. Through the archway lay the abyss with nothing between it and us but these two women and a thin string. One by one they brought us up and read our card, and one by one they turned us away. None were called to enter Hell that day. (Outside The Gate to the Underworld)
2. Waiting upstairs we suddenly heard a sweet music, violin and ukulele, coming through the floorboards. A woman welcomed us with joy into the room, where we sat on the floor in their roman palace and feasted upon grapes as they serenaded us. (A Sumptuous Feast)
3. Called in one by one and told to take off our shoes and faced a young tribal queen with a wicker crown. We stood in silence as her viceroy called us forth one by one. Each time, unsure, she looks to her viceroy who indicates death or knighthood. The wicker crown falls to the floor in an accidental moment. The young queen remains imperious and the viceroy hesitates to place it upon her head. We sense a revolution brewing. (Palace)
We then changed groups and they took a story moment out of the basket. Their job was then to pick a place themselves and set the story moment in it. I allowed them to decide the amount the audience could be involved, reminding them that even a static voyeuristic audience should have a reason for being in that space. I was surprised by how many places people kept picking across the week: speed dating, courtrooms, drinks party, art gallery and children’s pass the parcel all came up at least three times each! Here are five of my favourite moments, though again it was tricky choosing.
1. She came with keys jangling on her belt and took one of us down. We waited nervously. Then she came for the rest and we entered the room and were instructed to stand in a line. A man with a furry hat stood beside a woman who kept us quiet. The one who had gone before was in a chair, shifting nervously. He was a convicted criminal, we were told, and we were his Jury. Furry hat man asked us if someone would hand him our verdict. A moment of tension as we looked up and down before one broke loose and handed him a piece of imaginary paper. He read it. Guilty as charged. (Passing judgement on a criminal)
2. Before entering the room we are told to be silent so as not to disturb the years of research they have been doing. Inside there is a girl, behind a one-way glass. She is sleeping. We stand and watch while she slowly wakes up. Apparently she has been without human contact for four years. The scientist pushes a card through the slot. She becomes agitated and starts to bang on the metal chair/slot, crying out “is anyone there?” The scientist leads us further into the facility. (Observing another unnoticed)
3. She meets us outside first. She is nervous. “Mum! Dad!” she says and brings two audience members down. We wait expectantly. She returns and indicates that she did not expect so many people to come. The tension mounts. She greets us with “Grandma” and “Cousin” and takes us down in twos and threes. Downstairs we meet another girl. She too seems unnecessarily stressed by the number of family members coming down. Her grip is crushing and her concern is contagious. We sit around their apartment not talking until everyone is in. The first girl introduces the other as her partner. The silence mounts until one audience member pipes up, “we’re happy for you” before silence ensues again. (Meeting for the first time)
4. We are welcomed in. There she sleeps; old and curled up by the fire, occasionally sniffling. We climb into a giant bow and keeping very quiet, we slowly advance towards her. She almost wakes and we freeze until we are right beside her. Then, together, we shout “Surprise” and grandma wakes and unties us. I think we were inside a cake. (Taking a present for grandma)
5. At the door a man takes our ticket. We board a train to Minsk. We enter the carriage and sit in our seats. The train moves off, shaking through the night. A man approaches us suspiciously. He says, “The fox only barks at midnight”. There is a pause. He entreats one of the girls to take a small package just before the train is stopped (by a policeman on a horse??). The policeman enters and starts to search as the suspicious man hides behind the ticket inspector. The policeman asks us if we saw a man in a blue shirt, one of the girls says yes but the ticket inspector shakes his head. She changes her mind; perhaps this policeman is not the good kind. He asks her what he said, did he gave her anything? She denies it, slipping the package under her foot. He asks again and the pressure builds but still we deny it, looking to each other for support. (Stopped on an important journey)