1st encounter with live-relay theatre, reflection & comparison of 3 forms of audience experience of The Tempest

My first encounter with live-relay theatre. A personal reflection and comparison of three forms of audience experience when watching a play, in this case The Tempest by Shakespeare, depending on where we view it and the delivery method used.

In recent years, new technology has allowed those living a long way from theatres to experience live performances in real-time, which is a wonderful development. Small venues all over the world now present live-relay theatre into cinemas, making it accessible to bigger audiences than ever before. But how does it compare with other experiences?

Live-relay theatre in a cinema is neither stage-play or film. It resides somewhere in between those things, as I recently found out. Which left me feeling a little discombobulated by my first experience. The acting and content of the production is not under discussion here, but the visitor experience is. This text explores how attending a play is affected by the context in which we view it.

The first production I saw being live-relay screened was The Tempest, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I have been to see The Tempest being performed three times in my life – the first when I was about fifteen, with my school. That was at the Nottingham Playhouse and was incredibly engaging and entertaining. It was a traditional production by a touring group. A very memorable moment was when there was a power cut, creating an excitement amongst a full house of schoolchildren. When the lights went out, both on stage and in the house, we were in complete darkness and told to stay in our chairs. To our delight, the young actor playing Ariel entered the stage, using two torches to highlight his presence. He hung from the tree, he flitted across the stage. It was Jonathan Pryce and was a magical thing to behold, very fitting for the flighty character portrayed. Being in the audience was a group experience, shared and discussed at great length after the show with the actors, and later, on the coach going back to school.

The second was only two years ago, when another travelling troupe performed in a woodland near Bristol, outdoors, using an art installation by Luke Jerram, Withdrawn, as the stage set. Withdrawn comprised of five fishing boats seemingly abandoned amongst the trees, on dry land. The play was a promenade performance, with the audience being drawn through the set by the performers. We were part of the action, not passive onlookers. No elevated stage, unless the script required the actors to clamber onto the boats or climb trees. We were literally on a level with the characters. It was a summer evening and the place was green and lush, the smells of verdant leaves and rich mulch heightening the sense of being outdoors, stepping over brambles, ducking branches.

The most recent was merely two weeks ago and was a live-relay theatre production of The Tempest. It wasn’t screened in a huge multiplex cinema, but in a rural film venue in the Forest of Dean. What a fantastic thing to go and see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform live for a sixth of the ticket price for the stage show, and no long-distance travelling. It was my first experience of a live-relay show and I had no expectation of what it might be like or how it might differ from the other two visitor experiences. All I can say is that it was very peculiar and I’m not sure I enjoyed it. Here’s why.

There are social protocols and dress codes for going to the cinema, as there are for going to the theatre. As children when our father took us to the theatre it was a very special treat. We had to get dressed up and behave, to respect the privilege that one automatically associates with going to the theatre.  Men wearing ties, women wearing dresses. That behaviour has maybe softened a little now, but for many, it is still part of the tradition of being a theatre attender. Gin and tonics and posh chocolates for the adults, with ice-creams for the children, was standard fare, and still is. It’s a grand night out.

Going to the cinema has always been a very different thing. You can wear what you want, no-one will see you and no-one is watching, or evaluating you, in the dark. There’s no posing at the bar, no social niceties to be exchanged. In the dark you can put your feet up on the seats, hold hands, have a snog, guzzle popcorn and sip huge quantities of coca cola through an iceberg of crushed ice in a cardboard bucket.

I mentioned the smells of the woodland during the promenade performance and associate the smell of the theatre with lady’s perfume and men’s aftershave. The first thing I noticed on entering the cinema to see the live-relay was the sweet stench of popcorn. The too-warm air smelled thick with it, making me feel quite nauseous. The seats were half empty, the majority of those occupied well above the half-way-up line, to get a good view. I felt very agitated by the smell and the odd atmosphere. The live relay began with an interview between a presenter and a representative of the company that had created the special stage effects.  Some of the audience continued to chatter, as if the adverts were on for a film. They were shushed by others who were trying to listen. That would have been sacrilege in the theatre.

Gazing at the screen I tried to compute what it was I was watching. The interviews were filmed very close-up, resulting in huge heads on the screen, filling the frame sometimes. The sense of us all being human size was removed, and with it the empathy one has with live actors. That frisson between knowing that we are all alive and present, and at risk of stumbling, or worse, forgetting what to say.

When the play began the stage set looked amazing. The camera shots were managed by the camera operators, disallowing my own eye to travel around the set as it so wanted to do. I became increasingly aware that my choices of viewing were trapped, which is not something I feel when watching a film. On this occasion, the stage provided a fixed frame and the camera moved in and out and around it. We didn’t get to see the theatre interior, or the audiences there. It would have been fun to wave to them like one does in a live-relay conference – to engage in some way. Instead this audience were left in their seats, deprived of the subtle sounds that feet on a stage make, or the smell of the perfume and chocolates. What I am describing is sensory deprivation.

There lies the rub. There was a collision between the live performance and the film not only in the production values, but also in the protocols of cinema and theatre. The promenade performance was fitting for Shakespeare, as many of his plays were designed to be in the round. A film can create a space for the viewer by taking the eye around from place to place. The live relay was almost like a picture hanging on a wall. An aperture into a wider experience that wasn’t on offer. Flat. Or, at its best, two dimensional.

Last summer I experienced virtual reality headsets on several occasions. I think watching The Tempest wearing them would be amazing. I want to control how I look at something, to allow my eyes to dart sideways when I hear footsteps enter the stage, to look up as Ariel swings down from a tree, the scuffing of a shoe on a board. We experience all art through our bodies, our physical presence is part of the overall performance. Immersion in the magic is all and is what keeps us sitting on the edge of our seat in awe.

b6575-tempest_review_hub_1440x1368_v3-tmb-wo-720Mark Quartley as Ariel, RSC website

I would absolutely recommend that people go and see this live if they can – it is avbsolutely wonderful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flow Contemporary Arts is now a company!

I’m delighted to announce that Flow Contemporary Arts is now a registered company. And we’re open for business!!

This development will mean we can expand our offer and deliver contracts for others as well as initiate our own. Starting off with a small, but perfectly formed, Board of Directors, Flow will be in a better position for fundraising and available to clients to lead on a range of projects. The Directors – namely Grace Davies and Claire Gulliver – will inform and support the development of the Company.

They bring an excellent range of experience, knowledge and skills to the table – Grace as ex-director of Visual Arts South West and now Contemporary Arts Programme Manager, National Trust; and Claire as a founder member of New Expressions and co-producer of the Bideford Black Project.

Exciting times ahead – if you want to discuss any new projects with us get in touch – we look forward to working on new things together.

Flow Contemporary Arts Registered company no. 10498277

Story of Objects update – film collage & callout

The Story of Objects represents a return to practice, not in making objects, but in discussing them. SOO has evolved both from my work as a visual arts producer and my thinking as an artist, accompanied by a deep interest in how we engage with art.

I am intrigued by how visitors encounter art in non-gallery locations so have mostly worked in the public realm. How we talk to people about art both inside and outside galleries is imperative to our understanding of it. Yet ask someone to talk about something they keep and love they will talk endlessly, and very coherently, about it.

I became fascinated in how the term ‘curate’ is so loosely used these days – we curate essays, poems, websites, plants. And many TV programmes tell us how to display our objects in our homes – how to ‘curate’ things. So I started asking people about their objects in their homes, why are they grouped like that? Where did they get them from? What did these things mean to them? Most importantly, why do they keep it?

I found myself deeply absorbed in material culture – Daniel Miller’s books allowed me to step into another discipline, as did conversations with contemporary archaeologists. The idea for the Story of Objects began to take shape. I’ve talked to lots of people, from several disciplines:

  • Contemporary archaeologists
  • Museum specialist
  • Curators
  • Artists
  • Health providers
  • Members of the public
  • Producers – for arts and radio
  • Digital providers and app developers
  • Academics

Most recently I have hosted a number of trans-faculty conversations at De Montfort University, and thank them for their support and input.

Two years later I am still developing my thinking. I’ve collated a number of 30-second films together, which you can see below and on my YouTube Channel. It’s great to see them collated like this and I am now motivated to put out another call for films.

I’m also working towards producing a scattered-site exhibition, commissioning artists who will be invited to stories of the objects that they keep and gain inspiration from. As always, don’t expect to see these artworks in a gallery space, they will be somewhere deemed appropriate for the work and the concept.

Subscribe if you want to keep informed.

 

 

 

Vantablack article commissioned by Four Seasons Magazine Summer Edition 2016

I was delighted to be commissioned to write for the Four Seasons Magazine about the controversy surrounding  the news that Anish Kapoor had bought sole rights to use Vantablack. Now the copyright period is over I can share it. It’s an opinion piece, as opposed to a review, which set out to raise questions about such legislation, and how one defines who/what an artist is.

Into the Void

Do usage standards for a new high-tech representation of the colour black efface the ideals of artistic freedom?

“The Vantablack agreement goes against the spirit of reciprocity that makes art and science ideal bedfellows.” By Carolyn Black Illustration by Joey Guidone

 

Feeling Unsettled by Social Making, in a good way

The Social Making symposium was devised by Take a Part in partnership with Plymouth University and hosted by Radiant Space.

IMG_5013

There were several overarching themes that evolved as the Social Making symposium rolled out over two days. Those relating to unsettling, succession and time caught my attention. Arnstein’s Ladder was also discussed, there’s an article in response to that on the a-n website, here.

The range of speakers was comprehensive, offering glimpses of the many ways that socially engaged practices are now being delivered internationally. The very nature of successful socially engaged practice is that it becomes deeply, and permanently, embedded in people and places. Take a Part has been doing that in Plymouth since 2009.

Dr. Sarah Bennet (Interim Head of School at Plymouth University) would no doubt refer to Take a Part as an ‘upstart organisation’ as opposed to a startup – they began as a small group with a big idea. The term upstart set the tone, flagging up the need for socially engaged practice to challenge existing new-business models, because not everything is about economy. As the symposium developed and more speakers presented, there appeared to be a growing tension between the notion of unsettling and that of providing sanctuary. How might one create a safe place for people who may have, themselves, arrived in a very unsettled condition?

Dr. Kelichi Nnoaham, Director of Public Health, shared his story of how he grew up listening to hip-hop and rap music, and on entering Cambridge University he had to learn about classical music. That was evidently very unsettling for him and very likely for the fellow students that heard his favourite music for the first time. He referred to this as being ‘a tough war’ which informed his passion for community empowerment and drive for inclusivity.

Michael Bridgewater, engineer and Take a Part Board member, used the term “community interferer”. It’s a good description, unsettling and agitating must have the capacity to constructively re-settle after the event, it’s not just about providing economic validation. And it is messy.

Succession was a big subject at the symposium – how can socially engaged practice withdraw from communities and leave a sustainable legacy that can continue what the artist-as-catalyst began? My article for a-n refers to the Arnstein’s Ladder model that seeks to create total accession through a series of processes, always with citizen control as the goal. I have my reservations whether or not the model works well within socially engaged art practice as it stands, but it could be adapted.

Other projects, such as Homebaked and Effevescent, described how they evolved over time. Time is imperative for succession to come to fruition. There were numerous crunchy little phrases, like “are public artworks empty symbols of civic pride”; “it’s peoples work, humble and messy” and “are indicators passive data, or the legacy of a sense of direction?” to mention a few.

There was a brilliant range of speakers present and it was a real coup to have Turner Prize winners Assemble there to end two days of fascinating discussion. By the end there was a real sense of these being exciting times for culture in Plymouth, both from the speakers and from the conversations in the gaps between. Whilst the audience were seated in the main hall to hear the presentations, there were plenty of networking opportunities, oiled by excellent hospitality by RumpusCosy.

Take A Part should have invited an estate agent to set up a stall – so many people were saying they want to live there. I don’t blame them, it’s a buzzing place to be.

IMG_5034Assemble

I was able to attend the Symposium thanks to a bursary from VASWVisual Arts South West is a network creating opportunities for artists, organisations and professionals to develop their practice, share ideas, knowledge & resources, and cultivate relationships.

 

 

 

Call for host venues for The Story of Objects – the next phase – workshops

 

SOO yellow bar logo longJust a quick note to get you thinking over the weekend – I’m looking for hosts for the next phase of the Story of Objects – maybe it’s you?

The Story of Objects to date has very much been about ‘show and tell’ sessions, for research purposes.  The overarching vision – to create a social media network for things – is still underpinning all activity. However, the encounters have been rich and rewarding for many people.

One set of themes that came up again and again were inherited objects from family members that  relate to making or creating something. All sorts of tools and materials, artefacts and childhood memories.

I’ve been exploring how to work with the stories you’ve shared with me – there are the 30second shorts on Youtube; the Flash Fiction pieces on Medium and even a Story of Cake! The Facebook page shares news about the projects and also about other interesting object-stories from around the world – all food for thought.

The next phase will involve workshops – and I invite you to contact me if you’d like to discuss this for your organisation. I’m shaping the programme now and have some great ideas developing from the conversations so far. Each partner/collaborator is welcome to get in touch now to explore how the framework can work for you and your audiences. It is currently flexible and adaptable, which is another of features and benefits of the programme structure.

If appropriate, where a making activity is not right for the object theme, there will be an option to book a talk/presentation by a practitioner or specialist for the subject area.

I’d love to hear from arts organisations, museums, heritage organisations, material culture people, ethnographers, archaeologists and historians. Also, studios for woodworking, metal working, potteries, forges, printmaking studios, musical instrument workshops, anyone who makes – oo, and I may need a chef too!

Get in touch by email (carolyn@fkowprojects.org.uk), phone or message me via the Facebook page.

DSC_0033.JPG