Tag Archive | "experimental"

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Spotlight On: Forced Entertainment

Posted on 15 June 2012 by Douglas Williams

Forced Entertainment’s new show, The Coming Storm, kicked off a couple of weeks ago in Essen and, for founding member Cathy Naden, things have gone well despite a rocky start. “We sort of began in one place, couldn’t really get it to work and then had to restart somewhere else so that last four to six weeks have been very intensive. We were working pretty much up until the performance opened.”

The company are well known for their provocative, anarchic style. It’s interesting to wonder just how much the company set out to push buttons when thinking about its audience. “I don’t think we start out to make something difficult or challenging but we are naturally drawn to the feeling where you think you know what you’re watching and then it changes and you’re watching something else. That’s quite a destabilising experience. One minute it can be quite good fun and you’re laughing along but the next minute something quite hard happens so you lurch from one way of watching to another.”

So have audiences changed at all in the last three decades that Forced Entertainment has been performing? Naden doesn’t feel they have hugely but it’s noticeable that modern audiences are far more familiar with narrative fragments. Fifteen years ago, the idea of deconstructed narrative was still somewhat radical and the company were frequently asked, “Is this really theatre?” Today’s audiences, especially youthful ones, are “more familiar with presences on stage as opposed to characters”. Despite audiences being accepting of experimental performance, Forced Entertainment doesn’t have a fixed idea of what it wants each audience member to take away from The Coming Storm. “I think we want them to be really entertained, but also to not be able to sum up in a sentence what they think the show is. We’ve never really liked that idea. Because we never start work from a single idea or issue, like ‘Let’s make a piece about gender politics’.”

Instead, the company make material through a devising process. They start from nothing and material slowly grows and the audience experience the ideas much in the same way. “It’s quite hard to reduce down to a single meaning. It leaves them with something to think about. Maybe it has a lasting effect on them and things come back and there’s work to be done afterwards.” That approach can work in quite a poetic way and the company hope that The Coming Storm has a “poetic, musical, textural” feel to it, whereby “you switch off your head and just go with the experience”.

The show has had a great response from audiences so far. Audiences have been commenting on its differences to previous shows, not least the inclusion of live music, which is unusual for the company. Naden tells us more:“We have an old upright piano, which we got into the rehearsal room and then we’ve been gradually adding a sort of band to that, including a guitar, drums and a bass. We’ve had to find a way of making music feel like part of the performance rather than a simple accompaniment.” None of the company are taught musicians, so the music has been a whole new element for each of them to play with. Naden and co had to learn to play instruments from scratch. There are six performers in total – the usual five players plus Phil Hayes who collaborated with Forced Entertainment on their last anarchic production, The Thrill Of It All. “One of the reasons we wanted to work with Phil again is that as well as a performer he’s a musician so he can play drums and is teaching us how to play, so we’ve learnt basic drum rhythms and a few chords on piano and on the bass. There are certain moments where all the instruments come together but it builds very slowly.”

The show itself is a collection of fragments. Sometimes it’s performers telling stories but often it’s interrupted by loud drums or performers dancing across the stage: “there’s a sort of mismatch between the story and the action, a sort of crazy burlesque dance, an exaggerated personal story.” The starting point was a desire to combine elements from two previous Forced Entertainment shows. The company made a show called Void Story, which was, uncharacteristically for the company,  very interested in narrative. According to Naden, it was the first time they had really gone on stage to tell a story, as deconstructed as that story was. The company are revisiting narrative with the new production but this time the stories are multiple. As well as that, the company felt there was more to be explored in the dance element that was key to last year’s The Thrill Of It All, in which the company pranced around stage in matching costumes in a mad, presentational style.

“We wanted to make the dancing a bit more anarchic, a bit more private and perhaps a bit more inexplicable,” says Naden. “That was the starting point. The show we’ve made is more down the chaotic end of the spectrum and I think the way it works is more like a composition. The way the music works is by playing off different textures and energies and it has a sort of lurching, unstable, improvised, made up feel.” The audience might find themselves watching one character telling a story - a boring, personal anecdote – whilst a stage is constructed around them with plenty of noise and dancing. You might think you’re watching a story but find that you’re merely watching something being set up for a following sequence. The show bounces very quickly between settings and characters. The company use one microphone between them so there’s a sense of interruption that underpins the spoken element of The Coming Storm. “You never get the mic for very long before someone takes it from you. It feels very democratic between the performers on stage. It’s hard to work out what’s going on but in a really satisfying way because you get to see scenes unfolding in front of you and things beginning to make a sort of sense but then dissolve and disappear into something else, and we like that energy very much.”

So things complete and then disappear. One audience member in Essen commented that the piece had an “unsettling” quality that made it “like watching Forced Entertainment in 3D” because of the way that objects were used in space. Would Naden agree? “I think the music has that quality because it’s high energy with the drums and it builds quite slowly and it’s almost like a number or a melody and then it breaks up and falls away and something else takes its place. It’s quite experiential.” In that case, it must be time to experience Forced Entertainment.

The Coming Storm receives its UK premiere as part of the London International Festival of Theatre, showing at Battersea Arts Centre from 19 to 23 June at 7.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, visit BAC’s website.

For more information about Forced Entertainment’s work, visit its website.

Image credit: Hugo Glendinning

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Bass and grisly bears in Battersea

Posted on 27 February 2012 by Eleanor Turney

If you go down to Battersea today, you’re in for a big surprise. Or, to throw scansion to the winds but be more accurate, if you head down to BAC next Friday or Saturday you’re in for lots of surprises. nabokov arts is taking over the whole building for Fable, its second ‘Arts Club’; a night of theatre, performance art, music, dance, and much, much more. The theme for this Arts Club is “dark fables and twisted fairytales”, and Associate Producer Paul Jellis promises “magic, mystery, music and mayhem”. So if that sounds up your street…

“We want to capture that moment just before you fall asleep when anything could happen, when imagination takes over and stories are told. We’ve tried to mix this with the idea of fables where animals are personified, and a Bacchanalian-type sense of festivity,” says Jellis. There will be lots of walkabout performances, including a “very abstract” dance piece from dANTE or dIE; a new play by Jack Thorne; a new rock-opera version of Cinderella written by Arthur Darvill; and “an amazing band called King Porter Stomp – they are a big brass, heavy bass, jump-up-and-down festival band”. Add to that, an “opium den-feel in one of the bars, with lots of beds and dens; one performance space which is a total surprise; and a caberet and live music performance space”, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a party.

After developing the format (essentially a club night where theatre/performance is given top billing alongside DJs and bands) in a warehouse, nabokov seized the chance to move into BAC, where there is scope to programme much more adventurously – for a start, they can have more than one thing going on at any one time. They describe the night as “a massive live arts party”, inspired by all things fairytale. Joe Murphy, nabokov’s Artistic Director, calls it “the epitome of our ethos as a company – it’s a festival atmosphere, a fun night out and a quality artistic experience.” Formed about ten years ago at Sheffield University, nabokov was set up by George Perrin and James Grieve (who now run Paines Plough) as a new writing company, putting on theatre that they would want to see themselves. Murphy took over two years ago, and with slots at Latitude, award-winning shows and this new collaboration with BAC, the company is on the up.

Jellis explains that the Arts Club is a kind of casual form of audience development. “It’s become a way of developing a loyalty to the nabokov brand. We’ve been at the forefront of the theatre-at-festivals idea; we’re practically synonymous with the theatre tent at Latitude. It’s a way of finding people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre but would go to a club night – you need to find a new way of doing things, a way of doing plays about them and the way they live their lives – not just Shakespeare.” Murphy agrees that this way of engaging new audiences is central: “come to Arts Club for a band, and then see a bit of theatre. If you like it, come to something else. It’s that transference of audience; how we get young audiences is important to the future of theatre. I see us as in direct competition with cinema and gigs.” Jellis expands on this: “In terms of marketing, especially with Arts Club, we know we have a theatre audience and that if we programme particular acts/companies we’ll get their audience, what we’re keen to do is to go outside that and reach people who are tuned into music or clubbing or whatever, which requires a slightly different approach.” The last Arts Cub, on Halloween last year, ended up as Critics’ Choice in Time Out – in the clubbing section.

Murphy says that as Arts Club develops, there are new challenges to overcome.“It’s not a piece of theatre; people might not enjoy the night if they have to queue for a beer for too long at the bar, which is not a normal ‘theatre’ problem.” Jellis agrees: “Programming this kind of event does mean relinquishing a bit of control, but if you’re clever with the way you programme it then you can sort of create a narrative – it’s more managed than a festival. You know that feeling on a night out when you leave your house and you feel that anything could happen? That’s the excitement we want to create: here is an amazing, beautiful building, so go and explore it. You don’t know what you’ll find – but we hope you’ll find a massive variety of exciting performers.”

nabokov’s Arts Club Fable is at BAC on Friday 2 and Saturday 3 March. Tickets and more information are available from BAC’s website.

Image credit: nabokov

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

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