Music is playing an increasingly integral role in the storytelling process within modern theatre. Fringe festivals and large-scale contemporary performance alike are witnessing a development in music’s presence on-stage. Karis Halsall, Royal Court graduate, Theatre503’s Literary Associate and Artistic Director of Luminary Theatre’s new project, 503Fusions, ambitiously attempts to combine the disciplines of theatrical performance with live music and performance poetry in four separate plays depicting the city at different times of the day.
Halsall conceived the production as a result of Theatre503’s literary week. Halsall invited poets, working with music as solo performers, to write a short piece drawing influence from ‘the city’, which would combine into a larger theatre experience. These works include Night written by Halsall, Morning by Gemma Rogers, Afternoon by Tommy Sissions and Night II by Deanna Rodger.
“I have known about their work for a couple of years now and have watched them doing really interesting stuff”, says Halsall, “so I wanted us to do a play together. I don’t know whether it is a reaction to funding cuts or having to be more entrepreneurial in their work but there seems to be a drive towards playwrights becoming performers and performers becoming playwrights”. These are not traditional playwrights but performers of poetry and music bringing a distinct style and flair to this staged format.
The individuality of each of these artists has not been discouraged but rather, bound only by the theme of the city, been given a great creative freedom. “These are going to be four very different pieces, that will be the beauty of it. If we tried to enforce form on each other we would be hindering creativity so everyone was able to do their own thing. Mine is equally poetry, monologue, music heavy and has a dark tone but Gemma’s, for example, is predominantly music but with poetic asides – a jaunty walk through London. So everyone came at it from their own angle”.
This is a show celebrating variety in art and the power that solo performance can have when worked into a theatre setting. Each writer’s approach is informed by their artistic background, and interestingly, all had been previously working on projects based on the city that now feed into 503Fusions.
Halsall has had a more traditional education, starting in devised theatre before being picked up by The Royal Courts Young Writers Program, and then their invitation only group. For the last five years however, Halsall has also been performing as a poet and talks often of experimentation, trends within theatre as well as predictions for the future. “My intention is definitely just to play and push boundaries, to look at binary traditions like what is theatre and what is performance”.
Halsall has a new play called Megalopolitan playing at the Vault next month, a musical and poetic piece set in the city. This is reflected in the musical and poetic sensibilities of 503 Fusions. Gemma Rodgers and her band, Gemma Rogers & The Mil Men, have performed at the likes of Glastonbury, with Rodgers additionally describing herself as a storyteller and has been working on a musical about London. Tommy Sissions has been working on piece about city life, writing with the band Normanton Street, and Deanna has been writing about fake lighting in the city. “We found that we were all working on the same themes and were interested to experiment”.
503Fusions is certainly an intriguing experiment into performance and the fusion of different arts by different artists combining to serve the same ideas. While solo work is, of course, personal to the artist, typically written and directed by the same person who gets up and performs on stage, it is a contact art that relies on deep expression and the release of ones’ intimate details alone before an audience. 503Fusions is attempting to project this idea into the format of a play, placing four talented and diverse writer/performers onstage with a live band to fuse a variation of genres, forms, structures, styles and art forms.
Find out more here.