Associate Artist of the Albany theatre, Inua Ellams, tells A Younger Theatre about his experience of creating theatre among the elements.
As always, it begins with a leap of faith. To write is to hope into a laptop or onto a piece of paper. When you share the work created, you know if you have landed safely by the response of the reader/listener/ audience. This governs all aspects of my work and, I think, of anything created by anyone.
To make a show to be performed outside requires further hope that all will be alright: I decided to work in theatre after a particularly bad experience in Glastonbury. I was reading poetry in a mud-drenched tent. The noise pollution from everything else happening outside bullied its way in and sat among the audience heckling everything I said like a drunken errant guest at a house party. Not that these guests cared, they were mostly intoxicated parents, or intoxicated adults trying to become parents right there and then! There were feral kids running around, the weather was howling in, a girl no more than 13 swinging a basket and asking “Skunk mushrooms?” as though offering lollipops, and those who listened to me did so with what I took to be contempt. Either way, I left the festival with a bad taste – mud – in my mouth, and promised to work in places where I could control the elements: sound, lighting, seating. Theatre, in black rooms and quiet spaces, afforded that.
However, Knight Watch will be performed outdoors and rather than a set or even a backdrop, we will let the city itself hold the story. We are going for as minimal amplification as possible, and as much natural lighting. The shows will be ticketed, but passers-by will be able to stop and listen in. This essentially means I will be exposing myself to what I ran from years ago.
Knight Watch is set in a city of warring gangs and rival factions. The story is about risk, friendship and, to a certain extent, destiny. It is also about global warming; the entire city is destroyed by a combination of the four different elements: earth, wind, fire and water. It is epic, crammed into 40 minutes of mellifluous prose, a ballad (a poetry form) and 10 minutes of narrative rap. We wanted audiences to sit and superimpose themselves on the story, to believe it is happening in their own city, their own town. Thus, I thought it best to perform outside where cityscapes, landmarks, towers, bridges, alleys and the roads that perforate the horizon might further nail the story to the ground, imbibe it with a presentness, identity and an urgency. This is what we hope those coming to see the show will experience, and take from the story and its performance.
As with everything, this is a leap of faith. They might just sit, get cold or Thor (or what governing weather system you believe in) might act against us, strike his hammer and thunder us awry. The show is also set to music – I will be working with Mikey Kirkpatrick, a flautist, and Akinori Fujimoto, a drummer. Flutes and drums. Their instruments simply cannot get wet, so in searching for locations, we are seeking quiet, slightly dilapidated areas with a good view of the city, and some sort of shelter close by in case the skies open. We are also searching for places where there is vehicular traffic, but not be too much, a place moderately boring where, for instance, a carnival or parade might not happen by. Above all, these places must have one thing in common: they must be conducive to the prime equipment for the communication of the story, which is simply my voice.
Inua Ellams’s Knight Watch will be showing at Greenwich and Docklands Festival on 23 and 24 June, before embarking on a national tour from 24 June – 5 August 2012. For more information, check out the website.