Monday, 2 December 2013

Steven O'Key joins us at QUAD this week as production assistant and blogger for our Lear/dementia development workshops before our scratch night at Derby Theatre on Friday.

Day Five : Friday 6 December 2013

On Friday, the four scenes or fragments that we had created over the development week were rehearsed again and again, and rightly so, for it was the final day of the development week. We were a matter of hours away from presenting all our hard work at the Scratch Night.So Gerry and Grace played out the scenes, repeated the lines and learnt the scripts as well as they could, while with help from the rest of the team, some last minute tweaks and checks were made.

Lear / Charles (Gerry Flanaghan) at Derby Theatre Studio (c) 1623Our week's work, along with the months of research (through the digital mass participatory project, the Tapestories and the diagnosis of King Lear), all finally came together in preparation for the night ahead. After a lunch break, a couple of visits from different people, and a few more rehearsals, all that was left to do in QUAD was run through the schedule.

Everyone had their roles for the night – I was playing photographer, or at least attempting to – and everything was going to plan. We were ready for the Scratch Night. We picked everything up, crammed it all into Chris' car and headed over to Derby Theatre. When we arrived, we signed in and found the studio, the fairly intimate space in which the Scratch Night was going to be held. In the corridors the walls were bright and white and you could smell the paint. I got the camera out and took some pictures of the room while it was set up around me. We had arrived.

scratch03The staff at the theatre were great and they got everything set up for us fairly quickly. Soon there was a dress rehearsal of the four scenes, and then a run through of the first half, in which Ben, Emma and Jane, all took a turn sharing their thoughts and findings from the project. Shortly after everything had been tried and tested, we were informed that people had started turning up and so I settled at the back of the room while everyone came in. It was really warm. We got quite an audience. Then it started. And it went well.

If you were to look to back of the room, to the guy in the middle of the back row, you would have seen a big smile. That was me - I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was like seeing everything we'd done in the week for first time. I was interested, I was intrigued, and I think the audience were too.

At the end, they gave their feedback. One of the areas that was focussed on the most was the concept of reality, again, as we often did throughout the week and as I have in the blog. People seem to be quite interested in whose reality they are watching, and which realities should be explored more.

The audience arrives for the Lear/dementia scratch night at Derby Theatre Studio (c) 1623Of course, there were different kinds of people in the audience, some of which desired the clear, true, universal reality to shine through. They wanted to see life as it is, perhaps with less interest in the mind of Lear, with dementia and instead, more interested in those that know Lear and try to maintain their roles in his life. On the other hand, there were the people who enjoyed the exploration of the 'demented' mind. They were interested in the confused reality. However, the reality for me was that it was a great week, and great night too, and that next year, if they get the funding, it could be turned into some truly great theatre.

It's been a pleasure to be a part of the development team. Working alongside such great people has been inspiring. Really, it has. It may even have got me interested in working in theatre. So that in itself is a success. I really hope that funding is provided and this project can be taken further, because I for one definitely want to see how it turns out. And I hope one day I get to work with these people again. So all that's left to say is thank you. Thank you to everybody involved in the research project, everyone involved in the development week, everybody that came to the Scratch Night, and thank you to the care homes, QUAD, Derby Theatre and even Shakespeare himself!

Thank you, everyone. And here's to the future of the project.

Day Four : Thursday 5 December 2013

ThroatSo the fourth day is over. The scratch night is tomorrow. Ideas are being realised. I went out today and got the last bits for the costumes. It is all working out. Tomorrow, the four scenes we have created throughout the week will be performed to an audience and there will be an opportunity for the audience to give feedback, in order to assess the worth and potential of our creation. Yet there is still preparation to be done and tomorrow will no doubt be a long day of worthwhile hard work.

Today we moved on to look at our new scene in which Lear is in the shower, still clothed. The scene is inspired by the storm on the heath from Shakespeare's original play, and with storm warnings all round the UK, it was a perfect day for a such a scene. In Shakespeare's scene Lear rushes from a fight with his daughters into a raging thunderstorm. The thunder and lightning reflect what's going on inside Lear's mind, from his fury at his daughters to his impending madness. The storm is as much a product of his mind and his emotion as it is a symbol of them. Now think of our lonely Lear lost in his own mind in the shower.. The storm is in his head - a storm of thoughts and memories – and we hear a cacophony of clocks, televisions, confused sounds from his past, weather, music, and all manner of things, all building up, all intensifying and overwhelming Lear until it cuts out; he's just stood there, troubled and confused, in the shower, in his clothes, drenched.

Chris, the producer, spent a long time working on getting the sounds right for the storm scene – as I left to find the last items for the costumes, he continued configuring the cacophony. It's incredibly interesting how easily sound effects can excite the imagination and help expose a scene's emotion, as well as the involved characters' mental state. Sound, scenery, lighting and costume all play an extremely important role in theatre and always help to influence an emotion or a meaning behind what is being performed.

In light of this, these elements have been incorporated as much as we have needed to, or rather, as much as the scenes would allow us to. Yet, this week was focussed more on creating characters and a story, or maybe, four stories. Four moments that certainly can still be manipulated in many ways and can still be developed and pushed and pulled and twisted or torn or dropped all together. However, in scenes like this, in the storm, and the scene when the entertainer comes into the home, these elements (sound, scenery, lighting and costume) have been very useful and will add a great depth to the pieces. Theatre involves so many different elements, and finding the balance can be quite challenging, but I know for certain that it is well worth finding.

This is what I have seen and learnt on the fourth day. And as for tomorrow, well now 'I will be the pattern of all patience; I will say nothing.'

Day Three : Wednesday 4 December 2013

grace lettersToday Jane Upton, our playwright, provided us with the previous two days of work in writing. She has written up a script based upon the improvised scenes that have been created so far in our development week. It is great to see all the madness and all the many ideas realised in a piece of writing. When I say madness I do not specifically refer to the apparent madness of our protagonist, but rather to the whole process. It is a constructive madness, certainly, with true aims and just purpose, but there is little worth in madness without a sanity to relate it to. Today the scripts, or scene fragments, presented a sanity and to me it served its purpose. It grounded all that we have done so far - just as a note can savour a memory, the script savours the scene.

Written words, whether they are a script or a book or even dare I say a blog, can mean a awful lot. They certainly did to our protagonist Charles Lear today.

lettersA durational improvisation was set up in which Lear was receiving letters from his daughter, Cordelia, and he was desperately, and maybe hopelessly trying to make some sense of them. He tried to work out what they were and what they meant and why they were there. There was even a question raised about who they might have been there for. Of course, to our narrative, they were very much addressed to him, with his name on the letter, and Cordelia's too, but there is always an underlying uncertainty. In every fragment of theatre we have created there is an underlying question about the reality of the scene. A simple, short, three words – what is real?

And today's scene progressed to a reunion of father and daughter, of Lear and Cordelia and it is happy and it is tragic and it is right there in front of us, but all the while there is still a question of whether it is really happening. It could just be a construct of Lear's dementia. It could just be a memory, or a momentary delusion. Cordelia could have visited him in the care home every week, or this could be the first time. In the end, really, it doesn't matter what the reality is, because Lear has his own reality and to him it is real, it is now and it is a long awaited reunion by which he can hope to mend the bond between him and his daughter. That alone is beautiful.

Now I'm sure it is a terrible, terrible shame, but I have nothing more to say about today. I was not present to witness the true development of the scene and as such, I fall short on my own narrative. (This is because I was given the task of sourcing some costumes and props). Yet I don't doubt for a second that there will be something beautiful and sorrowful and real waiting for me on Friday when I witness the scene coming to fruition. I say this partly because I trust the team to create something of such a high standard, because that is what I have been witnessing so far. But I also say it because this project is very much about mental illness, and I believe that behind every mental illness there is tragic beauty and there is desperate sorrow and it is all so painfully real.

Day Two : Tuesday 3 December 2013

Our director (Ben Spiller) provided us with a song to start us off today. It was the Fool's song from King Lear (the same song is in Twelfth Night), which seemingly presented a grand 'oh well' in response to all of life's problems. And what a way to start off the day. I think song and music have a great and grand purpose in theatre but beyond that, they are great motivators which can kick-start a huge creative process. Music can also provide a strong support system for any scene in theatre; it can define a mood, and create a setting, without the need of much visual aid, and in this way, today it seemed to help us in achieving our goals. I suppose it is here that I should state what our goals are. We're working towards creating four fragments, or short scenes, devised by the team and scripted by playwright Jane Upton to depict our protagonist (as played by Gerry Flanaghan). The scenes are inspired by Shakespeare's play as well as the three strands of research that we've been doing over the past few months (for more information our research, click here.

99As a person who isn't particularly familiar with the development process behind theatre, it is astounding to see such devotion to a task, particularly from the actors. The very concept of improvisation is a daunting one for most, but Gerry and Grace [Waugh Scott, who plays Cordelia and other characters] managed to keep discovering new areas for today's scene to go into and I think their strengths seem to lend well to discovering gold. They've shown me that acting is certainly not just remembering lines. It is very much about finding a rhythm, creating a reality and telling a story. Given the foundations of today's scene - an entertainer visiting the care home - the connection between the 'fool' and the protagonist was transformed through many different guises which cannot be, and as it turned out, was not, an easy process for the actors. Yet such perseverance through repeating the same scene in different ways created a whole series of new scenes, new potential stories and ultimately a more focussed result at the end. 

Another thing that I found stood out in the process today is the need for universal basic truths and knowledge amongst the team. The idea that everybody needs to understand and agree on basic values for the project - What is the story? What is the connection between our play and Shakespeare’s King Lear? And the big one – why is our producer [Christopher Lydon] laughing hysterically into a rug? I do feel however that it is hugely beneficial for such matters to be discussed and I believe that conflict is the ground on which art stands. Conflicts in the process can create great solidarity in the result and therefore in turn they help create better art, more interesting theatre and greater diversity throughout.

Our leading character is living with dementia. To truly understand what this means and make sure it is portrayed appropriately and potentially realistically, each and every member of the development team should come to know a fair bit about what it means to have dementia. Be this through the physical and psychological symptoms of the illness or through the stigma and the connotations attached to the illness. A huge amount of research has been done into the different forms of dementia that our character has been diagnosed with and this gives us lots of information on how the characters can be played.

For example, there are symptoms like the shaking associated with Parkinson's disease and the memory loss of Alzheimer's that have to be considered in creating our play so that our characters can become the identity we wish to place them in. However, the facts of the illnesses are not always enough to create the image we seek and it took Emma [Fitzpatrick, our researcher] physically portraying an amalgamation of all the potential elements of dementia our protagonist could have for that identity to come clear. I think that this method is true of the whole process of developing a scene in that you have to see lots of potential ingredients and, if you like, symptoms of a situation in order to find out what it is that will fit best to create a strong narrative. Such is true also of life, is it not?

Day One : Monday 2 December 2013

Today was the first day of the development week for the King Lear project, in which the protagonist is being explored as someone living with forms of dementia. Dementia is complex. It is a Latin term originally meaning 'madness' or literally 'without mind'. Absent. In absentia. Now, it means a range of brainwasting diseases that typically affect the elderly. In our project we seek to explore the possibilities of this idea – the potential that King Lear has dementia, that he is 'mad', to quote Shakespeare's play.

lear01Of course, to begin the task of developing such a character, and such a story around that character, we had to begin with a discussion. We discussed the potential illness the character could have, based on the diagnoses from the previous areas of research, be it Vascular Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Alzheimer's or even Parkinson's. We also discussed the deep philosophical concepts and constructs of 'reality', 'identity' and basically, whether or not any particular focus is necessary within them. There are lots of things to be discussed before such a complex character can be put to the stage, however, one thing that particularly stood out to me, as an area of particular interest and inspiration, were the real stories of real people who suffer and have suffered from dementia. And I myself have known five people, or, perhaps five beings (one was cat) that have suffered from dementia, and as the day progressed, I came to know a sixth. Personal experience shapes everything in our realities.

I cannot write a word more without talking about my peculiar encounter with a 'warm-up'. As my first experience of such an exercise, I could hardly contain the laughter and attempted to disguise it by coughing. As an everyday introvert, such an activity felt quite embarrassing. The embarrassment of doing something in front of group of people who were all doing the same thing, at the same time, is totally and utterly absurd. So it leaves me wondering - as most things did throughout the day - who is more mad - myself, or King Lear? It should however be noted that everybody can be mad in the eyes of someone else. Madness is a fact of life – it is an inherent feature of the human condition. We all have our own perception of what madness is, much like we all have our own perception of reality. These may perhaps just be my opinions, but you would be, in my eyes, mad to disagree. Besides, I think it is useful to us to attempt to keep a degree of open-mindedness about these potential truths, and others, as we put a shape to this concept of the mad King.

As it was acted out, through script and improvisation, both the protagonist and his supporting characters (of course, with the courtesy of the actors and the rest of the team) wove together an image that was very much Shakespearean, and yet it appeared to be set within the confines of a the decaying mind of one character, our Lear. That is however just one perception of the reality that was created. You could perceive it from an outside point of view, whereby the scene is a residential home and the character with him is, in the universal reality, a carer, who only changes in character through the clouded perception of the title character. So, therefore it's easy to imagine King Lear without the other characters on stage. In a way, it's completely feasible that he's talking to himself. Completely absorbed in his world. Unaware of the reality of the characters around him, in his own personal monologue with only the briefest of genuine human interaction. This is what I saw when the characters were acted out. King Lear was there, and Cordelia was there, his carer, or any number of other people potentially all there at once; potentially never there at all. There were moments captured in the picture frame of a mirror or in a single line of Shakespeare's original text where the old Lear could shine out, the Lear before he became ill. Before the stigma, before the confusion - the memory of a Lear we did not, perhaps, even set out to create. A memory we did not even have.

There came a point where I reached the void between acting and reality. This void is the reality of countless people; the absence, the confusion, the blur of memory and the uncertain identity - 'who can tell me who I am?' as Lear would ask. And for me, it wasn't long before it became hard to tell when they were acting, and when they were not. But I was merely peering into another world. 'I'm not in the world, I'm just looking at it.' - these are the words of someone suffering from dementia.  We're almost close enough to touch this dimension, but we remain displaced from the drama. The complete inability to interact with the on stage environment alienates us just like the alienation dementia would bring us. Dementia takes away memories like books falling off a shelf and puts you in a state of innocence. And we were sat viewing this new reality, in our own innocence. And it brings so many questions to mind about our reality, about our own minds, about our own truths and memories and I can't speak for everyone, but by the end of the day I certainly found for myself a meaning to the words 'let me not be mad'.

And that was my experience of the first day.



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