Back to the IAA this afternoon for a session on verbatim theatre and story telling. We started with some warm up games to get the group comfortable at telling each other stories and listening to them before setting up an exercise in pairs.
I asked the group to decide on a theme that they'd like to share stories about. After a brief five minute discussion the group decided to focus their work on love. In half of the pairs I asked the listener to watch carefully and replicate the story with as much physical and vocal accuracy as possible. In the other half the listening partner was given a recording device on which to capture the story. I explained that the stories could be personal, philosophic, fictional or familiar, but whatever angle chosen the stories would be told publicly later in the session.
The pairs found somewhere private to tell each other the tales. For ease I suggested we should work in Icelandic which meant I was left to follow the authenticity of the rhythm and behaviour of the actors, rather than understanding the content of the story.
Vigdis M went first and was magnificent in performing Alda. We paused briefly afterwards to ask Alda how it was to hear her words retold and whether this act of recreation was honouring or exposing.
Vigdis J went next, but found it an impossible job to be Luca. She false started two or three times and although she finally gave us the performance she made it clear how uncomfortable she found the act of 'parodying' somebody else. We talked about the ethical implication of taking on somebody else's story and Vigdis highlighted the dilemma of having Luca in the room. She agreed that had he not been there it would have been much easier to 'approximate' his story. She just felt all she could do, in the circumstances, was to diminish Luca's words. It's interesting that we feel this. Should we not be able to honour somebody's story in performance whether that person is in the audience or not? Once a story is told who does it belong to?
We turned our attention to the recorded stories. Maria put on a pair of head phones and, repeating the recorded story out loud retold the story of Vigdis G's parent's first meeting on a cruise ship, including the romantic tale of her late father asking her mother to dance. Thora then channelled Svala's, occasionally sceptical philosophy of falling in love using the same technique. The group noticed how the very act of re speaking the words resulted in both actors reshaping their bodies to become physically more like the original tellers. Each body has a different relationship to language.
The two monologues seemed to at times to challenge each other, at times underscore and at times highlight and at times reveal. We ran them alongside each other, as an overlapping conversation. The result was fascinating and occasionally very moving, Once we'd taken off the head phones neither actor had any idea of what they'd done.
To end the afternoon we talked briefly about how we might use these Reykjavik love stories. Maria came up with the idea of collecting more and then arranging for a 'love bus' to pick up tourists from the hotels and drive them to sites all over the city, in each instance choosing the most appropriate for the telling of the story. Passengers could also be encouraged to give the driver instructions and take the bus to a place where their story might be told. These in turn could be recorded for actors to tell later. Over time a whole archive of love stories could be developed.
Each tour would be unique with actors being picked up and dropped off en route. It sounds a plan. I hope she'll follow up.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.