For a number of years we have been lucky enough to be an associate company of Farnham Maltings and with that relationship has come many fantastic opportunities. Funnily enough, however, it can be the small benefits of an associate relationship which can make all the difference. In our blog on the Farnham Maltings website, we talk about the support we get from the simple act of meeting up, especially ahead of our next stage show, Stowaway…
On 23 June, we undertook a ‘Wizard of Oz’ test of our new installation piece, Transports; a pilot project funded by a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award to explore simulated first-hand experiences of neurological subjects (for this pilot, we are investigating how the symptoms of tremor and slurred speech impact on the lives of those living with Young-onset Parkinson’s disease).
‘Wizard of Oz’ testing is an inexpensive method of evaluating an audience experience that will involve technology, without the technology being present (instead using make-shift materials, and exposing the ‘wizard behind the curtain’). We regularly use this method in our R&D’s as a cost-effective way of evaluating interactive experiences before taking the plunge and investing our hard earned budget in hardware that we later might discover may or may not be fit for purpose.
Below are some images of our co-director Hannah testing the work…
We tested the experience with a wooden proto-type of the case and a vibrating glove built by Max Humphries (which induces tremor in the audience’s right hand), a pair of cheap headphones, some props we’d borrowed and our Production Manager Helen’s iPad mini (with a rough draft of the P.O.V. video from our storyboard uploaded onto it that Hannah and I had filmed in advance using the camera on an iPhone 5). Pieces of string are attached to different devices to stand in for cables that will eventually be present to see how they influence or inhibit the audience’s movement.
Each member of the team had an opportunity to go through the experience and we began gathering some initial critical feedback. Questions began to emerge; how intuitive are the interactions between audience, video and props? How clear is it for the audience member that the ‘game’ is to copy the actions they see the hand undertake in the video? What level of instruction will the experience need and how best do we distribute these cues to the participant (via what modality; aural, visual etc.)? What is an appropriate pace for the movement of the hand seen in the video to allow the participant time to follow it? etc. This is the first phase of evaluating the experience so we have captured detailed records of our team’s responses which will feed into the next stages of development. We will then go through a similar process with a more advanced proto-type in late July, this time testing the work with a panel of test audiences assembled by Parkinson’s UK. We hope to learn from this testing more about the sensations that the experience triggers for the audience, how authentically the representation of tremor in a young Parkinson’s is captured , what productive applications an experience like this might have etc. We are in the process of designing the feedback process to capture our audience feedback (through questionnaires, vox pops etc.).
We are now planning the Transports filming day to capture the video content for the tablet device, which will take place on 28 June at Shoreditch Town Hall. We will then capture voice-over recordings separately with our sound designer Tom Wilson on 30 June.
Julian Harley has been helping us to problem solve what technological setup we might use to distribute video and audio content from a Raspberry Pi computer to the audience. We have been questioning how different content will be triggered (e.g. how does the audience start the video? How might the computer trigger the glove to tremor at a designated point in the video footage? etc.)
We tested a head-cam created by our video designer Alex Markham (kindly modeled by Helen below!) – this camera will be mounted onto one of the actors for the filming day, who will be both actor and camera-man (having considered many different options this is the best way to capture the P.O.V. footage we need). The weight of the camera makes our head-cam front heavy, so Alex has attached counterweights to the back to balance the weight more evenly. I will stand outside of the experience and issue instructions to the actor (Chris Woodley) who will be wearing an earpiece. Meanwhile another actor will be voicing the character’s dialogue (Matt Tait) via a separate mic. setup in the space – so it will take a minimum of three people to construct the illusion of ‘Andrew’, our protagonist in the film. The other character’s in the film will be played by Alex Maher and Corey Stuckey with an assembled group of fake wedding guests who are kindly giving up their afternoon to be extras.
Thanks for reading – there will be more R&D updates to follow after the filming day this Saturday.
We are currently looking for an experienced Technical Stage Manager for our production of STOWAWAY for a South East tour in Autumn 2014.
ABOUT THE SHOW
‘Stowaway’ is inspired by the tragic true-life story of a body found in a DIY superstore car park. It belonged to a man who fell from the sky. He had stowed away in the wheel-arch of a commercial airliner in an apparent attempt to escape his home in India for a new life in the UK.
The show is being made in the South East of England for an initial 3-week tour in Autumn 2014, prior to potential London and Edinburgh runs and further national touring in 2015/16.
DATES OF ENGAGEMENT
Dates span: 25th August – 12th October (7 weeks)
w/c 25th August – rehearsals, Shoreditch Town Hall, London
w/c 1st September – rehearsals, Shoreditch Town Hall, London
w/c 8th September – rehearsals, Shoreditch Town Hall, London
w/c 15th September – tech week, New Wolsey Studio, Ipswich and 2x performances
w/c 22nd September – dates in Corby, Bracknell and Petersfield
w/c 29th September – dates in Farnham and Brighton
w/c 6th October – dates at Reading, London and Oxford
We are looking for a TECHNICAL STAGE MANAGER to work with us as a key member of the team, who will be required to be the main technical team member on the road during the touring period. The TSM will need a good working knowledge of lighting and sound and have some re-lighting experience, as well as experience of working in the rehearsal room. Duties will include running get-ins and get-outs at tour venues, operating the show and driving the company van.
The ideal person will have:
– Experience of working on new work projects.
– Experience of supporting artists during the creative process.
– Experience of UK touring on a small scale.
– Experience of being the main technical contact for our show and taking on a role combining various areas of stage management / technical management / relighting.
The ideal person will also:
– Be confident and unflappable; organized and efficient.
– Be supportive and sensitive to the creative process.
– Be flexible to change and challenges, and strive to make ambitious things happen.
The fee for this role is £450 pw, for 7x full weeks, plus per diems, travel and accommodation for the tech and touring period.
To apply for the role, please send your CV with a brief cover note and any relevant information, to Ric Watts by 10am, Friday 20th 11th July 2014. Please contact us with any additional questions.
‘…if there’s something you can be certain of in this world, it’s that your hand is your hand’ (paraphrasing G. E. Moore)
Yesterday we visited our designer Max Humphries’ workshop at Farnham Maltings to see the latest case designs for Transports. Since the work is going to be a touring interactive exhibition (housed in custom-made specimen cases), the R&D process for this project is somewhat closer to product development than anything Analogue has created to date (and a thus a genuine experiment with an inevitable learning curve for the whole team).
Max has drafted ground plans for 3 x cases and has built a wooden proto-type of the one case that will be fully realised to test with audiences at Forest Fringe (6-11 August), the Dana Centre (4 November) and at Royal Holloway with BSc. Psychology students towards the end of 2014.
The finished specimen case will be constructed from wood, white acrylic and will be hinged on all sides – the audience will will put on a pair of headphones resting on top of the case which will then instruct them to place a glove on their right hand (with a spinning counter-weight mounted onto it) and finally to unfold the case to reveal it’s contents…
(Below, our Production Manager Helen and Max testing out the cases)
Inside the case are a number of tactile props with which the audience will interact through the experience – a spoon, a bowl, a wine glass, a napkin, a best-man’s speech on a sheet of paper and finally an Android tablet device.
On the screen of the tablet device, the audience member will see the hand of our protagonist, Andrew – they will hold the screen with their left hand in front of their right, creating the illusion that they ‘own’ Andrew’s hand. The movement of the hand on the video is the prompt for the audience member to re-enact the interactions that they are seeing onscreen. During the experience, via a computer we will adjust the voltage running to the counter-weight mounted onto the participant’s glove and just like the hand in the video, the audience’s hand will begin to tremor, as they experience the bodily symptoms of Andrew’s Parkinson’s disease. We are putting together consent forms and following the relevant ethical guidelines to source participants to help us in late July. We are working with Parkinson’s UK who are generously helping us to to source a panel of participants (made up of those with different experiences of the disease) to critique the story we have written in the storyboard and test-pilot what we have made to assess how authentically we are recreating the associated experiences of tremor and slurring speech.
There are a number of practical/technical problems ahead that we need to solve; at present there will be cables coming from the tablet computer, the glove and the headphones – how can we ensure that these don’t inhibit the audience’s interactions? How intuitive is it for the participant to play the ‘game’ of recreating the actions occurring on the screen? Technically, can we get the glove recreate the precise frequency of PD tremor (which is between 4-6 hertz)? What is the best technology available to trigger video/audio content? We are currently considering building a Raspberry Pi computer into the case to distribute video to the tablet, audio to the headphones and a voltage to the glove – whether this will be successful or not, we’ll keep you posted!.
The next step is to pull everything together for the filming day/voice-over recordings on the 28 & 30 June to capture content for the tablet screen and the headphones (which requires us to stage a fake wedding reception at Shoreditch Town Hall, so you can imagine that this is somewhat of a logistical challenge!).
We will all be gathering as a team to undertake what we term as a ‘Wizard of Oz’ test on 23 May at STH with the wooden proto-type of the case and some rough footage we have already shot of the storyboard. The purpose of this is to assess how the experience is working and to iron out issues ahead of filming, to confirm what technology we need prior to investing our budget in expensive technical equipment and to work out what re-writes need to happen with our storyboard (based on our findings) etc.
So a busy 6 weeks ahead….
Thanks for reading – this blog will be updated again (once there’s more to report) so do come back soon!
As we reflect on a fascinating week working with actors at Shoreditch Town Hall, followed by an even more mind-blowing scratch performance at this year’s Pulse Festival, the Theatre Communications Group National Conference 2.0, over in San Diego opens, spurring on some important conversations about Crossing Borders.
The questions being asked sit within a range of different programme arcs and include How are relationships changing between theatres and communities? And How can we have productive conversations about difference?
When she approached us about contributing,Caridad Svitch – a playwright, editor and one of the online curators for this conference – wasn’t to know just how relevant these questions were in relation to our latest project, Stowaway. And so we gobbled up the opportunity to write about the process and reactions to telling a story about someone who belongs to a world so different from our own. This was not only to embrace the honour of being part of a fascinating conference, but to explore in writing why it is so difficult to tell this story, or more precisely, why it provokes the reactions it does, and ultimately why we think it is essential to continue to tell it. To read this article, click below:
Having now received the funding for this show, we will be heading into a writing and devising process over the coming months with the aim of a South East tour in Autumn. We have spent now a few years developing Stowaway in a range of contexts, showcasing it to a variety of audiences, researching the work as we go while and remaining live to the unfurling headlines that tell us just how pertinent this topic remains. Throughout this, we have gathered the thoughts and reactions of audiences which will certainly play a part in how this show develops, and essentially, what we determine to be it’s central question.
As part of the ongoing research for this, we have been talking with Platforma, the arts and refugees network which is one of many projects initiated by Counterpoints Arts, a hub of creative arts and cultural projects exploring refugee and migrant experiences. While we have had some interaction with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in order to have got to where we are with this story, we hope that this collaboration will take us beyond the one-off interview into a more ongoing, far-reaching relationship where we can hear people’s stories, and also hopefully get their responses to this particular story not just as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, but as artists. This may give way to something bigger than one show, something that sees Stowaway sit within a range of artistic responses, but also opens up the opportunity of an engagement programme that lands this topic in the laps of their audience through additional nationwide events, exhibitions, talks, Q&As and workshops where we hear directly from people with first person experience.
For those who don’t know, it is Refugee Week next week (16-22 June) with a huge array of different events happening all over the country – platforms like this open up the conversation and therefore are essential to how we move forward with a subject that can feel impenetrable. You can find out more information on what’s happening near you here.
And so with that, we will head into a period of research and writing, armed with everything we have learnt from the – sometimes explosive – work-in-progress showings, and the work in a variety of rehearsal rooms with actors, non-actors and the New Wolsey Young Company, among others. Looking forward to where this show might take all of us…
Midweek in the rehearsal room and while we continue to find some really exciting things with a lovely bunch of actors and our choreographer, here is a little blog we wrote about Stowaway, a show we are due to scratch at the wonderful Pulse festival this Saturday, ahead of a full development period this Autumn. If you are in Ipswich this weekend, do come and join us!
As we come to the end of two weeks of pulling together our script and shot-by-shot storyboard for this pilot project, it feels like a good time to reflect on how far we have come and how we got here…
Finding a story…
As I mentioned in my last blog, we have spent much of the last few weeks gathering stories and first-person accounts of living with Parkinson’s. Having explored ideas that incorporate multiple symptoms and a variety of locations, we have made some discoveries…
As theatre-makers, we tell stories. We try to find the human stories behind the scientific case study. While the results of our research may end up being formally quite different from an end-on ‘stage show’, the process of research should be no different – to understand and empathise we need to know in greater detail who that person is, what they once were and what they’ve lost.
Now in a 5 or 10 minute interactive experience, communicating this information is not very easy so we have tried – and are continuing to try – to focus our ideas further. Consequently we are going to concentrate on one symptom – the tremor – so that we can explore it more fully and ensure those participating in the experience are able to fully appreciate the difficulties of this motor impairment alone.
We are going to make our story about a person with Young-Onset Parkinson’s. This is for all the reasons identified in my last blog – since it is less common, it is more misunderstood and therefore the experience we’re making might contribute to raising awareness of the concerns Y.O.P. introduces in to the lives of those that have it.
Inspired and informed by real-life stories, we are creating a fictional character, but one with a detailed back-history and journey, and placing him in an environment that is high stakes, emotionally driven and yet common enough to people that they might be able to relate to the circumstances; namely at a wedding reception.
And so with all these decisions made, we set to work researching and meeting the right people to ensure we could produce a fully scripted storyboard by the end of last week.
This last week we have met with our collaborator, Professor Narender Ramnani, at Royal Holloway University.
He was full of insightful feedback on where the experience had come and where it could still go, based on his expertise as a neuroscientist and as an academic particularly proactive in using arts to engage in science. Some productive technical questions began to emerge; how can we use technology to recreate the exact frequency of tremor that a PD patient would experience?
We also began organizing the testing process with his BSc Psychology students; which year groups would best offer us the data we require? What do we want to get from that testing, having now two versions of the same experience (of varying lengths)? How do we evaluate it to ensure we are getting the feedback we need in order to take this pilot further?
The objective of testing the experience among these students is to see if it can act as a useful learning tool to medical students, and better equip them when treating people with Parkinson’s.
From my work at Parkinson’s UK, I know that there are often issues when people with Parkinson’s go into hospital or into care homes, usually because staff do not fully understand the symptoms and needs of someone with the condition. The charity ran a big campaign about getting medication on time after repeated issues when people with Parkinson’s go into hospital and their regular, time-specific medication is taken away from them. There have also been instances where staff at care homes have misread the freezing that can sometimes occur when moving between two environments for stubbornness on the part of the person with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s UK has a fantastic education programme where they train up volunteers with experience of Parkinson’s to go out and talk at places like care homes. In addition to the Parkinson’s nurses they fund, it has a huge impact on improving life for people with Parkinson’s, but as is so often the case, the demand tends to be greater than what is available.
Perhaps there is an opportunity to do more than create a piece of work that simply offers the public representations or an inside perspective of having the condition? We hope that by testing it with these students, we will find out more about the potential applications and possibilities.
This brings me onto the other key meeting we had this week with the Creative Arts Project Manager at Parkinson’s UK. As the charity launches its new strategy for 2015-19, this focus on creative arts, comes after much feedback from people with Parkinson’s.
Arts – specifically singing and dancing – have often been used as therapies of a kind for people with Parkinson’s, with support groups nationwide including classes in both in their monthly meetings to great responses.
With this in mind and other feedback from people with Parkinson’s, a pilot project of this nature may be a really exciting thing to collaborate on. With a short time between now and when the show goes up at Forest Fringe in August, we have to be realistic about what can be achieved but we hope very much that by working alongside Parkinson’s UK, we can start building relationships with People with Parkinson’s, carers , staff and experts that can grow into consultants and advisors as the pilot develops and beyond.
Writing on our feet (at a miniature wedding in my lounge!)
When writing something experiential that combines audio, visual and haptic interaction, the only way to test the work is to do it, so that’s exactly what we did.
Setting up a mini-wedding at my house with all the usual paraphernalia (or more accurately, a mock-up of the head table complete with soup, cutlery, flowers, wine, napkins etc.) we first had a run through of it. This is what we term ‘Wizard of Oz’ testing; a crude and inexpensive way of trying out ideas that will involve technology without the technology in place – it’s a helpful way of making discoveries, mistakes and improvising cheaply before committing the budget to the tech. In this table-top experience the ‘stage’ is the surface of the table. The focus is almost entirely on the character’s/participant’s hand and the objects with which it interacts. This creates some opportunities and some limitations. In our tests, we immediately identified some sticky areas – affordances, awkward reaches, difficult manoeuvres, impossible asks etc.
After a speedy, sketchy rewrite, we then filmed a rough version of the point-of-view perspective the participant would see on the tablet device in front of them and then used that to test the full experience. Having to be every one of the characters while Liam di the filming kept me on my toes and gave the film an eerie ‘world of Hannah clones’ aspect, but at least it gave us a direct and immediate understanding of what worked and what did not.
And now as the week comes to an end, we have a detailed storyboard that we are sending to our wider creative team. Next steps: designs, casting and filming…
'The Bright Young Things
of British Theatre'The Observer