Projects & Performances
08
Dec
2009

Rehearsal Process – Boxin (2008-09)

Boxin came at a time when there was much debate about immigration, what is Britishness and ‘Islamaphobia’ in the media and on the tips of tongues.

There was and still are confused messages played in the media where quite often the word asylum seeker was and is mentioned in the same sentence as terrorist. We where also in a time where cultural diversity was being promoted, but the at the same time the hysteria that Britain is being overrun by foreigners. I was questioning how does one find truths. What makes a message more believable? Is it whether the person speaks in a middle class accent? Do they need to wear a suite? What colour is their skin? Or what social class they belong to?

I was also interested in how the media creates divisions between social and cultural groups by exaggerating small discrepancies. With so much negative focus I wanted to go against that and create unity with the characters, not by everyone being the same but operating in their own way and being accepted by the other characters on stage, like a finely tuned piece of engineering every component is important for the machine to work. Even the most insignificant action can inspire or destroy another individual. We never know who is looking at us for inspiration.

We were able to create a work in progress in 2007 that enabled us to present a vision of what the piece was going to look like. It also allowed us to research the project through out lecture demonstrations and residencies. By discussing the subjects with various age and social groups it allowed us to create a picture that wasn’t naïve but informed.

We presented the work in progress at Decibel in September 2007, where I met Theatre Director, Dr. Daniel Banks, who was at the time a lecturer at New York University. He was giving a talk on the aesthetics of Hip Hop theatre, I wasn’t able to attend the talk as we had a technical rehearsal, but when I heard that he had started his session by prompting the audience to Beatbox collectively, in order to bring them together, I knew I had to meet him! The ‘cognicenty’ (sp) of the performing arts world don’t often let themselves go or get too involved.

We immediately connected through our interest in ritual theatre and the fact we had worked and been inspired by many of the same people, from Denise Wong Artistic Director of Black Mime Theatre, to Rap pioneers, Outkast to Pina Bausch to DV8.

I was going to be in New York in January 2008 for the APAP and ISPA arts conferences, so we arranged to meet. It became clear from our conversations that we needed to work together, so I invited him to work on Boxin. We created a title for his role of Directorial Consultant. We envisaged him being like the co driver in a rally car, he knew the twists and turns that may occur en route, but also wanted to try different routes, but he also stepped back enough to be objective and keep us on track.

As the ideas started to pour from my head their first took physical form was on the walls of my spare room at home. I’d re-wallpapered the room holding up the sheets with Bluetac and literally writing on the walls and surrounded myself with the words, sounds, images and emotions. It looked like the room of the character, Dr. Suresh’ in the first series of Heroes, with lines, string and pieces of paper connecting things. At this point I needed to go back to New York to thrash the ideas out with Banks but our schedules changed slightly and we couldn’t meet, so we video ‘Skyped’.

I shaped 80% of the scenes to play with once in rehearsal as we only had 6 weeks to make the show, so I felt I had to be ready to dive straight in.

As we progressed in rehearsal Banks’ role developed into much more than we originally envisaged, we totally trusted each other and gave space to develop, evaluate and decide on the content of Boxin. Our roles became very flexible but with a firm focus of where we were heading. He was invaluable in the process and devising.

Banks also rediscovered why he decided to be a director. A lot of his training was in the UK and France, so he returned to the US with bags of energy, to put into practice what had learnt. But he came up against resistance because the climate wasn’t ready for the type of work he wanted to do. By being with the Kompany Malakhi his passion was re-awakened by the work and fusion of styles we were creating, he witnessed what was possible with the cast we had created.

We had to create a strong group in order to live what we were trying to achieve on stage, which was unification. So our creative process began with a lot of games as a way to break the ice. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the age we begin to play less, is when we start to become more aware of differences.

I wanted to counter the negativity and focus on similarities, so we would share stories about our life’s and make sure where there was a link to someone else’s, that person would pick up or add to the first story. It’s amazing how similar we are. If one focuses on finding differences you will find them. If one focuses on finding similarities, one will find them. This was our ethos during the process, ‘Don’t focus on the problem, focus on the solution’. Identify the issue yes, but immediately move out of that negative space.

95% of the devising exercises came from emotional and theatrical starting points. The process was varied in the way we created the material in the scenes, on occasions I would let the cast know which scene were working on and the content I felt it needed, they would then ask me what it feels like, what it’s saying etc. I would then explain without suggesting or showing any type of movement so as not to taint their process. If it didn’t have the ingredients I envisaged I would enhance what the cast created and arrange the scenes that way. But often they hit the mark. I gave some movement vocabulary which they also expanded. It was a game of volleyball in the sense of passing the concepts back and fourth. It was very organic, with the cast feeling a real ownership of their characters, movement and the piece.

Banks and myself are very much influenced by ritual theatre. Ritual being the ancestor of theatre. Ritual theatre for us, is something that allows the people involved to evolve, this also extends to the audience. It’s theatre for a cause not just because, the process presents an opportunity for the cast to change elements or achieve goals in their life, so they are not solely entering the performance space to perform, they enter the space to make a change or progress a mission they have. Which makes the work matter so much more. It’s like a mantra, prayer or an affirmation, the space becomes sacred.

I gave the cast an exercise I devised called, Motivation Symbols. I asked them to list all the people who had inspired them, how they inspired them, and what they said to them, which had helped them get to where they are.

I then asked them to distil those things into images and graphics and then into one symbol. The journey was quite emotional and enriching. These symbols where drawn into the set and became part of the set, so when they were on stage they had their history and the energy of those who inspired them with them.

andinkra

The spark of the idea came from Andinkra symbols. Where a philosophy and teaching is captured in a symbol.  For example one we used in Boxin was, FUNTUNFUNEFU-DENKYEMFUNEFU or “Siamese crocodiles”, it’s a symbol of democracy and unity.

‘The Siamese crocodiles share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular symbol is a reminder that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it’.

I’ve been familiar with these symbols for some time, so it was very fulfilling to have this influence the work. Find out more about the symbols here.

This process bled into making the piece, where we captured the energy of a section in a saying or symbol.

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