Work in progress
Starting any creative process is a daunting task. Whether it’s staring at a clean piece of paper, a blank tape or an empty stage – it’s this initial part of making work that everybody seems to dread. There are plenty of questions: What do I want to say to my audience? Who is it going to be for? How on earth am I going to get funding? For work not set to open for over a year’s time, it’s not always easy to find your motivation.
At university, the first year students of puppetry at Central School of Speech and Drama are afforded the luxury of a scratch performance. With two months of research and development, making and rehearsals, they finish the first term with a short showing to a selected audience, followed by Q&A and feedback. Wouldn’t it be lovely for people in the real world to have this opportunity too?
On a balmy Wednesday evening in July - just before it got really hot - a veritable who’s who of puppetry gathered together at the Battersea Arts Centre to watch five scratch performances, hosted by the Puppet Centre. The evening kicked off with a showing by Isobel Smith from Grist to the Mill as part of her residency at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton. The piece was the longest of the evening, entitled ‘Thinking it and Fainting’, and was a beautiful and moving showing of work in development.
Artists and puppetry companies had been invited to submit an application to showcase that evening, and we enjoyed five different, and highly varied, scratch performances. We started with ‘Corps Exquis’ by Hundred Meetings, which incorporated an interesting use of multi-media, then ‘Bookstory’ by Nonesuch Theatre, a truly funny and endearing piece set in a library.
We were then treated to ‘Plastic Soup’ by Project Boondock, who successfully used recycled materials to portray a strong message about rubbish in the ocean, then ‘Moon Play’ by Trembling Hands, a technically skilled and captivating Bauhaus adaptation, and finally ‘Match Seller’ by LAMA Creative, who presented a familiar story in a mesmerising new light.
After the performances, I found a spare millisecond to speak to Philip Bosworth of Nonesuch Theatre.
How have you found creating a scratch performance?
Tiring! It enables work towards getting going. We’ve only done it in eight days. Ben (Glasstone) wrote the story, the songs, and directed the piece. And performed! Maybe you should be talking to Ben... Seriously, it’s a great incentive to create work, and make the time to actually do it. The piece was scratchy - as a performer, you always want it to be perfect - but we felt that was the idea of making a scratch performance. It gives you the opportunity to push the edges. If it doesn’t work, you can blame it on the scratch.
How did the story develop into the performance?
What we showed tonight was only the prologue and the opening section of the story. It’s about a librarian whose library is going to be shut down. As he reads the books, the stories get inside his head and invigorate him to keep it running. We liked the idea of a book reading a book to a little book, we liked the idea of a dictionary singing about being out of date. It felt like it went from there.
Where do you see the piece progressing in the future?
It was interesting performing in such a large space; I hadn’t realised it would be so big! During the conception we envisioned performing in small, intimate spaces - like bookshops and libraries. It’s all about storytelling and accessibility. We’ve found it so lovely to let our imaginations run wild, and not get too serious about it. It’s allowed us to make some work that we’re already really happy with, without having to think about all the big stuff yet.