Sunday, 4 December 2011

Juno, Iris and Ceres - the pastoral interlude

One of the most challenging sections of The Tempest is the pastoral 'play within a play' where Prospero conjures up the spirits of Iris, Ceres and Juno to amuse and amaze Ferdinand and Miranda.

"I must bestow upon the eyes of this young couple some vanity of mine Art"

The sequence is traditionally played as a masque or dumbshow and, in the original stage directions, employed the latest stage technology. Indeed, in the RSC production of The Tempest in the early 1990's the masque section took place in a life-size pop-up theatre within the main stage, complete with scallop footlights that popped up out of the stage, and a costume budget that would fund us for a whole year's worth of productions!

The section is not just difficult in terms of staging; the content itself is archaic and based on ancient folklore that modern audiences do not understand. Many productions cut this section out altogether, or at least trim it right down to a minimum.

We are currently working on an idea of how to stage this section which gives a flavour of what it is about (a gentle warning to the young Ferdinand and Miranda of the duties and demands of married life) but also demonstrates Prospero's magical abilities.

We have spent a couple of rehearsals now using the technique of human puppetry to bring this particular interlude to life. Prospero and Miranda join together in showing Ferdinand their 'party trick' of manipulating the supernatural beings of the island as if they were marionettes.

It has been fun and interesting to see what effects we can achieve, and it has also been a great way to build trust and complicity amongst the company.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Marc Chagall - a visual influence on The Tempest

In creating the world of the play, we rely on a wide range of influences to inspire the process. In terms of how the play will look, our director, Julia, has turned to the paintings of Marc Chagall. (1897 - 1985)

His use of colour and symbolism is providing a rich palette of ideas to draw from. Recurring themes of the bride and groom, spiritual elements, and dream-like states are mirrored in the text. Already we have begun to identify some of the characters from the play with figures in the paintings.

This is not to say that we are relying on Chagall's work for our final visual style, but rather that we are adding his influence to the pool of ideas that draw upon.

It pays to remain open to all kinds of inspirations and influences; they can take us to some surprising places.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

A labyrinthine text.

Another rehearsal on the Tempest this week that found us mining even more from the text. We are finding references in the play that are spinning us off on some really interesting tangents.

Prospero's Isle is developing into a game board where he plays the characters like chess pieces. This, in turn, is giving the actors the chance to explore how they move in the space as they are 'brought into play' by Ariel at Prospero's bidding.

As ideas and discussion open up new possibilities, we actors are responding by finding new ways of relating to the text, and to other characters. Having a relatively small cast means that we have to multi-role anyway, so the chance to draw clear distinctions between our roles in terms of movement as well as characteristics is really helpful.

As we know, seldom is anything black and white, and certainly on Prospero's Isle, things are not always what they seem. This merging of truth and fantasy, of nature and the supernatural, gives us much to play with. The course of the story, from tempestuous opening to the calm reconciliation at the end, is Prospero's gameplan enacted. He stands at the centre of the labyrinth into which he draws the other players, and from which they must escape.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Tempestuous Times

Rehearsals are now well underway for our latest production. The cast are being assembled (still a couple of parts to be covered) and scenes are taking shape. The photo below shows Emily, Jeremy and Jamie being directed by Julia.
It is great to be working on a Shakespeare text again; there are so many discoveries to be made in the text about character and meaning. As actors we are given so much to work with.
Finding meaning and relevance for today in words written over 400 years ago is wonderful and humbling - Shakespeare certainly knew about the power of words; we need to tap into that power in these tempestuous times.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

On the run...

This is a bit of a trial run for use of a mobile blogging app for the old i-Phone. We might use this for posting entries during rehearsals or out and about.

A proper post will follow soon with some more news about the latest Paper Zoo production; William Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

Meet you back here soon.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Training Actors to Do It Yourself.

There was a very interesting and thought-provoking piece on the Guardian Stage blog today that asked

"Are drama schools training actors for real life?"

The author discussed how actor training at many of the big drama schools has not really changed over the last thirty years whilst the landscape that young actors find themselves in on graduation has moved on, and not always in a positive way. The quality of the training, and the amount of effort that trainees have to put in, is not in question; but rather whether the drama schools are providing the right kind of guidance in how to create your own work. Actors leaving drama school nowadays do not have the opportunity of sharpening their skills in repertory companies up and down the country, TV work is harder to come by despite the proliferation of digital channels, and anyway, many of the jobs are going to so-called celebrities of reality television, and financial pressures are preventing many of the big producers from taking risks.

Young (and not so young) actors need to be given the skills and confidence to get out there and become the producers of the work. This is a piece of advice that my esteemed tutor at Middlesex University, Huw Thomas, used to drill into us:

"Don't wait for the work to come to you - make your own work!"

and many of us have gone on to do just that. A fine example of this attitude is the sterling work being done by Steve Green and Fourth Monkey Theatre Company who are embarking on their first rep season in London, and stormed the Edinburgh Festival in 2010 with their brilliant production of 'A Clockwork Orange'. Also seen at the Fringe and currently out there making some of the most magical theatre are Derby-based Maison Foo, touring the moving and magnificent 'Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin' throughout the autumn.

Paper Zoo came out of the same impulse; the desire to create our own work, to give new talent the opportunity to gain real industry experience. I now drill the same phrases into my students in the hope that they will take up the creative challenge. I am glad to read that other practitioners are saying similar things. We need drama schools to train the next generation of professional performers - they contribute so much to the country's cultural economy - but we also need them to teach some DIY too!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In The Pipeline

We haven't had chance to post anything recently as we have all been busy over the last few weeks. As a small-scale, unfunded company our members have to hold down jobs and other commitments alongside duties with the Zoo. Despite having a couple of weeks off after the show in Settle (North Yorkshire) we still managed to fill our time with company-based activity. We have all been searching and researching for suitable material to work on for our next production. The most recent shows saw us play Burley-in-Wharfedale Festival where we shared the bill with an excellent band, The Stalks. Check out their website here. We then travelled northwards again to Knaresborough to play to a small but appreciative audience who had braved some rather unseasonable rain.

With only four dates left on the Blue Remembered Hills tour, thoughts have turned to what we might tackle next. There are a number of ideas floating around at the moment, as well as invitations to get involved in other projects. We will certainly be present for the Positive Bradford Day on the 28th of September 2011. It isn't often that our city feels confident enough to shout about itself but there is much to be celebrated, not least of which is the vibrant and burgeoning arts scene that grows, seemingly despite the best efforts of the National Govenrment and local naysayers. Paper Zoo Theatre Company have always been proud of our roots, and are positive about the future for the region.

As for the plans for the next productions...? I can't say anything definite yet, but as soon as we have finalised the details we will update you. For details of the last four performances of Blue Remembered Hills please check out our website. We hope to see some of you there.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Blue Remembered Hills - Previews

Friday 24th and Saturday 25th of June 2011 saw the first two performances on our summer/autumn tour of Dennis Potter's celebrated play 'Blue Remembered Hills'. The shows took place in a new venue for the company, and one that I hope we can return to soon. Chris Lord is a Halifax based photographer with an eye not only for a great image but also for an opportunity to use his studio for other creative enterprises.

The small space was transformed into an intimate theatrical venue that perfectly suited the style of the production. Chris worked tirelessly to organise, promote and support the production that, I am pleased to say, sold out on both nights. The audiences all commented on the imaginative use of the space and the atmosphere, and The Halifax Courier described the production as "Elegant, simple and interesting" leading to "a fantastic night's entertainment"

Next stop on the tour will be a complete contrast as Paper Zoo return to the grounds of Bradford Cathedral for an open air performance. A small section of the grounds at the west end (how appropriate, darling!) of the Cathedral will be our stage but whereas the contained conditions of the studio created the claustrophobia of the barn, here we will be able to exploit the space to run and play in the woodland scenes.

Several years ago, the company first approached the Dean and Chapter of Bradford Cathedral with an idea for a production of Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' that used the grounds for the first half of the play and then moved inside for the second half. This production received very good reviews and proved to be a successful collaboration; so much so that now other companies have joined in on the act and produced plays there since.

For the Zoo, finding interesting and unusual venues to play has always been something to aim for, and we are very grateful that visionary people such as Chris Lord are open to ideas of what is possible. We are also indebted to Symon Culpan, our lighting designer and technician, and Shack who designed and created the soundscapes for the productions. Their efforts enhance our work and create unique theatrical events.

Chris' website can be found here

Friday, 3 June 2011

Josh Goes Bananas

We asked Josh Fyson, one of our associates, to write a little something about what he has been up to. This is his blog entry for June 2011.

"Hi! Josh Fyson, Associate actor with Paper Zoo Theatre Company here, updating you all on life in the veritable monkey enclosure that is our rehearsal process.

It can be said that I was involved with 'The Zoo' almost from the very start, attending every performance of the show from which the Company took it's name. When it officially founded I was recruited by resident bonobo, Damien O'Keeffe, to fill in some of the younger, peripheral characters in 'A Christmas Carol' Due to a cast member having to drop out I found myself taking a more substantial role, including my portrayal of Marley's ghost. I still rate that show as one of the most enjoyable I have ever taken part in.

After taking a small role in 'Much Ado About Nothing' this is my third production with the Company, even though it has taken a while to get into the swing of this one (even getting our full troop together on schedule was touch and go for a bit) these rehearsals have settled into the choreographed madness that characterises the Paper Zoo process.

'Blue Remembered Hills tells the story of seven ordinary children in the early 1940s and the deep emotional and ideological impact that war can have on a child. Playing those children has taken the Company in yet another new direction. This branch of theatre haas come somewhat naturally to the cast despite the challenges inherent in it (being able to stop giggling for five minutes, for a start!) I should be the first to admit having to search hard to get a firm grip on my characterisation. Yes, it is true that I am the youngest member of this particular cast though, to be fair, most of the rest of them have offspring of their own from which to draw inspiration. Speaking of which, having one or two of them present at many a rehearsal has been of far more use than a distraction (not to mention fun!)

Getting into the WWII mindset has also given us a lot to think about. Fear is a big component of the play and also such a big part of being a child as it comes to terms with the complexity of the world it finds itself in. Always up for a bit of childishness, we have rebelled in the characters which have,as usual, been cast extremely appropriately within our physically ranging number.

Julia is really doing herself proud as a director, and working to her vision has been a total joy so far. Having taken merciless dance tuition from her in the past, I know that she can bring out the physical best in any performer. So, naturally, this production has a fantastic visceral momentum that brings the text alive.

It is a fun ride, and I find myself looking forward to rehearsals even when bereft of a full night's sleep. I suspect that the rest of the cast feel just the same way, and the show h really started to take shape over the last couple of sessions. Here's hoping that you will come by and see for yourself.

Josh :)!"

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Full Cast At Last!

With about nine weeks or so until our first public performance, it is with great relief that we can embark on rehearsals with a full cast. In the professional, full-time theatre world, a nine week rehearsal period would be an almost unheard of luxury. I have had to put a show on from first read-through of the script to stepping out on to the stage before an audience in just nine days before now. But in the world of small-scale, self-funded theatre where all of us have full-time jobs or family commitments to contend with, and rehearsals are counted in hours per week rather than days, then this is not a great deal of time to get everything together.

Not that I'm complaining; it is still a real pleasure to be able to spend time doing what I love with people that I like. However, the reality of the looming deadline is sharpening our focus. It is also stretching the truth a little to say that we now have a full cast. We do have an actor for each role, granted, but have yet to get them all in the same room on the same day! As I type this, two of the cast are on holiday for two weeks which is great for them but still leaves the rest of us reading in lines for them. Looking on the bright side, this does mean that we all get to know one another's lines.

The latest addition to the Zoo is Jeremy Walker who has come on board to play the character of Raymond. Jeremy was recommended by a friend of a friend of the partner of one of the company (isn't it always who you know...?) and has slipped into the role of the sensitive, stuttering Raymond with ease. Jeremy has many years of experience under his belt and has appeared in productions in various venues and with diverse companies across Yorkshire. I was delighted when I recognised Jeremy from a production of 'The Comedy of Errors' that we had both been in almost twenty years ago! We are all grateful to Jeremy for accepting the role and are looking forward to the first rehearsal with the full cast...whenever that might be!

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Arts Funding: The Left Hand Giveth and the Right Hand Taketh Away

The mixed news from the Arts Council for England today has left the landscape of arts provision in this country fundamentally changed. Not as a result of the number of companies and organisations that have lost some or all of their funding, but because the flimsy veil has slipped from the Government's true face and their craven attempts at social engineering can be seen for what they are. The general public, should they have the will to do so, can examine the results of the Government's policies on arts provision and detect the undermining of opportunities for creativity and self-development that the arts provide.

Just as they have taken the scalpel to the NHS (operating without anaesthetic), and broken the spine of public libraries, so are they attempting to pull down the curtain on artistic endeavour. Not in a single swipe, of course, that would be too blatant, but in a more insidious manner. The big, tourist friendly organisations remain secure; they have had to take a little bit of the pain, we are all in this together remember, but they aren't facing closure. A number of companies from our neck of the woods - the North of England - have had their funding slashed or stopped completely. Red Ladder Theatre who have created some of the most powerful and socially relevant theatre in years are one example. Their left-wing origins and political allegiances, or their commitment to social issues won't have had anything to do with the decision, of course.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Dave's Update for March 2011

Happy March ladies and gents!! Well where do we start? Let’s get through the changes within the Company first.
Martin Knowles has decided that film making is for him, so from the beginning of this year he stepped down from acting roles with Paper Zoo and is now throwing his efforts into his new film company.
Ben Eagle has also decided on a change of direction and can be currently found visiting one of many drama schools and “Old Vic’s” around the country, auditioning for entrance to one of them.
Needless to say these two chaps are co founders of Paper Zoo Theatre Company and may well return at some point in the future should they wish to do so. In the meantime we wish them well in their respective career paths and hope to see them both soon.
And with regards to Paper Zoo it is onwards and upwards!
As you will have read, we are currently in rehearsal for Dennis Potter’s play, ‘Blue Remembered Hills’. Initially I had misgivings about the play but after just a couple of meetings the challenge it poses is something to relish. It is a wonderful story full of childhood friendships and allegiances that turn on a knife edge. The play is haunting and thought provoking in equal measure. The characters are children (played by children) during the 2nd World War down in the West Country, accents and all!! You can see the challenges already.
The tour dates will begin back end of June, actual dates to follow very shortly. We hope as many as you as possible, can see the play in the various venues we’ve got lined up.
Paper Zoo Theatre Company continues to go from strength to strength it seems with great encouragement and support from many followers of our work all chomping on the bit to see the next project.
So, on behalf of myself and the whole of the company, thank you for your continued support.
It is greatly appreciated.
Have a very happy Easter.
David x

Monday, 21 March 2011

Children During Wartime

It is a week away from the rehearsal studio this week. With our director away for the week we have decided that the best use of time is to get the lines learnt. Going over your lines is a task that most actors don't relish. This may seem ironic to most people as the whole discipline of acting requires study of the script. Memorising and interpreting the author's words is our stock in trade and yet it is still one of our least favourite activities. I, personally, find it easier to learn the lines in rehearsal, pinning lines and cues to the action of the scene. Other actors I have worked with have had different ideas - some like to have all the lines learned before they come in to rehearsals, others write their lines out several times, and I have met actors who record all their dialogue and cue lines to listen back to during the day. Whichever method works for you is the best one.

One definite benefit of studying the text is that it gives you time to think about your lines; not just how to say them but also what they actually mean. It always amazes me how relevant plays are. No matter when they were written, good plays will always chime with the times and speak to their audiences. 'Blue Remembered Hills' is about the effects of war on children; how their innocence is stolen by the events that they live through. They may not talk about it openly but children are deeply affected by calamitous events such as war. The characters in Dennis Potter's play are all aged around seven or eight years old. They are still small children and the adults that they refer to, the figures of authority, are never seen. The war is viewed through the children's eyes. They cannot fully understand the events taking place, and must deal with them by imitating the adults around them, taking on their mannerisms and using phrases borrowed from their elders. In the course of the play the children all lose their innocence. They encounter death and killing, and must deal with them. By the end of the play, the children have grown a little more devious and worldly.

Watching the recent television pictures from both Japan and Libya, it is clear to see that the children have been affected by events that they have witnessed and experienced. Their eyes have become more dull and lifeless. In truth they are probably petrified and unable to communicate with anyone. As actors we need to think about this when playing the children. We are not mimicking children's behaviours. Instead we are looking to play the truth of every scene.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Welcome to the Zoo

PaperZoo Theatre Company is into its sixth year of existence and continues to go from strength to strength. Back in 2005 when the Company formed, our aim was to bring great stories to audiences who, perhaps, didn't see themselves as theatre-goers. We continue to follow that aim now even though we have steadily built up an audience of our own. PaperZoo Theatre Company have presented 15 shows in a little over five years, we have played all over West and North Yorkshire and even ventured into Cheshire. We have been fortunate to have been commissioned by The National Media Museum in 2009 to produce a performance of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel 1984 to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the novel's publication. The Company have also presented works by Shakespeare (in the grounds of Bradford Cathedral), Samuel Beckett (in the Yorkshire Craft Centre Gallery) and an Easter Passion play in the Bradford City Centre. Two of our previous productions - Valentines and 2020Vision have been performed as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (the latter a rather prescient look at the effects of a catastrophic natural disaster on a team of call-centre workers) and we are delighted to be performing as part of both the Burley-in-Wharfedale and Saltaire Festivals again this year. Full details and archived images of all our productions can be found on the Company website which can be accessed here.
Along the way we have worked with 20 young actors who have all gained valuable practical experience through taking part in our productions. The Company has also been privileged to have benefitted from the generosity of Mr John Hurt who gave freely of his time to film exclusive sequences as Big Brother in our production of 1984.
We are currently in the throes of rehearsing our sixteenth production; Dennis Potter's play 'Blue Remembered Hills'. With several dates already booked and plenty more still to be confirmed soon, 2011 looks like being another busy year for all the Zoo Creatures. We will keep you updated on all developments via this blog, our twitter account and our official website.
Please do feed the animals!