Monthly Archives: January 2009

Pictures of You Ep 2: Research & Development

We were playing the title game – lists and lists of possible titles, each one slightly more or less abstract than the preceding one.  And we were listening to a lot of music that we’d started to gather with a relevant theme or lyric. Music like Bing Crosby’s version of Don’t Fence Me In, Nancy Sinatra’s Things (later quite a guiding theme in terms of driving Janet’s memories), Perry Como’s Magic Moments (that made its way onto the soundtrack, albeit in altered form), Tom Waits’s Frank’s Wild Years of course (where the character got his name from, and driving force of the whole “swap wife for dream” narrative development), Regina Spektor’s Music Box (which is fairly chilling on some levels), Malvina Reynold’s Little Boxes (which has bugged me since childhood)…and so on.

But what was bugging us about Frank and Janet (her name just blurted its way out after we had his), was that it seemed to focus more on his story, and left her to play a victim or helpless heroine, and thus relegate her to a more minor character.  The lyrics of The Cure’s Pictures of You (from their 1989 album, Disintegration) gave us another entry point:

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are
All I can feel

Remembering you standing quiet in the rain
As I ran to your heart to be near
And we kissed as the sky fell in
Holding you close
How I always held close in your fear
Remembering you running soft through the night
You were bigger and brighter and whiter than snow
And screamed at the make-believe
Screamed at the sky
And you finally found all your courage to let it all go

And from this came a jump forward in the story – that Frank was haunted in some way by pictures he had of Janet, both literally by pictures on their walls/mantelpieces, and figuratively by pictures in his head of their past. It was a skip and a jump to think of the Dream Creature as another aspect of this too – what if the dream was a manifestation of someone Janet should be, but for some reason wasn’t allowed to? Does Frank figure this out? How?

So we had Janet in 3 phases: past, present, and fantasy.  And we had Frank in obsessive present focus, fussing over pictures and manifestations of his wife. It was again an obvious step to rewind his life and see what he might have been like in his early 20s, say, when he and Janet might have met. With these markers in place, we had what felt like parallel character developments to play in the telling of our story.

It also launched us into intense image collection, to give visual texture to the characters and the world they live in.

We’d already been looking at Bernard Buffet, whose work we’d used for a poster mock-up. His stuff is great – dark and scratchy, with a penchant for the slightly seedy, almost sinister, sometimes innocent and longing.Les Ecorchés Tête d'écorché - 1964

This is Les Ecorchés Tête d’écorché – 1964. It made us think very much of Frank, as if his skin had been scratched off by his obsessions.Femme assise - 1950 It also suggested some form of mask, with life and experience really having taken their toll.

For Janet we found this one – Femme assise – 1950. There was something so simple and yearning about her isolation, and became a major starting point for her character.

The graphic scratchiness also gave us ideas for the performance texture, as well as being inspiration for the eventual graphic design.  Tom Schwarer of Black Square draws quite similarly, and has been the major designer for all our artwork over the last 10 years, so it seemed a match made in heaven. Or hell, maybe. These pictures are not all together peaceful or heavenly.

Another huge influence on development of the work visually was Gregory Crewdson, best known for his meticulously arranged, surreal pictures of American small-town life.

don't bring that stuff to bed

This just suggests a story waiting to be told, as most of his photos do. The loneliness, the longing, the mood and lighting all played their part on our sub consciousnesses.

making plans for nigel

This screamed Frank at the end of it all, plans and dreams in tatters.

you went astray again

Things going awry. I love the way his photos are like sets – the space of the bathroom with light leaking out is tempting to have a shadow pass by it.

more kippers, fiona

Here again, the couple pinned to their carpet in the middle of mediocrity and failed dreams. OK, I’m imposing my reading on all of this, for sure.

grc_lrg_009

Things beneath the floorboards. Secrets in the cellar. Repressed memory and desire will out.

rags to stitches

It’s the combination of the familiarity of the house, and things we use to define life, and the strange, the incessant creep of nature, the planet just waiting to shrug humanity off it, the wildness of the world that, essentially, we’re all still scared to death of.

lost in the dark

And here the aspects of Janet – reflections and fables. Who is she really? How can she tell? How can any of us really know? You get the feeling she’d turn around quickly and there’d be nobody there…

Phew. Apologies for rabbiting on so much. Still a newcomer at this blog thing, so writing is a little turgid, and posts too long, and too many pictures I’m sure. But there’s so much to tell, and so much to say.

Will attempt to be more concise in the future.

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Pictures of You Ep 1: Origins

It’s been an interesting few weeks of getting back into rehearsal and chipping away at the show again and that’s included going right back to the source.  I was chatting to Zane about it this week too, and again it struck me what a long, convoluted journey we’ve been on.  That’s really one of the joys and major frustrations with the devised work we do – sometimes the process meanders along, and you don’t have a clue where it’s going, and other times it sits in the doldrums and you start prostrating yourself for some kinda wind for the sails.

Anyhoo, Pictures of You all started back in 2007.  We were touring GUMBO all over the country and spending a lot of time away from home, and dealing with that slightly displaced alienation you always get on tours.  Me and Liez had been talking for yonks about working in masks, and it was weirdly suddenly in the air – we bumped into Ellis Pearson in Johannesburg, who treated us to a sneak preview of his half-mask show for schools, and Aldo Brincat was around doing Arney at Kalk Bay. at some point.  So we plotted vaguely about incorporating masks into some work we did…y’know – sometime in the future.

The future came a lot closer when at National Arts Festival that year, the bare bones of a story fell out of the sky.  Was it a dream?  I can’t remember.  It would suit the show, but I skiem I’d be making it up if I said that for sure.  But for some reason, a scene from Battle of the Sexes popped into my head.

battle of the sexes

Now in this, Peter Sellers is quite creepy as he plays Mr Martin – a mild mannered Scot clerk who, taking umbrage at the hostilities of a brash American woman (Constance Cummings) hired to investigate inefficiency at the firm, decides to murder her.  The scene in question is inspired, with Sellers at his best in his half-hearted attempts to kill her, and always just being foiled.  This all takes place in a kitchen and involves, amongst other things, ice scrapers, carving knives, and a whisk (you’ll just have to see it).

It’s not the best Sellers film, by a long shot.  But the scene is great.  Really funny and pretty dark.  And for some reason, the action of trying to kill one’s spouse stuck.  Let’s not get too analytic here – I was a few months away from getting married, but not for a second a I suggesting anything that you’re reading between the lines.  Nor am I condoning domestic violence.

What interested me was the question: what would drive a seemingly mild-mannered man to the point of murdering his spouse?  What extreme crisis of character or identity would lead him to such lengths?

At the same time as all of this, I’d been reading up on male identity, midlife crises, self-actualisation, and so on for another project.  So everything was simmering away merrily, and at Grahamstown came this seed of a story: a husband and wife’s marriage is perfect on the surface, but underneath is a broiling mess of unfulfilled desire.  He starts dreaming wildly, and in his dreams he meets a Dream Creature.  She entices him more and more to visit her, and eventually he is hooked.  Addicted.  Can’t get enough of her.  So he cooks up a plan (or is coerced) to swap his wife for the creature, by killing her, thus opening the portal for dream-real exchange (some dodgy quantum physics there, I know…very Vurt, very Pan’s Labyrinth, very very David Lynch: Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, etc…did I ever say I was a shameless borrower?).

Thus began a battle for their souls, and a clash between the real and dreaming worlds.  Pretty obscure.  Slightly abstract.  And we figured that maybe not to so many people’s taste.  Especially when funders started saying “no”.  But through this process of development, we had succoured the services of 2 other main collaborators: James Webb for sound design and Janni Younge for visual design and creation.

poster mock up copy

We also had a title – “Of Quiet Desperation”, from that awesome quote by Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

This was the original mock-up of the poster.  Notice how originally Liez and I were going to play the parts, and Tanya was down to direct.  We had also ambitiously marked March as our premiere.  (Boy, was that quickly gonna change!)

But what we had to start with was a cool, creepy, dark, slightly comic, very surreal, and all round disturbing glimpse into human behaviour under pressure.  It was certainly something build on.

Stay tuned for the next instalment…


Quietly, excitedly, kakking ourselves

Picture-of-you-03 Phew.  It’s true – less than three weeks to go before Pictures of You opens at the Baxter and we are bundles of nerves.  At once hectically excited and pants-wettingly nervy.  Which is kinda normal, I guess.

But there is a slight pressure to do better at the Baxter than GUMBO did last year – we gotta surely keep growing.  It’s also the beginning of the year, and a good season will set us up very well.  And, of course, let’s not forget the whole prove that this kinda theatre can work.  And by that, I mean non-verbal, visual, slightly alternative, somewhat surreal, and fiercely independent in a mainstream venue.

Whatever happens, it’s a glorious adventure and we hope people come along for the ride.

But man, those butterflies!