Rod’s Blog 9.11.12
It’s strange the way creativity sometimes pops and crackles like a cheap firework and makes you jump. A few weeks ago – I can’t remember exactly when, but it was… just before the week in Hull when I made a short piece of theatre with Foundation Degree students – I met Beccy Owen for lunch. Beccy was the Musical Director on ‘Promised Land’ and is a brilliant singer/songwriter. It turns out she’s quite an extraordinary writer as well – sickeningly talented, is the best way to describe Beccy.
So we had lunch – a good way to catch up since the success of ‘Promised Land’ and have a chat about what we are both doing next – there was never an intention to plan making work together although I would love Beccy to MD another show for me in the future. We both chose the same dish which might have been an omen that we were in sync – it was at The Reliance and if you have never had lunch there – then do …mostly because the staff are so incredibly polite and warm and welcoming, and the food is simple but very tasty.
Suddenly – pop! We were riffing about the kind of work we both love to see. In my case it is work like Ameet Lahav’s (director of Gecko Theatre Co) or visceral dance theatre like Dougie Thorpe’s. Before we knew it, we were sparking ideas about making a piece of dance theatre about gender politics and the pain of a failing relationship. Beccy brought up the tale of Taliesin the Bard from The Mabinogion and how his mother – the shapeshifter Ceridwen – had given birth to him after eating his father. A woman had literally given birth to stories. We discussed how often in a relationship the woman becomes a bit-part character in her male partner’s life – her story is drowned out by his, until in the end she loses her story and tells her own story on his terms – he becomes the narrator of her existence.
I don’t how to describe moments like these – but I get a feeling in my guts that tells me I have to pursue an idea – I have to take it further than talk. I had this when I first met Emma Adams and we made ‘Forgotten Things’ together. It so happened that I had been invited by Janet Smith at Northern School for Contemporary Dance to teach a module to the final year students and at first Janet had just asked me to teach some voice work. I had said I preferred to make a piece of dance theatre with text and voice in it as a way of teaching voice and thankfully she agreed to this.
So Beccy and I had blundered into an intriguing investigation and I had an opportunity to R&D it with really talented young dancers. And this is what I started this week.
Beccy and her writing partner and housemate Joanne sent me ‘splurges’ of beautiful, poetic texts and several songs. I poured over these and began to see that, as well as the remarkable Ceridwen tale, I had some fascinating material to work with. Jo and Beccy have supported each other through the breakdown of their relationships this summer and their sisterhood in this difficult time is a force which I want to try to capture in this piece of work. Both women made the decision to leave their partners and then suffered pangs of guilt and the emotional self-beating that goes with it. There was so much in these texts that I couldn’t wait to start experimenting with them.
This week I have been working with 21 final year dancers and some of the work has been extraordinary. Yesterday I taught them to sing a Macedonian song which translates as ‘Katriona, you’re driving me crazy’ which Beccy taught me the night before. The energy in the room was fizzing with emotion as they sang it. We looked at the emotions joy, grief and rage and the dancers flew and cavorted as these feelings mushroomed inside them. I wish I’d filmed the whole exercise – it was stunning.
I can’t wait to get back into the studio to make more of this piece – there are four more afternoons and then we intend to show whatever we have fixed on Friday afternoon to other students and maybe to some of the staff. If it all works well – then maybe this will be a Red Ladder first – a touring piece of dance theatre about gender politics. Beccy wants to write a solo album to be performed by her with the piece – so we would be touring with her and launching her album. I think Chris Lloyd thinks I’ve gone slightly mad at the thought of this …but I just feel there’s something in it which will be rather amazing! Anyone from a venue reading this? Would you book a piece as crazy as this?? I would!
Today I am setting off to Eastbourne to Unite The Union’s conference centre to run a Globalisation workshop for American students from Syracuse University. This is how our Global Justice programme has developed – and the weekend could not be further from my week at Northern School – I am just writing this blog before running for my train. Next blog I’ll try and include some footage of the dance piece.
About Rod: Rod became Artistic Director of Red Ladder Theatre Company in 2006, following his role as associate director at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. He has also ran The Hub Theatre School in Cornwall and been an actor with several companies including Kneehigh Theatre. Directing credits for Red Ladder include Where’s Vietnam?, Forgotten Things, Riot, Rebellion & Bloody Insurrection, Ugly, Sex & Docks & Rock ‘N’ Roll, Big Society! and Promised Land. Rod is both a life-long Liverpool supporter and a believer in Proudhon’s principles of anarchy – the two might be connected.