Updated: May 21, 2020
Last week I worked with the Performing Arts Department at Essex Uni. The week was booked back in 2019 when we conspired to deliver an artist residency in the actual-real-life-flesh. The plan was that we would collaborate with the students to create a chorus for our new production Oedipus Electronica, and perform a preview of it at the lovely Lakeside Theatre on campus. Covid-19 got in the way of all that, but in March this year, the head of department got in touch and asked me if I'd be happy to run the intensive residency online instead. At a time when my inbox was filling up with cancellations and postponements, it was a joy to get some positive news.
It was new territory for all of us, and there was some trepidation about the new plan, shared by all students and staff involved. The main concern being, 'how can we work with a performance artist when we're not even in the same room as each other?'.
I now have a few answers to that question, but at the time, I only had one; We go back to basics. So, we spent the week diving into story. When I begin a new piece of work, I always start with story and sound. We didn't attempt any sound/composition work together, but we ripped deep into story arc, character and form.
Before meeting, I challenged these 22 brilliant young performance artists to prepare and deliver me a pitch of a piece of work that they'd like to make, inspired by something from Greek Mythology. On Monday, I heard each of the proposals and by Friday they had the opportunity to pitch again.
In between the two presentations, we worked together on three big questions;
1. Where does my own unique voice belong in this myth?
2. What transformation will my central character experience?
3. What will this piece of work feel like for an audience?
By Friday, we had all gone on our own transformational journey. I'd remembered what it's like to connect with a community of makers, and we were all rosy with the glow of a week of creativity and shared vulnerability.
And the pitches blew my mind. The shared space, the encouragement of their peers plus the commitment to the tasks I had set, all manifested in self-assured, professional and artistically unique proposals for work that I REALLY wanted to see.
Hopefully, I will get to see some of this work develop beyond the R&D we did together. It would be heaven to sit in a theatre amongst these new friends and see their creative ideas realised.
The course was supported by Lakeside Theatre's Head of Theatre and Assistant Technical Manager and also by LIVR, who enabled the students to experience Medea Electronica on their online VR platform. The students, some as far away as Singapore, were able to experience the show as if they were on the front row of the theatre by using a headset provided by LIVR and their own smartphone.
Lakeside and Pecho Mama are still working together to reschedule Oedipus Electronica into their main space. It sadly won't have the students on stage as a chorus, but we're talking about ways we might include some of the student's work as a pre-curtain performance.