One more week to go

We’ve just come to the end of the fourth week of the research and rehearsals for POOL PIECE and the whole production is becoming a lot clearer. Just as well too when next week, the last week, will no doubt be dominated by technical matters. Will we be able to get a decent black-out? Will the new-fangled dimmer switches on the pool and pool-side lighting work? Can we really form a bank of haze over the pool? Most importantly will the pool at Livity School (already out of action for one day last week) survive for another week without the attention of the pool engineer. Weston, the school keeper has his doubts, but it will be a challenge to do the final technical and dress rehearsals for a hydropool show if we have to imagine the water.

In his blog, Griff, our Company Stage Manager, has written about the great help that everyone in Livity School has given us. Actually I think the production would have been impossible, or at least completely differerent without the close school involvement. The bargain we struck with Geraldine Lee, the Livity Head, was that we would get to rehearse in the hydropool for several hours per day over a period of four weeks, and in return, we would work with up to four of the school students on each day.

I believe that these sessions with the school students have been fruitful for them and the staff. We’ve certainly seen any number of smiles on the faces of both staff and students, as well as encountering those completely amazingly unexpected reactions, those astonishing moments of transformation,  that the water work will suddenly draw from the most impassive, or apparently distracted, students. So I hope that the Livity team feel that they have benefited from the bargain. It’s certainly been invaluable for me.

Although I’ve directed 3 national tours of hydropool shows before  this, and been involved in any number of other watery skirmishes, it has taken the actual sessions in the water with the Livity students to refocus me and bring home the  realities of  pool work with young people with  Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) or an Autistic  Spectrum Disorder (ASD.)

It’s very easy to sit at your desk, or swan around the Oily rehearsal room conjuring up visions of a gilded dhow gliding out of a bank of perfumed mist towards a pool-side  lined with the gleaming gongs of a gamelan orchestra. Well, in case you’re interested, we’ll probably still have that bit. (The design team led by the one-and-only Claire de Loon has created any number of wonders, and Max Reinhardt has produced a magical score for the piece using authentic Indonesian instruments and the beautiful singing voices of the cast.)

But our rehearsal sessions in the water with the young people have reminded me again and again, that at it’s best, this is a theatre of close-ups. It’s theatre that’s  most effective when we are only a matter of centimeters from our audience. One of the great benefits of working in water, apart from it’s warm, supporting gravity-defying embrace, so important to people who use wheelchairs, or have otherwise limited mobility, is that it enables us to work one the same level as the participants, rather than towering over them in a school hall.

I’ve also been reminded over and over that is  also theatre of continuous adaptation to the interests and  requirements of each participant. Very often this means that in the early stages of a session can seem quite fragmented, with the two performers trying to engage with the behaviour and the (mostly non-verbal) language of two participants who may have very little in common (apart from the fact that they are labelled PMLD or ASD or sometimes both.) What has been astonishing, even at this early stage of the project, is how often, after just 30 minutes together in the water, everyone does come together in a genuine group experience.

Perhaps most importantly, over these past few weeks in the pool, I’ve seen that what really connects and engages with our young participants, much more than  verbal expression or  splendid visuals. It’s the visceral, and the vibrational. It’s the feel of water on the back of the hand or the neck. It’s Mark Foster or Sjaak van der Bent’s rich bass-baritone, not so much heard as felt, sending their vibrations through the participants’ feet, up through the legs and the spine, until their whole body is singing the low, low song. Or it’s Nicole Worrica and Kathy Toy taking the young people on the Winding Water Dance, carrying them so that their bodies,  so often denied a range of movement, undulate and sway through the water – another kind of whole body massage. This theatre must be one that engages all the senses. The senses of seeing and hearing which have primacy in standard issue, neurotypical theatre, are, as often as not of only secondary interest here. We need to engage the sense of touch and smell, and the kinaesthetic sense, which enables the body to locate it’s position in space.

This is already such an exciting project with such a brilliant team – and we have barely begun. The most innovative aspect of this particular POOL PIECE is that we will spending six days in each of the four schools involved, and we will be working, as far as possible with the same 16 young people in each school. As Griff said in his blog, this will really give us the young people – and the adults – the chance to to really get used to us, get to  know us, and get the most out of the transformations that we will bring to their school pools. Of course it will also give the Oily team to build our understanding of the young people – and the adults –  and develop our relationship with them.

I’ve often felt that previous Oily Cart PMLD/ASD shows have been far too abrupt. It seems to me that if you have  a PMLD or ASD audience,  then a 45-55 minute performance, the common form of many a previous Oily show, could seem more like a multi-sensory mugging, than a genuine opportunity for engagement. (On the other hand I’m well aware that there is such a colossal demand for this work that next year and beyond, we must find a form that will be able to involve a far greater number of young people and their families, their schools, and the staff.)

In two of the schools, the effectct of our performances in the short and medium term will be documented & analyzed by Suzanne Zeedyk of Dundee University – but more of that later.

Tim Webb

artistic director, Oily Cart

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2 Responses to “One more week to go”

  1. Kathryn Holt Says:

    Thinking back to the pool piece development days….I know exactly what you mean about the primacy of that visceral, vibratory , resonating experience of sound and movement in the water…and also the deliciousness of water cascading, dripping or bathing skin. Can’t wait to experience the piece…and get back in the water.
    p.s and so very glad I will get to hear Sjaak sing again!

  2. Sally Says:

    Really took me back to the February days. Brilliant piece Tim. It is *all * about the connections made. Very much looking forward to watching it tomorrow and working with you again.

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