Presentation of Play In My Flat to Moving Image, University of Brighton 27 March 2014

This film formed part of my presentation of the site-specific play / film / performance of Play In My Flat on Thursday 27 March 2014.

These are the notes I used:

Play

  • written November 2009
  • for 4 characters: Him, Her, PWC and Woman
  • tried to put it on before but didn’t work out
  • success of 2nd year show gave me confidence
  • rehearsed over 5 sessions in prep for filming
  • each scene would be one continuous shot
  • I planned activities for each rehearsal and was open to hearing what the actors needed; often we co-created workshops
  • I realised early on I needed to be able to delineate my roles because I had so many
  • we filmed the rehearsals from the beginning to get the sense of being watched as it was an important theme for the project
  • the fourth wall is broken often
  • we filmed it on 11 March 2014 and I’d like to thank Edmund Lloyd-Winder for his camerawork and observations
  • the final scene was 17 minutes long and I didn’t realise what a big ask it was of the actors until Edmund observed it

Film

  • the first 3 scenes and an edited 4th scene to give you an idea of themes

Performance

  • screens were fixed to the walls in the lounge, kitchen and bedroom and room specific scenes were screened in order
  • I’m going to show scenes and photos from the dress rehearsal, Fri night and Sat night in order to compare them
  • we had the camera on a small tripod for the first two shows and on the third Him held the camera and Her held the dictaphone instead of clipboards
  • general theme of confusion introduced at the start by asking the audience what they were doing there
  • Him and Her were dressed in white shirts and black trousers to match PWC. Research on time was pinned to my wall with red string (a loose connection to string theory) connecting points.
  • I’d like to thank Matt for installing and taking down the screens, with a little help from me.
  • Him and Her did not speak during the performance – their aim was to observe – Him observing me and Her observing the audience. My role was to try to work out why they’d come back and why the audience was in my flat.

Performance Friday

  • We decided to play it like we had on the dress rehearsal. The documentation wasn’t as successful as I would have liked – the camera didn’t follow the audience.

Performance Saturday

  • We decided to stage it slightly differently – instead of me coming out of my bedroom, shocked at the audience’s presence, when they’re in the hall I waited until they’d been in the lounge a while. We thought it might create more of a sense of confusion and not knowing what to do. Also, instead of clipboards, Him held the camera phone and Her held the dictaphone as recording devices. We set an intention of bringing the domestic violence theme out more in the interactions, which meant I had to pay more attention to the 4th scene filmed in the kitchen. Because of my personal history with the subject matter, I found this disturbing.
  • We realised that setting an intention allowed certain ideas to be expressed.
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Sound and vision: lean on me

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I realised the voice over I recorded during the puppet making was perfect for an emergent practice film. The audio tells a personal story of how unhelpful beliefs can form when blindly trusting the word of an authority figure; questioning snips away the ties that bind the belief in place allowing a realisation of some of the reasons why I make art. This realisation will help me to experiment with the purpose of art in future projects.

The audio fits nicely over the speeded up footage of me making the puppets. My words are not scripted and there is plenty of space between questions and answers. The slowness of the audio contrasts with the fast speed of the visuals, although there are occasional clips played at normal speed (23.967 fps), and this creates breathing space in the visual track. The third audio clip is different from the previous two in that tearing sounds can be heard, which do not match the visual images. I like this because it shows the temporal mismatch of the visual and audio tracks; it’s a reminder of the constructed nature of film.

After putting the sound and images together I thought about bringing the puppets to life. I wanted to use them in a way that was fun and nonviolent as an alternative to the domestic violence usually advocated by Punch and Judy professors. There is a song, Lean on Me by Bill Withers, that I’ve sung at parties or (ahem) in the kebab shop or in the street and people join in singing with me. It makes me smile and it feels good to sing together. I decided the puppets would sing this song. I phoned Justine and she agreed to sing for Delores, the female adult. Andy agreed to sing for Bill Senior. I recorded myself singing as Bill Junior then Justine listened to me through headphones and sang along as I recorded her. Andy did likewise.

Next I filmed the puppets (Andy and Justine moved them around in realtime) dancing and ‘singing’ against the backdrop of a large picture frame; the frame has marked out holes for pictures but it’s empty. This links back to audio during puppet making in the film where I talk about the effect of believing I wasn’t good enough to do art: I stopped drawing and painting for a long time. Judy had suggested, during a tutorial, that I film the puppets in my wardrobe with painted scenery backdrops but that was before I was ready to work with the puppets and, of course, now I was ready it didn’t tie in with the emerging story.

Sound and vision: letting go of the script

About a week ago I wrote a script for the puppets based on the adults talking to me as I make the child. The child has wings but the adults don’t because they ripped them off each other in arguments and I’d grown tired of making them. I recorded myself doing the voices for the puppets and tried to edit it into the film but it wasn’t working; it felt like the story was the baseline holding the film together. In my journal I voiced a new idea: to make speeded up footage of the making of the puppets and then go with the stop motion animation.

I suddenly felt at ease; I could let go of the script and put the footage together in the order I shot it as I made the puppets; it would be a chronicle detailing emergent practice. The story made by the puppets interacting will emerge when I play with and film them tomorrow.

Sound and vision: shot aesthetics

All my shots so far are from above, looking down on the action, as I make the puppets. In The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of  Cinematic Composition by Gustavo Mercado, it says high angled shots produce a sense of vulnerability and I suppose that’s because it’s associated with the subject being lower in height than the observer and, therefore, childlike in stature.

I do feel vulnerable as I make the puppets; I haven’t made anything like this before. I’m at the edge of my creative instinct and afraid of what I might produce – it might be so abhorrent and disgusting that I’ll be shunned and despised.

Sound and vision: body parts?

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I began playing with wire with the idea that it would form part of a puppet’s body. I didn’t know which part but as I twisted the wire I thought it might resemble an upper arm. I made another, slightly smaller, metal sculpture and joined them together but it didn’t feel right as a limb.

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After some time of doing other things I went back to the puppet work and found inspiration after handling objects I pulled out of my imaginatively labelled “stuff” box. Unravelled audio cassette tape gave me the key: I wound wire around it, encasing it, and had created a sort of upper body. I pushed the man puppet’s stick through the body part and realised I could attach other body parts to it.

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Turning back to the small wire sculptures, I pushed the female puppet sticks into them and they too have a base I can attach body parts to.

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Because the male has post traumatic stress disorder, the audio tape reflects the messed up way he communicates. I’m not sure about the wire sculptures on the females – something to do with inner strength and resourcefulness. I wonder if their bodies change during the performance after interacting with one another.

Sound and vision: the child puppet grows hair

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To make the hair for the child puppet I cut lengths of wool and pulled each length apart to make three strands. This method created a head of red curls. The child puppet has brown eyes and curly hair, like her father and colouring (complexion and red hair) like her mother. As I stuck each strand of wool to her head I contemplated her character. She has no ears, which I think will have an effect on the story. She will not have an awareness of the noise she creates and this could have a profound effect on her father, a soldier who has returned from a tour of duty with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

More photos below.

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Sound and vision: creating a character

glueing wool to puppet

The woman puppet, who does not have a name yet (but my flatmate thinks she looks like a “Delores”), is powerful and kind. She knows what to do and has fun and laughs a lot. When she says, “no” people listen and respect her decisions. She protects her child from the father because she can see clearly he is not well; she would do whatever it takes to protect her. She is strong and capable. She has been loved by her parents and she is sensitive enough to recognise and empathise with those who haven’t or, rather, those whose parents’ love was twisted. She believes everyone deserves a second chance.

Sound and vision: plan for the next three weeks

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These are photos of my goals for the next three weeks in relation to making a puppet film and exhibiting it in the second year show. I’m working from the basis of emergent practice: there isn’t a script for the film and, as I work on the puppets and their characters become apparent, a story will emerge.

I’m currently reading Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair by Hilde Lindemann Nelson and The Red Book Liber Novus A Reader’s Edition by Carl Jung (Ed. Sonu Shamdasani) alongside Carolyn Abbate’s Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. These, and a lot of other stuff I’m unaware of will have some effect on my emergent practice. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing what is produced, but, especially, I’m looking forward to being present in and noticing how the process is for me.