Creative Workshops - BE BRAVE
Blogs from RedCape Residencies:
Residency 1 - Autumn 2013 at ARC Stockton
RedCape's first day of residency at ARC Stockton today. We had a lovely warm welcome from Annabel, Becci, Rachel and the whole team at ARC over coffee and freshly cooked scones this morning. We also met Rich from Invisible Flock who are working on their Bring the Happy Project in Stockton town centre this month. The meeting was a chance to introduce ourselves and say a little about our work and what we hope to do this week.
RedCape have funding from Arts Council England to develop a new show around the theme of bravery. Annabel invited us to ARC for a week to begin this research process. Before arriving ARC had distributed some questionnaires for us filled in by audience members answering these three questions:
What's the bravest thing you've ever seen?
What does bravery feel like?
What's the bravest thing you've done today?
We're also collecting local stories of bravery as starting points for research.
After the welcome meeting was the chance to spread out in the main theatre space with the materials we've gathered so far and read, process and take stock... RedCape love using long sections of wallpaper taped to the floor to brainstorm, draw and make connections between different elements of research materials they've gathered and we've now covered most of the stage.
One of the things that's already emerged from this process has been about the very different kinds of bravery evidenced in the plethora of different stories we've already collected - some from Stockton and some from further afield.
To add to the questions we started with in our questionnaire we can now add:
What is bravery?
Where do we look for bravery? And where do we find it?
Who are we brave for?
How do we remember bravery?
Can we help someone to be brave? And if so how?
We had also had a fantastic meeting with Rachael Ankers, Creative Learning Manager who had loads of great ideas of ways to interact with the range of community groups that work with ARC. Her work with Creative Factory Youth Theatre seems a great way to engage with young people specifically around what bravery means to them.
'And yet when someone, who seems apparently small and ordinary, is brave, it gives us all hope. It is this transformation, however momentary, from Timid to Brave Soul that sits at the heart of how we measure ourselves as human beings.'
Polly Morland, The Society of Timid Souls or, How to Be Brave, Profile Books: 2013.
"Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger." Songs of Enchantment, Ben Okri
Today we went out looking for bravery... Our first stop was the fantastic Preston Hall Museum between Eaglescliffe and Stockton where we'd heard tell of a local First World War Hero Ned Cooper. At the museum we found the Victoria Cross awarded to him 'For Valour' for running into machine gun fire and enabling the capture of seven machine guns, 45 men and saved a great number of lives.
Among the fascinating collection of objects on display were many more medals awarded for bravery in a range of settings. We began to think of the ways that these medals were markers of stories...
'You see... the medal is the only tangible thing that is left of a moment of bravery and without it, the moment would be lost' (Michael Ashcroft, collector of military medals)
Ned Cooper's story is here to stay, as the display notes 'We're very very proud of this local Stockton man'. But we were thinking about the stories that weren't marked by medals.
It is these stories - the ones that are all but vanished, disappearing into silence or into the sea, that RedCape has explored in our past work. I think it's here that we'll end up delving further...
So today we had all three of us finally in the room together. Already the stage was littered with wallpaper taped to the floor and by then end of today there was barely room to stand. It was great to finally unearth articles, photos, pictures we had all been collecting for last few years. We took a tour of the room and wrote, scribbled and read. Here are some of today’s discoveries:
Courage from 'Corage' from cor (heart) - bravery comes from the heart.
What are the different positions of Bravery?
When do we really “stand for something?” When do you “sit” in and when do you “lie”' down? How we use the body in protest and when we only have the body left with which to be brave. Those in Guantanamo Bay on hunger strike.
Looking in the eye - Civil Rights activist talks of looking in eye of his attacker was only way to stop being objectified by him
Conscientious objectors - one of our Grandfathers was one and we discovered a group of Quakers who started an Ambulance service to help on the front line, as despite objecting they wanted to help the wounded in France.
What is the aftermath of an act of bravery? What is the person left with after the act, sometimes a medal and public recognition for others it is much more private.
'Putting on a brave face'
Re-living the bravery again and again... those who have daily things they need to fight, ignite the bravery everyday
The Tao Te Ching connected the ability to love, via the heart, with the ability to show audacity. Even the etymology of the word 'courage' is all about heart - it comes from 'corage', which is derived from the Latin 'cor' meaning 'heart'.
Following on from our discussions around the body and bravery we looked at the German body awareness pioneer, Elsa Gindler (1885-1961) who stayed in Berlin during World War Two used her training in a very concrete way. Knowing that people on arriving at concentration camps had to stand for many hours at a time or they would be shot, she helped them find a way to do so without tension so they didn't fall down...
Finally White Feathers, a symbol of cowardice in WW1, a symbol of Bravery in some countries and a great 1970s film starring Jane Seymour (The Four Feathers).
We also received over 80 questionnaires that had been filled in by local school children, these are some of the replies:
What's the bravest thing you've ever seen?
Granny playing football
What's the bravest thing you've done today?
Rip a plaster off my knee pulled hairs out.
Telling someone the truth when you know it’s not going to be alright.
Eating a hot sweet (get back up after I got decked had been crossed out!)
Bought ice cream by myself
Wear bra jewellery and have my sleeves rolled up
Slice a lambs heart open
Using a lighter in science to light a Bunsen burner
What does it feel like to be brave?
It feels like you’re a hero and you feel like you're famous.
I think it feels good because it feels like you're a good security guard and no one will get past you.
It feels a lot like it is worrying at first but feels normal at the end.
Scary but I think of my dad who is the bravest man I know.
You feel proud like a hero heart beating fast.
It feels good and you get a funny feeling in your tummy.
At the end of the day we asked ourselves, if the show was tonight what would the audience see? This was an excellent way of seeing what had made the most lasting impression on us during the day. It would be a pretty eclectic show at this point, with white feathers, ticking clocks, standing, sitting, rolling, and sound leakages!
Today some ideas moved from the page to the stage as we worked for 3 hours with local artists who were part of the ARCADE – the ARC’s performance artist network. The workshop we led in the afternoon used some of the stories we’d uncovered during the week to play with multiple understandings of the notion of bravery. We led the artists through the way that we devise work using movement based exercises and verbatim theatre. There was also time for discussion and reflection as we all shared our own stories of Bravery. It was felt to be a rich area and as usual it was great to have people there to make us to stop talking and put on our ‘warm up’ clothes.
The workshop really helped us focus on what we’d like to continue exploring now as we move towards the next creative ‘Island’ in Exeter in the spring.
We also re-examined the way that we are gathering materials and stories and wanted to try new methods. This may take the form of Bravery Booths, a Bravery Bash with a Bravery Bank…more on this as we work it out…
We explored more dramatic stories of Bravery and questioned whether when someone choses to take part in a danger sport is that brave? Looking at the stories again in Polly Morland’s book a surfer describes the feelings aroused by surfing:
“To be in that moment…whether you’re weightless and free-falling and you think the wave is going to hit you but you just make it, you get this crazy rush come over and this feeling of accomplishment that’s indescribable. You just think “wow, I want to do that again” and you chase it. Pretty much, I’ve chased it all of my life, that feeling”
They talk of the devastation of losing a friend and we then went on to watch you tube footage around the death of surfer Mark Foo. And also talked about all the controversy around the female climber Alison Hargreaves who died whilst climbing K2. Because she had left two children at home much was made of her responsibilities as a mother. As mothers ourselves this topic is particularly interesting and emotive to us. And we will be looking at this more closely, also in relation to female war correspondents which was our starting point with the whole project! The moral decisions of ‘Parenting on the Frontline’ as explored by Frances Harrison in her article.
We came up with a new question that we would next like to ask people:
‘What brave step will you take today?’
We found out the most common place to cry is in a car with music playing.
We talked a lot around the notion of audience participation and our very different views on it in performance. When we have experienced it and it has worked and when not and why? What we really enjoyed when working with the ARCADE members was having that many people on stage and that is not something we may be able to afford in a touring production so how can you use the numbers of the audience to re-create that feeling of power in numbers? An on-going debate.
We discussed how we might use technology in our work in ways we haven’t so far.
All in all, we left with perhaps more questions but beginning to feel that we had a vocabulary developing around this world of ‘Bravery’. The public and private stories of bravery, the movement of Bravery, the transaction of telling and sharing a story, the public acknowledgement of Brave acts and the silence of others.
We couldn’t have done it without all the support from ARC, the 80 odd questionnaires from schoolchildren and their dedicated teachers, the others who took the time to talk or write to us and of course the brilliant ARCADE members who came to the workshop and Turtle Key Arts keeping us sane – ish!
The conversation has begun "…you can’t do anything other than the next thing, whatever that happens to be. You can’t suddenly leap months ahead. You just have to take the next step and maybe that’s how people live when they’re dying. You do the next thing. It’s as mundane as that. It’s life in its most basic sense. Because the next thing might be a step. It might get down to the fact that actually the next thing is taking the next breath. Until suddenly there isn’t one."
"If you ask me, this is a damned fine, a microscopically fine definition of the human courage impulse” - A director in a Supportive Care unit talks to Polly Morland in her book The Society of Timid Souls.
Residency 2 - Spring 2014 at South Street Arts Centre, Reading & Greenham Arts, Newbury
"Nobody I ever met on my assignments... asked me for direct, practical help... But over and over again people have asked me: 'Will you write this down?" - Carolin Emcke, War Correspondent
Our first day at South Street Arts Centre Reading - Cassie and I back together to work on our new show about bravery building on our week at Arc Stockton in November 2013.
As we laid out all the material we've gathered so far we asked ourselves what still seemed the most important - what remained central amongst the wealth of stuff we've amassed so far? Two things stuck out.
First, so far we've been looking outwards - foraging for stories about bravery from the epic to the domestic, and everywhere in between, but we hadn't turned the tables on ourselves. What's the bravest thing we've ever seen? What does bravery feel like? What brave step would we like to take today?
Second, the news of the death last week of veteran reporter Anje Niedringhuas in Afghanistan prompted us to return to the research on war correspondents of the 20th and 21st centuries.
We thought about seeing, witnessing and telling.
It struck us that just as RedCape are drawn to the stories that have all but vanished, disappearing into silence (The Idiot Colony) the sea (1 Beach Road) or history (From Newbury With Love), so the people who venture to war zones and beyond do so to find the untold stories of the people.
As Niedringhaus said: "we did the stories that many didn’t even think of doing and gave a voice to those most often forgotten or ignored."
An obituary for Niedringhaus noted that she and Kathy Gannon (the Canadian reporter injured alongside Niedringhaus) "weren't there to cover war, they were there to report on the people's fragile hope that normal life might someday return to the region".
We finished the day with a performance to each other: a bravery awards ceremony and a fairy-tale - drawing together our own stories with the ones we found elsewhere...
"They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." - The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Today we were hosted by Corn Exchange Newbury at New Greenham Arts and welcomed Andrew Dawson and Catherine Dyson to the work. We spent the morning immersing ourselves in the material.
Inspired by ‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien, a collection of short stories about a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam War, we were drawn to the idea of lists of objects. These artefacts are themselves witnesses to events. We played with using this as a device to reconstruct stories.
A tin of peas
An oxygen mask
A cup of tea
A bunch of flowers
A cup of tea
Cups of tea
A nurse's hat
A set of keys left behind
A mini metro
A blanket to cover a 13 year old boy
Dungeons and dragons models
Wine drunk alone
Today we continued with the idea of using objects to reconstruct a story. We talked about how after a plane crash, the wreckage is recovered from the crash site and meticulously re-assembled in the attempt to discover the cause of the disaster. At a crime scene, the objects are labelled, photographed, pored over.
At the same time we experimented with the idea of two of us acting as assistants/puppeteers/stagehands to the third performer. We moved the story around the third performer by re-arranging the objects and the performer herself. Sometimes we were part of the scene, at other times we remained on the edges. At times the story seemed to simply appear, and all we had to do was be present within it.
A figure stands at the edge of a train platform, newspaper blowing along the track.
She is cold and lonely. A coat is placed round her shoulders.
She is gently seated on a chair.
She is a woman reading a newspaper on a park bench.
She is a tramp on a park bench. She lies down and newspapers are laid over her.
She is a patient in a hospital. She sits up, is given fruit.
Hands pull her hat down over her face.
The terrorist points the banana at her head, holding up the newspaper for the camera.
She is released.
She eats the banana.
She is in a doctor’s waiting room.
Somebody else sits down.
‘What time is your appointment?’, she asks.
They wait for the news.
These are the heroes that walk among us: the clam digger who rescues a man from a burning retirement home; the dancer who prevents a robber from shooting two policemen at a nightclub; the former Marine, blinded during the Korean War, who saves two women from drowning in a river. - ‘A Century of Heroes’ Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
We have been reflecting on the vast array of stories of bravery we have encountered. There are so many of them! Earlier in the week we listened to a man who works for the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in America. He is a ‘Hero Hunter’, whose job it is to discover and reward selfless acts of bravery. The interviewer asked him if it was difficult to find enough heroic candidates. ‘Not at all,’ he responded. In fact, there were too many. The sheer volume of true stories of heroic acts by men, women and children meant that the Commission had recently had to change its criteria – they had to make the qualifying conditions harder.
We’re not sure yet how we are going to tell all these stories, to do justice to them. As we near the end of the week, three images in particular have become lodged in our minds. A couple silently sipping tea in an ordinary suburban living room. An elderly woman seated at a grand piano, fingers poised above the keys. And a young man, rucksack on his back, preparing for a long journey.
Residency 3 - Summer 2014 at South Street Arts Centre, Reading
We spent the third of our 'creative island' weeks at South Street Arts Centre in Reading. Our aims were to draw together some of the disparate strands of our research, to focus in on some of the stories that have captured our interest and get them on their feet. Many thanks to the participants who collaborated with us this week - Jane, Will, Janet, Tom and Neil – and who brought to life scenes and ideas that had previously existed only in our heads. It was exciting, fun, and at times very moving to see this. Here are some snapshots:
'Where would we be without water?' - a woman asks as she pours herself a drink. A quiet, neatly ordered dining room crackles with tension as a couple prepare to slowly, painfully reveal the story of their lost daughter. Harsh sounds gate crash the quiet scene, sirens and the roar of flames. They take a breath and haltingly begin. Later, the doorbell rings, unimaginably loud. With great effort, the man stands and walks to the door. It is the bravest thing he's ever done. He steels himself against the shouts, the cameras clicking.
In different worlds, a man and a woman pack and unpack their bags, facing each other across an empty space. As they carefully handle their possessions (baby shoes, binoculars, medals, a toy dinosaur...), the scene around them shifts. Who are they? A young soldier off to war? A jaded reporter writing up notes in her hotel room? She takes her camera out of her bag and turns its lens on us. Click.
A woman stands. And stands. Her leg begins to tremble, and she slumps slowly to the side, dropping a handful of white feathers. Click. The man takes his shot. He winds the camera on, then picks the woman up and places her in a different spot. He crouches, waiting dispassionately for the next picture. She stands tall. She is determined, she has prepared for this. But no-one can stand forever. Her knees give, the feathers fall. He moves in. Click, move, drop. We watch until the space is snowy, adrift with white feathers.
Residency 4 - New Greenham Arts Sept 29 - October 10
Our aim for these two weeks was to start to solidify the worlds we were creating and bring in a designer for the first time, as well as continuing to work with 2 performers we had met in Island 3. We invited back Jane Guernier and Will Dickie from Island 3 and Peter Groom as a new collaborator. It was invaluable to have 2 weeks solid to work on the material and a showing at the end as a focus point. We spent a lot of time working around the story of Lee Miller, the American model and war photographer and in particular her relationship with her son. Catherine Dyson had written some specific scenes in response to the actors work in Island 3 and it was very useful to have this structure upon which we could add the element of sound design with Andrew Dawson. Bit by bit we began to construct some very epic sonic worlds within very domestic settings, a contrast that has fascinated us from the start. The notion of the everyday heroes, those fighting a battle a silent battle as they walk/sit amongst us. A living room, piled high with sandwiches where parents talk about their loss of the daughter as a fire creeps in unnoticed. Alongside Lee Miller and stories from ‘The Society of Timid Souls’, we looked at representations of Bravery in the media in particular the old TV series 999 with Michael Buerk. We literally both laughed and cried at these shows. We also explored the format of programmes such as ‘Pride of Britain’ and how celebrity attaches itself to Bravery. And finally we looked at the life of a Hero Hunter whose job it was to decide if an act was Brave and it’s protagonist a ‘Hero’. These were real life people employed by the Carnegie Trust, usually single men who travelled the country from story to story.
With the showing approaching we looked for through lines and found that the worlds contrasted greatly but the skill of the actors and the writing meant they began to merge effortlessly. On the last day we had a showing lasting about 40 mins with invited guests, including staff from The Corn Exchange. It went very well and the performers were excellent. We hosted a q&a after which was very helpful in terms of what worked and what needed work or clarification. The show is definitely a progression from our previous work and we are very excited about that. It has been invaluable to have these Islands and R&D period to not only work our way through the research but also to try the new working relationship of the company. It will be the first show that neither of the Artistic Directors has performed in and that they are co-directing. We feel confident both in the material and our new working relationship.