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Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My part in Partus

I’m really pleased to be able to share another postcard from the Partus team - this time from actor/writer Laura Lindsay (the previous one from Stacey Sampson is here).

I asked Laura if she would like to write about her take on being part of the Partus project - big thanks to her for sending this over. Partus is on at Barnsley CIVIC this week (10.30am & 7.30pm on Thursday 13 March); you can find Laura on Twitter @mslauralindsay.

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Laura Lindsay in Partus; photo by Helena Fletcher

Hullo, I’m Laura. I’m an actor and theatre-maker and I am part of the cast and devising team behind Partus. Working on this show has been a hugely rewarding process for me and I thought it might be useful to share some of my discoveries. I have a fondness for subheadings, so here goes: 

1.     The Imposter

Partus, as many of you will know, is a show about birth. Now, I have not had the ‘pleasure’ of the experience, apart from being propelled into the world 30 some years ago. I also have not been part of a devising process, apart from at drama school nearly 10 years ago. So in many ways, I was a strange choice to join a team creating a devised piece of theatre about birth. Where are my credentials? This question is something I am often plagued with, as I think a lot of artists are. The imposter syndrome. However, working with Third Angel and the process of creating Partus together has enabled me to recognise and value my skillset and understand the importance of alternative perspectives in theatre-making.

Firstly, my lack of devising experience is only part of the picture. It is all too easy to focus on the things you can’t do or haven’t done. Being part of Partus has not only developed my knowledge and skills in devising, but it has highlighted and affirmed my aptitude in areas I think I took for granted. My writing experience was fully embraced by Rachael and Alex. I was encouraged in the suggestion of ideas, generating content and structuring the show. Gradually, I began to see my value in the process, because I was a different practitioner. They saw it before me, and for that I am very grateful.

So much of the structuring of theatre ecology is to separate it into different forms, and often as theatre-makers we can become a little blinkered and precious about our own specialism.  I think some of the most interesting theatre comes from blending these forms, from taking input from a variety of influences and knowledge bases to create something truly unique. Partus is a show I’m immensely proud of, but not one I could have ever envisaged making on my own. It blends verbatim accounts, songs, moments of absurd live art, scripted sections, audience interaction and balloon choreography. It’s bonkers. But then birth is pretty bonkers. So it feels apt.

My lack of being a mother – or being ‘child-free’, to put a more positive spin on it - was also an important part of creating this show, rather than a hindrance. I am the only one in the touring cast who hasn’t given birth.  For the first couple of weeks I battled with this, feeling a little bit like I wasn’t ‘in the club’. However, again gradually I began to see my value in this process. When dealing with a subject matter which is so emotive and personal, and is potentially a bit niche, it is really useful to have an outside perspective. My lack of personal experience meant I was able to contribute to objectivity about material, to ensure other voices are acknowledged and to help the process of broadening the appeal of the piece.

2.       The Audience

Integral to the devising process and to experimental live art is a recognition of the audience and the importance of clarifying their role within the piece of theatre. As an actor working on established scripts, which often deploy the ‘fourth wall’, it’s easy to almost forget about the audience, to focus on your own process, the journey of the character, your thoughts, your feelings, etc, etc. But ultimately, it is the audience who we create theatre for, it wouldn’t exist without them. We certainly wouldn’t get paid!  So it was really refreshing to put the existence of the audience at the centre of the conversation when creating the show. Who are they? Why are they listening? What is our relationship to them? What is their experience of the show? The process of devising live art highlights the role of the audience and focusses on the communication between them and the performer.

Touring the show to a variety of different venues has been a really valuable reminder of the potential power of theatre on an individual level. We received some of the most heart-filling, encouraging feedback from a man who was part of an intimate audience at Colchester Arts Centre. The piece had a profound effect on him on a personal level and he was kind enough to let us know. This feedback was a reminder to me of why I make theatre: to have an impact, to move, to stimulate, to ask questions and to start a conversation. And the impact can be more profound in an intimate setting.

As part of the tour we have provided ‘baby-friendly’ shows in the morning where mums and dads can come with their baby to watch the show in a relaxed atmosphere without having to worry about disturbing others. Performing to these audiences has been really special. It has brought the subject matter into sharp relief: the miracle of birth and what is at stake, the joy, the pain, the fear. Sharing these stories with a room full of women (and some men) and their recent family additions has been another reminder of how theatre can be a vital and profound expression of people’s experience. The Partus baby-friendly shows have got me thinking about the work I produce myself and how I can ensure greater accessibility to people who would otherwise struggle to attend the theatre. 

Photo: Joseph Priestley

3.   Generating Material

Being new to devising I had to make a bit of mental adjustment as to the purpose and focus of being in rehearsal. On scripted pieces, a lot is already decided before the cast enter the room – the script, the design, the format. Once in the rehearsal room, there are discoveries to be made, but they are limited within the context of these decisions. Within a devising process this can be blown wide open –  it might be that nothing much is decided before you enter the room – the content, the form, the design… only really the subject matter. This blank page approach can be a little daunting. But it is also exhilarating too – anything is possible, and I had an ownership of the piece I would not have had if I was not part of these decisions.

One of the main things I found interesting about devising is the exploration of ideas. A good general rule of thumb is that there’s no such thing as a bad idea. You simply don’t know which suggestions are going to work and fit into the picture of the whole show until you try them and start to build the wider context. In this way, devising is rather like a first draft of a script where you allow your imagination to wander and the words to flow uninhibited and uncensored. It is after you get everything down that you can start to shape it. There is something more exposing about this process of presenting unadorned, partially formed ideas to other people rather than simply sharing them with your laptop. But it is also brilliant, because so much of devising hinges on sparking something off, a shared discussion and the development of an idea beyond its inception with everyone in the room.

We joked a lot in the room about ‘fridge-dooring’ a lot of ideas. I initially interpreted this as the obligation to display the idea, despite its poor quality, in recognition of the effort it took to generate it – rather like a child’s indecipherable painting lovingly held to a fridge door by a magnet. But in fact, it is more a ‘parking’ of the idea to possibly revisit later, depending on what components are needed – it is an option, or can be a further stimulus for generating something else. This filing is fluid and things went up on and down off the proverbial fridge door a lot as the show developed.

The great thing about generating ideas as a group is there can be no preciousness about whose idea it is and everything should be proposed with generosity and positivity but without being too attached to it being realised. There are moments when you can feel like there’s no clarity and nothing seems to work, but this is part of the process and you have to push on through with the same energy and enthusiasm as when it goes smoothly.

Having a designer in the room as part of the idea generating process was a real eye-opener for me. It was fascinating to explore how design and space impacts not only on the audience’s experience of the show in performance, but the direction of the piece as a whole. The format and setting of the show can influence the content as much as the other way around. The two elements evolve together. In fact the design is an integral part of the content, not a dressing or an imposition on it.  It has made me very tempted to involve a designer at a much earlier stage in my drafting process when doing scripted work.

 

4.     To be continued…

One of the many things I admire about Rachael and Alex’s work is that it is constantly evolving. Nothing is ever finished. There is always room for tweaking and refining even once the show is out on tour. At every venue, for every show, elements of the piece can be adjusted. These may be small adjustments, but it ensures that there is always an active critical eye on the work and that the piece is responsive to an audience.  This gives the work a quality of ‘liveness’ it would not have if it was simply polished and replicated.

Something that has contributed to this process is that the dates of the tour have been quite spread out, in order to be touring-parent-friendly. This has also given the opportunity to have time for reflection and to revisit the performance afresh.

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I come out of my experience of making and touring work with Third Angel incredibly proud of the show we have made together, but also enriched by their process and excited to let it infuse my own practice of making work

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