We had a rehearsal before the show last night and I'm going to be honest, it did not go well, it was not the show any of us wanted it to be. It was a hot night, the air felt thick and after the run we had heavy hearts. We opened the doors and let in a small audience that was filled with the friendly faces of the people we have met over the last few days, some of whom had stayed on an extra day in Leeds just to come and see us. Anything can happen in theatre and something magical happened last night. The show went without a glitch (which is what we want and expect) what really amazed me is that it was, by quite a margin, the best performance of the piece I have ever seen.
Thursday started at 7am which is when Glen and I wake up to prepare for the day, Kim joins us at 8am and everyone else at 9am. After breakfast we started plotting the show at 10am which was the first time we had all been in the space as a group, working through each individual cue and programming the lighting desk. The Ludus festival and PSi conference are running concurrently so Tony had a PSi session to attend but we continued working and managed to get the desk programmed by about 1pm just in time for a quick lunch. Working in a new space is hard enough when you have time to rehearse, refine and practice; arriving in the morning at a venue and performing the same night is a real test of concentration, new blocking needs to be learnt, and even with spikes on the stage the best actors would still struggle to hit all their marks. The show is technical; sound, light, video, and a live camera feed average about one cue every 20 seconds for me, about 200 of them in total. This means that the performers on stage have to be absolutely accurate with their lines, movement and timing, otherwise it's a little like creating a hole in the matrix, the fabric of the show is liable to unravel in front of your eyes.
When Tony arrived back from the conference we spent about an hour making changes and looked at some scenes. Glen, Isaac and Ben were given some much needed time to rest in the afternoon and then after a bite to eat we reconvened for the dress rehearsal. It was a late show, we didn't open until 9pm, but with amazing help from the venue technician, Andy, who had stayed up late on Wednesday night building raked seating for us, we were as ready as we could be.
After the show we had some very positive feedback and the audience stayed to ask the performers some questions about themselves and the process of creating and staging the show. Handshakes, hongi, email addresses, and Facebook friends added, we left for our beds on a high, a very, very tired high.
After many months of preparation we are finally ready to open tonight. There are so many people that deserve our heartfelt thanks for helping to make this possible. I remember about a year ago sitting having a coffee with Tony and having the first conversation about the possibility of Different Light performing in the Ludus festival. It seemed so distant, to take a show to the other side of the world, and with all the changes around us how could any of us know what we would be doing a year from that point?! Christchurch has undergone such a devastating transformation, so much destruction and loss, there is a toll to being a resident of a city that can not stay still, we all carry with us an uncertainty, a possibility of upheaval at any moment, and it has been from this that we have created this performance. Since that coffee and conversation there have been a further 2600 earthquakes (10500 since the September event), there has been little in the way of re-development and even now most of the city centre is still closed, the infamous: "Red zone".
The last two days have been all about the final push to create a space for Glen, Ben and Isaac to tell their stories, but it really is not the technology, or the space that is important. We are all just about to head over to the venue, warm up and realize a years worth of planning and work.
Tony arrived from Denver SDS last night having connected via Chicago and Manchester. Unfortunately his suitcase did not arrive with him having somehow ended up on another flight. We caught up on news, the progress of the show, and made plans to make a plan. This morning after breakfast at the Refectory we took advantage of the sunshine and quite literally warmed up outside. Once everyone was ready we took over part of the large reception area, moved the table tennis tables to one side and rehearsed the show with a transient audience, one concerned person stopped to ask what we were doing as they said it looked "full-on".
We ran through the show and then individual scenes that needed work right up until lunch time. Tony hadn't seen the city centre yet so we decided to head into town to get some lunch. We wondered through Leeds Kirkgate indoor market, a magnificent building completed in 1857 and the largest indoor market in Europe. The idea of the indoor market is to protect traders and shoppers from the weather year round; as we have discovered, summer is no guarantee of good weather in the north of England. Entering the market is a little like stepping back in time, decorative wrought ironwork, a domed high ceiling, and an uneven flagstone floor, along with small stalls selling old fashioned sweets.
One of the most apparent differences between England and New Zealand is the number of people. Everywhere we go there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people all around us. This makes navigating paths, shops or markets, very slow, especially so for Glen, who has to constantly weave through crowds who don't see him at first because in his chair his default position is below average head hight and he is blocked from view by all the bodies of the crowd. To put this in context there are 62 million people in the UK inhabiting a land mass 23,860 km² smaller than New Zealand, which in contrast, has a population of 4.3 million people.
When we first entered the town I thought there must have been an event that was drawing exceptional crowds, but to my surprise Elvis had not returned from the dead to walk amongst us once again, this was just a normal Tuesday with people everywhere, milling around, shopping, eating, drinking and wearing the strangest clothes. My conclusion about the current state of fashion in the UK is that there are two basic looks people are wearing: 1. People seem to be stealing their grandmothers cushions, removing the stuffing and sewing them together by hand to form crude shapes that do not resemble the human form and therefore are very poorly fitting, these strange constructions are then worn over the top of tightly fitting undergarments that look like thermals but which obviously are of no practical value. 2. The second style that seems to be popular is worn by a group of people who have been kept in absolute isolation from society since birth and only exposed to the show 'Jersey Shore'. It is from this that they have developed their entire understanding of appropriate dress and social interaction. (There does also seem to be some hybridization of the two looks into something that resembles cushions at the beach with elbow patches.)
Tony had spotted a Cornish Pasty shop on our way and was keen to sample their pies. We sat out at some tables in the pedestrianized area enjoying the warm day and ate our lunches while we watched thousands of people pass by. In the town there had been a busker doing human beat-box with a mic and PA which all of us had thought was pretty cool when we first walked by. However as we sat within earshot of this for forty minutes it became decreasingly cool, until one by one, each one of our conversations started to revolve around getting away from the area as fast as possible. To be fair it was an impressive feat of endurance on both his part and ours, I'm sure that he continued on long after we left. Glen gave the guy some change and we made our way back to the university to continue our work on the show.
We finally made the plan we had planned to make and had dinner at the student union pub two floors underground. Of course no visit to a pub would be complete without a game of pool and I managed to sink two of the other teams balls, into two separate pockets, with a single shot. Nothing pulls a team together like witnessing spectacular failure and so we decided to call it a night and head back to our rooms. Tomorrow night I pack in our show and Thursday is opening night, lets hope my technical skills are better than my pool.
After getting everybody up and organized (which takes longer than you might imagine..) we set off to have breakfast at the University Refectory. This is the dinning hall for the students which also doubles as a music venue in the evenings, since the late 60's it has played host to bands like Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley, Rolling Stones and The Who. Of course the buildings varied music heritage was not our reason to visit, we were there for a substantial breakfast which was truly excellent. Ben managed to consume about a third of his body weight in muesli and Isaac disappeared to the toilet only to return, twenty minutes later, wearing a new jacket. Suitably fed and clothed we set off to find that we were just in time for the first session with Salamander Tandem.
We were warmly welcomed and told to make ourselves comfortable, there is a wealth of interesting large scale technology surrounding the space but also a sense of the intimate, some larger than life domestic paper lanterns glowing colourfully by the entrance and carefully controlled lighting gave the feeling of entering someones home. We were surrounded by projected images, live camera feeds, some delayed and effected, and some visual representations of the sound created within the room. The members of Salamander Tandem start moving amongst the audience and it quickly becomes apparent that this is a collaborative performance, where the traditional roles of performer and audience do not apply. Sound is captured live, processed and looped and fed back into the space, this becomes a musical soundtrack which included the squeaking of the floor, words spoken into a mic and sound created by the movement of bodies. The whole experience was surprisingly fluid, everything felt easy and relaxed, power shifted amongst the performers, one person would lead the movement and then another, wordlessly people interacted allowing themselves to be moved by the flowing soundtrack, or directly by other participants.
At a certain point a box marked 'conkers' (the seeds of the horse-chesnut tree) appeared and the seeds slowly introduced into the movement. Participants selected a conker and began to rub it on another person until everyone was simultaneously rubbing and being rubbed. To use the seeds in gentle tactile exploration was interesting as they are usually associated with the competitive and destructive childhood game. After this everyone was lead out of the space and this marked the end. I couldn't tell you how long we were in the room for but as we talked about the experience afterwards we all agreed that it was energizing and uplifting. It was a great way to begin our day.
We further explored the university campus and student union buildings, but ultimately we are here in Leeds for the serious business of staging a performance and preparation for this is what was to dominate our afternoon. We rehearsed, discussed, ran scenes and discussed them some more.
After a few hours of work, Ben, Glen and Isaac went to work individually and Kim and I decided to go and source supplies, including whatever we would need for dinner. On the way we came across Granary Wharf, a set of tunnels built underneath the train station which spans the river Aire. 18 million bricks were used in its construction which set new records at the time (c.1866). As you walk down the tunnel secondary tunnels carrying the fast flowing river stretch to your right, the dark water rushing by underneath you. It's a strange place, at the end you exit into an old canal basin which has been recently developed with a hotel and apartments, a stark contrast to the dark, damp smelling tunnel from which you emerge. Tomorrow we have plans for a morning rehearsal, that is of course, after breakfast at the refectory, who knows what else the day may bring.
Sunday. The weather has finally broken and there have been some patches of blue sky and intermittent sunshine! We took the opportunity to head into town to the Art Gallery, on the way we found a church with a black spire, a bright red Royal Mail post box, old street signs, a poster for the Ludus festival, an angel and for a brief moment Isaac danced with a shadow.
When we arrived at the gallery we found a Victorian tiled hall. This was originally a reading room in the library but during the 1950's the tiles were covered with shelves and a false ceiling, thankfully they restored the room in 2007 to its original state and it now serves as a cafe.
After spending an hour or so looking around the gallery we decided to get some refreshments before heading upstairs to see the rest of the artworks. It was a good excuse to spend a little time in the old reading room and better observe our strange ceramic environment. The tiles in the ceiling of the room are interspersed with golden bosses which have holes in their centers that form part of the victorian heating system which is still working today.
On offer was Dandelion and Burdock, apparently consumed in the British Isles since 1265 and originally a type of light mead. This is a fermented botanical drink which, if you are not familiar with, has an unusual flavor, sweetly herbal with a little aniseed.
On the way into town Ben had requested that we find a Post shop (Post Office® in the UK) so that he could send the copious quantities of post cards that he has been writing in every available minute since we arrived. Unfortunately we didn't make it to a PO as by the time we left the gallery everyone was getting hungry and on the way back through town we spotted a mexican restaurant called BARBURRITO, we decided that it would be a good place to stop and get dinner.
The UK is hosting the Olympics and there are little flags everywhere. It's impossible to miss the branding placed in shop windows, on products and buildings all over the city. One of the results of this is that there is a lot of colour everywhere and although I don't usually like this kind of blanket marketing some of what has been done is actually pretty cheerful; the rainbows of material look a little like the prayer flags found adorning mountains in Tibet and Nepal.
We returned to our accommodation to work through a lines run for the show. We also met the team from Salamander Tandem who are performing as part of the Ludus festival and with whom we are sharing a venue. They had spent the day packing in their equipment and were really friendly, inviting us to visit them in the space tomorrow. We are all looking forward to seeing the other performances and events in the festival and hopefully meeting more of the artists. Todays last picture is from the tiled hall, a bust of Dante watching over the readers.
Today was a day to rest and recover, Kim, Isaac and Ben joined Glen and I at the Leeds University accommodation and caught up on stories and jokes while we discussed what to do. It turned out that we had all woken up at about 4:30am wide awake and ready to get up, some of us did get up and some just couldn't sleep, we all need our body clocks to adjust to GMT, which I think they will do in stages, hopefully tonight we don't wake up until at least 6:30am and so on until we are fully acclimatized to this time zone.. then it will be back home and the whole process will start again.
It was an open day for Leeds University, so the campus was busy with prospective students and their parents looking around and getting lost amongst the buildings of the extensive campus, which happened to be exactly what we were doing. Isaac, Glen and Ben found a shop in the Student Union building and came back with Union Jack umbrellas to ward off the rain and some ramen noodles. Kim and I took a trip to grab some basic supplies and came across some wonderful buildings, one of which was the Corn Exchange. We didn't have long to stop and look in all the stores but there seemed to be a fascinating collection of boutique shops all around the outside edge on two stories, each store just a single room large enough for a couple of people at a time and packed with handmade and vintage clothing, curios, oddities and a tattoo parlor with a distinguished skeleton as a doorman.
Below ground level was another ring of outlets selling food and coffees, we didn't stay long as we had made a list and stopping here wasn't on it. I'm not sure that the lower section was part of the original victorian design but the circular 'hole in the floor' was eye catching and inviting, however when one of your friends is in a wheelchair you start to see flights of stairs like these as brick walls. I'm not sure there is any disabled access to this building, we had a quick look around as I'm sure Glen would have loved to see it but could only find more steps outside.
We were all getting tired as the afternoon progressed and decided to explore our options for dinner. Close to the campus there is a pub called the 'Dry Dock' which seems to be a ship which has been dumped at a fork in the road and turned into a student bar, possibly the product of an elaborate student hoax, the vessel having been piloted across town by inebriated graduates believing that it would reveal their, previously unrecognized, genius. This was to be Isaac and Glens first experience of 'mushy peas' which was part of the fish and chips they ordered, the traditional cuisine was met with some hesitance regarding both its appearance and texture.
We also talked at length about the upcoming show, what we might find at the venue and what last minute changes we would like to make. The show has been constantly developing since its first performance, the process of devising and creation a collaborate effort, by the end of next week it will have been staged in three cities, across three continents, each time growing and changing in response to the sociocultural context, the time we have had to prepare and ultimately the performers themselves.
Early Wednesday morning Ben, Glen, Isaac, Kim and I met at the airport with some friends and family to see us off to embark on one of the longest journeys it's possible to take by plane. For the next 40 hours we were going to be traveling from Christchurch, New Zealand, to the Ludus festival in Leeds, United Kingdom.
After making it through customs we were the first people to board the full flight for the first leg of our journey to Singapore, this time we managed to get seats together so with high spirits we settled in to the tiny seats that we would be calling home for the next two days.
Every Boeing 777-300 series aircraft has a small screaming child fitted as standard in the seats immediately behind you and this flight was no exception. To be fair the parents worked very hard to calm the obviously very tired and possibly terrified infant which yelped whenever we 'went over a pot-hole' which is what the turbulence can sometimes feel like, Christchurch drivers will be familiar with the sinking sensation immediately followed by a loud thump. At about the 13 hour mark we landed in Singapore, ready to stretch our legs and explore the new terminal 3 building at Changi Airport.
Unfortunately due to some complication with a lift the ground crew were not able to unload Glens chair for the six hours that we had to wait in Singapore. Part of the Airport marketing campaign has been around the Butterfly Garden which they have created in the terminal building. The butterfly garden is formed in an interesting arc extending from high on the outside wall of the airport building, essentially open to the air but covered by a net. I would love to have an image of a butterfly to post here but two factors conspired against us; firstly my camera lens fogged up as soon as we entered the room, the outside temperature and humidity of Singapore is hard describe and harder to tolerate; especially as we were all dressed in layers having come from a frosty Christchurch just hours before. Secondly there were a large set of stone steps leading into the garden that we were not going to be able to navigate, its possible that there was another way into the garden, but after posing for the below snap we all agreed to get back into the air-conditioned terminal as fast as possible.
We found a lounge on the second floor which would sell us the use of a shower for $8 each, we were hot and sticky from the flight and unaccustomed to the heat so we all showered and then spent some time looking around the terminal, just as we were being called to board we discovered that Ben had disappeared, one moment there the next gone.. after some hunting around I found him having a long conversation with a guy working in the Hard Rock Cafe merchandise store, once our party was reunited we were raced across the airport to our gate (which involves catching a sky train) by Singapore Airline staff who insisted that we "Quickly!" only to arrive at the gate to be asked to wait as they were not ready for us yet; thus was the undoing of our showers.
Other delights to be sampled at Changi airport are free foot massages, a lounge with reclining sleeper chairs (we discovered too late to make use of) a swimming pool, a large slide that purportedly takes you between stories (that we couldn't find) and a set of Koi ponds.
Back on the plane for the next sixteen hours. Ben wanted to know if it was possible to bribe one of the air stewards $50 to get into first class, which if it had been would be well worth the horizontal beds that this aircraft had. This was an overnight flight, the appropriately named 'red eye' where the pilot dims the cabin lights and makes you feel inadequate for not being able to sleep, of course sleeping wasn't on everyones mind...
We made one more stop in Munich to refuel before heading on to Manchester. Alison from Ludus Festival was there to meet us with a smile and a Ludus brochure as an identifier which we spotted immediately, one last effort to lift Glens chair (125Kg) into the van as the parallel ramps wouldn't accommodate Glens off-set style wheels and we were off into the welcoming fog and drizzle of the English summertime, which produced one magical moment for us as we drove through Leeds and saw crowds of people all walking along under umbrellas, Kim and I remarked that the only time you would see such a thing in New Zealand is if it were part of a performance.