Aerial Choreography with Charlotte Mooney

​I wanted to work with Charlotte because she is kind, funny, doesn’t take any of my shit,helps me to be brave and is one of the U.K.’s best creators of aerial­theatre. I have had the pleasure of performing with and being directed by Charlotte, but it wasn’t until I was in a room with her and 18 young people that I could look on from the outside and see how she brings out the best in people, and is able to guide them through the inevitable devising stickiness until they find something wonderful.

Ordinarily if she were working on a new piece of equipment there would be four weeks allocated to finding out what the people in the room and the equipment were capable of. We had three days (well, two and a half after rigging).

One over-­riding impression thinking back to last week was how calm it was. We followed a process where we explored what was I able to do on the equipment, what images we wanted to see, and what movement flowed from improvising. This meant that all the choreography was led by what was possible on the equipment and anything we attempted that wasn’t possible, for whatever reason, was let go. This immediately removed any value judgements from what we created and (to steal a phrase) gave us a menu of options.Charlotte would also extend 5 minutes of improvising into 30, and see through the half­thoughts or misdirections to suggest a wealth of ideas that would take us through an afternoon.

It was an incredibly productive time and by the end, despite being hand sore and brain tired, we had created a wealth of material and a stand alone aerial section which met the guidelines we had been given by Jimmy and felt like it had a natural flow to it. There is still more material to be discovered but thanks to Charlotte I have a clearer idea of how to approach it and how it can potentially fit with what we have already created, and I feel I have reached somewhere I would never have found without her!

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Director’s Cut; Jimmy Whiteaker’s insight into the rehearsal process

The following blog post has been written by guest writer, director Jimmy Whiteaker….

I was eleven and I fell backwards and my arm was underneath me like this and my skirts went up over my head and my friend, Beav, could see my pants – he turned out to be gay so it didn’t even matter – and I’d hurt my arm so I kept shouting, My arm! My arm! like that, and my friend said, You sound like a peacock! My arm! My arm!” I watch and listen and even though I’m laughing, I keep still. When I first worked with Grania on He Aint Heavy as a dramaturg I did that a lot, stayed still and watched her performing herself. Early on, I had the ridiculous image pass across my mind of one of those Victorian collectors watching some unknown animal emerge in to a jungle clearing. Like a poor man’s Kipling without all the racism. 

It was fascinating though, and a privilege. That sense of privilege is vital to how I work with Grania because bit by bit she lets me in to the unique world of her intense relationship with her brother, Sean. And from her and Sean to her mum, to her dad, to their evolving history. Asking Grania to perform herself is a delicate proposition. It’s risky. It asks a great deal of courage of her because there’s no character, no portrait of another, to present herself behind. It’s her history, her intensely lived relationship with Sean, newly imagined with an audience. That sense of privilege is key in approaching the sometimes difficult devising process with her – but it has a wonderful bonus. When the show goes up with an audience I’m willing to bet that they share in that sense of privilege, of a delicate proposition, of personal risk and a little story that implies so much outside of itself.

When I met Sean recently up in Hull with Grania and the second performer, Sophie, the thing I remembered most was the sheer amount of physical contact. Sean couldn’t get enough of Grania and nor she him. Apart from his hands cupped in a unique way around hers, his feet hung in a unique way over hers, him pressing her head on to his shoulder in a loving and undiscovered wrestling move – apart from that it was the way she formed around him that struck me.

 I find those moments that point to so much more delicious. Finding bits and pieces that encompass whole sides of their relationship and intensifying that flavour is exciting; through risky circus, through theatrical images, through gesture, movement, music, live games, through structure and story and feeding and control and restraint and inviting the unexpected. Finding ways for an audience to newly imagine her life with her, live onstage is exciting. 

Before we started work on this phase I asked her to go back to the first creative impulse that she had to make the show. It was a big moment in her life when she simply wished her brother was there. So I want to bring that wish in to the auditorium, to present our problem to the audience: to try and bring Sean in to the same room as them. For them to try and form Sean and Grania. To taste it against their own particular flavour, their own autobiography. Though it’s impossible, it’s the joyous attempt even so. I’m looking forward to the next bit of making in August – not least as Grania and Sophie make us all warm up to Keaira LaShae, Burn to the Beat. You get to ride an invisible horse and try to get it right and look as good as professional dancers and utterly fail apart from the invisible horse. Highly recommended.


It’s Never Dull in Hull

IMAG0799Whilst being the best catch-line ever invented for a city (and so good I even bought the t-shirt) it truly is never dull in Hull! We (Sophie, Jimmy and I) were honoured to be Hull Truck’s first ever residency artists as part of their artist support scheme #BeOurGuest. We felt incredibly welcomed and by the end of the week we felt so at home that it was a real shame to leave.

Sophie Postlethwaite (aka. Productions by Sophie) is the newest addition to the He Ain’t Heavy team and will be my co-performer! We spent three days generating as much material as possible, with the added luxury of throwing things together knowing that Jimmy (Whiteaker, He Ain’t Heavy Director) would be arriving to edit and mould all the material we created. By late on Wednesday afternoon we had covered an entire mirror with notes and devised a ton of material. We also had the pleasure of working remotely with Alexandra Hamilton Ayres (He Ain’t Heavy Composer) who created some amazing soundscapes for us to experiment with, one of which we have named “The Dark Tinkle.”

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The final two days with both Jimmy and Sophie went far too quickly! We explored some themes of the piece and experimented with repeating motifs – I’m tempted not to say anymore though so the end result remains a surprise. We also had an inspiring chat with Rowan Rutter, the Creative Producer at Hull Truck, in part learning about the amazing engagement work that is happening there and how integral Hull Truck is to the city. I for one am grateful for their Youth Theatre as that has had a massive impact on where I am today!

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Last but certainly not least we also went to visit the main protagonist of the show – Mr Sean Pickard! Unforunately he had a chest infection (which is a lot better now) so he wasn’t quite his ususal self but this did mean I got lots of cuddles.

Funding Secured for Stage Two!

I’m delighted to announce that we have secured funding from the Arts Council and additional support from The Elmgrant Trust to develop ‘He Ain’t Heavy’ into a full length piece, and R&D an accompanying outreach programme!

Work has already started and rehearsals will kick off with a residency at The Point in Eastleigh, which is incredibly exciting. I met the team at their Pitch n Mix session earlier in the year and it’s brilliant to have their support, as well as the dedicated studio time.

I will be posting updates on the project here as it develops. I confess I have more exciting news that I’m not allowed to share yet, but I will let you know as soon as I get the nod!

HE AIN'T HEAVY EFLYER

Arts Council England

 

Conversations I don’t mind having

If you didn’t see this, there was a great piece in the Saturday guardian last week by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett (of Vagenda fame) about her autistic brother:

The conversation I wish I didn’t have to have

A lot of her experiences felt familiar, but the questions she encounters are slightly different to those I’ve heard. Also I don’t mind having those conversations which I guess is why I’m making a show about it! The two most common ones recently are:

1. How does Sean feel about the show?

2. Will he be coming to watch?

In answer, he is completely oblivious to it as it has no relation to his essential needs (chips, pie, sausage roll, jigsaws etc) so even if I were to tell him he wouldn’t understand and he won’t be coming to watch as if he did as soon as he saw me he would walk on stage shouting ‘ya-ya’ and the drag me out demanding to be taken in the car! Hopefully though he’ll feel the benefit if a few more people understand him better.