April 10th marked the start of my first full week working on Arthur – and it’s been an incredibly varied and exciting week. We’ve moved from plotting and storymaking (with the helpful input of local playwright Charles Way) to beginning the process of putting the work on its feet, making puppet prototypes, and concluding with an Open Day tomorrow at Abergavenny Community Centre. This will be an opportunity for local professionals and members of the community to have a look behind the scenes at our process of making Arthur: we’ll have some open rehearsals, and put out Ana’s sketch books and breakdowns of the research and development we’ve been producing so far.
This week, we’ve been through staging magical journeys, battles and mask work, dipping into a number of other Welsh legends and Arthurian adventures, and playing with adorable baby bear puppets. However, to begin at the beginning (as Dylan Thomas would say!)…We started the week where we ended the last one, experimenting with and eventually reworking early decisions made with regards to the plot. Making a story from such an array of Arthurian legends available has been a big challenge: we’re balancing audience expectations (broadly, Camelot, Round Table, Guinevere and Lancelot) with our artistic aim to tell the story of Arthur himself – Arthur as a Welshman, Arthur as a bear king, Arthur as a young creature learning the skills to become a good ruler. Simplicity, and investing in the relationships between the characters that we’ve chosen to focus on in the work, has become a key feature of our story making process.
We spent the best part of two days writing notes, creating story boards and experimenting with short scenes in the mock up set we’ve produced. As a result, the project’s focus has shifted a little, and it’s been a really interesting process to be involved in. As a storyteller, making theatre that has a strong plot at its core is key to my work, and it was really valuable to share ideas and think about what lies at the heart of Arthur’s story: is it a quest? Is it a journey of redemption or discovery? And how do these ideas link to people’s initial ideas about the Arthurian legends? Are these romanticised, or do they have a basis in fact?
Having outsiders in rehearsals during this delicate phase of a project’s development can be frustrating but Charlie’s input has been invaluable. A sensible voice amidst endless possibilities has been so helpful, and as we are spending a lot of time self-directing during the devising process, it’s even more beneficial to have an outside eye.
On a personal level, working this way has also asked me to dust off some skills that I haven’t used for a while. Working so visually is a new angle for me: we intend to have three languages interwoven in the final piece: English, Welsh, and visual. The piece should be understandable by all, not just those who speak both or one of the languages. On the flip side, we’re very keen to invest time in the storytelling moments that happen so as to ensure the two languages are used sparingly, and that there is little to no repetition happening in either language, so that they complement each other and the visual storytelling.
Moving into a full day of staging yesterday also presented a new challenge: mask work. Neither Naomi nor I have had a great deal of experience working in mask, and it was a great opportunity to explore the physical possibilities of our characters in a relaxed research and development environment. Lucas, who’s been another helpful outside eye during this week’s work, spent some time giving us tips on mask work: allowing the mask to lead, feeling the physicality of a character all the way through the body to the feet, responding in the moment and not planning or overthinking. It’s very tricky to do this when your first instinct as a performer, left in an empty stage space, is to plan an action for yourself! By the end of the day, put through some fairly rigorous physical devising by Fagner and Lucas, Naomi and I were exhausted but felt like we were starting to get a tenuous grip on mask work. My masked character, Morgana, is starting to timidly take form in my mind: for example, we particularly liked the idea that she might take two forms – that of a gnarled old hag when she’s alone concocting potions and making spells, and that of a beautiful, straight-backed, powerful witch when she’s seen by others.
We’re spending today commencing the mammoth task of making this show: I sit surrounded by a sea of cardboard as I write, and let’s not even mention the state of the workshop…
We hope to see you at our Open Day tomorrow! Please come along and give feedback, ideas, or tell us what ‘Arthur the bear king’ means to you!