Four Shadows Theatre reflect on their Creation Space residency
| Thu 9 Apr 2015
From Tuesday 17 March to Thursday 2 April, York-based Four Shadows Theatre were at work in the Creation Space as part of our artist residencies programme.
Co-Artistic Directors Chris and Rich were experimenting with ideas for Everest: 1924, a new show about the legendary British mountaineer George Mallory's attempt to be the first man to summit Mount Everest. After bidding them a fond farewell, we asked them to reflect on their residency...
Which particular elements of Everest: 1924 did you focus on during your residency?
One of the main elements we focused on during our residency was a 'pick axe dance routine'. We knew before starting our residency we wanted this in the show, so on the first day this is what we started work on, as it was a very clear idea in our heads. Throughout our time at artsdepot we kept returning to it and adding bits, taking bits away. We received some great feedback from our sharings and this helped shape the dance further. There is still work to be done on the dance but we are very happy with how it is progressing.
We also worked quite a lot on the beginning and ending of the show and we are happy that we have a strong first draft of both of those sections. We used almost two full packs of post it notes mapping out all our ideas and how we think they should look. We would go through each section meticulously, realise something didn't work and have to swap everything round. We'd then run the scenes again and discover something else didn't work. There was a lot of post it note moving.
As well as focussing on these elements we also spent a lot of time just playing in the space, allowing ourselves to devise without the pressure of having to create usable material. This was really valuable for us. Some of the time we uncovered a brilliant idea that we hadn't thought of and went on to develop further. Other times nothing would come of it, for example, we realised that running around with a tent over our head had no place in this show... unfortunately.
Were there any surprises? Did you make any new discoveries about the project?
We were certain that we wanted to tie ourselves together for the whole show, to replicate what Mallory and Irvine did on their ill-fated final climb. It was on about the fifth day of being tied together that we realised it didn't work at all, which we were a little disappointed about because we really liked the aesthetic of being tied together. However we kept rehearsing scenes and testing ideas and getting completely tangled up. The pick axe dance proved to be most problematic and we realised we had to either lose the ropes or lose the dance, it didn't take us long to untie the knots.
We were also quite sure that Everest: 1924 was going to be a two man show, with both of us playing George Mallory and both of us playing the Abominable Snowman (at separate times). However, throughout the residency we became more and more aware that this might not be possible and we have decided it might be a good idea to have another performer play the Abominable Snowman and act as an onstage technician, although there is still some thought to be done on this.
Did you bring in any collaborators?
Unusually for us, we didn't for this period of devising and making. This was a conscious decision, firstly based around location and the pragmatics of bringing regular collaborators down from the North, and not having the time to establish working relationships with practitioners based in the South. Secondly, we decided to allow ourselves a time to gestate and work in isolation, to try and figure out what it is we're doing. Figuring out what the show is, what it means and what the hidden messages are. It feels somewhat unprogressive to deny the opportunity to collaborate, perhaps leaving us feeling guilty for not allowing others to sculpt the work. However for this project, at this stage in its life, we thought we'd lock ourselves away to see what would happen.
As a result of this process we have found however that the show calls for another performer. This is something we did not anticipate, but it feels like a natural progression.
Did this residency enable you to do anything that you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do?
The residency foremost gave us time. It gave us two weeks to work on the show without interruption, day after day, in order to get the ball rolling on this project. When making work at home it's all too easy to get distracted, either by lack of focus or by necessity. When making work in York we find ourselves saying "We've got that meeting today, let's just stop here", "someone is coming up to visit today, I need to meet them at this time", "I said I was going to do this thing with...". The fact we have time to work on the show, without distractions, has been hugely beneficial. There is something in this method, a kind of focus, that we want to take back home with us.
What are your next steps for this project?
The next step will be to continue our R&D process, enabling us to develop the ideas we didn't have time to whilst we were at artsdepot. After working on this project intensively for two weeks we have got very attached to it and are very confident we can create a really great show, however there are lots of elements that still need exploring and re-thinking and re-working. Once we are happy we have all the material in place we will start to create the final version of the show and begin to plan a tour. So keep your eyes peeled.
We are very keen to continue working with artsdepot wherever we can, their input has been very important to us and they have been vital in getting this project out of our heads and notebooks and into something we can see and feel.
We've also found some great indoor ice climbing walls, so we might don our tweed and have a climb of those.
What else are Four Shadows Theatre working on at the moment?
We are currently writing a new promenade show as a commission from Feva Festival in Knaresbrough, North Yorkshire, entitled 'The Non-Historical, Mildly-Accurate, Completely-Made-Up, Yet-Highly-Informative Tour of Knaresborough.’
We are currently also working with the Grand Hotel in York on their Mad Hatters Tea Party experience, bringing to life Lewis Carols characters, amidst a Heston Blumenthal-esque dining experience. This summer we have about a dozen weddings coming up where we are playing music for brides, grooms and guests. This ties in our extended practice of being musicians, yet brings our skills and experience as theatre makers to really put on a show.
We are also at the heart of the progressive artistic scene in York, with close links to temporary artistic spaces such as The Fleeting Arms and emerging companies such as Plastic Fortune.
Has the artsdepot residency been beneficial for Four Shadows Theatre?
The residency has been hugely beneficial for us! It enabled us to really get stuck into Mallory's story and focus on creating great work. There were no stipulations, no hoops to jump through, just a brilliant space that we could use how we wanted. This freedom really allowed us to make the most of our time in the Creation Space. We could spend a whole day walking a pair of shoes around with pick axes (which we did) without any pressure to always have performance material and the end of it.
We came into the Creation Space not knowing what the outcome at the end of the residency would be, and being assured that that didn't matter. We think that this really helped us create the work that we did, work that we are very happy with and can't wait to develop further.
Also, the fact that there were so many wonderful people working in the building that were always available to watch or listen to anything and give feedback was invaluable. It meant we could test out small sections and get feedback very early, which really helped shape the work. This is something we don't always have ready access to when working at home, people who are completely objective and can give honest, constructive feedback.
A huge thank you to everyone at artsdepot.