NORTHERN SPIRIT

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Andy Field

August 16, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Image from 'Zilla' - Andy Field

Andy Field is an artist whose work Andrew Wilson has recently introduced us to. He creates ‘interactive encounters for unusual contexts’, is co-director of a company called ‘Forest Fringe’ and writes regularly for The Guardian. Here’s a link to his website. His work’s very interesting and imaginative – immersive, warm, playful – but his thinking and writing about theatre’s equally inspiring. Common sense arguments which achieve a kind of poetry. Here’s two examples - there are many more on his site:

I wish we could feel freer to copy each other
To reincorporate and reuse
Create intricate patterns of reoccurrence
A radical and generous ocean of ideas in constant circulation

Like the idea of oratory
Old stories remembered and re-spoken
Or
Old rhythms and choruses and drum loops
Reused, remixed, reincorporated

Or even like an internet meme
An idea or a behaviour or a performance
Repeated beyond the point of absurdity, becoming something else entirely
Building into impossibly dense, incredible, nuanced patterns
A one-note joke becoming slowly with a near-ridiculous global effort a thing of genuine beauty

An exploration of our complicated relationship to each other
Rather than an attempt to get ahead of the crowd.

(An extract from ‘A Short Talk About Going Round In Circles’.)

 

What do we mean by ‘politics’. The root of the word is polis – the body of people that make up the city state. We are the politics, the network of communities and interactions that constitute our daily lives – the great, shifting ocean of people that make up this country. The way that we choose to bring people together and for what purpose are deeply political decisions. Theatre is a form of community and consequently an important expression of the way we as a society choose to live. As such, theatre is always political, whether it intends to be or not. Indeed, sometimes the politics embedded in how we make theatre can be quite contradictory to that espoused from the stage.

Experimental theatre is very often engaged with these kinds of understandings of what politics in theatre is. It is a politics that does not wear its rosette on its sleeve, but is instead embedded in the form of the event itself. It is implicitly an exploration of how and why we choose to come together – an attentiveness to the political decisions embedded in our everyday actions and interrelations. A theatre that doesn’t just talk about society but embodies it in the structure of the event, in the relationship between the audience and the performers and the surrounding world. It is a theatre that at its very best invites us to experience that world in a different way.

(An extract from ‘We Are All Politics’)

Finally, we found this recent article that Andy wrote for the Guardian, which cheered us up no end! In it he advocates that blog writing, and the manner in which this is done, can embody and be an extension of the work, rather than just as a form of publicity, or an explanation, after the work has been created. We see this is VERY important to our work and how this blog should function and we’re very keen to explore ideas that will enable us to go much further - didn’t realise we were being so cutting edge!

 

Inclusivity and Participation

August 16, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Photograph by John Bulmer
First, here’s Charles Leadbetter’s thoughts on inclusivity and participation:
[Now] people are after a mix of three experiences… a mix of enjoy (being entertained and served), talk (a focal point for socialising) and do (they want to get involved, have a go, do their bit). The lines between these are not rigid.
The web’s significance is that it encourages people to adopt new habits and roles, as collaborators, editors, distributors, and creators of content.
The web encourages us to think and act WITH people. The principle underlying the web is the idea of endless, lateral connection.
The avant garde of the 21st century will have as its principle: combine and connect. The web will encourage a culture in which art encourages relationships and promotes interaction, encourages people to be part of the art, if only in a small way.
It is a digital version of a folk culture in which authorship is shared and cumulative rather than individualistic.
It is art as a conversation.
Art is not simply the result of self expression by the artists of a preconceived idea but a result of communication with the audience and other partners in the process.
An arts venue is a site for creative interaction and communication.
The web might open up who can contribute to the process of artistic creation, widen the definition of who is an artist. 
Now here’s some interesting examples of work that we feel are inventively participatory and which encourage a feeling of inclusivity. Any other inspiring examples?:
Main Image: the amazing John Bulmer. Here’s a link so that you can see more.

‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’

August 16, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

'Kes'

This is Gavin Bryars’ ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’, featuring ‘Tramp’ and Tom Waits.
Here’s Gavin Bryars describing the events that inspired it.
‘In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.
When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.
I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.’
The version above features the original footage that accompanied it - and which is equally beautiful.

The Wilderness Downtown

August 16, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Arcade II

 

Have you experienced this yet? Kate alerted us to ‘The Wilderness Downtown’  while we were in Newcastle and, if you havent already, give it a go now. Arcade Fire, together with Google and artist Chris Milk, have created an interactive video set to the band’s track ‘We Used to Wait’ from ‘The Suburbs’ album.  Called ‘The Wilderness Downtown’, the online project makes use of Google Maps and Google Street View to incorporate images into the video. It’s an experience that’s both personalised and deeply personal as it takes you down memory lane through the streets where you grew up.

One of its achievements is that it creates an awareness in the viewer/participants of being both unique and interconnected.  It’s also interesting how they’ve created spaces within the work to be filled by the participant’s experiences. It’s changed my relationship to the song  – a good album track before, now it’s got specific emotional associations for me and now I play it much, much more. Avoid doing what I did though – just allow the different windows to come up on your pc and do their thing. We’re interested to know what you think. Here’s a great ‘behind the scenes’ link.

 

Innovative Cities and Charles Leadbetter

August 5, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Sheffield

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, Charles Leadbetter’s website is well worth investigating. Some of his thinking about the ingredients of successful, innovative and creative cities are distilled below.

An old idea becomes new when it is in a different setting. Innovation is often about re-using older things or adapting technologies in use.

Most innovation comes from combining different ideas and viewpoints to create a new idea. Innovation is cumulative, one idea building upon another. Innovation usually depends on an ebb and flow of ideas. Those new combinations usually come about through conversation. Indeed I would go so far as to say that conversation is at the root of all innovation.  Good conversations allow ideas to flow, to be challenged, developed upon, tested. In a good conversation you often end up saying things you did not expect and you leave with a shared understanding of an issue.

Ideas have to be challenged and tested – ideas rarely start off being good from day one. Innovation is not a theoretical activity but a very practical one. You have to try, fail a bit, learn, adapt, try again. That means organisation and cities that want to innovate have to take risks and learn from failure.

Cities that innovate are increasingly tightly connected to one another. But successful cities also need to differentiate themselves from their peers and competitors within these networks of innovation.

These days with cheaper, more distributed technology, that allows people to connect to and collaborate with other people very easily, more innovation is going to come from users and consumers, who want to be participants, players in the action not mere spectators on the sidelines. More innovation will become a participative activity. Innovation by the masses not just for the masses.

Here are some of his thoughts on how art and culture could be transformed by digital technologies and the web:

[Now] people are after a mix of three experiences… a mix of enjoy (being entertained and served), talk (a focal point for socialising) and do (they want to get involved, have a go, do their bit). The lines between these are not rigid.

The web’s significance is that it encourages people to adopt new habits and roles, as collaborators, editors, distributors, and creators of content.

The web encourages us to think and act WITH people. The principle underlying the web is the idea of endless, lateral connection.

The avant garde of the 21st century will have as its principle: combine and connect. The web will encourage a culture in which art encourages relationships and promotes interaction, encourages people to be part of the art, if only in a small way.

It is a digital version of a folk culture in which authorship is shared and cumulative rather than individualistic.

It is art as a conversation.

Art is not simply the result of self expression by the artists of a preconceived idea but a result of communication with the audience and other partners in the process.

An arts venue is a site for creative interaction and communication.

The web might open up who can contribute to the process of artistic creation, widen the definition of who is an artist.

 

 

‘Looking North’ – Dave Russell

August 5, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Photograph by John Bulmer
This is an extremely well researched exploration of the North of England’s impact upon the national imagination and within cultural fields such as film, music, prose writing, drama etc. I’ve distilled some of the interesting points and quotes that crop up in the book below (statistics, evidence and more in-depth analysis can be found within the book). It’d be great to hear your responses and if it provokes any ideas that you think we could develop further.
‘The North’ can be expressed as a ‘shared consciousness’, which include shared myths, shared experiences, common interests, values and reference points and distinctive historical memories.  It is extremely fragile and secondary to other systems of identification – ‘family’, ‘street’, ‘town’ and ‘nation’ usually come first. It has limitations as an intellectual construct, but continues to possess considerable emotional and imaginative resonance.  It continues to be the nation’s most powerful regional identity.
Northern fiction – ‘the negotiation of ideas about the North’.
Creative artists from the North of England – ‘architects of a popular regional consciousness.’
The North has generally intruded in the national cultural imagination when it was troubled or troublesome.  There are four particular periods of intensified interest – 1840s-1850s; the 30s; 1957 – 1964; the 1980s. All bar the third period was when the North of England region was experiencing intense economic difficulty and generating major political challenges, including working class mobilisation.
Historically, The North of England [from a metropolitan perspective] has been seen, and continues to be seen, as ‘other’, ‘backward’ and ‘lower status’. It is unusual and discomfiting for a huge segment of English people to find themselves as ‘other’. This is largely a result of images that have formed over the course hundreds of years and which are firmly established.
There is a [cultural]tradition of the North of England, and its major cities, of being cast as the site of innovation, of challenge, and an alternative to the old order. ‘A breath of fresh air.’ Of bringing a spirit of competitiveness, resolve, wit and community spirit that the nation needs in all spheres.
Overwhelmingly, the cultural depiction and study of this area of the country has been from a metropolitan perspective. ‘The North’ within the national imagination has largely been constructed within the South.
In terms of fiction writing, writers from the North of England have been underrepresented.
The landscape within the overwhelming majority of cultural representations has been the urban, industrial North.
70% of regional novels between 1800 and 2000 were located in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
Notions of the North as essentially industrial and proletarian run deep.
‘Authenticity’, ‘realism’ and ‘social hardship and serious social issues’ continue to be synonymous with North of England representations within popular culture.
The general pattern is clear [within fiction] – London is the arena for the pursuit of excitement and personal ambition, set against a restricted North that was only to be returned to as sanctuary, consolation or after a suitably life enhancing experience.
There is overwhelming evidence that London has been a talent drain [for people within the creative industries, particularly writers], crippling a major source of the artists’ inspiration and removing much of their distinctiveness. ‘There is a strong sense that if you don’t make it or live in London that you are somehow second rate.’ Melvyn Bragg.
The North of England has the largest range of distinctive accents than any other part of the country.
The assumption  – outside of the North of England – that a northern accent is by definition a working class accent remains strong.
The North of England has a rich amateur and communal music-making culture: the brass band movement in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the North East; the choral movement in Yorkshire and folk music in Northumbria.
Since the 1960s, and particular in recent history, music has provided the region with some of its most potent cultural, symbolic and psychic capital and earned some of the most positive external respect.
In the modern era, leisure and popular culture have a far more powerful purchase than ever before [in terms of North of England iconography].
Northern industrial/urban tourism is largely ‘placeless’ – they are experiences that could be anywhere.
‘It will be interesting to see…how far new economic ambitions will drive the North to divest itself of its associations with the industrial and commercial past that defined its once distinctive place in English culture and what the consequences of Northern self identity might be.’
Main image: the amazing John Bulmer.

Animagica (and other lovely things…)

August 4, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Animagica

Northern Spirit, in its live theatre incarnation, will incorporate the use of animation, led by our very own Kate Jessop. We recently had a look around for examples of work that could inspire us.

This is footage from an event which incorporates both the shadow puppetry of Lotte Reiniger and live moving illustrations from the Paper Cinema. It’s set to the live music of Amina, the Icelandic quartet. It was originally commissioned by Branchage in Jersey and was taken to Shoreditch Church last xmas. V. magical! Here’s some more info.

Which, in turn, reminded us of “>this piece.

Forkbeard Fantasy are a company who seem to be at the cutting edge of theatre/animation work. Here’s a link to their website, which is really informative, the ‘Use of Film’ section particularly so. They’ve been going since the late 70s and their artistic progression is really well archived on the site.

And here’s a link to the website of the theatre company 1927, and who are quite brilliant in their use of animation within a live, theatre experience.

Don’t Even Think About It!

August 4, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

Photograph by Don McCullin

In the ‘Cultural Touchstones’ section of this blog you’ll find examples of films and writing and music and events from the past and present that we feel represent and express places and experiences within the North of England in a fresh and imaginative way. We’ll keep returning to them as inspirations for our work together.

But we also felt that it would be just as helpful for us to define what we don’t want to do. Together we came up with a list of clichés and habits of imagination about the North of England that really get on our goat. Our personal bugbears, if you like. We wanted to just shoot from hip, go with the gut and be as subjective as possible. Here we go then…(collective intake of breath)… 

  • The North of England is the land of the working class.
  • Gritty and grey urban realism OR a heightened urban grimness.
  • ‘Authentic’ language is people being inarticulate.
  • The need to escape to pursue aspirations or seek a ‘better’ life that is elsewhere.
  • Bright working class boy or girl made-good returns home.
  • The cartoonish representation, or demonization, of the ‘under-class’ i.e. as ‘monster’, ‘slut’, or ‘buffoon’.
  • Horror stories or fairy tales that encapsulate a life of struggle.
  • Anything set in a non-specific place, a generic ‘North’.
  • Anything where accents aren’t specific to place.
  • Short films depicting a coming of age struggle or the break-down of the family. (Usually a young boy in a small town, stay at home mum, lots of cultural stereotyping masked as ‘gritty realism’. Often shot in black and white. Just depicting the general ‘it’s grim up north’ theme).
  • ‘Northerners’ are hostile to outsiders.
  • Everyone in The North is unemployed.
  • Everyone in The North has a sense of humour.
  • Everyone in The North works in the public sector.
  • Everyone in The North wears T shirts on a Saturday night out even in winter.
  • Everyone is lazy (because they can only get a job in the public sector or they are on the dole – “Newcastle has become too reliant on public sector jobs”).
  • The discourse is different outside London: “as we all know [knowing pause for the audience] the discourse is different outside London”, which translates as “we are multi cultural world-city sophisticates and they are all ignorant small town racists with no ‘culture’”.
  • This is sort of reverse cultural cliche: anything that has “English”, “British” or “National” in the title but clearly benefits one place more than anywhere else: National Gallery, National Theatre, British Broadcasting Corporation, British Museum, National Media Museum (in Bradford), English National Opera, Festival of Britain (currently being re celebrated on the Southbank in London after 60 years) . This would be true of Northern Stage and Opera North as well, they benefit Newcastle city-region and Leeds city-region far more than anywhere else.
  • This: “Filmed earlier this year throughout Filey, Scarborough and Bridlington, Sugartown is a new three-part comedy-drama series for BBC One which had its first episode screen on Sunday 24th July. Sugartown revolves around a small seaside hamlet in the North of England which once enjoyed a heyday as the “stick-of-rock” capital of Britain. Shaun Dooley, Miranda Raison and Tom Ellis are among the ensemble cast and Screen Yorkshire supported the production with locations and crew assistance.” from Screen Yorkshire’s bulletin. (For a review that gives it the bollocking it deserves, click here)
  • And this: ‘Make way for 8 loud and proud Geordie lads and lasses who promise to show you a summer you’ll never forget! From the city that gave us Cheryl Cole, Ant & Dec and Gazza, the UK’s latest reality fix ‘Geordie Shore launches on MTV on Tuesday 24 May @10pm. the glamorous city of Newcastle becomes the latest stomping ground for this gang of tanned and buffed individuals, ready for 6 weeks of unadulterated partying toon-style. Living in a gorgeous five star house complete with shared bedrooms, a shag-pile outhouse for ‘special visitors’ and a hot tub, MTV cameras will catch all the action as they work during the day for a promotions company and then get their tash on at night, at some of the most renowned hotspots on the Diamond Strip. There’ll be tears, tantrums, drama and outrageous behaviour by the bucket-load… and that’s just from the boys!’
  • And…if that wasn’t piss poor enough…this: ‘Geordie Finishing School’ BBC3: What happens when some of Britain’s most privileged ex-public school girls leave the home counties and head to one of Britain’s most infamous cities in the country: Newcastle?’

How does rubbish like this come to be made? Who makes the commissioning decisions and where they are sitting when they make them? This review in The Guardian just about sums things up.

And marvel at this (the comments below it are priceless!).

Are we missing anything? Do let us know…

 

Main Image: Don McCullin - ‘West Hartlepool, Co. Durham, 1963’.