Monday, 29 March 2010

Easter - the metaphorical finshing line in the race of this term

So, Easter is upon us. I can't say I am itching to get back to work as I sit in my pyjamas and contemplate the day.

This has been a long term and everyone, staff and students have been crawling to Easter. The work grows in intensity in these last few months culminating in performances and assessment preparation. The students are expected to take a lot in in a short amount of time. The results are exciting, innovative and extremely educational, but Easter works as a time for consolidation. Giving the mind and body a rest to fully realise the amount we have all learnt since Christmas.

So, what have I learned?? Well, I have quickly learnt that I don't feel like the 'new girl' anymore. I have adapted to my new life at St Mary's with alarming pace. The speed of the work means you always move forward or risk being left behind. Christmas seems like an age ago, when I still felt naive and in awe of the place. Now I feel settled, with a task and goal and have already gone about achieveing lots of it.

This term has seen my directorial debut at St Mary's of Arabian Nights and this was generally succesful. In the aftermath it has meant I have closer links with he third year students, which has proven very beneficial and means I feel more ingratiatied. Third Years are now coming to me for advice about Careers and courses which has been great.

There have also been a range of performances I have seen or been part of. 3 Birds Alighting on a Field and Junkyard Gods as well as Drama Society shows 4:48 Psychosis and The Shape of Clouds. I didn't get to see Psychosis due to work commitments but heard good things about the show, and was very impressed by the Physical Theatre Piece created by Laura Watson and her team. The Drama Society has seen a real flourish this term and continues to grow.

Careers wise we have had a real interest in Careers events and opportunities at St Mary's. This began with a Creative Industries Forum in conjunction with Media, and this included people form all areas of production. Most relevantly included 'Break a Leg' Arts Management which the 3rd years who attended now have good links with.

The discussion with Sarah Esdaile, professional director was a refreshing and interesting look at the world of the Arts and the students who attended got a lot from the event. I'm hoping to organise even more of these over the coming term and hope to see attendance grow.

After Easter, the Ham House 400th birthday project will begin to take over my life and I will be subsumed in a World of community choirs and logistics. No doubt there will be much more to write about in the coming term!

Happy Easter!!!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Katya Kabanova - 'Go Compare' should be ashamed of themselves.

I think everyone should go to the opera.

A bold statement I know, but one which I completely believe in.

Do I think it's everyone's cup of tea? No.
Do I think it's the best style of theatre there is? Definitely not.

So why?

Because Opera is the greatest demonstration of resonance there ever was.

Not often do you see a show where the lead actors aren't mic'd up to high heaven. There mouths moving in front of you and the sound coming from somewhere behind you. There is nothing more infuriating as a Voice Coach but to see technology being relied on more and more heavily.

So, last night Ben and I went to the English National Opera Coliseum in Charing Cross to see the opera Katya Kabanova. The story itself is a little basic; a typical love triangle story which won't have you confused or misguided. Some of the characters seem a little superflous but all go towards stretching a story that could be told easily in half an hour into a 1hr 45 minute epic. But the music that Janacek wrote for the piece takes centre stage. Beautiful, enchanting and moving in the extreme.

As the orchestra swim through the reams of manuscript you can't help but be impressed as the singers voices soar across the audience, leaving your body resonating in sympathy and the hairs stading up on your neck. When I have my singing lessons with Val (Valerie Reid, ENO Mezzo) I am always blown away and left a little inadequate by the sheer power she can achieve by vibration and resonance alone. The feeling and empathy she has with the music is perfectly placed; this attention to sound was reiterated time after time last night, and I was left speechless.

I was also struck by how timeless the story is. Although written many years ago, the staging and interpretation left us with something we could all relate too. Like a good piece of Shakespeare the pieces never lose their relevance. And David Alden's production giave a modern representation of a classis love story.

If you haven't been to the opera, don't think it's for you, don't listen to classical music, I urge you to buy a £5 ticket in the gods and go. It will leave you with a lasting impression.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

My Musical Masterplan

I have always written music. As a child it was making up tunes in my head which I painstakingly repeated and rehearsed infront of anyone who would listen. As I grew older, and began the piano lessons I had pestered my mum about for what seemed like forever I started to realise that if you layer those tunes on top of each other they can work quite well. Phrases such as 'key', 'chord' and 'note' became everyday parlance. I was more than a little smug.

As I grew older I found learning music difficult. Not doing music, just learning it. The endless white pages and black dots seemed to become very boring all of a sudden and lost their earlier mystery. I began to dabble in other sorts of music, music that didn't require paper or worry about harmony, but made me feel free and excited and full of life.

I still regret not keeping up with my music lessons in such a strong way. My singing thirst for knowledge has remained, thank goodness, which means I now run choirs and teach an elite group for private singing lessons, as well as continuing to study myself.

Last night I was anxious. I was nervous and almost a little bit sick. For the first time I was going to allow someone to come and look at my musical arrangements. Songs which I have written or arranged, but have never shown. The inadequacy of my putting pen to paper on show for everyone to see. But this was no ordinary person. I contacted Karen Wimhurst who has written music for the Royal Shakespeare Company and is currently working at the Royal Opera House. When she arrived I felt like a small child again at my first piano lesson.

We went through arrangement after arrangement, Karen pulling each one apart ruthlessly with her Classical Music training, discussing the key of a piece, the dynamic, the arcitecture. It was fascinating stuff and continued to highlight what I knew to be true - I'm much better at practicing music, performing it and being spontaneous than committing notes to a score. The process makes me feel inadequate and more than a little bit rubbish.

Karen is helping me because I want to write musical scores for Theatre, with the hope of writing soundscapes and music for the shows here at St Mary's. Every show having a score of music written specifically for it, and working closely with Director and cast to make sure it's perfect.

At the moment, this seems a million miles away as I sit with my head in a sight reading book. But will hopefully become a reality. I'll let you know how I progress.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Welcome to the House of Fun!

This term has been a real eye opener at St Mary's. After Arabian Nights and being totally absorbed in that project I finally look up and look around me, only to find everyone is beavering away at something. These projects vary hugely in size and style, but it really is a different place to be as we move into our second term.

For the third year, deadlines are looming, as well as the prospect of going out into the 'real world' and starting to forge a career for themselves. I remember this time well from my own university experience and how nerve wracking the thought of going out into the wilderness was. But I also remember the feeling of anticipated freedom, wanting to move on and feeling I had out grown my university bubble (which is as it should be).

Working on the Ham House 400th Birthday project (have I mentioned this in my blogs yet??) with the 3rd year students has been interesting so far. Contacting and visiting choirs around the area for the best part of 3 months. I feel priveleged to be able to share in their work with them and be included in the time they share. The students who have accompanied me to these sessions also seem to have enjoyed the experience as well as gaining an insight into the world of Community Projects. We are working hard, moving forward and making new friends which can only be a good thing.

The procession also seems to be moving ever onward (no joke intended) and community groups are being contacted left, right and predictably centre. Some are what you would expect at a National Trust event, and some are further afield.

As the event looms ever closer I've thought a lot about the recipe for a good community project, and what I see as being important aspects of the work. I've done a lot of this work before and they have all been strikingly different, however there are always common themes. The biggest of all things being a sense of 'fun'. Can we truly be creative if we're not enjoying ourselves? Embracing our silly sides? Experimenting with the line between childlike and childish?

Albert Einstein once said 'Play is the highest form of research' and I can't think of a more fitting model for how all of our work should be undertaken - particularly in Drama. Fun brings an energy with it, a naughtiness, a cheekiness, even a cockiness that can only be beneficial to your projects and this will be the driving force for our work between now and May.

So Happy Birthday Ham House! May your party be cheeky, crazy and even a little bit bizarre. But most of all FUN, for everyone involved!