Scratching an Itch!
Just before Easter, I had the opportunity to show a small invited audience the performance piece I have been working on with At Swefn’s Edge. The audience were made up of a cross section of people; fellow storytellers, previous storytelling audience members and those with no previous experience of a storytelling show/event and also a cross section of ages. I choose this approach, because I wanted to get a broad range of feedback and an idea of the type of audience the finished piece would most appeal to.
Although, the audience was small and made up mainly of those I already knew in some capacity, I still felt hugely apprehensive and nervous beforehand. I think this was due to having spent so long with the piece in the safety of a studio, playing and evolving the work with Kate and Michael and even before that, sitting with the idea in my head, that having to let it emerge from its cocoon to new ears was very daunting. However, the piece needed an audience to be able to move forward and develop and reflecting upon it now, I realise it was also very liberating to share the work and so much has been gained from both considering my feelings and Kate and Michaels’ having performed it and from the invaluable feedback from the audience.
I was keen to work with At Swefn’s Edge on this piece, because I knew they would bring something fresh and exciting to the work and it would be an interesting experiment in how to fuse soundscape and storytelling and solo and collaborative performance.
In the studio, I had created a script for us to play around with and this was always something that had concerned me. The nature of storytelling is that, whilst the narrative bones remain the same, the breath and life of the piece really comes from the interplay between the teller and listener. So, in the studio I had already realised that I was compromising my normal way of feeling the story and letting the narrative live in the moment in order to allow the soundscapes to flow.
When it came to performance, in order to make sure cues were hit and the three of us all knew where we were in the narrative, it was suggested I use the script, or at least hold it for reference. I tried to begin with, but it was soon clear that it was only hampering the flow and so I discarded it. Afterwards my first thought was to apologise to Kate and Michael for letting go of the script and allowing the narrative to be freer than in the studio. I knew it had created potential challenges for them, but that also they rose to them. We quickly discovered that actually it was necessary to be freer for all of us and that there was a magic that occurred with the live audience that had been different in the studio.
Discovery 1: The story should lead the musical soundscape.
It was clear that to allow me to be free with the story and the story to be free with me, that a rigid script would not work. Going forward the soundscape has clear themes and it is these themes that need to highlight the narrative, but not make a slave of the story.
Discovery 2: The power of sound to influence words.
A really positive discovery was how effective having the soundscape under-pin the narrative was for me as a performer and how it helped transport me into the heart of the story and the characters. It was clear that Michael and Kate really understood and captured both the physical and emotional landscape of the piece.
Stories need ears and as much as the studio process was invaluable, the work only really came to life with an audience. The feedback was very positive and considered and extremely helpful. Everyone was engaged in the story and on the whole loved the blend of narrative and soundscape, feeling it really helped them to be drawn into the landscape.
A few people felt that at times they wanted the soundscape to pull back from the narrative and this is something we actually felt performing it too and so will definitely consider when we re-visit the work.
Another observation was that whilst the core was excellent, the framing narrative needed to be expanded upon and clarified at points. Interestingly, I had been struggling with exactly this in the studio and have already begun to re-work and strengthen this aspect of the work and will be interested to see what the response will be when it is performed again.
I had originally imagined the piece to be much longer with another narrative thread woven into the piece, but when asked about the length, all agreed it didn’t need to be longer and felt complete as it was.
Another really interesting observation was that the opening and closing devices we had employed for the show were received with mixed enthusiasm and that the closing one in particular felt unnecessary and weakened what was felt to be a more natural and powerful ending to the performance.
The Story is worth telling and appeals to a variety of audiences.
Don’t be afraid to leave the audience wanting more and allow time for them to sit within the story for a while.
The next steps are to re-visit the narrative and play freely with it and strengthen the framework it sits within. Then it’s back to the studio to see how to hone the soundscape and to make an audio recording of the piece. Finally, when we all feel it is ready, we will let the audience decide if we have listened and responded to their feedback.