Blogs & Writing

AUGUST 2013 | Rehearsal blog: CHEESE by FanSHEN 

Blog post 1 | Theatre and Feldenkrais

Originally published on fanshen.org.uk

We’re a week and a half into rehearsals for Cheese, and so far we’ve started each day with with exercises based on the Feldenkrais Method, led by Rachel. This is a new experience for me so it’s really made me think about why it’s a good way to begin rehearsals. My impression of it so far is that it’s a way of figuring out how your body can move in easier ways, by becoming more aware of your self. I’d guess that we spend around half an hour to an hour on Feldenkrais each morning, but my sense of external time fades while we’re doing it — an indication of how immersing it is. Something that has really struck me is how the various parts of my body can move in ways that I wouldn’t normally realise.

Beginning each day with Feldenkrais makes a lot of sense, not only in these early rehearsals, but also in terms of the overall objective of making a play. In the past I’ve felt caught up in potential tension between physical work and script work, so it’s reassuring to feel like there isn’t necessarily any conflict — this time it all interlinks.

The word ‘educational’ comes up in a lot of online informations about Feldenkrais. For me it feels less like education (a word that reminds me of school) and more like letting go of formal education in order to recognise what my body actually does. The emphasis on easy movement contradicts my (learned?) impulse to work hard in order to do well.

So Feldenkrais is putting my mind firmly inside my body — the phrase ‘frame of mind’ keeps popping into my head, which makes me think of the ‘frame’ as the body. I tend (especially when anxious) to feel like my mind and my body are two separate things, so it’s great that this essentially makes me more aware of myself as a whole.

In fact this feeling of total awareness gives me a very clear sense of steadiness in myself before moving on to group exercises. We are lucky enough to be in the performance space for rehearsals, particularly because this potentially scary place already feels very familiar thanks to this groundwork of awareness: it puts you in a strong position to really get to know your physical surroundings.

While Feldenkrais feels idiosyncratic, it’s also bonding. Coming to the script after this makes everyone very present and aware of each other, and I think this comes down to a fundamental sense of trust. I’d like to be able to hold onto this steadiness in my body, but as with most exercises like Feldenkrais, the feeling of relaxation ebbs as the day goes on — especially when we emerge from rehearsals straight into the bustle of Oxford Street.

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AUGUST 2013 | Rehearsal blog: CHEESE by FanSHEN

Blog post 2 | Imagined spaces

Originally published on fanshen.org.uk

Over the last two weeks we’ve done lots of visualizations for the different rooms and spaces the characters inhabit in the play: we’ve established everything from wall colours to furniture styles and the world of the play is becoming increasingly familiar. In Cheese there are three layers: a building, a frame world, and then imagined spaces. Cheese is an immersive play in that the office room it happens in is a part of the story, so the imagined spaces are influenced by the physical dimensions of the room. After mentioning in the last blog post how beneficial it is to rehearse in the performance space, I’m wondering what this means for the relationship between our immersive physical environment and the imagined spaces of the play.

I’ve always thought rehearsing in the performance space is a good thing simply because it helps to lessen trepidation about the move from rehearsal room to stage. This transition between two distinct spaces tends to mark an end to rehearsals that isn’t necessarily useful to the playmaking process. Of course rehearsals don’t need to stop upon leaving a rehearsal room, but it always feels like the end of a chapter. I’ve been reading Mike Alfred’s ‘Different Every Night’ and it’s made me think that leaving behind the playfulness of rehearsals isn’t conducive to constantly changing performances.

Being in the performance space early on in the process is also helpful on a more practical level: it avoids the logistics of transferring from a rehearsal room with different dimensions to the stage. When you only get into a performance space for the tech and dress, there’s no time for anything but simply making sure it’s possible – there’s rarely time to go beyond that. The stage can feel like a place full of obstacles. Being there for rehearsals means you get maximum time to discover all the different creative possibilities a space has to offer.

For me this process of discovery is one of the most exciting aspects of the Cheese rehearsals so far. I think this is because we’re in a non-theatrical performance space: it doesn’t have the associations of more traditional spaces where convention, expectation, and remnants of past productions can be inhibiting. The office feels like very neutral ground and this enables unhindered creativity.

While the office environment is a key part of Cheese, it’s also easy to see through it into the imagined spaces of the play. The value of this really became clear to me when we relocated one day last week to an actual rehearsal room with lots of natural light from high windows. We worked on scenes that are set outdoors so the high ceiling and light were really useful. These evocative elements (high ceiling, light) helped us to visualise the setting (sky, outdoors). But that’s not to say rehearsing outside would be ideal for a scene set outside. Perhaps this means that a rehearsal space is, at its best, a blank canvas.

Now we’re back in the office space again, I feel very aware of its dimensions – and the multitude of dimensions we’ve discovered in visualisations. The imagined spaces of the play are made so accessible by this awareness of the physical room. And ultimately what’s so freeing about this is that it doesn’t feel like a performance space – just a space.

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AUGUST 2013 | Rehearsal blog: CHEESE by FanSHEN

Blog post 3: Theatre and Finance

Originally published on fanshen.org.uk

One of the many things that sets Cheese apart as a unique show is the after show events. So far we’ve had two of the three post show discussions, and they both shed light on some of the more philosophical and sociological aspects of the play. The first discussion was on banking, finance, ethics, and alternatives with a panel of six of experts. I know very little about banking and finance – and if I’m honest I’ve never been particularly interested in finding out more, so I was expecting to feel a bit out of my depth. In fact this expectation was directly challenged: one of the most thought-provoking points raised by the panellists was that a lot of people feel powerless when it comes to banking. This discussion about accessibility caused a little lightbulb moment for me – not just about banking, but about theatre as well. In my mind, banking and theatre are pretty far apart, but this problem of inclusivity is a common element.

I’d never really acknowledged that I felt distanced by banking and finance, and my disinterest in learning more was related to that unidentified feeling of not having the right to learn. I think this is particularly true of young people. The only meeting I’ve ever had at my bank was with an archetypal older male bank manager who told me that keeping too much money in my current account would mean I’d spend it all on shoes. If this is typical of the communication between banks and younger people then it’s not surprising that people feel distanced from it. It seems crazy that banks have made so many people feel marginalised: they should exist for us, and surely ‘us’ includes younger people, people with less money – people with less power.

The same is true of theatre: it should be for everyone. Fanshen’s vision to “help people imagine what they haven’t thought of yet” gets right to the heart of this. I’m aware that I’m in a pretty privileged position compared to many others, yet I’ve definitely felt alienated by the ‘world’ of theatre at times. So in terms of engaging people in theatre, shows like Cheese can do a lot to change this, by letting people know that everyone has the right to ask the questions you didn’t think were yours to ask.

I needed someone to point this out to me, and now it’s clicked, it’s made me realise how much plays like Cheese can do in terms of putting Fanshen’s vision into practice. The first step is feeling like you’re allowed to think about stuff, and this goes for  banking too. Changing attitudes to finance is essential to making alternative banking more sustainable. Of course things like local money were in part initiated because people were fed up with mainstream banks, but it seems to me that a much stronger route to a better banking system would be to engage people so that we know why another way is better, rather than be pushed towards it.

So theatre and banking don’t need to be complicated: accessibility is essential to engaging in their terms of operation. But the similarities end with the [Chris’s position?], Chris [surname?]’s point that we need ’boring’ banking (i.e. stable, reliable, secure banking) – obviously, nobody wants boring theatre, and Cheese is one play that’s anything but.

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