Observers on ‘The Arrival’ – Weeks 3 & 4

Image: Barry Lewis

“So, as I sat down to write this, I thought – ‘how can I transfer all of my reflections into just a few paragraphs..?’ However, it soon became clear, that what’s even more important is my own personal journey within this process… And it’s been an incredible one…!

During one rehearsal, I remember Kristine saying to the group; ‘ this show is a series of beautiful images’ and that is most definitely true. I’ve been particularly struck by the beautiful aesthetics, and the real simplicity of the images that frame the scenes..

Learning to become an ensemble is a real skill. Through the process, these talented circus artists have opened and grown together to become just that – an ensemble. While the hands-on approach of play, and really looking at the performers to see what they individually and collectively need, has remained the same, what has changed, has been the opening and expansion to incorporate and hold all of their circus disciplines as well. This nurture, and real understanding of what is needed at any given time, helped to create and consolidate real trust in the room, whilst also building an ensemble energy – vital ingredients for any theatrical piece.

Observing the process this time around, things just fell into place even more. That wonderful, yet essential marriage of doing as much prep/research as is needed, and then whilst in the room, allowing things to simply unfold, with the trusting of instincts (both the director’s and the actors’), and the careful set-up of play and improvisation. And with each layer, the piece becomes more alive and thrilling. One instance where this happened for me was the use of the actors’ cultural context. This often helps to bring a piece of theatre to life, as the text automatically becomes very ‘full’ and alive. And whilst the use of the cultural context is one layer, it can often inform, and expose further layers.

And what a thrill it is to watch a circus artist in their zone, with their discipline… from the adrenaline-fuelled flying trapeze, to the beautifully graceful cloud swing. These are images I’ll never forget! They evoke such powerful emotions.

I’ve always loved how we don’t need words to create or express an emotion, and this piece is a prime example of that. Scenes were created with such simplicity and sensitivity, using the circus disciplines, playing with levels/heights, and adding delicate music – the experience is a feast for the senses – a kaleidoscope of emotional colour.

‘That for which we have words is already dead in our hearts.’ 

Renu Arora – Observer

Photo: Barry Lewis

“The opportunity for an emerging artist to observe a professional production from start to finish is an incredibly valuable experience. As a huge fan of Kristine’s practice the observership has allowed me to get close and personal to a true representation of her practice.

Each day I arrived at Circus Space, I would have my morning coffee in the Juggler and decide one thing to focus intensely on for that day.  However no matter how much I chose something different the focus always boiled down to Language and instincts. As I sat pensively on the gym mat at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning, I closed my eyes and listened intently to Kristine’s voice:

“Right we’re just going to do the street scene again this morning to 11 o’clock”

“It will be a bit tedious, but if you commit 120% then it will move along very quickly, it’s already looking very good, and then you can have a  twenty minute break.”

“And because I’m so nice we are only going to work to 3 o’clock today, so you can have extra time for training. So can we all get ready for the street scene”

The sheer clarity struck me. In one swoop Kristine had set up the morning, informed everyone what to expect, instilled her own confidence and set up a reward system. It would seem that Kristine’s approach of ‘Actor Led’ is mirrored in her rehearsal room direction as well. Her decisions were born from an ability to sense how the group was feeling each morning and afternoon, and from there deciding what she would need to do in order to work well. This can be a scary thing for some directors, because it is so open to the moment and anything could happen, or change rather.

For me it has been particularly integral part of my development as a young director to undertake the observership shortly after the Actor / Directors Lab. I remember hearing certain phrases and small details that Kristine had said, but never really being able to make sense of them. Well, not until The Arrival.

For example, she always spoke about not ignoring what is happening in the rehearsal room. On day three of The Arrival, the session was stopped and everyone one was called into a circle. As I watched Kristine, I observed the students meddling nervously with their shoe laces.

“As a director it is important for me to address a resistance in the rehearsal room, when there is one, and find a way to dissolve it, as it can be very hard to continue and have a really fruitful process if it does not get resolved at an early stage. So I just wanted to call this circle to invite you all to come and tell me how you are feeling about this project at the moment? Is this what you had expected, are you happy, are there things that really work for you? etc”

From far right of the circle a voice appears, “I am really enjoying the process, but to be honest I was expecting there to be more circus. It seems that it’s more ‘theatre with circus’ rather than ‘circus with theatre’. Personally for me I find it a bit weird we have to justify all our tricks through a narrative, especially as circus is such an abstract thing already”

From that moment on an escapade of hopes, fears and worries cascaded into the middle of the circle. As I observed Kristine tackle them head on, sometimes faltering, sometimes succeeding to stretch their minds, it became more apparent to me just how important and unavoidable this discussion was. From this point on the road was a lot smoother, the minds of the performers more flexible and the director had gained the company’s trust.

It is integral that a rehearsal room is set up correctly, and what Kristine does so well and courageously is recognise the individual needs of each person on board the project, and face emotions and dilemmas head on.

This was the most profound part of my journey as an observer, and it is certain things like this you cannot learn through a book, teaching or advice, but only through demonstration.

Thank you Tamasha for an exhilarating experience that will forever contribute to my work as an Artist.”

Anna Nguyen – Observer

Photo: Barry Lewis

“For a process that had so many ideas, theories and images, to consolidate this into words seems too difficult. I entered the process very eager and enthusiastic about the experiences ahead of me. I leave the research and development still eager and even more enthusiastic about my endeavours.

Kristine approaches her work with such an open mind. Each day offered a new improvisation and a fresh exploration, conquering the ambiguity of creating something tangible.  I was particurly taken back by the vast amount of research that has gone on before we even entered this space. This was so easily seen in how Kristine approached working with the students. It added ease in the rehearsal room; all that the performers needed to do was to trust Kristine and the team at Tamasha. To trust the director’s vision is always at the centre of any work, as once this is established, something unique happens. After a discussion I had later with Kristine, she acknowledged this moment when addressing the street scene. Unfortunately I was away this day, so I saw this moment at a later time in the process. On entering the rehearsal room at the final stages before performance, it felt dramatically different. The trust was so apparent and strong. The space was one of excitement, anticipation yet conclusion. The set was so cleverly matched with the narrative and formula of the piece.

Shaun Tan’s The Arrival images were so brilliantly utilised and expanded. The birds suspended from the ceiling covering the right-hand side of the space were an artwork in itself. The images carefully crafted by Kristine were ever evolving ‘stills’, lifting off the page of The Arrival and into the physical. The structure and order of the scenes exposed the trap of this constant and universal cycle of immigration. Yet as I left the performance it felt like just a taster of what is to come. For this I wait as I started, just as eager and enthusiastic.”

Alice Jordan – Observer

Photo: Barry Lewis

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