Paul Baldwin: Ten things I have learned from the Kitty Bridges’ Pocket Book of Tunes Tour…

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  1. It is much harder work than I originally thought it might be. It’s not being on stage, which is a lot of fun, but the getting there, the setting up, the taking down, the arriving home well after midnight still buzzing and not being able to get to sleep.
  2. The people who you do not see on stage work incredibly hard. The Director tweaks and polishes, suggests and hints, and can be found helping on the door or serving at the bar, chivvying late comers and selling tickets. As can our Producer who also works extremely hard behind the scenes. She organises and liaises with the venues, sorts all the tickets, makes many phone calls, is there at the performances, keeps the talent (that’s us, apparently) happy or helps with the set and last minute adjustments. At times we can see from the stage that they both actually enjoy the performances as part of the audience rather than constantly analysing it all and this is A Good Thing. They are great people to work with.
  3. Moira and I have achieved a greater understanding of playing music together. 18th Century music is great to play, there is so much room for adding different parts or embellishments. If one of us picks up the wrong instrument or is about to start at the wrong time, the other one usually places a gentle finger on the score to point out the impending error. So far there haven’t been too many noticeable mistakes. So far.
  4. The audience don’t know what to expect. I have recorded lots of vox pops at the end of the shows asking people what they felt about the evening. Their responses have been overwhelmingly positive, but the one common phrase has been “Well, I didn’t know what to expect, but……….I really enjoyed it!”.
  5. Hot rooms with lots of people make tuning stringed instruments a pain, and keeping them in tune even more of a problem, but there haven’t been too many off key moments.
  6. The set is brilliantly effective and so easy to set up and take down. We are now a well oiled machine when it comes to setting up and getting out at the end of the evening. It all packs into the back of Hannah’s car, apart from our instruments. Huge credit to our Designer for this.
  7. People really do enjoy the dancing at the end of the show. They don’t know they are going to enjoy it and are often a bit timid at the start, but after a few right hand stars and promenades they bounce along like they’ve been doing it forever.
  8. Recording the CD was a lot of fun. We have been in studios before but the guys at Dr Shakamoto’s took a real care in the recording process. They had not recorded many of the instruments we use before and carefully analysed each one in terms of sound and microphone placement, and they were keen to make sure we got the sound we wanted.
  9. Each venue is different. Different audience, different acoustic, different shaped space, which means some differences in each performance.
  10. I have a better understanding of the creative process. Conversation and collaboration are exciting things to do, ideas are bounced around, things develop. The whole Kitty Bridges creative process from conception, through development, rehearsals and tour has been a great experience in so many ways. There will be a large Kitty shaped creative gap when the tour ends in April, but that’s the time to start having more conversations – we’re always happy to talk – and who knows what might happen next?

Paul Baldwin March 2015

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THE FLEETING ARMS – a temporary pop-up arts space in York

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Coming very soon…

We are all very excited about our friends and collaborators, The Flanagan Collective’s, latest venture, a temporary pop up arts space in the centre of York. The venue will be (rather fittingly) called The Fleeting Arms. There’s more here from Alexander Wright on how this is going to happen.

http://theflanagancollective.blogspot.co.uk/

The project will need as many people on board as possible, and will begin with a four day assault (Friday 20th – Monday 23rd March 2015)  of cleaning, painting and turning the space into somewhere that provides a bar, performance space, office space, a hub where we can all hang out, create work and make experiments. More soon on what Common Ground are going to do there.

Come and get involved and join the fun!

Musician Paul Baldwin on folk tunes, caged birds and Kitty Bridges

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In the Spring of 2014 we were looking for some tunes to record with Over The Yardarm. There are thousands of folk tunes out there, some good, some great, some not so good and some downright awful. In order to narrow the choice a little I thought if I could find an established collection of tunes we could perhaps record them. I researched lots of different collections via the Vaughan  Williams Memorial Library – and more specifically The Full English Digital Archive“The world’s biggest free digital archive of English traditional folk music and dance tunes” - it really is a treasure trove of archive material for folklorists, singers and musicians. Many of the collections consist of dozens, if not hundreds, of tunes, far too many for what I had in mind. Then I discovered Kitty Bridge’s Pocket Book – A Select Collection of Country Dances – twenty one handwritten tunes and dances to go with each of them. The tunes are a few standards of the day, a lot that were completely new to me, and one or two that are quirky and different. I thought this would be a good project to develop.
 
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We know nothing about Kitty other than she may have lived near Windsor. We know her name because each letter of her name starts each line of the poem at the front of the book and Windsor is also mentioned. It is dated 1745, is 11cm by 9 cm and was found in the back of a drawer in Hove in the 1970s. It can now be found in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at Cecil Sharp House in London.

At first I thought Over The Yardarm might take the tunes into schools or communities along with our assorted instruments and do a short programme explaining our different instruments and the tunes. It struck me that this would work better with some sort of narrative, and following on from this, as the tunes were all dance tunes, have dancing involved in the performance in some way.

Over The Yardarm are a folk tune band. We don’t play any songs. We certainly aren’t playwrights or storytellers, so we needed some input from someone who knew what they were doing in order to develop the project. After speaking toAlex Flanagan-Wright at a gig in York, and trying to explain what I wanted to do, he put me in touch with Hannah Davies. She came along with Director Tom Cornford to see us play at a small festival in York and we discussed the possibility of working with their theatre company Common Ground. In the late autumn of 2014 things began to progress with research and development days, and rehearsals. The production began to take shape.

We have not been able to use all 21 tunes from the book – it would take nearly an hour to play them all and some just weren’t suitable for what we had in mind. We have, however, added some other tunes to suit the story – all from the 18th century and they would have been tunes familiar to our Kitty.  Similarly the dances that we will be using are all dances from her book, and are ones that Kitty would have danced. There is also a tune from The Bird Fancyer’s Delight – a music book from 1717 which was used to try and teach all manner of caged wild birds to sing specific tunes.

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It is quite different for us to be involved in providing music for a play. Quite challenging. Normally we get on stage and bash out the tunes with an odd tale or two about the music in between – this thespian stagecraft thing takes a lot more finesse. It has been an incredible experience so far. I have learned such a lot – and there are still a few weeks to go before our first live performance. One slight negative note is that Steve Collington who normally thrums his guitar, plays double bass and creates awful puns with Over the Yardarm was unable to commit to the huge amount of time needed for pre-production and rehearsals. We would have dearly loved to have him alongside us on the stage, but unfortunately, because he has “a proper job”, it couldn’t be. Despite this, Moira and myself are very excited about the production and taking our music in a new direction. We hope to see you at one of the performances!

Paul Baldwin

Punk, Lullabies, Folk and Stomping: Making the Music for A WINTER’S TALE

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A Winter’s Tale is entirely ensemble-driven and therefore excitingly utterly reliant upon us, the actors/theatre-makers to conjure, create and transform. We’re getting back to our craft. One of my roles in the production is to write, compose and direct the music for our cast of four. I started by mapping out different motifs, themes and instrumental sounds that trace and underpin the story, helping us to connect its recurring themes. It’s all happened quite organically and collaboratively, but I thought I’d try and articulate something about my influences, and inspirations for writing the music (hopefully without giving too much away).

Some of the influences for the music were already in the play. I wanted the music to be passionate and surprising but also to feel as though it is a part of the language as opposed to sitting alongside it.Therefore I found many influences in Shakespeare’s language itself. We devised rhythms based on the rhythms of the language, from its percussive words to the more lyrical text, and created contrasting sound-worlds for the scenes’ atmospheres. A few themes and key ideas that we started with that you might hear in the music are: Celebration and Joy, Age and Youth, Winter and Spring, Infection and Obsession, an oppressive police state and a rural landscape. The sound worlds I started to play with started with Punk vs Folk, Acoustic Sound vs Recorded Sound, and sea-shanties,  lullabies and bawdy folk numbers.

Because the play has so much variety, it is important that each piece of music contrasts strongly with the others, whilst being tied or unified together in some way. We started to look at the Autolycuns – the characters who tell the story. I started to think of them as a band which would jump between roles and voices, creating a playful, eclectic palette of sounds and connecting the intentional contrasts they create by moving from crude, boisterous vamping to powerful silences, layered vocal harmonies, and chordal progressions on mandolin or guitar.

For example, the play begins with an infectiously obsessed king torturing himself and generating a fearful police state. Here the band immerses him in a punky progressive repetition, vamping through and around his speech. The musicians mirror his torment with violent sudden vocals and harsh breaths : his mind amplified metaphorically and literally. The song is inspired by his language, which I used to devise our percussion, drones and the main themes of this song. Later, we create a joyful feast on a summer’s dayon a rural hillside with “Heys!” and “Ho’s” (and lots of perfect cadences!). Something slightly catchier for the audience to sing along to.

All in all, we’ve borrowed from choristers, punks, morris dancers and military bands. And we’ve created the music using guitars, a dictaphone, cutlery, kazoos and a broken spatula. And when the band comes together to sing and play together some of the most memorable and touching moments in the play are brought to life. Do come along, listen, sing and stomp for yourself.

Sarah Louise Davies

Some musical influences for the piece are…

Steve Reich’s clapping music

Natalie Merchant, Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience

Beirut, Portico Quartet, Bjork, Laura Marling and Jonny Flyn, Queens of the Stonage, John Taverner right back to the scared chants of 16th Century Thomas Tallis.

A WINTER’S TALE: The Actors’ Picks. Sarah Louise Davies on Hermione

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In Hermione’s trial, she has lost everything, so fears nothing.

Sir, spare your threats: The bug which you would fright me with I seek.

To me can life be no commodity:
The crown and comfort of my life, your favour,
I do give lost; for I do feel it gone,
But know not how it went. My second joy
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence
I am barr’d, like one infectious. My third comfort
Starr’d most unluckily, is from my breast,
The innocent milk in its most innocent mouth,
Haled out to murder: myself on every post
Proclaimed a strumpet. Now, my liege,
Tell me what blessings I have here alive,
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed.

 



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Hermione’s open, loving nature adds to the power of her words throughout the play. Leontes finds his power in a very different way, by attempting to control, distort and intimidate, which gives us a couple of good public battles to play with, the second of which is at her trial.

I love playing Hermione at her weakest point, as she finds strengths in her immoveable grace and faith. Leontes’ contrasting quality and voice is always exciting to be up against, as she bats off the King’s rage and the twisted fits of obsession that he machine-guns at her.

When we arrive in court, Hermione has been through the worst and has had literally everything taken away from her, including her newborn baby. Considering these mental strains and her sheer physical place of weakness, I have to work harder at finding the balance of passion and dignity in the testimony which Shakespeare gives her. She has been stripped down publicly, but I don’t want her to be robbed of her guts, wit and honour too.

Sarah Louise Davies

Directing A WINTER’S TALE, An interview with Tom Cornford

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Interview by Nicki Davy, Friday 14th February 2014

Thanks to Nicki and the West Yorkshire Theatre Network for letting us publish the full text of the interview here.

The edited version is on The West Yorkshire Theatre Network’s site here: http://www.wytn.co.uk/interviews.html

Currently touring Yorkshire, Common Ground Theatre’s adaptation of A Winter’s Tale promises ‘this magical, mysterious play as you’ve never seen it before’. I caught up with co-director Tom Cornford ahead of their Leeds performance date.

ND: Firstly, can you just tell me a little about your background. How did you get into directing?

TC: I left university and trained as an actor at LAMDA. I then acted for a while and found myself thinking more and more like a director, so I decided to take a break from acting and got a job at The Gate Theatre as one of the trainee directors under the wonderful, inspirational Erica Whyman.

ND: And Common Ground? How did you all come together, and for what purpose?

TC: I got a job at York after I’d taken a few years of extended paternity leave during which I’d done a PhD because I decided I wanted to teach and research as well as direct. Hannah was teaching at York when I arrived and doing her PhD and we did some workshops and decided we could work together, so we started the ensemble as a way of facilitating that. Audrie has joined us more recently but Hannah’s known her for years and written for her and she’s doing her PhD on mask performance with me.

ND: Why did you choose The Winter’s Tale? What was it about this particular play that appealed?

TC: We knew we had to do something that had broad appeal and which could sell itself as a play, hence Shakespeare. But the company is really about making new work and trying to create theatre that communicates very directly with an audience, so we knew we wanted to adapt whichever play we chose and Winter’s Tale stood out as a good choice for that – it’s not that well-known but has a lot of features of traditional myths and stories, it has an ensemble cast, and it’s about things we’re interested in exploring: place, politics and identity.

ND: I know that Hannah has adapted the play quite heavily to include modern language and even music. Why did you take this decision rather than doing a ‘straight’ adaptation?

TC: Because the story is like a folk-tale or a myth that has been passed on orally, so we chose the character of Autolycus as a teller for the story (he’s a ballad-seller and con-man who turns up in Act 4 of Shakespeare’s play), and since he sells ballads, we decided that it should have music running through it. We talked about it in the early stages like turning the play into a concept album made by a punk-folk band, and I was influenced by the radio ballads that Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger wrote: stories and music and drama and political statements woven together. And of course we wanted the play to be accessible and to speak to now, to place the Shakespeare in a contemporary context which would bring out its extraordinary quality but also allow us to be in a dialogue with his play and not have simply to worship it. Hannah’s done an amazing job of writing alongside the Shakespeare with a mixture of humility towards it and confidence in her own voice. She looked at me like I was mad when I said I wanted her to write interventions into the play, but I’m delighted I did. It makes the whole thing work in a way it couldn’t if we were tied to the Shakespeare only.

ND: You mention Hannah’s ‘humility’ towards the original text. On that topic, the adaptation of Shakespeare is certainly controversial for some people…. What do you think in general about the merits/demerits of adapting Shakespeare’s texts for a more modern audience?

TC: I think it’s completely positive. Of course not all adaptations will be good, but the plays are still there – they’re not going anywhere. Shakespeare spent his life adapting other people’s plays and stories, and worked in a theatre which was completely contemporary. They didn’t spend their time doing revival upon revival of ‘classics’. They did plays which spoke to their time and their society in their language, with their resources. And there has been a long and fascinating tradition of adapting Shakespeare for centuries now. Recently, we’ve become, I think, more traditional and conventional in our attitude to Shakespeare, which has coincided with his ever-increasing cultural capital, but I think that’s something we need to question. If we’re not engaging in a dialogue with his work and asking what it says to us and what inspires us and excites us but also troubles us and bores us about it, then we’re not thinking actively about who we are and how we relate – culturally – to our past. We can’t just unthinkingly accept a national playwright whose language is – let’s face it – inaccessible to many of those least privileged in our society, and whose plays are overwhelmingly male and white. I’m not attacking him as a writer for that – he was a product of his time. But our productions of his plays are a product of our time and we have to take active responsibility for that fact.

ND: You’re performing at some rather eclectic venues – including a barn and several pubs. Was this a conscious decision or…?

TC: Absolutely. If live theatre is going to be genuinely accessible to people, it needs to go to where they are. So we’ve made the show to be completely flexible. We’re doing it in the back room of a tiny pub and in theatres. We just turn up and squeeze it down or expand it according to what space there is. We have some stuff that goes in the back of my car which we use when there’s space, and the actors all turn up with their own costumes and props and instruments. There’s no lighting or anything. As much of the money as possible goes to paying people. That’s what theatre’s about. So we go to where the people are.

ND: Speaking of ‘the people’, your press pack mentions ‘imaginative audience participation’ playing a part in the performance. Should the audience be scared?? How do you see the role of the audience in the performance?

TC: Haha! Some of them are a bit. But no – there’s no need. We do definitely want people to join in and feel that they’re a part of the event, but we’re not going to get laughs from humiliating anybody. What we mean is that we want to make shows where the audience’s imaginative participation is central to the performance, where the theatrical devices that we use are not there to take the place of the imagination but to guide and inspire it.

ND: A little about your process… Your rehearsal process is described as ‘collaborative’ and devising/improvisation features heavily. How does this work in practise in the rehearsal room? And how do you see the role of the director in a collaborative rehearsal process such as this?

TC: We took a number of approaches. To cut the text, we did a lot of improvisations of contemporary equivalents of the scenes to find their shape and score their action. We also did a lot of movement-based exercises to find a way of expressing physically the content and atmosphere of the story at each stage. We call this landscaping. We then took the Shakespeare and fitted the parts that we wanted to use into these scores and landscapes and worked out where we wanted to write new material. Some of this was improvised in rehearsal, some of it Hannah just wrote and brought in and then we fiddled with it.

As a director in this process, the key is to keep asking questions of what you’re doing, and not to impose your solutions on everyone, but also to have an eye on the bigger picture so that you are editing and shaping the material that is generated into a score which carries the story you want to tell. One example is the soliloquies, I wanted to find a theatrical language for them which was more expressive than someone just speaking and working through their thoughts – that just didn’t fit in the context of the show. So I would ask ‘what can we do with this speech?’ and we would try out different ways of making it theatrical. I didn’t know what these would be and didn’t dream that one of them would become a phone call to a call centre – that solution just emerged naturally from the fact that we were trying to incorporate elements of contemporary life into the play in a way that folk songs and story-tellers do.

ND: Finally – can you sum up the production in 10 words or fewer for any potential audience members?

TC: Lively, musical, funny, poetic, provocative, wonderful theatre for a tenner.

A WINTER’S TALE: Adaptation and Equality

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We at Common Ground are going into the final stages of rehearsing our adaptation of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, and that means asking ourselves – once again – what we mean by adaptation. There’s a rich tradition of adapting Shakespeare. Theatre-makers have, in fact, always adapted Shakespeare to their societies, their aesthetic preoccupations, their most urgent questions. This has tended to get a bit of a bad press for quite a while now, under the banner of respect for/fidelity to the text, but in fact all productions are somehow cut and spliced from alternative textual versions and possibilities. They just don’t always tell us so. Often silent changes are made for the sake of clarity, for instance. And we have made some on that basis, but mainly we’ve gone for more noisy changes – removing quite a lot, but also repeating and riffing on particular phrases. One of the reasons we’ve done that is to try to find a theatrical equivalent of the wonderful experience of immersion in the language that we have all had in reading the play – repeating phrases to ourselves, going back over sections, jumping around in the play to make connections…

We’ve also added words entirely of our own, and the main reasons we have chosen to do so relate to our thinking about equalities of different kinds. First: gender. The Winter’s Tale is a play which enacts (as feminist critics have shown us many times) the paranoid imagination of patriarchy, its crucial dependence upon – and obsessive efforts to control and to pathologise – the intimate spaces of female bodies and of women’s lives (for instance, Polixenes – ostensibly the story’s nice guy – imagines the ‘rural latches’ of his son’s beloved). But, being an early modern play, of course, it looks at these ideas predominantly from a male perspective and – in spite of the best efforts of Paulina (one of the theatre’s great speakers of truth to power) – by putting the men centre stage.

We couldn’t be doing with this, so we set about changing it. Our adaptation features two men and two women, all onstage throughout, sharing all of the roles. This involved making Shakespeare’s Old Shepherd a Shepherdess, so the abandoned Perdita is taken from one mother to another. An observation I remembered by Suzie Templeton about the wolf in her tremendous animatedPeter and the Wolf encouraged us to make the bear female too, so that Antigonus (the father who bizarrely offers to neuter his daughters if his master’s wife ‘proves false’) is punished for obediently abandoning the baby Perdita by one mother while the child is gathered up by another. We also stop the play with the reuniting of this daughter with her birth mother – cutting Shakespeare’s hurried tying-up of loose ends thereafter.

But what about other kinds of equality? It’s also a play which is invested in the notion of natural nobility – characters wonder how the orphaned Perdita could have been bred in a cottage, and the play tells us it’s ok, she wasn’t: she’s a princess really. You know the drill. We have a bit of a go at this idea, I hope, and we have got rid of the scene in which productions traditionally have a jolly good laugh at the recently ennobled rural working types and their put-on manners. It’s like listening to stage northern accents on the radio – so we switched it off.  But then we had another problem: by cutting scenes like this we were tilting the pay more towards the upper classes. We dealt with this by handing the whole play over to Autolycus. We’re touring mainly to rural community venues, just like Shakespeare’s ‘snapper-up of unconsidered trifles’ does, so why not treat the play as one of those trifles he snapped up and think about what he’d do with it? We’ve changed him into a band of four, plying their trade to audiences they find on the road, and we see the play through their eyes as it might be performed at a sheep-shearing feast liek the one in Act 4.

That sheep-shearing feast is important. A Yorkshire farmer called Henry Best tells us (see here, at about 13.50) that sheep-shearing was one of those jobs which brought a whole estate together – a moment of intensely-felt community. Those workers could not have imagined how rare such moments would be in 2014, but they are the stuff of theatre and of the venues (arts centres, village halls and pubs) to which we’ll be taking it. The fleeces of sheep were also once a huge cash-crop, and so it is pleasing coincidence that the show will open in a tithe barn in Poppleton near York. This beautiful building was once kept full to maintain inequality, but now it is kept empty as a resource for the surrounding community. Community depends upon some kind of equality, however limited (before God or the local Squire, under the law…), and upon a shared space. It depends upon some common ground, and that’s why we’re adapting this wonderful, magical, frightening, sometimes offensive but always fascinating play: to create some common ground with it and with you.

Tom Cornford