The first step in creating
Every school we have worked with has provided an insight into childrens' reaction to Clare Hollingworth and her role in WWII. The children have given their ideas, thrown themselves into devising scenes and questioned what they know about Clare, journalism and WWII. Now it is our turn to explore Hollingworth’s life in our rehearsal room.
Before we start any practical rehearsals we often discuss the rough make-up of our show, for example; What ages it might be for? How will the story be told? How long will the piece be? Where it be performed and what the set be? Of course any answers to these questions will change and transform over the course of creating the final show but it is a good place to start.
This blog entry will detail our devising process so far. To kick off the creation of our show about Clare, we decided that each member of PaddleBoat would lead a rehearsal inspired by our work in schools so here they are...
Hattie - 5th March. This was the very first exploratory rehearsal for Clare. As we decided that we’d like to use music throughout the show, we explored how we might do this. We looked at how we might use music as a tool to show time and place. I thought that this could be a good way to present Clare’s travels (from Egypt to Croatia to Asia to America).
I brought in some wartime songs (one of which we had taught school children in the residency): ‘Wish me luck as you wave me Goodbye’ and ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’. As well as playing through some Romanian and Croatian folk songs - in her biography Clare mentions that she heard musicians playing music in these countries, so we wanted to replicate that.
Between us, PaddleBoat can play (to varying degrees) the flute, piccolo, piano, saxophone, recorder, accordion. We also looked at music to accompany movement, and as a tool to devise montages and physical routines. Working with a repetitive motif - which could be adapted to different instrumentation and speeds - we created a mimed travelling sequence to the music.
This was a really quick way to generate sequences and helped bring to life moments from Clare’s story. I think it is something we will definitely use in some way or other in the final piece. We often put in music after the creation of movement, so it was interesting to work the other way round and seemed to fit the energy of Clare’s turbulent travels - especially the start of WWII.
Stuart - 7th March I was really keen that we had a solid understanding of the WWII context, particularly the chronology of events. Clare’s wartime activity was so varied, stretching across so many different countries and lasting the whole war. So one rehearsal effectively became a history lesson, working our way chronologically through the war years, sharing our own knowledge and raising questions that we would go ahead and research.
The next step was to look at how we might be able to explore and present some of this historical context performatively - whether this becomes a part of the piece or not, being able to find ways to embody the history would be really important in schools. My approach to this was to try and personify the countries - could the intricacies of each country’s foreign policy be depicted through personality traits? In this way, Germany’s expansionist tendencies make the character of Germany boorish and indignant. France and Britain become overly complacent with patronising overtones, becoming more and more cautious of Germany. Then, as the war commences, we found ways to dramatise the changing relationships. The conquest of France is achieved by Germany sitting on France, and controlling her like a puppet, replicating the Vichy government. Staging a press conference with Britain to talk about the evacuation of Dunkirk was a great way of showing how this effective defeat is reframed within our consciousness as a rousing British victory.
Whether or not these snippets of history will find a place in our piece is irrelevant - the act of embodying the history and finding ways to perform key moments will be really invaluable for us when exploring the topic within schools.
Michael - 9th March I themed my session around content creation and working from a variety of different stimulus. So we were on the same page at the beginning I read a couple of pages from Marcus Zuzak’s ‘The Book Thief’ a beautiful story that talks about WW2 from the perspective of death, and tells the tale of a young girl living in Germany. It is a book written for teenagers but is a lovely example of ways of making such hard hitting and complex subject matter more accessible for a young audience.
We then spent some time trying to work out how we would present the character of Clare on stage. How does she move? Speak? Stand? Exploring the ethics of how we present her and her story – and always keeping in mind that this was going to be a family show. We used Pair modelling and plasticine wall exercises to explore physically what sort of character we thought she was, and how we thought she would respond in various situations. This was interesting because we found Clare could be portrayed by all of us and potentially opened our eyes to Clare being a character that is passed between 4 storytellers.
The next exercise we did was a series of free writing exercises from a number of different viewpoints. The aim of this was to get us thinking around the subject matter, as the war would have affected lots of people in lots of different ways.
With this in mind we wrote from: the perspective of a carrier pigeon to a fisherman on their way to Dunkirk to someone living through the London blitz. Hopefully these will give us some content to draw from later down the line.
Recently I saw this video and think that the physicality and storytelling are excellent. We spent much of the rest of the session trying to tell various parts of Clare’s story in this quick fire, multi-rolling, location-flipping style. This worked well and was a fun way to quickly re-tell moments from Clare’s story.
All in all this was a fun session in which we played with lots of new ideas and hopefully will continue to explore some of these styles, themes, and events in more detail as we move forwards.
Katy - 15th March. To start, I wanted to explore assumptions we’d individually already made about Clare. We started this session by improvising two person character dialogues: improvising Clare greeting people from her life including her younger sister Edith and various colleagues. As well as Clare meeting fictional characters, such as an inspirational literacy teacher and an old friend who helps with housework. Everyone had a chance to play Clare at varying ages. It was a great exercise to explore character relationships and attitudes.
The rest of the session was focused around framing our story of Clare: whether we should tell Clare’s story through the character of Clare, or through storytellers, or through a close friend’s/ family member’s account of Clare? Also whether we should start at the beginning at the end or in the middle of Clare’s life.
In this session we created about 5 different “opening” scenes to introduce an audience to Clare’s story. We used extracts from her nephew’s book ‘Of Fortunes and War’ a biography of Hollingworth, and pictures of Clare I’d researched from the internet as inspiration. We mainly worked in pairs to create short scenes. The scenes included; meeting Clare just as she was about to be arrested, a narration of Clare playing with her sister as a young girl in WWI, a fast paced introduction to Clare’s big scoop told by 4 storytellers, etc. We recorded these on a laptop and will return to them when we return to devise the final production.
We scratched some ideas from these rehearsals at the Exeter Phoenix to invited artists to get their feedback. Scratch performances are stressful and nerve-racking but necessary to make informed choices when devising a new show. Thank you to everyone who came and provided us with feedback. We can’t wait to start making the final production!