This is a guest blog post from Alexander Kelly of Third Angel – my friend and collaborator on Equations for a Moving Body, here he is talking about his role in the process, and summing up the main work that went on in Stockton, and what’s to come.
Last Thursday we presented the latest work-in-progress of Equations For A Moving Body at the brilliant ARC in Stockton. That’s the last time we’ll show a version of the show before Hannah does the full distance triathlon next month.
One of the really interesting things for me about this process is how the temporal nature of it changes – each time we work on it we’re in a different place in time in relation to the event that the show is (partly) about. Back in February we were a long way off. It still felt almost hypothetical (to me at least). Hannah got her training schedule from her coach during that fortnight at Northern Stage, so the Outlaw was still something Hannah was going to train to do. One of my favourite pieces of material from that stage in the process was Hannah talking about imagining crossing the line. I don’t see my self crawling, she would say, when I picture it, I am running over the line.
For this fortnight at ARC, the Outlaw Triathlon is something that Hannah is training to do. On a practical level it impacts on our making time more (though of course the training is making, in this instance). She trains each morning and we talk and research and make the show in the afternoons and evenings.
Thematically though, it shifts our relationship with the science, and the research, and the narrative. If Hannah gets injured now (check Instagram for the latest knee damage) it could affect her final performance. We’re at the last stage where a serious injury is recoverable from. Early on in the process my assumption was that Hannah will complete the triathlon. As I find out more about the science of endurance sport, more about the world of triathlon (I’ve just read Chrissie Wellington’s A Life Without Limits – which I really liked), the more I discover about what else can go wrong – other than not being fit enough. Put bluntly (look away Han!), it is not a given that Hannah will cross the finish line. So, whilst this probably sounds obvious, we don’t yet know how the narrative we are telling will finish.
On Thursday night the show ran at 95 minutes – and this still wasn’t quite all of the material we have tried out or thought about. If this were the ‘finished’ piece that would clearly be too long, but in this context we have the luxury (thank you ARC) of trying out more than we need. One question we were looking at was how much science the show needs, how much is interesting to us, how much (and what) is interesting to the audience… This latter is an ongoing question. One of the exciting things about this project for me is that it has already demonstrated real potential to attract people who would only rarely go to the theatre; an audience who will come along because it is exloring their interests and experiences (swimming, cycling, running, endurance sport in general…), who won’t care whether we’re calling it spoken word, story telling, contemporary theatre. This is exciting, but it also means we will have different levels of expertise in the audience – which will mean different levels of interest and understanding in the science we’re exploring. Writing this now, I realise that my instinct remains: we can’t pre-empt what the audience will think of the show, how they will respond to the material, what will be the ‘right’ amount of science for each of them. We make a show that says what Hannah wants it to say, so it just needs to have the right ‘amount’ of science for her.
So where has all this material come from? On our previous collaboration A Conversation With My Father, the form of the piece was already set when I came on board; my job was to help Hannah expand on the 25 minutes she already had – to attach building blocks of material to the existing core of the show.
With Equations For A Moving Body, the project was less established, formally. We had talked about the ideas behind the piece, and a couple of proposals and project descriptions had been written for funding applications, which established a territory of exploration. Hannah had also done a try-out of some related ideas at HATCH in Leicester, which I had seen, so we had an idea of how we would use a computer (screen).
At the start of our two weeks at Northern Stage in February, I set Hannah a warm up exercise. We set the space up with our regular tools: a table, couple of chairs, laptop, projector and screen. We had asked almost arbitrarily for a couple of lighting states (and then Kev and the team at Northern Stage had made Stage 2 look beautiful).
On the table I laid out a series of 24 prompts or questions, written on index cards, face down. These prompts were all born out of our discussions so far, so Hannah was clearly ‘able’ to answer them, but she was to respond in the moment as she turned each card. This is a mode of being ‘put on the spot’ but within a territory you are informed about and comfortable in, that we have used in the making of a number of Third Angel projects. I find it can help performers not worry about whether or not what they’re doing is “any good”, and just get some material and ideas out into the process.
I thought this would fill a couple of hours on the afternoon of the first day, and give us something to talk about on day two. It took a week. A performed live research process that discovered the rules of the space, of the piece. Hannah instinctively started using the internet live, explaining what she was doing, sometimes, just quickly sourcing a reference at others.
On one level the show is formally similar to A Conversation With…: there’s a screen, a projector, some video material, a table and a couple of chairs and Hannah tells a story. But the way these ingredients are used feels quite distinct, to me. Hannah’s relationship to the screen, to us, is different.
Over that first residency we mapped out a territory: what we knew, what we wanted to explore further, what we couldn’t yet know. Then we very deliberately used the work in progress showings as research tools, inviting in sports clubs, setting the space as much like a discussion group as a theatre. Over the two showings, five full distance triathlon finishers came and spoke to us afterwards. We were encouraged by the depth of feeling and interest people had in the work, the generosity of their responses.
When we gathered at ARC for this phase of the process, my instinct was to pick up and ‘finish off’ the index cards game. It felt more like a warm up this time, getting ourselves back into the making. Checking where we were. It threw up a few details to weave in, rather than new material. Because we already had a feeling of where we needed to go, of what the show needed: to get in to the science.
But Hannah is not expert in this, yet, so the cards mechanism doesn’t work – interest isn’t the same as expertise, being put on the spot isn’t helpful. If we’re going to explain this stuff to an audience, Hannah can’t just repeat text, she has to really understand it. She has to understand more than she explains in the show. I feel that we should be in a position where Hannah could stop the show and take questions on the science – and be able to answer them.
So we move to a mechanism of research: returning to the interviews we did with [sports scientists and psychologists] Angela, Phil and Sarah, then reading around the the ideas and theories they talked about; hearing ideas explained by different people really helps. Understanding what science relates to the story we want to tell. We’re still working this out, and some of this aspect of the process inevitably has to wait until we meet again next month.
On Sunday 26 July 2015 Hannah will undertake the Nottingham Outlaw full distance Triathlon. On Monday the 27th she’s got a day off. And on Tuesday 28th, we’ll meet at CPT in London, and I’ll ask her to tell me the story of the race.