WinGuide editor Donald Hutera interviews the makers of a brace of shows presented by Theatre Royal Winchester
Theatre Royal Winchester has programmed two stimulating shows during the first week of April, both able to be seen within days of each other. Coincidentally, each performance happen to have been made by an award-winning creative organisation run by two people.
The first, on April 5, is C-12 Dance Theatre‘s hour-long Shhh! Inspired, in part, by the romance of reading and featuring an onstage library setting, this lively, family-friendly entertainment was conceived and choreographed by Annie Lunnette Deakin-Foster and executive produced by company co-founder Adam Towndrow.
On April 7 the artistic entity known as Two Destination Language – that is, Katherina Radeva and Alister Lownie – present Manpower across the road from the Theatre Royal in Winchester’s welcoming Discovery Centre. Eluding easy theatrical genre categorisation, Manpower promises to analyse and dismantle male roles and stereotypes in a manner as thought-inducing as it is engaging.
Donald Hutera: What motivated you to make this show?
Annie Lunnette Deakin-Foster: We made Shhh! in 2013 after receiving GfA Arts Councils funding for five weeks of research and development and creation. I came up with the concept the previous year. I was inspired about making a show in a place that contains so much history, knowledge and wonder, and where virtually little or no conversation happens. What better way to explore this space than through dance? Also, libraries are magical spaces in themselves where communities can come together and have access to a fountain of inspiration.
DH: How was it put together, and with how much in-put from its original cast?
ALDF: During the r&d creation period we made a show that was split up into 12 scenes. The original cast were very much involved in the choreographic process. I set tasks for them in order to explore the narrative journey of each scene. Jamie Salisbury’s score was developed in advance of the rehearsals and edited along the way, with the music composed in response to the mood and storyboards for the dozen episodes.
DH: What did you learn from making it, and what do you continue to discover?
ALDF: I learnt the importance of team work and establishing clear creative roles within the artistic process. It was also important to learn the long-term plan for the production, as the show we now tour is very different from the original. To allow time for development as the work begins to be presented is important. You can never underestimate how time flies in the r&d process!
DH: How would you describe Shhh! from an all-senses perspective? In other words, what does it look, feel, sound, smell and taste like?
ALDF: The show looks like a library from the ’90s, fraying around the edges and stuck between old school traditions while wanting to move forward into the 21st century. But it also feels homely, cosy and warm, an inviting space for the community to come and be together. It sounds like a quiet, vacant and enclosed space, on the brink of disturbance through the echoes of whispers, the opening and closing of books, chairs being moved across the floor and pencils scribbling away. It smells of old musty books and newly-printed editions, and tastes like boiled sweets and candy. Childhood memories and older generation stories are being told here.
DH: Where does Shhh! ‘fit’ in the C-12 canon?
ALDF: C-12 always strives to make work that audiences can relate to. We want to take them on an emotional or narrative journey of some kind, which I believe this work does. The show is one of C-12’s first geared towards a younger audience and families, and so the narrative is clear and easy to follow. It’s one of C-12’s largest-scale works, and has helped fuel the ambition of the company to want to make bigger and more exciting dance-theatre works.
DH: What keeps you and Adam going after 11 years in the business?
ALDF: I would say it’s our ambition, positivity, enthusiasm and love of the art form. We often look to find new and exciting collaborators, and ways to challenge ourselves as art-makers. We’re also passionate about creating work that appeals to new audiences and introduces them into the dance sector.
DH: How do you and Adam divvy up duties?
ALDF: To be honest, it’s all hands on deck most of the time! Adam handles communication, marketing, production and producing duties and I handle the creative concepts, funding forms and accounts. We share the rest of the administrative tasks. But our roles still vary slightly from project to project.
DH: What’s one thing an audience member might want to know about you, the company or the show before coming to see it?
C-12 Dance Theatre is a two-time award-winning company. We received the Argus Award in 2012 for artistic excellence for Trolleys, an outdoor work choreographed by Shaun Parker in collaboration with C-12 and, in 2015, we won the Organisation Impact Award (Dance London Inspire Awards) given to companies that have supported, inspired and made an impact on the community through dance.
For more details, please visit the Theatre Royal website here: http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/shhh/
Donald Hutera: How did Manpower come about, meaning what motivated you and Katherina to make this particular work at this time?
Alister Lownie: We started out being interested in stereotypes, partly because it felt like we’d seen work about women resisting stereotypes and hadn’t seen the same for or about men. We were particularly interested in the workplace and expectations around jobs. But as we worked on it we found the idea of stereotypes felt flippant, and so we ended up with more of a nostalgic exploration of how we came to be who we are — the men who shaped us both, and the decisions we made.
DH: How would you describe your creation process?
AL: That’s a tough one. We tend to mix up all sorts of text, images and objects to discover the show we’re making. When it works it feels like we’re sculpting something; when it isn’t coming together the feeling is more akin to pointless argument. We like to gather a possible set and costumes in the studio and try out the ideas, rather than conceptualising it all in advance.
DH: Realising that as its makers you’re both deeply ‘inside’ the show, and thus your perceptions of it are utterly unique, how would you describe its qualities? Is it funny, political, tender or…?
AL: There are moments of all those things but its politics are gentle, a starting point for conversation rather than a heart-felt plea for things to be different in one particular way. The whole piece is suffused with nostalgia too, and an affection for things even when they weren’t quite right. It’s also very much redolent of the time in which we both grew up – the ’80s and ’90s.
DH: How long is Manpower, and what are some of the things that happen during it?
AL: It lasts 80 minutes. We tell you about our childhoods, and about growing up and becoming a man and a woman. There is music, building and dancing. It’s not what we expected, which is a strange sort of feeling, but we’re pleased with it.
DH: What are some of the things you have learnt or discovered about yourselves and/or the world through making and performing Manpower?
AL: Although it’s very much about the specifics of our own stories, it resonates with people from very different backgrounds. The uncertainty many of us share about whether we’ve made the right decisions about the important things in life – and how our choices might be traced back to seemingly minor events – is something we’ve enjoyed exploring.
DH: What sort of feedback have you had from ‘real’ people as opposed to those in the arts industry?
AL: Our favourite is an email with the subject line “nice one”. It was very positive, and the man who sent it asked us to let him know when we’re back in his area so he can come and see more of our work. We cherish it for this line: “The music was good but you should have had some Smiths as well.”
AL: Gosh, yes! That sounds like ages ago, but it doesn’t feel that long. Maybe we should hold a birthday party?
DH: I was checking out the company website and wondered what is Flint?
AL: FLINT is our project to bring contemporary performance to places that wouldn’t otherwise get to experience it. There’s lots of work that people unfamiliar with theatre can easily enjoy without feeling they need to know anything particular about art before they come, and yet lots of that work seems risky for venues outside of big cities to programme because those potential audiences don’t know about it. So FLINT is our way of trying to help with that, finding ways to bring artists and audiences together.
DH: If there’s one thing anyone coming to see this show ought to know about it, or the two of you, what might that be?
AL: There’s some cooking on stage, but don’t come expecting cordon bleu. Also, we’d love to have a chat after the show – so do stick around!