Archive for September, 2011

Podplays . Long arms . Collaborative Adaptation

September 27, 2011

In addition to creating amazing audio plays to listen to while walking the streets of Vancouver, this past summer Neworld has conducted a series of DIY PodPlay Workshops. We worked with local writer/artist/facilitators to identify and partner with different community and youth groups. The initiative was funded through the Telus Community Fund. I asked one facilitator, Hari Alluri, to share some of his experience teaching podplays…. Check it out…. —Adrienne


Podplays DIY Workshop

Podplays. Heidi Nagtegaal, creator of the Hammock Residency, dubbed them “movies that play in your ears while you walk around in them,” during a Hammock Free Podplay workshop. This was before she made one, and after the Hammock Free School (a participant-driven skill sharing project organized by G. Amani) participants and I had combined neworld theatre’s Podplay curriculum with the desires of those who showed up that day, freestyled sonically and vocally, and watched a video recording of Adrienne Wong’s Podplay, “Look Up.”

Um, back up. I first heard about Podplays though a callout that was forwarded to me by a friend. Imagining them as radio plays set to the rhythm of a walking tour, I was immediately interested. I had been thinking about how place carries stories, having recently returned from the Philippines for the first time since immigrating to South Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories over 15 years before. Thanks to jet lag and close quarters, my mom and I woke up at like 3am every morning in the house her soldier father had built, and from then till sunrise every night for a week she told me stories about the village, herself growing up, her family and her ancestors that I had never heard before, stories I felt she must have been dislodging from the physical space around us: the wood and concrete of the house, the plants whose names I didn’t know she knew, the land itself.

Long arms. I wanted to make one. So, I walked through a snowy Vancouver afternoon down to Granville Island. Conversations with amazing writers Adrienne Wong of Neworld Theatre and Martin Kinch of Playwrights Theatre Centre built the notion in my head and I was planning my first theatre piece, learning more about unfolding story, about the particular constraints of timing a play to contend with street lights, traffic and people’s different walking paces, about what it meant to work with a sound designer (Rupinder Sidhu) as part of creating a script’s backbone, about dramaturgy and adapting it to a moving stage that the writer essentially has to push along in front of the audience’s eyes and imagination without letting it get in the way. I never did quite figure out that last part in time for the Podplays’ deadline, but I did build certain skills that changed how I write and learn enough about the process to eventually facilitate workshops for community groups to make short Podplays.

Collaborative adaptation. Every workshop is. This has been especially so with the podplays workshops. From the Hammock Free School to Leave Out Violence (LOVE) BC, to Asian Arts Freedom School Coast Salish Territories. Whether the group included young adults, youth or both. Whether participants knew their aesthetic or were fashioning it through the process. Whether the characters were themselves or invented. Whether set in East Van or South Van. Alleys, parks, residential, commercial. Whether the route participants walked – searching for objects that could help tell a dramatic story – was new to them or heavily personal, a place for lightly transplanting memory and imagination or one already weighed down with personal stories making demands. Whether the Podplays ended up as relay-style pieces that led to each other along the route or a single piece that weaved between perspectives. Collaborative. Adaptation. Along the way, some pretty damn good stories travelling through spaces that have millions more to tell. Almost every participant said they’d do it again. One, holding up a recording device, threatened, “maybe right after you leave.”

Poplays, like the creative journey, are about making choices within constraints. Here’s a few of the choices a few people got to make. Take a listen. It might remind you of a story you’d like to invent. Or maybe one that was part of inventing you. Either way, maybe you’d like to make one.

Hari Alluri  has been invited to bring his spoken word to the stage of many venues, including Toronto’s Dim Sum festival, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and Under the Volcano Festival of Art and Social Change. writer. performer. filmmaker: empower.

PodPlays DIY

September 19, 2011

Today we’re releasing the last of eleven PodPlays podcasts. This one is a little different: a DIY primer. This specialpodplay is a “bonus track” for subscribers to the 125 Bundle.

It’s not too late to subscribe! Sign up now and receive all 11 podplays in one fell swoop.

And come by Hogan’s Alley Cafe on September 24 and 25 to hear Joy Russell’s DAYS OF OLD as part of the Hogan’s Alley Poetry Festival. This fifteen-minute walk will guide you through the space between now and then.

Click HERE to hear a clip.


Music on the most recent podplays podcast is from the single ‘Night Owl’ by Broke for Free. Check out the album here. Directionless EP (Broke For Free) / CC BY 3.0

If we knew now….

September 16, 2011

Hey Folks,

I’m working on the next and final podcast for Neworld’s PodPlays series. The podcast is a DIY primer on making your own podplay.  All this with the hope of inspiring you, Dear Listener, to create your very own podplay.

It’s happening already. Joel Stephanson and Quiet Hum Theatre are producing CORRIDORS, a new podplay that you can experience prior to seeing a show at Pacific Theatre. It’s really inspiring to see folks take on a idea and make it their own. I truly believe that there are more stories than we can ever hope to commission plays for, so I wanted to find a way to put the means of production into the hands of the people – so to speak.

Which brings me back to the podcast. I’m asking the artists who worked on the ten podplays we’ve produced so far to share some of their creative strategies. I’ve received some great responses and advice over email from Jan Derbyshire, C.E. Gatchalian and Noah Drew. So much advice, that I can’t fit it all into the podcast. So I’m sharing some here.

Oh! And remember: it’s not too late to sign up for the PodPlays podcast. You will receive all the podcast episodes in one fell swoop. Ten, unique walks on Vancouver streets, a great way to enjoy the city before the rain sets in…

The route: What do you look for when choosing a route? How did the story relate to the route?

NOAH DREW:  Since Podplays are, in a sense, a view with a soundtrack and a story, I think the best routes are really great views. It also helps the sense of drama if there at least one major change in the landscape during the play.

Instructions: was there an approach or image that worked for you when receiving the directional instructions?

ND: I’m a fan of the direct address instructions. When a character speaks right to me, the listener, I feel very included – plus it’s harder for me to miss an instruction when it’s directed right to me than when a character speaks the instruction to another character.

C.E. GATCHALIAN: i have to say, the directional instructions were probably the trickiest part of writing the podplay. because with the directional instructions you have to meet two objectives that may appear to be mutually exclusive: 1. making sure that the instructions are as clear as possible to the listener so they don’t get lost; 2. making sure that the instructions are an organic part of the narrative, that they don’t just appear out of the blue with no connection to the story.

JAN DERBYSHIRE: So yeah, when I first experienced the other podplays I thought a Guide Dog would be a great device for travelling through one of these stories. The guide dog thing wasn’t new. I have this thing about guide dogs, like what if they weren’t just for difference in sight? I could use a guide dog because I feel so blind to so much of what’s really going on in the world. So my Guide dog would help me read people’s energy or something and intuitively steer me away from some situation that maybe I couldn’t handle that day. Anyway, sometimes you have an idea hanging around for a long time that finally finds a home. That’s what happen with the Guide dog in the podplay.

Composing: What’s your best advice to composers and writers when thinking about including sound an music?

ND: In a way, podplays are just a narrative extension of listening to music on an iPod while walking through public spaces. Althrough the storytelling functions of the music and sound design are important, I actually think the combination of music and location should be able to stand on its own as an experience. If the listener is looking at a great of afascinating view while hearing coold sounds, they’ll be excited and engaged.

Rewriting: best advice to writers who need to rewrite?

CEG: Enjoy the ride–or in this case the walk.;-) Rewriting is where it happens, where you have to get tough with yourself as an artist and show what you’re made of. In the end, there’s nothing more rewarding.

JD: I need time between my drafts, a few days at least. I put the script in a drawer and then I can take it out like it’s not even mine and be very objective about it. This is counter intuitive to me. I think I should keep obsessing about it and stay up for weeks deeply questioning each comma and consonant. (Vowels rarely give me trouble). But I have found this obsession makes my writing stiff so I don’t do it anymore. Rewrites for me focus on getting to the clear and the necessary.

By the clear I mean, I have to ask my words, “Are you being clever just for clever sake? Is this clever in the way of the story? I also need to ask each line of dialogue, “Are you who should be saying this? Why? This is because I’ve learned in my early drafts everybody sounds like me and then I have to go through and ask, “Are you talking as yourself or as me.?” Often I  find the wrong character is saying something that the other guy should or that what’s being said needs to be there but it’s in the wrong place. This is because when the story comes I just race to get it down and then figure it out later.

Also I was taught to not argue in the moment about notes. Just write them down and say thank you and then figure out which ones are useful. Sometimes when you’re working with people you really trust you can tell right away that a note is golden. That said I think it’s important to work with skilled dramaturges who are interested in helping you get to the story you want to tell and not in making suggestions for a story they want to tell.

One final note- I always ask if the writing is working with the form. This is really important I think in the experience of podplays. I may have a great story but it’s clunky in this form. To make it work might require cuts and changes that I might not normally consider. I try to stay playful right through brainstorming to final draft. I bounce a ball a lot when I walk around to remind me not to take myself too seriously.

What do you know now that would have helped you when you started writing your podplay?

CEG: Two things: 1. How crucial the directional cues are to the form. 2. That there has to be a reason why this walk is happening right now. You can’t just be telling a story while doing the walk. The walk has to be an integral part of the play. And there has to be conflict and tension in the present of the play, not merely recollected.

ND: You’ve got to consider the noises implicit to your route as well as the visual landscape. If you’re overlooking an incredible view but listening to noisy traffic, the moment won’t work very well. These plays are intimate experiences – they’re right in your ears! Finding public spaces that have some sense of intimacy/quiet works best.

JD: Honestly, nothing. The sharing of experience from the podplay teams that produced their work before us was so helpful . A lot of bugs had been worked out with the limitations and the strengths of the form. Those of us who came later had more room to play.

Irritation and David McIntosh’s “Portside Walk”

September 7, 2011

The fire hydrant on West Waterfront Road

When I saw the route that Adrienne prescribed for my podplay, I was delighted. The progression of spaces, and the variety of sensations a body might encounter negotiating the play’s vector were quite exciting to me. On walking it the first time, I found it to be so rich in structural conflict that I felt it would be irritating to have a narrative added to my ears on this journey.

I went with that impulse and imagined an irritating person talking to me non-stop as I walked. Someone you might meet in a bar, and perhaps were trying to escape from. A man whose endless narratives just might contain something important you or he needed to hear. That the tangents of his stories might eventually come together in some illusive moment of recognition.

I wrote some text, got a friend to walk with me, and recorded different versions of it. Some of myself reading it, others of my friend repeating lines that I yelled to him while walking the actual route. Experimenting. I dumped these onto an ipod and started walking the route regularly. It was then that I realised I had a problem with the form. It irritated me.

I never walk around with headphones. They give me a headache and they act as a shield or a mask separating myself from the world around me. It’s not just that I fear death from inattention, I also feel uneasy about the imposition of pre recorded words or music on an environment. It’s an easy use of technology that graces you with a self-arranged sense of privilege. I can be here and look around me, but I am separate. For others to engage me, they will have to interrupt my progress, which doesn’t include the aural immediacy of our actual shared existence. It’s an act of individual colonialisation. An intimate, exclusive imposition on the world around you.

As a form, a Podplay purports to take its audience into the world and encourage them to engage with the here and now, but its realisation in performance creates an unresolvable contradiction. The form removes you from the here and now by asking you to engage in a scripted intimacy with the voice transmitted to your head. Irritating.

I think this irritating contradiction is the forms greatest strength. How does the listener negotiate the intimacy of the transmission and stay present in the world. The agenda in your ear requires your body act as the conduit to the world that the voice speaks of, while simultaneously removing your sense of it. How much are you going to resist or give in to this scripted intimacy? How present can you be? For me, the site of the podplay performance becomes the body of the listener negotiating all these contradictions. That negotiation and struggle, recognition and denial, becomes the content of the work.

I like to be irritated. Deeply irritated. If art doesn’t irritate me on some level, I am bored. If not angry. Very very angry. All of which is better than entertained. I find it insulting to be entertained. I did David Leddy’s podplay “SUSURRUS” in Glasgow’s botanic gardens. It really irritated me. I full-on despised the whole thing till 30 minutes into it I found myself streaming with tears. My body had to acknowledge the beauty and love in the twisted constructs of the world around me. It was a deep irritation. I happened to run into Mr. Leddy at a bar later that night and I was able to tell him how deeply I hated his work and all the tangental reasons for my deep irritation. He remarked that I had brought a lot of baggage to his work. But of course that is unavoidable when the site of performance is your body.

I hope your body finds my work at least a bit irritating, even though Mr. Murphy found some beauty in it and gave me three lovely songs.

I deeply enjoyed the irritations of making it.

David McIntosh is a writer, singer, and the artistic producer of battery opera. In 1995 he co-founded battery opera with Lee Su-Feh, whom he began collaborating with shortly after he was run over while on his bicycle somewhere between Kuantan and Kota Baru.

Subscribe to his, and more podplays, until September 30th, 2011 HERE.

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