NIDA Launchpad artists test the boundaries of script

21 December 2017

Launchpad artist Fiona Spitzkowsky Recapturing history: Community Heritage Grant will digitise NIDA images
Photo: Launchpad artist Fiona Spitzkowsky

For their Launchpad residency at NIDA Melbourne in December, Periscope Productions, led by VCA graduate Fiona Spitzkowsky and NIDA graduate Benjamin Sheen (Directing, 2015) took advantage of the opportunity to explore different approaches to developing new Australian work. The chance to wrestle with a new script format and develop a cutting edge performance resulted in Scratch, about the end of a relationship. The script breaks new ground in formats, written as ‘a polyvocal script with five voices speaking simultaneously, presented on the five lines of a music stave.’

The script features two characters, their two internal monologues, plus another mysterious voice. ‘The cacophony of voices are carefully arranged to fall in and out of time with each other, often hitting the same word, phrase or sound at the same time to create unity in chaos,’ said Spitzkowsky.

‘The script for Scratch had been sitting in a drawer for a number of years, and we were very excited to be given the chance to build momentum towards a performance outcome. The challenge was to translate the text’s intricacy onto the stage.’

‘The script is not instructive in regards to staging, inviting the director and actors to find a way to embody the complexity of the text. For this week-long residency, we had to test whether the constant barrage of competing voices is ‘endurable’ and also to test it with actors on the floor,’ she added.

Photo: Launchpad artists in development with NIDA panel and actors

‘We experimented with different performance forms—naturalistic action and stylised movement, microphones and live feeds—and slowly narrowed our staging ideas into a single concept,’ said Sheen. ‘Downstage, there is a naturalistic rendering of a living room where the two live characters exist. Upstage, there is a void area hidden behind the back wall of the living room, where their internal monologuesexist. Then there is an extra voice pre-recorded, emerging from electronic devices in the living room, such as phones, radio and the TV. There will also be a live feed of a key set piece, a bubbling fishbowl used in meditation exercises. This multi-layered form embodies the complexity of the text, while providing some structure to guide the audience’s engagement with the action and the divide between the voices,’ he added.

Periscope were mentored by NIDA graduates and tutors, including theatre director and live performance artist Kat Henry (Directing 2009), actor Heath Ivey-Law (Acting, 2012) and movement artist Arun Munoz. The performance was by actors Indey Salvestro, Dana McMillan, Rebekah Hill and Conor Leach.

‘It was exciting to speak with experts from different disciplines—writing, acting, directing and movement—as it demonstrated this project’s potential for multidisciplinary collaboration and broad audience appeal,’ said Sheen. ‘The most urgent and useful advice we were given was to strengthen the relationship between the narrative and form of the piece: provide more detail about the characters so that the audience is invested in the story not just the unique form, and adjust the structure and pacing so that the musical crescendos align with the narrative climaxes.’

‘We’re now looking forward to developing a production in late 2018 or 2019. We are looking to work with a dramaturg with knowledge of music theory and a great sound designer or audio engineer to exploring possibilities.’

‘We are very grateful to NIDA Melbourne studios for having us as the inaugural Launchpad residents, and to the panel of experts who generously gave their time and advice.'

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