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Magnetic North Blog

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The Mother of All Festivals

The Edinburgh Festivals are about to begin. We've made our way through the endless listings and recommend the below from Magnetic North alumni:

Arab Arts Focus, from 2 Aug

Eaten, from 4 Aug

Chill Habibi, from 4 Aug

Fairich: Live, 14, 21, 22-28 Aug

Home is Not the Place, 18-27 Aug

Wired. 23-26 Aug

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Celebrating fatherhood

For Father's Day, we thought it would be a nice idea to ask recent father Rob Drummond to reflect on his experience so far. Over to Rob:

I’ve been a father for 139 days. So far I’d liken it to voluntarily signing up for a forced labour camp run by a tiny mute dictator. I’m not finding it complicated, I’m finding it mentally and physically gruelling. Like moving twelve heavy cement bags from one van to another. And knowing that you have to do the same thing again tomorrow. What? Not cheery enough for you. Well that’s something we need to change. Of course it’s wonderful to see him smile at me in the morning. It goes without saying that I love him with a fierce instinctive love which is different to any I’ve experienced before. I’m definitely glad we did it. It’s just that people don’t talk enough about how gruelling it can be. How taxing on your relationship. It feels like I’m expected to talk with unqualified positivity when someone asks me if I’m ‘enjoying being a dad’. I’m enjoying parts of it. I’m enjoying watching him grow and learn. I’m enjoying getting more and more feedback from him. And I’m looking forward to the time where we can hold a conversation. My life is better for having him in it. But it’s also less my life.

And that’s the thing about it. In a few months I’ll turn my attention to Our Fathers, a new play I’m working on with Nick Bone and Magnetic North, which is about communication between fathers and sons. When you have a child you are willingly giving up part of your life - or at least agreeing to live for someone else rather than for yourself. And it’s more intense than the commitment you make to a partner because a partner neglected might leave you but they certainly wouldn’t starve to death. This little boy relies on me and his mother one hundred percent of the time for one hundred percent of the things he needs. His physical and mental self will develop according to the things we feed him and the things we tell him. So what do you do with such responsibility? How do you make sure that your child grows into a balanced adult? How do you communicate effectively with him? Do you tell him what to think or teach him how to think, at the risk that he will end up coming to the ‘wrong’ conclusion? My father and Nick’s were both clergymen and we are both now unbelievers. What if my son, when he’s older, has a fundamentally different worldview than I do? Will we still get on? Will he respect me? Will I respect him? At this stage as you can tell, it’s far more questions than answers.

For the time being I guess I’ll just try my best to enjoy the bits I enjoy, take pleasure in his company and remember something that we seem programmed to forget; IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. If I do that for long enough maybe he’ll grow up happy. Which is all I really want.

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Rough Mix 2017 in Peebles

This year’s Rough Mix (our multi-art form residency) will take place at the Eastgate Theatre in Peebles from 19th June, and is supported by the National Theatre of Scotland and Creative Scotland.

We have a wonderful group of artists coming - including a composer, dancer, visual artist and occasional filmmaker. You are welcome to join us for a sharing of work at Eastgate Theatre on Friday 30th June at 6.00pm.  Book a free ticket here.

Here is a brief introduction to the experienced artists:

Annie George is an Edinburgh-based, Kerala-born, writer, theatremaker and occasional filmmaker.  She was recently awarded the Inspiring Scotland Saltire Bursary by the Saltire Society and Scottish Book Trust to support her writing. She is currently writing Home Is Not The Place, with dramaturgical support by Alan Bissett, for this year’s Fringe.  Most recently, Annie presented a work-in-progress of Untamed, a play with live music at Imaginate’s Ideas Exchange. Annie’s solo show The Bridge was commissioned for Glasgow 2014, and toured Scotland, and to the Nehru Centre London, in 2015. Annie directed I Knew A Man Called Livingstone at National Library of Scotland at Edinburgh Fringe, Scottish International Storytelling Festival and Storymoja Hay Festival Nairobi Kenya in 2013; and Nzinga: Warrior Queen at Fringe 2016 (both by Mara Menzies).
anniegeorge.net

Caitlin Skinner is a theatre director based in Edinburgh. She is Artistic Director of the Village Pub Theatre, one half of visual theatre duo Jordan and Skinner, and Director with new writing theatre company Pearlfisher. Her directing credits include Hair of the Dog, The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde, Sanitise (winner of 2014 Scotsman Fringe First Award) Selkie and The Happiest Day of Brendan Smillie’s Life. Caitlin was dramaturg on As the Crow Flies and rehearsal director for A Stone’s Throw. Caitlin has worked as Assistant Director with National Theatre of Scotland, Dundee Rep, Traverse Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre. Caitlin is co founder of collaborative theatre project Scrapyard which creates opportunities for artists to form new collaborations and explore different ways of working.
twitter.com/caitskin

Ross Whyte is a Glasgow-based composer, originally from Aberdeen. His compositional output has included collaborations with artists of disciplines different from his own, including dance, theatre, sculpture and web design. In 2014 he collaborated with musician Alasdair Roberts on the Sound Festival project New Approaches to Traditional Music. He also has a particular passion for working alongside dancers and dance choreographers, and has collaborated with many key practitioners. Ross is one of the founding members of Orphaned Limbs Collective, an interdisciplinary group of artists that push the boundaries between disciplines. Ross has received several awards including the Chris Cadwur James Award for Composition and two Derek Ogston Postgraduate Scholarships. His debut album, Kaidan, was released in 2015 by Comprende Records. In 2016 he released the album Fairich as part of the Gaelic Ambient duo WHɎTE.
rosswhyte.com

Karl Jay-Lewin started dancing at 27, after a background of carpentry and social/political activism. In 1997 he become an Associate Artist at The Place Theatre. Since then he has been working as a professional choreographer and performer. In 2000 Karl moved to Findhorn, Moray in North East Scotland.  As a dance maker Karl’s work is generally rooted in the post modern, experimental dance scene. His recent practice has been significantly enhanced and developed by two important collaborations; with seminal choreographer Deborah Hay through her Solo Performance Commissioning Project (At Once 2009, I Think Not 2011); and with composer Matteo Fargion, with whom he made the live dance and music piece Extremely Bad Dancing to Extremely French Music.  In addition to his work as an independent choreographer and performer, Karl is co-founder and Artistic Director of Bodysurf Scotland and co-founder of Moray Culture Café.
karljaylewin.info

Flore Gardner lives and works between France and Scotland. She has been exhibiting her work in private galleries and public institutions in the UK, France and internationally since 2004. In 2016 she took part in the Hidden Door Festival in Edinburgh, for which she created an installation with the M(ob)ile, a one-mile long cord she took four months to French-knit, and which makes monumental drawings in space. From 2011 to 2013 Flore was a member of the artist's group UCD Un certain détachement, based in Grenoble. They specialised in the production and sale of art multiples, presented in recycled vending machines situated in non-art spaces, a "gallery in a box”. In 2003, she founded and ran for two years the artist’s restaurant, Les 19... in Marseilles, France. Flore invented and cooked monochromatic/thematic menus, serving a different one every day.
floregardner.wix.com/flore-gardner

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Our Fathers April 2017 development week

We’ve just finished our final development week on Our Fathers before we start rehearsals in mid-September. Our Fathers is a collaboration between me and playwright/performer Rob Drummond, based on Edmund Gosse’s 1907 memoir Father and Son and its connections to our own lives as the sons of clergymen. As I wrote in my last blog on the production’s development (Making ‘Our Fathers’), we’ve also begun to explore the modern connotations of the book to see what it has to tell us today about how people with opposing views might talk to each other more respectfully.

 

We were fortunate to be working in Traverse 1, which is where we’ll open the production in October. This meant we could get a sense of how we might talk to the audience – an important element of the show – and how we might use the space. Ian Cameron (who is co-directing with me) and Jenna Watt (assistant director) were with us all week and we were joined at various points by other members of the creative team: composer Scott Twynholm, designer Karen Tennant, lighting designer Simon Wilkinson and voice director Ros Steen.

Our aim for the week was to establish the structure and ‘voice’ of the production. Rob and I are collaborating with each other for the first time and, to make things harder for ourselves, are working in a way that is new to both of us, though it’s a method that incorporates elements of our individual practices. Rather than writing a complete script for rehearsals, we are creating what Rob calls a script-ment, which is somewhere between a treatment and a script. A treatment is a stage of screen writing which describes in some detail what will happen and usually comes at the stage before a full script is written. In our case, the script-ment will combine dialogue for some scenes with outlines of action for others – the dialogue is for scenes adapted from the book, while the outlines are for the semi-improvised scenes of discussion between me and Rob. Ah yes, perhaps I should have mentioned that before: Rob and I are performing in the production. We play Edmund and Philip Gosse and versions of ourselves, exploring our relationships with our fathers – and our own sons – and talking to the audience about their own experiences of faith and disagreement. Rob has frequently performed in his own work, most recently In:Fidelity at the High Tide and Edinburgh festivals last year. I’m a more infrequent performer, but also performed at last year’s Edinburgh fringe – a semi-improvised movement piece with In the Making. What connects us is that we both trained with Anne Bogart.

 

As I’ll be performing and as the subject matter is quite personal, I decided that I wanted to work with a co-director who could be an outside eye and would bring some objectivity to the process. Ian Cameron has worked on many hugely successful shows like White, Black Beauty and The Voice Thief and has a fantastic eye for what happens on stage, partly because of his background in both visual art and clowning. As anyone who has seen him perform knows, he has a wonderfully reassuring presence on stage, and he brings this quality to the rehearsal room as well. 

During the week, we worked on different aspects of the play, finding the different elements that will be threaded together in rehearsals. Scott taught us a hymn – Eternal Father, Strong to Savewhich we tried to sing in harmony; Ros worked on ways to speak Gosse’s sometimes rather purple prose – he has a tendency towards rich description which is sometimes beautiful, sometimes overbearing; Karen and Simon watched closely, scribbling away and every so often chucking in a wonderful observation. Jenna Watt has been working with us throughout the process and combines forensic note-taking with a great ability to remember details that Rob and I have forgotten in our rush onwards.

 

The next time we’ll all meet again is on the first day of rehearsals in four months’ time. Meantime, we’ll all have worked on other projects, but I know from experience that the work we did will be percolating away at the back of our minds ready to be drawn forward again.

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Bridging ideas

If you travel over the river Forth on either the road or rail bridge at the moment, you see an extraordinary sight: the almost complete new Forth road bridge. Watching a bridge being built is an amazing sight, it always makes me appreciate the astonishing feat of engineering that a bridge is. Too often, we travel over them, taking them for granted because they’re just there. But can you imagine the leap of faith that was necessary to build the first bridge? Maybe someone found a fallen tree over a stream and used it to get over. Maybe then, someone thought that they could move that fallen tree to a better place? But how do you get from that, to building stone bridges? And from there to building huge suspension bridges?

The development of bridges from fallen trees across streams to structures two miles long connecting islands is a beautiful example of a long term collaboration.  Over thousands of years, the gradual refinement of the idea continued, sometimes led by improvements in technology: the development of steel wire in the 19th century enabled spans and loads to increase hugely. Sometimes by vision: maybe someone asking the question ‘why shouldn’t we bridge that gap?’  Sometimes by necessity: ‘how much time could we save if we could go straight over there, rather than going round?’  This strikes me as a metaphor for artistry. Some leaps have arisen from technological developments – steel strings rather than gut, for example – others from a creative leap – someone deciding that rather than a narrator and chorus, a character could step forward and speak for his or herself;  or both - perspective required both the imagination to understand it was needed, and the technical understanding to codify it.

Cristo morto

 

I remember being shown a slide of the painting "Christo Morto" by Mantegna at school and being startled by how daring the foreshortening was and how modern it seemed, even though it was 500 years old.  But whatever the root of a development, and no matter how sudden or gradual a development is, it is always a collaboration between the past and the present. So just as we couldn’t have the new Forth bridge without someone putting a felled tree over a stream thousands of years, so we act as creative bridges between what has happened before and the potential for something else to happen in the future. How we interpret that is a matter of choice. Do we want to acknowledge what has gone before us? Or do we want to ignore it? Either is a choice, but we have to be aware of the choice. The worst thing is either to ignore the past without knowing it, or to assume that received assumptions are correct. When Marcel Duchamp did this:

L.H.O.O.Q

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was an apparently simple act of defacement, but there are several layers of meaning within the act – by defacing this particular image, he not only changes perceptions of what constitutes a work of art (Duchamp’s contention being that anything can be a work of art if an artist decrees it one), he defaces an iconic ideal of beauty.  But by using a cheap, poor quality postcard reproduction, he also draws attention to the degradation of the image that has already taken place, he questions whether we have unthinkingly accepted it as a great work of art without ever really looking at it.  He looks back into the past and forward into the future at the same time and knows he is doing it.

But are we just our own bridges, connecting past and future, or are we part of a whole system of bridges, rivers and streams?  Should we see ourselves as part of a network of connections and links – linking audiences to our work, to other people’s work, linking us to other artists and other artforms.  Are we part of a great tradition that progresses inexorably from one thing to another, or are we part of a net that stretches all around us? Is our job as artists to look for the tiny capillaries of connection as well as the thundering road bridges we can see from miles away?    

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J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....