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Magnetic North Blog

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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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Making 'Our Fathers'

When I was growing up, there was one thing that just about everyone I came into contact with already knew about me: that my dad was the local vicar. There is always a frisson of recognition whenever one clergy child meets another. This is because there are some things that are particular to being a clergy child: your weekends are always focused around your dad’s (or mum’s nowadays) work, people often assume you actually live in the church, people think you’re deeply religious as well, everyone knows who you are, and you exist in a strange world of genteel poverty because the clergy don’t get paid very much (I suppose on the basis that people don’t really go into it for the money).

A few years my dad asked me if I’d ever read a book called Father and Son by Edmund Gosse. When I said that I hadn’t, he replied - slightly cryptically, I felt – that I might find it ‘interesting’. I discovered that the book was about the relationship between Gosse and his preacher father and how Gosse junior gradually lost his faith in God. As my own lack of religious faith was a topic about which my dad and I never seemed to quite have a conversation, I assumed that he thought I might find some illumination in the book about our own relationship. After he’d gone home – my parents lived 400 miles away so we only saw each other a few times a year - I bought a copy and read it, waiting for the moment when I would think “Ah, that’s what he wanted me to see!”  I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was he’d wanted me to learn.

When he was next visiting, I told him that I’d read the book and he said, “Oh yes, I read that years ago – I can’t really remember anything about it.”

Which was a bit of an anti-climax.

But it planted a seed in my mind about adapting the book at some point, though I felt I needed someone else to work with me on it and didn’t know who that person was. A while later I saw Rob Drummond performing The Bullet Catch and, when he mentioned in the show that his father was a Church of Scotland minister, a light went on in my head. We talked about it and agreed to collaborate on it.

That was 4 years ago, and now we’re in the midst of creating Our Fathers, which will premiere this autumn. From the starting point of adapting the book, we’ve found ourselves making something that is as much about us and the strange political events of the last year or so as it is about Edmund Gosse and his father. The Gosses’ story is still at the heart of the play, but one of the central themes that has emerged is about how people talk to each other when they disagree strongly. Are there better ways than those currently modelled by ISIS or Donald Trump, for example?  Is it possible to do it respectfully, whilst still agreeing to disagree?

Also floating about in all this is the conversation I never properly had with my dad, and now can’t have because he died two years ago. What I did do, though, was record an interview with him about his relationship with his own father (who was a born-again evangelical Christian preacher), and this has been the setting off point for conversations that Rob and I are having with people who do and don’t believe in God. We’ve had some fascinating conversations, including with two Mormons who gamely agreed to be recorded talking to us about their beliefs after they stopped Rob in the street on his way to work with me on the project.

We’re now having a pause in the development process, because Rob and his wife are about to become parents for the first time. I know from personal experience how life-changing this is, so will be fascinated to see what difference this event will have on Rob’s approach to the show. Especially if he has a son.

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Our Fathers

“It is not usual, perhaps, that the narrative of a spiritual struggle should mingle merriment and humour with a discussion of the most solemn subjects.”   Edmund Gosse, preface to Father and SonFSsq

Our Fathers is a new play by award-winning playwright Rob Drummond and Nicholas Bone, artistic director of Magnetic North. It combines historical biography, autobiography, verbatim reporting and audience conversations in an exploration of the continuing effect of faith and belief on the way we live in the 21st century.

Rob and Nick are spending this week at Summerhall working on Our Fathers, joined by Jenna Watt.  Jenna is assistant director on the project, supported by a Federation of Scottish Theatre bursary.

Our Fathers is partly inspired by Father and Son, the poet and critic Edmund Gosse’s 1907 memoir of his upbringing as a member of a fundamentalist Christian sect in Victorian Britain. The book relates Gosse’s memories of his childhood and his relationship with his father - a renowned scientist with an absolute belief in Creationism who fiercely opposed Darwin. 

Rob and Nicholas are both atheist sons of clergymen and have relatives who believe in the literal truth of the bible.  The project will use this connection and the book as a setting off point for an exploration of faith in the 21st century, focusing particularly on inter-generational differences. 

As part of the development process, we will interview people who have experienced inter-generational conflict over faith – both those with no faith and those with profound feelings of faith.  Do get in touch if you’d like to talk to us.

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Space/Time retreat Oct 2016

Space Time is a paid 5 day creative retreat for experienced artists from all disciplines that asks the question “How does an artist keep developing?”

It aims to refresh participants through a stimulating and provocative examination of creativity.

The residency combines facilitated dialogue - built around a series of provocations and questions - with time for individual reflection and work.  It is led by Nicholas Bone and Alice McGrath.

The next Space/Time retreat will run from 11 - 16 October 2016, presented in partnership with Cove Park.

We are delighted to announce that the artists taking part are:

Mamoru Iriguchi (theatre-maker)

Maria Oller (theatre-maker)

Kirsty Whiten (visual artist)

Flore Gardner (visual artist)

Anthony Green (composer)

The next Space/Time residency will be in Spring 2017; sign up to our Artist Development mailing list to be notified when more information is available.

To find out more, watch this short film which captures the reflections of the artists who took part in the 2015 retreat.

 

 

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Erewhon by Arthur Meek

Slide01New Zealand playwright Arthur Meek is currently writer in residence with Magnetic North. As part of the residency, we have commissioned Arthur to write a new play, Erewhon, based on Samuel Butler’s 1872 utopian satire. 

Please join us at the Traverse Theatre on Wednesday 14 September at 7pm for a sharing of work in progress followed by a Q&A with Arthur Meek and Nicholas Bone.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Arthur’s starting point is the illustrated talk that Butler’s narrator describes giving after his escape from the land of Erewhon.  In this 21st century version Powerpoint meets the magic lantern lecture in a solo performance piece with plenty to say about familiarity and difference across cultures. 

Arthur worked on Erewhon as one of the artists participating in our creative development residency, Rough Mix, earlier in the summer and has also spent a week at Cove Park working on the text before starting these 2 weeks of development at the Traverse.  He has been supported throughout by our artistic director Nicholas Bone. 

The commission is supported through a Playwright Residency and Exchange Programme led by Playmarket New Zealand and Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, funded by Creative New Zealand. Thanks also to the Traverse for their support of the development and sharing.  

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We look forward to seeing you there.

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Latest Comment

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....