Magnetic North Blog

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Nicholas Bone is Artistic Director of Magnetic North and has directed all of the company's work.  He has also directed for Scottish Opera, Traverse Theatre, Opera North, Actors' Touring Company, Bristol Old Vic, NIDA and Dundee Rep. Nicholas wrote the text for A Walk at the Edge of the World, co-wrote the libretto of Happy Story (Scottish Opera), co-created Pass the Spoon (Magnetic North/Southbank Centre) and adapted Henry David Thoreau's Walden for the stage.

Rough Mix 2012 first week

The first week has ended and I now have a bit more time to reflect on how things are going.

The first two days of the week were taken up with workshops from each of the artists, and since then we've been working on the projects.  There are 5 projects being developed, each one being led by the initiating artist.  There's a diversity in the projects and also, as I wrote the other day, great connections between them.  One of the things that I love about Rough Mix is that, because of the range of artists involved, you get unexpected  prompts and ideas.  My project is based around creating a piece about walking, with the aim of making something that will be performed around the coast of Scotland.  I had been talking about walking music and how I had been gathering as much as I could.  This includes more obvious things like Schubert's Winterreise or Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line, to music that has a more tangental connection, like baroque music with a walking bass or the music of Eric Satie which was often composed as he took the long walk from his flat on the outskirts of Paris.  Daniel Padden, who is a composer, and Kirstin Murray, who is one of the performers, both separately asked me if I knew about Waulking music.  I looked a bit blank (well the first time anyway, I was able to look more knowledgeable the second time) and was told that these were songs sung to accompany the waulking (or stretching) of tweed after it had been woven.  As the idea is to create a piece of theatre to be performed around the coasts of Scotland, it immediately opened wonderful possibilities.

I've loved being able to observe and participate in the work of the other artists involved.  Being able to move from setting up improvisations for the characters in playwright Lynda Radley's new play, to working with choreographer and director Ian Spink to try and create some of the sounds described in Strindberg's Dream Play - example: "the sound of the thoughts in your head" - is fantastically invigorating.

Tomorrow, I will get to see the work I haven't managed to get involved with yet - Daniel Padden's sound installation  and visual artist Kate Robertson's work on using sculptural objects as an impetus for performance.  I've seen glimpses on video and can't wait to get involved.
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Day 2 - strange overtones

Day 2 started with Sheila's Viewpoints class.  Today was a public class and we had half a dozen people join us, making quite a large group altogether.  We did more work on Space, focusing on the space behind so lots of moving backwards through the studio (mostly without bumping into each other).

The remaining lead practitioners gave their workshops today - me, Ian Spink and Daniel Padden, plus emerging artists Kim Moore.  What's always interesting is the cross-connections that start to appear as the individual projects are introduced.  I should explain that artists who want to take part in Rough Mix submit a proposal for an idea they want to develop.  The most appropriate projects are often those that are right at the beginning of the creative process - it may be just a hunch, or an outline, a story or a starting point.  Although I put together the group and therefore know already what people want to work on, the surprising and beautiful thing is the unexpected currents and themes that appear as the artists introduce their ideas to the group.  One of the things I enjoy about Rough Mix are the undertones and overtones that develop across the pieces being worked on and these are already starting to appear.  I shall write more about this  over the next few days.  Tomorrow, we start practical work on the projects themselves.
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Rough Mix day 1- aiming to be open, receptive and generous

We started work at 9.30 this morning in a beautifully sunny studio 2 at Dance Base.  With a view through the roof window to the castle and sun streaming through the front windows from the Grassmarket it felt a very special place to be.

As well as the four contributing artists and the two emerging artists, I have also invited Sheila Macdougall, movement teacher, and Ros Steen, head of voice at RCS, to be part of Rough Mix this year.  Sheila is an extremely skilled teacher and advocate of Viewpoints, having trained with both Mary Overlie and Anne Bogart - the former having originated the technique for dance and the latter having adapted it for theatre  - while Ros has been working with Nadine George's voice work for more than twenty years as both teacher and voice director.  This morning was a double class - first of all Viewpoints and then voice. I have worked with both these approaches before but today was the first time I had been able to put them together - or in close proximity at least.

I've had a feeling for a while that they would work well together - reinforced by the time I spent training in Viewpoints with Anne Bogart and SITI last summer - and have been looking for an opportunity to use them together.  After today, I feel sure that the two weeks of Rough Mix will give me a really good idea of how they can work together.

This afternoon we had the first introductory workshops - from visual artist Kate Robertson, playwright Lynda Radley and emerging artist Jamie Wardrop.  Tomorrow, Ian Spink, Daniel Padden, Kim Moore and I will give our introductory workshops and then on Wednesday we start work on the five projects being developed here.

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The start of Rough Mix 2012

The start of Rough Mix 2012 is suddenly upon us.  After several months of preparations, we start work at 9.30 on Monday morning at Dance Base in Edinburgh.

This is the third time we've run Rough Mix, and I thought it might be interesting to write about what the philosophy behind it is.  I was reading in The Guardian last weekend about the Two Things game (link here).  This is where  you have to summarise something in a two phrases - the Two Things about trading stocks are "Buy low; sell high", and  the two things about theatre are, apparently, "Don't forget your lines; don't run into the set".  The most interesting ones are those that are slightly contradictory: for example, medicine is summed up as "do no harm; to do any good you must risk doing harm".  I was trying to think what the Two Things about Rough Mix might be and my current thought is "Don't think too much; think about everything".  The idea of Rough Mix is that it's an opportunity for artists to have some time to play with an idea, preferably one that they wouldn't otherwise get an opportunity to play with - it's an opportunity to push yourself out on a limb without having to worry about what happens.  This may sound like something that is part of an artist's job description, and I think we fondly imagine that that is what we always do; but the reality is that often we're trying to meet a deadline, or fit a brief, or meet expectations, so the idea of taking a big risk or making a change in direction is something you maybe feel you'll do next time.  The idea of Rough Mix is to take away the fear (or at least lessen it) by allowing space and time to play.

The other crucial element. from my point of view, is that it's also an opportunity to meet and spend time working with artists from other artforms.  We can often get trapped in our own self-referential way of working, and there's nothing like seeing the way other people approach their work to make you think more carefully about it.  When I worked with the visual artists Sans facon on what became Walden at Rough Mix in 2006, I was fascinated by the way they looked at props not just as things to objects to be used to tell a story but as purveyors of meaning in their own right.  By contrast, when I was working with the artist David Shrigley last year, he was always concerned that an object on stage would read as what it was and nothing more - if it was a fridge, it had to read as a fridge.  Both approaches have had an effect on the way I work.

This is one of the best things about Rough Mix: finding something new and learning from it.  Which reminds me of a phrase that is in itself a sort of Two Things for how to continue to work fruitfully: "The more you learn, the less you understand" - this is a painfully simple but vital lesson to understand, or perhaps to just know.
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SITI week 2

The train ride from New York city to Saratoga Springs is a beautiful journey up the Hudson valley towards the Adirondack mountains.  The place names are evocative: Yonkers - birthplace of Ella Fitzgerald,  Schenectady - where Edison founded the General Electric Company, and Poughkeepsie, which is probably also famous for something but just has a great name as far as I’m concerned.  Saratoga is in the middle of a wide plain and I can see trees for miles from my room.  The other day I had a Walden moment when I saw a beautiful light brown hawk circling over a clearing in the trees.  It floated about while I watched it, not quite with the joy of just being there that Thoreau observed, but a beautiful sight none the less.  There were obviously no pickings for it so it flapped elegantly away after a while making me feel very earthbound (even on the 7th floor).

In the work with SITI, we’ve been moved up a gear this week.  Further parts of the Suzuki form have been taught to us – Kelly, one of the core SITI members, made a very important point to us on Friday afternoon when she reminded us that the purpose of the Suzuki method is not to master the form, because you never can.  The important thing is the discipline you derive from the effort  to master it, as well as the skills with which it equips you, such as a clarity of focus on stage. 

On Wednesday evening Leon and Ellen gave a talk on the origins of both Suzuki and Viewpoints and how the SITI company came to work with the two approaches.  Suzuki had begin training his actors during the 1960s, developing the form from a variety of sources, including Kendo, Katakali, Flamenco and Sumoh as well as the Japanese theatre styles of Noh, Kabuki and Butoh.  During the late ‘70s he began training other actors in the method, including a group from America that would form the ore of the SITI company in the early 1990s.  During the 80s Anne Bogart happened to work with some of these actors and couldn’t help noticing how much less they moved their feet than other actors.  Intrigued by this, she asked them why and was introduced to Suzuki.  At the same time, Anne had been developing her own version of Mary Overlie’s Six Viewpoints as a means of quickly building an ensemble when she was working on productions at theatres around the States.  As she worked with the Suzuki actors she began to realise that these two seemingly opposite approaches were very complimentary.

This week in Viewpoints we’ve been doing quite a lot of open viewpoints, which is an improvisation in the space using all the viewpoints.  This is quite heady stuff as you get to know the group you’re working with and start to discover the risks you can take moving about a space – sometimes at high speed – while maintaining a connection with everyone else in the space.  One of the viewpoints is Kinesthetic Response – which is about how you decide “when” (when to move, for instance, or be still, turn, look, or when to speak etc) – like all the viewpoints it can only operate in conjunction with the others (such as duration – how long you might move for  - or tempo – how fast you might move).  Kinesthetic Response is quite a “back brain” action – you allow yourself to move almost instinctively in response to an external stimulus, rather than with a thought-through motivation.  The purest, or maybe most minimal, exercise is Flow.  In Flow you have only 5 pieces of vocabulary: stopping, moving through gaps, turning, following, changing tempo.  When it works, it is an incredible feeling – as if you are connected to everyone else who’s up there with you.

This morning, while researching some things for our composition assignment (each week we make a short performance piece in small groups) I found a clip of Pina Bausch dancing to the aria “When I am Dead and Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas in her piece Café Muller (you can watch it here).  I’d seen this a couple of months ago in Wim Wenders’ film Pina and had been affected by the story she told about it.  When she came to revive the piece for the first time she couldn’t work out why it didn’t feel right, and then she realised that, even though her eyes were closed throughout, where she looked was essential to how she performed it.  The first time she did it, she always looked down but the second time she’d been doing it without paying attention to where she looked.  At the time I remember thinking that the lesson here is “no detail is too small to ignore”.

Now I have to go and learn some lines.
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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....