Magnetic North Blog
I’m writing this in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown, which makes this reflection even more poignant. It was only a few months ago that I spent two incredible weeks at Summerhall working with a brilliant bunch of artists on Rough Mix. In case you don’t know, Rough Mix is Magnetic North’s annual opportunity for 5 experienced artists to workshop their ideas alongside 2 emerging artists and a group of performers.
We are delighted to be hosting New Zealand playwright Arthur Meek as writer in residence with Magnetic North next summer.
Arthur joins us thanks to a joint initiative run by Playmarket New Zealand and Playwrights’ Studio Scotland: the development agencies for playwrights for their respective countries.
We will host Arthur for a 3 month residency from July-Sept 2016. He will participate in Rough Mix, spend a week at Cove Park, have the opportunity to see work and make contacts during the Edinburgh festivals in August as well as being commissioned to write a new play, Erewhon.
Based on Samuel Butler’s satirical utopian novel, Erewhon will be a solo show, performed by Arthur and taking the form of an illustrated theatrical lecture in which Arthur will attempt to amuse an audience of Erewhonians by contrasting his own society with their own. The experience of distance from New Zealand, and the mix of familiarity and difference that is a New Zealander’s experience of living in Scotland, will inform the writing and development of the piece.
Arthur will be supported throughout by our artistic director Nicholas Bone. There will be a work in progress sharing of Erewhon at the end of the residency.
Arthur Meek is an award-winning New Zealand writer for stage and screen. His two published plays, The Trees beneath the Lake and On the Upside Down of the World were both commissioned by the Auckland Theatre Company. His work has been shown in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US.
For the past week in Rough Mix 2 I’ve been investigating in two main concepts. First of all, darkness, second, us. The first one questions what happens when you put out the lights in a performance, in a theatre, in a room. The second thinks on how do we tell the story of ourselves nowadays.
Each day, all the team of RM, has met as the work time comes to an end in the T4 space of Tramway to jump into the darkness. It has, in a way, become a sort of ritual, day after day, meeting each other as a last action, and spending some time together deep in obscurity.
There is something compelling in a community of people inhabiting a space where they can’t really see each other, reaching to one another, trying to stay together in a place where solitude is extolled by the surrounding and thick darkness.
Darkness, as I see it, has two main characteristics related to the individual and the community. On one side, it makes oneself more aware of himself, his physicality, his loneliness, his voice, his thoughts, his actions. On the other hand, it equalises everyone, sharing a common reality where we are blinded, dissolving our outlines into a sort of totality where we are one, where our edges can`t be really defined.
It is this duality that links for me darkness with the story of ourselves nowadays. Where we need particular stories, private anecdotes, confessions, dreams, that touch our individual being next to songs, events, facts that define a common background, history. A place where what is told has this dual characteristic, it has a personal link, told by a voice, attached to a personal life, but belongs to no-one, as there is not a body to link it with, it flies through the darkness and hangs there, like vibrating, resonating in all the bodies. Saying it belongs to no one is also saying it belongs to everybody, it has no owner or it is owned by all of us, to the community. We are free to feel addressed, identified, with it, as it doesn’t belong to anyone.
This path from individuality into community provoked by darkness and worked through storytelling takes roots in a long ritual tradition that can be traced into tribal feasts and shamanic events and somehow, in a society where this apparently doesn’t exist, still echos in us.
I’ve been meaning to write something for the Rough Mix blog for the last few days but things have been fairly full on and time has just flown by, so its now the weekend which seems like a good time to look back on the first week.
I took part in the Rough Mix 1 in October at Lyth Arts Centre, near Wick, where I first met Linda and Christine, which had more of a retreat format and where we discussed in depth approaches to collaboration and how to keep developing as an artist. There are a few things that we talked about then that seem to keep cropping up again and again over the course of the week - discovery moments, formless hunches, going back to a default setting, avoiding saboteurs, being open to change, staying curious, seeing yourself in a different context, being in an in-between place, freeing-up-ness.
To begin with this week I found myself saying “this is not my area” or “I’m slightly out of my comfort zone“ but as time has past and we have become used to the rhythm of the days I’ve realised I’m not really out of my comfort zone at all and I’m doing things I really enjoy. As with so many of these kind of activities, so much of it is to do with having confidence…
We are all united each morning during the one hour warm up, which usually involves working in the studio space, working with the space and then we get on with our own endeavours. During my introductory session I asked the group three questions; “What are the big questions?”; “What have you learnt about life so far?” and “What advice do you have for others?”; and then asked them to choose one word or phrase to use as a basis for a collage.
I guess this kind of workshop, which I often do with community groups, is a good ice-breaker, a way of getting to know people, of finding out what other people have to say. In a way I wanted to see how this kind of workshop would work with a group of creative practitioners. As always happens, the session becomes as much about the conversation round the table as the images that are being created.
Other questions I’ve asked have been “What is your quagmire?” and “What does angry look like?” I’ve found myself going back to the familiar, e.g. using the children’s game of “Consequences” as a working process, working with text, protest songs, creation of lists, flags, and revisiting ideas that I’ve had previously but rethinking them within this new context. Also it’s a luxury to have willing and able people to work with. Other things that have influenced the work this week have been conversations with my ten year daughter about political parties and their use of colour, things shouted by drunk students outside my flat during the night.
My final session of the week became a bit of a revelation as I decided to work with the ‘personal’ rather than the ‘political’. I asked the group of five to create a list of things that upset or annoyed them and we started off reading these out, discussing them, adding anecdotes, and as others gradually joined the group the session extended and extended until basically we ran out of time. I had anticipated spending about 10 minutes on the lists, and getting on with other activities, but our lists of annoyances took over the entire session and it seemed more like an outpouring or therapy session.. All very interesting in itself… those other activities can happen next week!
There has been a subtle cross fertilisation going on which I became aware of on Friday when Christine got us involved in a piece of choreography, that used movements she’d seen Bill doing while making his sound works, and also stemmed from the text piece she had made during my collage session. Also Miguel who has been working with darkness, asked us to give a confession while sitting in complete darkness, and I divulged a dark secret of mine from when I was in primary six. Again this felt really therapeutic. We are all learning from each other.
This first week seems to have flown by and I think we are all starting to think about Friday’s ‘Sharing’ which currently feels like a double-edged sword, as we all seem to be working with what appear to be formless hunches. But having an event with invited guests tends to focus the mind somewhat, which is probably a good thing.
This year's Rough Mix will take place at Tramway as part of the Rip It Up season. The residency runs from 11th March and there'll be a public showing at 7.30 on Friday 22nd March - more info here.
The artists at this year's residency are:
- Christine Devaney (choreographer)
- Linda McLean (playwright)
- Janie Nicoll (visual artist)
- Miguel Rojo (director/theatremaker)
- Kate Temple (visual artist)
- Bill Thompson (composer)
They'll be joined by emerging artist Sarah Bradley and a group of performers. The residency is led by Nicholas Bone.