This September I was in Paris working at the Opera Comique for the first time. This was another Katie Mitchell project - 'Miranda - after Henry Purcell' - this was a collaboration with the brilliant conductor Raphaël Pichon and playwright Cordelia Lynn. Taking Purcell's music they had fashioned something of a 'sequel' to Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. It was a fascinating exercise in making something new from something old - it was wonderful to have the freedom to play with the form and, most importantly, with the music. Raphaël was amazing at being open to playing with the music, adding an abstract soundscape - this is something that rarely happens in the opera world, where there is often an incredibly restrictive 'respect' for the music - I say 'respect', because I don't believe for a moment that the composers whose music we so often work with, would have been as intransigent as the conductors into whose hands that music is now placed. Miranda was a fascinating step in a very interesting direction.
This summer I wasn't working on an opera with Katie Mitchell at the Festival d'Aix en Provence - this year I was creating a small show with the singers of the brilliant Mozart Residency that the Festival runs each year. The singers come from all over the world to work with a director/theatre practitioner, the amazing singing coach Susanna Eken and the brilliant pianists Ouri Bronchti and Bertrand Halary. We had two weeks to workshop with them - the first week working on technique and the second week working towards what turned out to be quite an ambitious staging of the work. It was extremely stressful given the disparity between what we wanted to achieve and the time we had to achieve it, but they were a fantastic group of artists and we managed to pull off something that was really quite special. It was deeply inspiring to work with singers near the beginning of their careers, and to introduce ways of working that will hopefully change their own expectations of what opera can be as the progress through their careers.
In April I had the enormous pleasure of working with Beate Mordal (soprano) and Nicolas Royez (pianist) on a cabaret theatre performance called 'Life Story' Paul Briottet from the Festival d'Aix en Provence invited me to work with with these two brilliant musicians; together we created characters and a narrative, guided by the songs and music that they had chosen. It was very simple and has been very effective. It has been performed in Paris (La Scène Thélème) and in Aix at the Jeu de Paume theatre. It continues to be performed around France when their busy schedule allows.
Ok… so it’s been ages - just over a year in fact - that’s not terribly impressive in terms of keeping you up to date with what’s been going on - but it’s not only through laziness; we have been busy I promise!
So first off - Hello! We hope it’s been as great a year for you as it has been for us - obviously there are things that have happened this year that have been seismic in their affect on the world, and now we have to see what part we all need to play in shaping how they all play out. There are also some, admittedly smaller, events that we’ve been involved in over the past 12 months or so, but which have also, hopefully, had small seismic effects…
I think that when we last wrote we had just done some development work on Sheriff - we’ve just done some more, so it seems like quite a good way to book-end this very full year. There’s a lot to say, to describe, to rant about, to celebrate, but for now I’ll just try a photo essay of sorts - everyone has so much to contend with at this time of year and we don’t want to add unnecessarily to it! Assuming Theresa May and her friends don’t evict EU citizens from the UK in the near future, Carolina and I will be back in the New Year and will be able to go into more depth then.
In the meantime here follows a rundown of the fantastic and fascinating projects we’ve been involved in over the last year or so… And whilst we’re still here, near the beginning (and in case you don’t make it to the end), we hope it’s also been a wonderful year for you all - there are lots of challenges ahead for us all, so harness all that good stuff and let’s launch into 2017 with passion, brains and the knowledge that nothing great comes easily :)
First up Carolina embarked on the second part of her journey with Phyllida Lloyd and her all female Shakespeareans for the Donmar Warehouse - they took Henry IV to St Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to huge acclaim; great reviews, packed houses and a steady flow of celebrities to take selfies with.
Meanwhile I headed off to Paris to recreate the production of The Way Back Home that I made with Katie Mitchell for English National Opera and the Young Vic - this time it was with the singers of Paris Opera’s Academy - 2 casts, very little time, but a fantastic team and a lot of fun.
From there I headed out on a run of projects; Cleansed at the National Theatre, again with a fantastic and brave bunch of performers - it was fascinating and difficult material to work with, and possibly one of the most oppressive productions I’ve worked on, but a brilliant experience nevertheless. During this I also had to briefly jump over to Berlin to revive the wonderful Le Vin Herbé for the Staatsoper - incredibly beautiful music and an unusually strong ensemble of singers.
After that and Cleansed, it was straight over the river to the Royal Opera House for a new production of Lucia di Lammermoor with, amongst others, the brilliant Diana Damrau. There were some elements of the production (that I found beautiful and necessary) which provoked a strong negative response from some of the more traditional Royal Opera House audience - and for the first time that I’ve experienced, the creative team were assaulted by boos at the curtain call on opening night. There were also lots of cheers, but you tend to mainly hear the boos! It was intense, but strangely rewarding - the production gets a revival next year, so it cant be all bad…
Whilst this was going on, Carolina also donned her Movement Director mantle and worked on The Brink at the Orange Tree theatre, directed by Mel Hillyard - a play about anxiety and fear around growing up - It had great reviews and a great response from its audiences.
After that I went to work with Matthew Xia on Blue/Orange at the Young Vic - a totally different type of production, but a lot of fun and very rewarding, Again an excellent cast and an eye opening experience in terms of the state of mental health treatment in the UK.
Carolina started (again as movement director) on The Opera of the Unknown Woman, directed and written by Melanie Wilson - this was the an incredibly ambitious feminist, science fiction opera talking about environmental collapse and the power of music and women to heal the world…
Still in opera land, I headed off to Aix en Provence to work on a mesmeric, dreamlike production of Pelléas et Melisande. It’s always brilliant to work in Aix, to be surrounded by such incredibly dedicated teams of people who work incredibly hard to achieve these massive productions. This year top honours has to go to the incredible back stage crew we worked with - truly inspiring.
There have been a couple of moments this year when I’ve worked with artist Daria Martin on developing the next short film we’re making; after last year’s At the Threshold, next year we’ll make a version of Kafka’s The Hunger Artist - it’s fascinating to be involved in the world of film again, and seeing where our particular development process can provoke interesting cinematic approaches. This time we’ve been working with the excellent Nick Gill as writer, as well as a wonderful group of performers to workshop our ideas.
By now Carolina had started work on the mindblowingly (and bodyblowingly) epic task of making and performing the third of Phyllida’s Shakespeares, The Tempest whilst also reviving the first 2 (Julius Caesar and Henry IV). She has now just finished working on and performing these for 4 months. We rarely saw her, but she seemed very happy with her alternative and brilliant all female family. Fortunately they are now on a break before heading to perform in a prison in Leeds and then back to New York in January. I thought she might simply vaporise at some point as the schedule was incredibly gruelling, particularly when they performed all 3 shows in a day! Though I think this was the best way to see the work from an audience perspective - a very brave and necessary undertaking.
I’ve been back to Paris, this time to teach at the Academy of Opéra National de Paris working with the singers on performance and acting - a very lovely side project to get underway. As well as that I also worked on Ella Hickson's OIL at the Almeida Theatre with the wonderful Carrie Cracknell - an epic play that was terrifyingly eye-opening to work on.
Most importantly we finally got back to our own work this month, when we spent a couple of weeks at the brilliant Shoreditch Town Hall working on Sheriff. There is a longer post to be written about this, but suffice it to say it was brilliant to get our teeth and minds back into it.
Next year is also packed, but I’m currently enjoying spending a couple of months trying to stay at home and be with our exceptionally wonderful children, Laszlo and Wilhelmina - their patience (along with that of my mum) has been astounding with the ridiculous schedule we keep, and it’s absolutely brilliant to be spending a lot more time with them.
So take good care of yourselves, have a wonderful break, and we hope very much to see you in some form in the new year.
Here's to 2017... upwards!
Spread the word.
Carolina and Josephthe ‘O’
We've just got to the end of 3 weeks work on our next project 'Sheriff'. It was a remarkable 3 weeks for many reasons. Let me try and explain...
We were twice unsuccessful in getting any support from the Arts Council for this project. This in itself was, of course, very disappointing. This was a stage of development that was being supported by The Unicorn Theatre, Shoreditch Town Hall, The Young Vic, The University of Mexico and Rockmount Primary School - it involved high calibre artists and a world renowned Psychoanalyst and Social Anthropologist - it created work for a number of artists and involved primary school children in the making of high profile new theatre. But we didn't get the money that we applied for (twice) - we also never got a satisfactory reason for not being awarded the grant!
So... as artists and theatre makers what do we do? It seems too depressing that a group of bureaucrats in Manchester who have never seen our work should be deciding whether we should make theatre or not, and the generosity of all the other partners still held. A ticket had already been bought for one of our collaborators to fly over from Mexico so we decided to change the approach and go ahead anyway.
We wanted to turn the situation into something positive and exciting, so we wrote to a large group of amazing women we had worked with before, or had been interested in working with, to see if they could come and be part of what we were trying to do. The project focuses on women, motherhood, disavowal and violence, which is why it was important to us to open the process up to women and not men. We didn't have any money, but with some incredible generosity from the Young Vic and Shoreditch Town Hall, we were able to offer people a contribution towards travel and food. We had to let some aspects of our plans go, but despite the ethical questions over lack of pay, we were able to do something that we'd never have been able to if we'd got the funding. Over the next 3 weeks we worked with 17 amazing women, one baby and a couple of fantastic men, and we were able to thoroughly interrogate the themes and questions that had been hovering around the project since the beginning. What we could or couldn't offer was very clear, so no one was there under any illusions - and it was beautiful.
So for now I'd just like to publicly thank Lucy Moore, Edgar Chías, Evan Placey, Purni Morell and the Unicorn Theatre, Nick Giles and James Pidgeon and the team at Shoreditch Town Hall, David Lan and Sue Emmas and the Young Vic and this incredible group of women; Duška Radosavljevic, Flick Ferdinando, Helena Lymbery, Jemima James, Mandy Lawrence, Miriam Nabarro, Jarrah Nabarro, Rachael Spence, Sacha Plaige, Steffi Müller, Helen Iskander, Jo Tyabji, Jade Lewis and Akiya Henry. It was fantastic to be surrounded by such generous, passionate and creative people. We'd also like to thank the brilliant Andy Griffiths and Anu George Canjanathoppil from International Justice Mission for their inspiring talk on the work they do bringing people out of slavery, sex trafficking and all those who suffer violence because they find themselves outside of the protection of the justice system.
Now it's time for us to let those ideas, offerings and conversations settle and to see which remain strong - we've got a shed load of material and we can't wait to get the project to the next stage. Hopefully this will be with the financial support of the Arts Council as, let's face it, it still remains the only realistic way of putting together new work. Most importantly though, something wonderful came out of a very difficult situation and a remarkable group of people were a reminder of the passion and commitment that needs to be behind any work, paid or not.
Here are some pictures of the days...
We're very proud that last week the film we made with Daria Martin opened at the Istanbul Biennale - here's a bit more info: