Deep Heat Project Report

Terms of Reference

This report is on the verbatim presentation project as part of the MA Digital Theatre course at Wimbledon College, University of Arts London.

Summary (Abstract)

A 10-minute presentation was made for a speculative representation of my design idea for the text “Deep Heat”, written by Robin Soans. “Deep Heat” contains verbatim monologues drawn from conversations that Soans overheard and also edited versions of interviews he made as part of research for his plays. The presentation was given in the form of a design pitch, which articulated a realistic and fully realised plan for my interpretation of the text using Digital as a primary tool through which to present the work. My design idea was to create and choreograph a contemporary dance piece.

Introduction

“Verbatim Theatre” is a form of theatre where the text is taken from real life interviews; verbatim meaning “in exactly the same words as were used originally”. Sometimes the text may be slightly changed or restructured to fit into more of a narrative. However, the fundamental idea is to use the text and let the narrative form naturally with little or no manipulation involved. I took this understanding and developed it further to form my project. The approach I took was to create a contemporary dance piece using selected texts from “Deep Heat” as the starting point for choreography.

The Concept

I identified themes from several interviews within “Deep Heat” that evoked an emotional response. I then reduced the number of selected interviews to two, through a process of elimination, in order to uncover additional themes and ideas to help create a starting point for the choreography. The interviews chosen were those with Ali Boyraz and Sharon Wilkinson. The major themes that emerged from the two interviews were the idea of opposites/duality and the feeling one gets when remembering personal experiences that shaped ones life.

I constructed a shorter narrative based on Ali Boyraz’s interview highlighting key scenes; being hunted, imprisonment, interrogation, a hunger strike, release from prison and an interview. These scenes were reduced to two, interview and interrogation, directly relating to my theme of opposites/duality. Interviews and interrogations can be seen as two opposite ways of communicating in order to find out information. However the connecting idea behind both scenes could arguably be the same i.e. the need to acquire information and the ambiguity of the relationships of everyone involved.

The two scenes were also chosen as they allowed some freedom in the narrative through dance movement and gesture to explore the other scenes I highlighted; being hunted, the hunger strike and release from prison. I came up with a working title for the piece which eventually became the official title. “HUNTeD”

The other theme, the feeling one gets when remembering personal experiences that shaped ones life, came from the interview with Sharon Wilkinson. During the interview there were moments when her husband John provided commentary for the 2007 FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea. I remembered this game vividly as I am a Manchester United supporter and have strong memories of the defeat.

In exploring how to make the dance unique, I was interested in making it an immersive experience for the audience. I worked recently with an immersive theatre company and wanted to use some of the ideas from my time there. The original concept for the dance was constructed with the idea of including audience participation through a digital means. This concept explored the theme of remembering personal experiences. How could I make the audience recognise something personal to them within the performance?

I explored a variety of ways in which this could be achieved. After investigating different methods I chose video as a primary format because visual information has a strong connection with the audience. After purchasing a ticket for the performance, the audience would be invited to upload video footage they have previously recorded themselves. The video would be replayed during the dance performance on a screen in order to highlight my theme of remembering personal experiences.

My approach to audience participation was taken cautiously as it was a new territory in my work and to some extent it could have been controversial. There could be sensitive material that audiences wouldn’t want to be made public, therefore I would have had to warn those uploading video that their material might be shown in public and I would also have had to explore the legal challenges of this.

I decided to approach the choreography in collaboration with other dancers, letting them improvise movement based on material and themes I shared with them, then taking their movement to find motifs and form a structure for the piece.

Preparation

My approach to the project was to treat it as if it were a fully realised project instead of being speculative, this meant detailing and finding specific information such as time, the duration of the piece, my timeframe for working on the project, the cost of the project, the space it would be held in, designing technical drawings and creating a presentation pitch to demonstrate all of the above.

Time was an issue, as I had to arrange a rehearsal with dancers before the presentation pitch. By booking a rehearsal I could construct a timeframe in which I could complete my aims and objectives for the project. Fortunately I was able to arrange a rehearsal shortly after the project brief to take place in December at LABAN dance studios, two weeks before the presentation so I had enough time to prepare themes, develop ideas for a trailer and research the interviews and to use the rehearsal to encourage further development and have footage to create a trailer to show in the presentation.

The space was chosen was the Wimbledon College theatre as this was a suitable space for the performance and I had easy access to a theatre plan, which I could use to draw my dance space and seating configuration. The choice of theatre was focused at the start of preparation in order to progress and identify resources and technical equipment.

There were three main characters in Ali Boyraz’s interview and so I chose to have three dancers in the piece. A structure for the scenes was composed alternating between the interview and interrogation scenes with the video footage used as a link between scenes. The footage would be displayed on two TV screens within the space in order to give a more intimate feel to the performance and help trigger a reminiscent feeling as the audience would be more likely to have a TV as opposed to a projector. I decided to make minimal use of props, which is a characteristic of verbatim theatre, by having three identical chairs, one for each dancer. Through the use of pedestrian movement the dancers could use these chairs to help convey different messages.

I worked out what props and technology would be needed in the performance and calculated an estimated budget. These were then detailed in technical drawings on VectorWorks and placed on the theatre plan, ready to be included in the presentation pitch.

Deep Heat theatre plan

The rehearsal was very successful. It started with a 10-minute presentation and discussion with the dancers, then an exercise with roleplaying characters and movement followed by another exercise using the three chairs in the space. I told the dancers to change from one scene to the other and freeze at random intervals. Finally I recorded some of the choreography and constructed my own ideas to use in the trailer.

A week before the presentation pitch, I felt on reflection that there wasn’t a strong message in the themes. The focus of my work shifted between the two themes of opposites/duality and remembering personal experiences and there wasn’t a strong connection between them. It felt disjointed and I decided to revisit the latter theme, remembering personal experiences.

My first task after this realisation was to simplify this latter theme and connect it to the other theme of opposites/duality. I changed the idea to focus on “recognition”. With this I was able to come up with the concept of doors.

On the website I developed originally for uploading video footage, I created two images of doors, one in red and one in white. The audience were invited to click one or the other. As these images would be the first thing people see in regards to the dance piece they could be revisited with the video footage during the performance giving a sense of recognition.

The results of the choice of door were complied in a database in order to reveal which door was the most popular in any one performance. Two endings to the dance were produced; depending on which door was chosen, continuing my idea of challenging the audience’s expectations and making the dance unique.

The doors were also the means by which the audience would have a visual signifier for the theme of opposites/duality. The red door was shown on the TV screens during the interrogation scenes and the white door during the interview scenes.

I created a second trailer in addition to the first to demonstrate the video footage with references to time, representing the 21 years Ali Boyraz was in prison. This footage also featured the red and white doors as a teaser and was shown in the presentation.

With the time constraint I had after changing my idea close to the presentation pitch I was unable to explore and test this idea further so I took the risk of incorporating it at the last minute.

The Presentation Pitch

My presentation pitch began with an introduction to the website page showing the images of the red and white doors. I asked the class which door I should choose.

I decided to start with something different in order to grab attention straightaway and stand out, teasing my listeners with a question which I would leave hanging until the end. Inspired by JJ Abrams TED talk, I wanted to toy with the idea of mystery and reflect this in the presentation. (Reference: TED talks – JJ Abrams)

After the introduction to the website I continued with a PowerPoint presentation. The slides were kept as simple as possible with just the titles and images in order for me to talk fully about the project and get everyone to listen. The slides were broken down into Introduction, Background, Creating Dance, Video Footage, Technical Information, Explaining Doors and the Trailer.

The pitch was written down into a document then condensed into bullet points of information. Although I rehearsed with these bullet points I decided in the end to use a full text script for the presentation as this gave me confidence in communicating my points in detail to the audience.

The trailer was intended to reveal the meaning behind the red door, which I tactically suggested to the listeners to choose at the start. After the red door was shown on the trailer, the footage from the rehearsal for the interrogation scene was shown portraying Ali’s struggle in prison and the relationships between the guards and him.

Results

The pitch went successfully with regard to the style of presentation and keeping the listeners entertained. However I felt there was a fine line between keeping it entertaining and communicating my points. The majority of the class afterwards didn’t understand my rationale and the concept got a bit lost. This was also indicative of the recent change to one of the themes and not having time to explore and test this.

I felt that I had prepared for the presentation pitch well by providing enough materials in order to convince my listeners that my project could have been a feasible dance piece.

The trailer with the video footage representing time felt like an unnecessary addition to the presentation and didn’t fit in with the narrative. This again showed how the time constraint of the last minute change adversely affected the presentation.

The feedback from the class was positive with regards to the presentation, how it was structured and kept the listeners engaged. There were questions afterwards about my reasoning behind choosing certain elements such as the doors and chairs and why I chose the red and white colours. Another question that was asked was: “What was behind the white door?” I intentionally chose the red door, as I didn’t have time to construct a version of the trailer revealing the meaning behind the white door.

Conclusion

I was initially nervous about presenting to the class but with rehearsing beforehand and having one-to-one presentations with peers in the class I felt more confident. I was pleased with how my presentation was received and the comments from the dancers I rehearsed with. They told me that the project was exciting and they wished it was something they could actually perform themselves.

In future I would focus on just one theme to construct a narrative and produce choreography. It was challenging merging two ideas and when I reflected on my work before the presentation I realised that the combined themes didn’t give a clear message. Although I attempted to solve this it was too close to the deadline. I have learned that it is important to identify a clear message and to allow myself more time to reflect as the project evolves.

Additional Material

HUNTeD

Deep Heat Presentation Text – (Downloadable .PDF)