Research Notes

As you can read in Sam Butler’s post from last week, there’s a long process of research and development that goes on before we bring a show out on tour. As a part of that process, it’s important to get an idea of how an audience will react to the work, especially when it’s for children. When we were putting The Forest together, we brought a version of the performance to an audience of children at Sadler’s Wells, to see what they thought. The experience was interesting: it clarified some things, and raised questions about others. So that you can see what kind of reactions we got, and what kind of lessons can be learned by watching and listening to your audience, here are some notes we made at that session, which informed how we developed the production.

The introduction felt important today: after I’d announced us all, it felt like the children knew who they were watching, and that made it easier to watch abstract material. (Is this true? Does it make it easier? Did they feel like they knew us?). Do we need to think about an introduction of sorts in the performance?

There were giggles of embarrassment at the start: they weren’t sure how to react to the abstract. But, the embarrassment gave way to interest when there was contact between the audience and the performers: when they were invited in to the movement.

The pleasure of unison: a real reaction to the moment where everyone came together to do an impressive move (the roll with the cane).

These are children at the age of cartwheels and handstands and big competitive rollings-around in the playground.

There’s pleasure in the puzzle: pleasure in watching the performers working something out.

Danger - something that is not understood, something that is strange, is potentially frightening: the rhythms of approach, proximity, speed between the performers and audience. But there is also potential for a great excitement in the games that come with this. The danger and pleasure of the canes being dropped close to the audience, of big moves close by. Danger: the audience’s pleasure in big moves and impressive things.

Pleasure in material things, in stuff: the canes, the elastic, the balls - a real attention to detail in how these things are handled.

There’s a great desire to touch the elastic - do we allow this?

There’s a great desire to enter the space - do we allow this?

A real interest in complex patterns, and complications (entanglement).

The traverse was good. There was no sense of the other half of the audience being a distraction. The focus was entirely on the performers.

The moments of silence bring us back to the here and now. The natural sounds were noticed and commented on.

A comment “I didn’t understand it” at the end. it’s good to take children to a place where the relationship to the work is not necessarily about understanding, but is more about a physical, sensory, visual experience. But how do we let an audience of this age know that not understanding is OK?

Birdsong for Two Voices

A spiral ascending the morning,

climbing by means of a song into the sun,

to be sung reciprocally by two birds at intervals

in the same tree but not quite in time.

A song that assembles the earth

out of nine notes and silence.

out of the unformed gloom before dawn

where every tree is a problem to be solved by birdsong.

Crex Crex Corcorovado,

letting their pieces fall where they may,

every dawn divides into the distinct

misgiving between alternate voices

sung repeatedly by two birds at intervals

out of nine notes and silence.

while the sun, with its fingers to the earth,

as the sun proceeds so it gathers instruments:

it gathers the yard with its echoes and scaffolding sounds,

it gathers the swerving away sound of the road,

it gathers the rever shivering in a wet field,

it gathers the three small bones in the dark of the eardrum;

it gathers the big bass silence of clouds

and the mind whispering in its shell

and all trees, with their ears to the air,

seeking a steady state and singing it over till it settles.

- Alice Oswald