So, I can start.
I have booked my dramaturg, Gemma Williams, and our first meeting happens in a couple of weeks. I feel very fortunate to have received the a-n funding for a few days of her consultancy and I am planning how to make best use of her time.
Working on a site specific piece when the site only exists intermittently, as with this one, presents challenges. The trench cut during the excavation is filled in again at the end of the dig. I get about half a day at the end of the dig to work in it each time. I film my work whilst in the trench, then I get out and the trench is filled in. I look at the film and can see what needs changing, and then have to wait several months before the next trench is cut.
Having Gemma working alongside me will mean I can rehearse before the next dig, and prepare a finished piece for public performance in May.
So then we had the post mortem and the ‘What next ?’ conversation. The characterisations are sound and need filling out and heightening by adding another layer of narrative, such as a celebration or a heartbreak. Then we can go back to the writing to show how they each handle their different struggles. We talked more about sound and text ; at the moment the soundtrack is from the surrounding environment, which adds authenticity, but could be added to.
Then we can start to play with moving from the literal back to the abstract, which is where this piece started, and see what works best on that axis. Traditionally performance art uses the ‘neutral body’ rather than character which is found more typically in drama.
What has also emerged during this development process is that the work is about many things, and it may work better to produce several different pieces rather than trying to cram everything into one.
Just before the dig was filled in, I did a final shoot.
Now the focus has been on more research, assembling props and refining performance details.
Research came from lots of different sources: George Anelay, the Director of Archaeology, Stuart Needham, the Subject Specialist for the period, Kathrin Pieren, Petersfield Museum Curator, David Hopkins, the Hampshire county archaeologist, Sabine Stevenson, a postgrad looking at contextual aspects of heritage and archaeology, Rosalind Norrell Learning and Community Engagement officer at Petersfield Museum, Maureen Page Director of Butser Ancient Farm (set up to develop experimental archaeology). All have been extremely generous with their time and have contributed hugely to my understanding of the sphere in which I am working.
Props have been assembled from diverse sources: loans from the museum, gift from a family member, charity shops, my wardrobe, online etc etc
And finally it all came together for the Open Rehearsal on site. We performed on an unexcavated barrow because, right at the 11th hour of the dig, a bronze age burial urn was discovered in the trench which was going to take a lot longer to get out.
We had good weather and an enthusiastic audience who seemed very absorbed in our piece.
We did some experimental run throughs on site. We tried performing in parallel, and performing in turn and then pausing whilst the other one does some. The parallel performance works much better, the serial one is a bit pedestrian and dull.
I like the way modern woman is oblivious to the earth despite her heels getting (literally) stuck in it. Neo woman is much more engaged with her surroundings.
We talked about how to create an identity for the two roles through the use of object (bowl for neo, mirror or phone for modern) and gesture (slower, more precise and grounded for neo and frenetic, birdlike for modern).
And we worked out ways to engage with the audience by using humour and exchanging objects with them.
So I’ve done more thinking about where work is going and there are two choices: I could make a series as in photography, or settle on one direction to focus on. At the moment, a series seems to be the best way to collect together the ideas. The current episode of the series is looking at the ways in which Neo and Modern woman differ, and how they are similar. The ‘day in the life’ format we used as a devising tool has been useful to underline the similarities and makes the material very accessible. So the plan is to use that to show the work in progress at the end of the dig.
Many of the differences are superficial, and are the outcome of different technology with which we organise our lives. These technologies are embodied in the objects and tools which surround us. Contemporary objects often have little obvious connection to the earth, despite the fact that they are all derived from the earth’s products, with varying amounts of human intervention.
This absence of an indication of their source encourages us to behave as if, not only are these objects not of the earth, but we are not of the earth either: they separate us from it.
Barrow 16 turns out to be Barrow 20, and is not included in the excavation this time. So my planning for the site and measuring the space was for nothing. However, the barrows being dug this time include Barrow 8, which is a nice big one (visually more interesting) so I will concentrate on that one.
I have spent a second day with Gemma, and another session with Paula, another artist taking part in the performance. There is a definite sense of flying by the seat of my pants here: taking input from two other professionals challenges my ideas and my thinking and encourages me to move into new areas. It does leave me feeling slightly out of control and not sure of where I have got to and whether I want to be there. I need to spend some time mulling it over.
We did some devising for a ‘day in the life’ of neolithic woman and modern woman: