Keeping things simple. How to rethink things.

Keep it simple stupid. Remember that from school? How demoralising. However, I myself am a big advocate of this idea – To me, we should not be afraid to use an item in more ways than one and we should not clutter the stage. However, today we shall explore how this may not always be the case and ask this question: How do we rethink what we use?

In ‘Tull 100’ our main mission is to tell the story of Walter Tull. Luckily, we have an AMAZING team who all have given so much to the project from acting, movement to production and costume. The latter is something I am going to embarrass the incredibly talented Victoria Walley over who has always been a loveable and gifted costumier and friend. For ‘Tull 100’, we must establish the authenticity of the piece through the costume and she has researched far and wide into the particular gas masks from WWI or the football kits of each team. This week, we focused on the scene in which we explore the death of Walter’s parents and the introduction of his step-mother, Clara Palmer. It is a beautiful piece of movement that follows the same principle of courting and discovery as the Sheet game we discussed in the play essay. However, as the mother dies, she leaves the game and then as the father dies, he leaves too. This results in Clara being left with the sheet all by herself, unable to duet as she is alone with these children. Context set, we can now delve into how simplicity applies in this scene from the movement to the costume.

Of course, we could have ‘simply’ had the duets with no planned images and this would offer the audience a mystery to solve for themselves. But, although we highly encourage the audience’s engagement and imagination to be sparked, offering images of narrative was something we discussed as a necessity. So, we began with how we could show the first death: Walter’s mother. We kept the original idea of having the actress, Laura Payne, drop the end of the sheet, breaking the duet and then returning to her seat on the side of the stage. This left Dean Jones, who was portraying the father, with one end of the sheet. It was impossible for him to duet. He would ask the questions, he would pull and push, but these questions met no answer. This, in my view, is an appropriate level of simplicity. We could have had Payne break down, choking, clutching her throat and then carried off on the shoulders of men in black suits but that would most likely have been wildly inappropriate.

The simple music and the simple game should evoke similar levels of simplicity in the action. This too applies to production, set and costume. The company discussed if we should have a bouquet of flowers or a veil to show the marriage. This was a great idea, however, we had to come to an agreement as I personally felt that the simplistic approach of multi-use of props would be more effective. I suggested we could use the long sheet as a veil and Martin Boileau suggested that the sheet can also be used as a bump to show her pregnancy, in place of the usual pregnancy bump used in theatre. Neither way is wrong or right. In fact, we came to a middle ground in which Daniel, a guest to our rehearsal space, suggested we used one simple flower. Overall, it is just understanding the appropriateness for that scene and that piece. So, next time you think you need something else, perhaps you already have it. It may just take a little breaking of the rules to make it so.

In terms answering that question, for ‘Tull 100’ motifs have been central in showing the parallels between Walter’s football life and his last years in the War: a whistle, football, certain movement patterns for example. Boileau and I are possible notebook-addicts with about 9 or 10 between us for this project alone. I have attached one of my pages as this week’s image, a page showing the process of discovering motifs. I will have the scenes laid out and then will see if there is any NATURAL way to use our significant props in these scenes. For example, the sheet we will use in the first scene as a screen will be used as a duet sheet in the next scene which is followed by the hospital screen in the third, duet sheet in the fourth and so on. This is not a MUST DO but I personally find getting the most value out of the objects you do bring to the stage and selecting these objects intentionally is extremely impactful for both creating and watching theatre.

Billy Taylor's notebook - exploring motifs.

Billy Taylor's notebook - exploring motifs.