Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Freakoid Adventure

So the Freakoid adventure is over for now...

Freakoid has taken up such an enormous part of my brain for the last few months. And now it's done. Or at least its first outing is over.  There is talk of a Northern revival... Watch this space... So it feels like a good time to gather my thoughts on the process / project.

The act of performing this work myself (I usually don't perform. I usually write for others to perform) has been once again an intense / revelatory experience.  I find it fascinating how its possible to have two very different experiences of a piece of work simultaneously. As a writer I have quite a clear idea of what Freakoid is about. But as a performer I discovered things in the text that were a surprise. I mean, actually how does that happen? But it does. That's made me think a lot about how it might be possible to work with performers in a more collaborative way in the future. Well I suppose this is something I've been interested in for a while, but this experience has galvanised that for me.  Performers see things that writers miss!  

What else? Doing the show has reminded me how much I like writing and singing songs.  I haven't done that properly for a long time and I can feel an urge to continue. I can feel an urge to set up a punk rock band '1234 ROCK'. Yes, I can see that coming...  

It's also made me hugely aware of how much can be done on stage that has nothing to do with the lines that are scripted.  How a look or a movement can say a million things.  

I've also experienced as a performer how powerful the desire to be liked by your audience is.  How on nights when the show isn't quite running how it should, the urge to do anything to get the audience to like you is incredibly strong. And yet that way disaster lies.  The urge I had on a number of occasions to undermine my own play just so some people I don't know would like me... Yep, I have faced that and been tempted, though I'm glad to say I never allowed myself to give in (which did mean that sometimes, if the audience weren't for laughing, they instead got a very very dark show. So be it).  Occasionally I've seen actors fall into doing this kind of thing in productions of my work. I've seen them sell a line out for a cheap laugh, with the consequence that the whole scene is then ruined. When I've seen this I've felt so angry and let down.  I may well be a little bit more understanding about the urge to do it now (though I don't think it would make me feel any less pissed off. For a writer / director / actor / producer / technician / anyone involved in making a theatre show - surely the holy thing in the room is the integrity of the thing you are all working towards making? ). But yes. I experienced that. It was very strange. A very strong powerful force.

Something surprising I've found about performing my own work is that (for me anyway) it created a kind of concertina effect of non-objectivity.  I suspect this was to do with the fear I was experiencing. And also something to do with being the sole performer on stage?  But yes, fear (I find being on stage frightening) flattens and bleaches everything out. Everything becomes black and white / good and bad - there's nothing in between when fear is involved... And so in that kind of place, it's hard to keep a nuanced space in your head.  Consequently, I found in the early shows especially that I was a hopeless judge of my own performance. I'd come off and things would feel either 'great' or 'crap'. Which meant it was hard to get a real sense of where we really were with the show... In turn this made me very reliant on Sarah Applewhite who directed. That was a lot of pressure for her I think... I'm lucky she has such great generosity, clarity and calmness because there were performances which I thought had gone well that hadn't. And conversely, there were performances that I thought had been rocky, where she just shook her head at me and would say 'No Em, this one worked'.  She was the compass who retained her sense of true north through this experience.  She's great.  If you get the chance, you should work with her... Anyway, as the run continued this loss of my own compass lessened. In the last week I was much more able to properly judge things. But it's a funny thing to find yourself so far 'into' something that you're kind of the only one who really doesn't have a great view of what it is.

As far as performing again goes?  I'm not sure at the moment.  Putting Freakoid aside (because we may revive it) I think I may wish to continue performing, but if I do I think I want to find a way of working that truly frees me from text! Which is interesting because I think the kind of performance I'm excited about performing may not be the kind of theatre that I'm interested in writing for others to perform.  This is an early reflection.  Ideas are still forming... It may be nonsense... But it's something that has been going around in my head. We'll see.

The ups and downs of Freakoid... 

So, I'll tell you about the ups first... We got an Off West end Theatres (Offie) Nomination for 'Most Promising New Playwright'.  Which is bloody amazing. So amazing that here's the badge to prove it.  I mean look at it! We are delighted...

And we got some great reviews...

4 Stars
“Emma Adams’ is fantastic in character, particularly when belting out a glorious tune, accompanied by her portable Casio keyboard… If Freakoid is anything to go by, the future looks pretty cool.”

4 Stars
‘Freakoid’ is an ode to revolution, but mostly acceptance and love... This is an intelligent, silly and wonderfully zany show. Through the concept of ‘intersexual relationships between bio-droids and half-meats’, the audience is allowed to reflect on a very pertinent and contemporary issue for today – tolerance and acceptance… Expect one-liner gags and skilfully characterised comedic rhetoric. Look out for a twist at the end. I can recommend this highly.”
“Freakoid” is one of the most inventive pieces of theatre I have seen in a very long time and richly deserves to be seen by a far wider audience. Keep your eye out for Emma Adams who both wrote and performed this play along with Sarah Applewhite who directed. They are going to pop up in the West End at some point soon or you could go see this production and tell your grandchildren how you saw that Emma Adams before she got famous.”

3 Stars 
“Adams is a likeable performer with plenty of presence, and her mischievous quality coupled with the imaginative set and clever staging make this unusual production both strangely engaging and engagingly strange. Definitely an original concept, and a piece that will keep you guessing.”

3 Stars
A well-presented one-woman-play, set in a world full of turmoil and segregation, touching on a broad range of ethical and moral issues… A wonderfully wacky production.”

But there were downs too.  It's emotionally / physically one of the most exposing / exhausting things I've ever done. It was at times a very very long 3 weeks.  To give you one example, on our first preview a blogger came and subsequently reviewed the performance as a dud. And they went on to post their blog on the night that the press night was happening.  So it looked as if their review was a 'hot off the press' reaction to the show we had just done (which had worked much better). So that felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth really.  I understood previews to be something like a public dress rehearsal. Ticket prices are halved and the expectation is that things probably will go wrong as a show works towards getting its self into gear for press night. Freakoid on its first preview was not the finished article. The show subsequently lost over 20 minutes.  We ripped some scenes out. Lost a song. Wrote a new sequence... Every night we were working on making the show better... A show is fair game from press night onwards, but this review of the preview felt very harsh. And it knocked my confidence. It really did. It felt like a body blow. Of course we were then lucky to go on and get some great reviews and the nomination. But I suppose the experience was a shock to me. Because I didn't understand the intent of the writer. I'm not sure what they thought they would achieve (other than a body blow) by doing what they did.  We would have happily given them comps for the press night if they had asked... I have spoken to people since and they've said things like 'Sadly, it's quite common practice' or 'It's shit, but you have to expect it'... Well I guess I know now! But it was a real wake up call to how this 'business' works. Because even though most of us are doing it for next to nothing or for free, even so, theatre is a dirty old business, which runs on the fuels of fear, need and ego, just as much as the power derived from love, communication and a desire to expand experience.

So yeah. At times it's been a hard time.

BUT that's no place to end this blog!  

The dark side is only part of the story... 

I'm really glad that we did it. I've learnt so much and loved working with Sarah Applewhite, Rick Robinson who did sound production, Maria Spadfora who did the stills and video for the show, plus Maria Alves who was our fantastic lighting designer. It's been an amazing opportunity to be down at the Ovalhouse - thanks to Rebecca and Rachel for believing in the project and commissioning it. And we had so much fun (alongside the scary bits). Particularly lovely was getting to hook up with Tom Frankland and Nick Field who were just some of the fantastic artists we had time to get to know while we were doing the run.  They made things fun while we were down in London. Both of them have shows coming up btw. So if you click on their names you could do yourself a favour and see some fab work...

Right. That's it. For now...

Picture Credits...
All production shots by Paul Fox

A bit of explanatory blurb about Freakoid incase you didn't see it...

Freakoid - a co commission with Ovalhouse, London.
Following on from the Mauve New World development process begun in summer 2012 (commissioned by  Ovalhouse, London, Pink Fringe and TheNightingale, Brighton) Freakoid was developed further and was co produced with Ovalhouse and myself with Sarah Applewhite directing. The play was on in the studio between Feb 19th - March 9th 2013.  This piece of work explores what personhood is / may become in the future once our dabblings in synthetic biology have played out... The story asks what makes a person? Who gets to decide who has person hood and how come we find it so easy to turn people we don't understand into things that are less than human?.. Part comedic musical / part philosophical dialogue / part absurd adventure with an unexpected twist to catch at the end Freakoid is an unusual play!  It tells the story of a frightened, middle aged woman called Emma, who (having taken up the innocent hobby of genealogy) discovers her great grandparents were not quite as fully human as the authorities (or she) would like. In fact one was part ZX Spectrum and the other was a sentient vacuum cleaner. Both were revolutionary activists fighting for the right to declare their personhood. Perhaps unsurprisingly she discovers it didn't end so well for them... But when Emma's interest in genealogy is discovered she has to decide whether she's going to hide the truth or fight for the rights of biobots to be finally allowed full personhood. In the process, she might just start to like herself and live!

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