A New Approach - Development Week 1

Photos: Alan Fletcher, March 2015

It has taken me a while to digest the enormity of our first development week and quite how well it went.  This first week has been a long time in the making – my research started in January 2013 – and as such had a lot to live up to, and I wasn’t disappointed!

One of the key objectives of the week was to develop a good working methodology for a group of professionals from two different sectors experimenting with a new approach.  It’s fair to say that there was apprehension from us all as to whether this coming together would work and it did, overwhelmingly so. 

‘I think the greatest triumph of a great three days has been to have found a really productive, communicative and imaginative working model in the room.  With such varied types of training and experience it was always going to be our challenge to harness these forces.  I feel we have managed this and some unique work has been done.

Making mistakes and feeling safe enough to make them in the room is also vital for us I think.  Classical training is often about rights and wrongs.  There is a prescribed right way of doing things.  There is nothing wrong with that and our work is benefiting from the high class musicianship that results from that training.  But it is also crucial that we feel we can fail – as we reach towards excellence.  Otherwise we can’t create anything truly original’.  Martin Berry, Director

The most important factor in that success was the level of excitement and open-mindedness that all 9 of us have brought to the project – particularly our 4 musicians and composer.  An open devising process starting with a great big blank page and no rules is far more common in theatre land so Hannah (Designer), Martin (Director) and Josie (Actor) came to this party already comfortable with that format.  For Sophie (Cellist), Richard (Clarinettist), Flo (Violinst), Lully (Bassoonist) and Paul (Composer) this was a new phenomenon and one that they embraced with staggering enthusiasm.

‘It's so interesting to do all this stuff that we would never normally do. Very challenging. Sometimes I felt really nervous because we were really put on the spot and had to think on our feet and react quickly. But I'm really enjoying the feeling of stretching myself beyond what feels familiar and comfortable.’  Richard Russell, Clarinettist

A second key objective was to explore whether the entire premise of this approach is possible – is it possible to produce the highest quality of music within a theatrical context and if so how far can we push that context.  The answer is most certainly yes, and whereas we are all very aware that the balance between theatricality and musicality is a delicate one and we need to ensure that balance doesn’t  risk the musical quality and integrity of our performance, we are also now convinced that there is huge potential here.

‘In the normal run of our profession, it is all too easy to hide behind our props - to reproduce unthinkingly the notes we see in front of us, to organise the how but not the why, to make sure we won't go spectacularly wrong but without really examining what it would be like to go spectacularly right.’  Florence Cooke, Violinist

One thought that came across time and time again was what a gift this project is.  To have the luxury of this amount of time with such a broad and experienced team is an unbelievable privilege and in that knowledge the expectations of the group are huge.

'I can honestly say, at 43 years old, this is the first time since graduation that I've had time to explore and try things out.  The first and only time. 

So I question how much risk I can take?  How many unconventional colours can I score?  What would happen if they don't work?  When I accept an orchestral commission I should really write two versions of the piece - one I know will work and one that is full of adventure.  If only there was enough time to try both of them (you'll be correct in assuming that there isn't).'  Paul Rissmann, Composer

‘No one can call this project normal.  I spent the morning listening to the most beautiful pieces of classical music, then got asked to interact with each piece. Total freedom to respond as instinctively as we want to each piece, myself first then physically with everybody. Actors rarely get this opportunity.’ Josie Rattigan, Actor

During the week we spent time a lot of time playing – music, games, instruments (and often the fool) – and built scenes around original music Paul had composed in advance and composed during our residency.  We also told stories, explored the mechanics of the instruments (including taking them to pieces giving Sophie a heart stopping moment involving her spike!) and other objects, story boarded, attended concerts, visited 75 children from Round Hill Primary School, discussed the relationship between musicians and their instruments, recorded, and talked and talked and talked.  And by the end we knew what was possible, not to say we entirely know what it will be just yet, but we have huge excitement in and belief of what is possible.

‘I think part of the reason I’m so excited about this project is because I really wholeheartedly believe in its premise. I think good quality music designed to engage and inspire small children is such a fantastic, important starting point. It seems ridiculous that there is not enough of this about and a gift to have the funding to attempt it.’  Sophie Rivlin, Cellist

All tracks composed by Paul Rissmann, recorded live in rehearsal at Nottingham Lakeside Arts and performed by members of Aurora Orchestra: Lully Bathurst, Florence Cooke, Richard Russell and Sophie Rivlin.