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I Have Never...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Auditions - as promised...

Well, I guess I promised to describe this, and I'm on a bit of a roll.

OK. This whole thing started on 29th January. For the cast, that is.

Before that, I'd had the concept of doing a play about the game I Have Never after playing it on the weekend of last year's 24hour show (don't know what one of those is? Come along to The Mill in Bradford sometime around October and you'll find out). Sure, I'd played it before. Many times. I had a love hate relationship with the game. It didn't have a proper ending, always drifting off. That game, was different. I suddenly saw the dramatic potential for it. To say any more would invade the privacy of someone who is not involved with the show, so I shall draw a veil.

I proposed the show in October/November time. I'd just started working with Emma on Disco Inferno, so asked if she and Cat would be interested in producing. They agreed. A misunderstanding from Cat, developed the concept further. When I was pitching it to the group, I talked about the mythology of memories. Cat misheard this as Pathology of memories, and there turns out to be a whole theory around this. Hence the scientific waffle which ended up in the marketing (http://www.butg.org.uk/). I coupled this with a photo which my mum had taken (It pays to have a professional photographer as a parent). There's an interesting story to the pic - it's of an art installation where the artist had gone to an old bloke's flat in Wythenshawe, near Manchester, and made an inventory of everything he owned. She had then printed this on computer paper and hung it from the ceiling of the exhibition. When mum had gone to take pictures she had loved the concept, but was finding it difficult to turn into an image. Eventually, she got the artist (I think) to stand backlit behind the paper and strike a pose. Voila, Trapped By Trivia as it is titled. An artwork in itself, in my opinion.

I digress. Christmas '04 comes and goes. I read The Men Who Stare At Goats and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In Night Time. I also read some text books about The Making of Memory and The Extreme Male Brain (which leads to Autism, theoretically). I start to read some stuff about the nature of sleep. I talk to Iain Bloomfield briefly about the idea, and he tells me not to think about it too much, but DO. What do I want to say? I tell him, I'd like the play to be about

"The lies people tell themselves."

He tells me to keep that idea, but not waste time developing it too much before I get a cast. I decide to avoid asking his advice during the process, so that I can present him with a show which he has not had some part in (bar these initial thoughts).

So, audition day arrives. I turn up armed with a raft of possible games and psychological tests.
First we play the old party game of trying to guess who you are. The production team attach different name tags to people and they have to ask each other closed questions to work out who they are. It backfires somewhat, as I have chosen people who I perceive as historically important (Mother Theresa, Condoleeza Rice, Margaret Thatcher, Helen Keller, Ghandi etc.) I am gobsmacked that the majority of people are at a loss as to who these people are. The only person they get is Marge Simpson! And she's a cartoon character. I temporarily wonder what the world is coming to, and whether we are warping our minds in favour of celebrity, but pull myself out of the despond and think fast to come up with a fail safe game.

This comes in the shape of Bear, Salmon Mosquito. You may have heard of this as Giants, Wizards and Dwarves. It's basically a derivation of Paper Scissor Stone:-

Bear eats Salmon
Salmon eats Mosquito
Mosquito eats Bear (OK, feeds on Bear)

The auditionees split into two groups and have to decide which animal they are to be en masse. I have already got them to physically represent all three (I think my favourite is Salmon, where people wiggle while keeping their arms to their sides and opening and closing their mouths silently). Then they take three giant strides towards each other in the centre of the room and proceed to show their hand on the count of three. Whichever team wins has to tag as many of the opposing team as possible. The aim is for one team to end up with all the auditionees. It's interesting how distracting this game can be, as it fluctuates between the opposing sides. Clearly, the bigger the group gets, the harder they find it to decide which animal they shall be. The team to the left of me wins.

Having now regained my composure, I play my main game. Well, I say game, it's more of a psychological test, designed by the University of Wisconsin to replicate the patterns of Diversity in Society. I have become briefly obsessed by this report, as I am fascinated by the three shapes circle square and triangle. Each auditionee has been given a badge with one of the three shapes on. The squares make up the majority group at 60% of the total. The remaining 40% is split as follows:-

60% Circles
40% Triangles.

Each group is given a 'secret' rule. To paraphrase, they are:-
SQUARE - You are happy and want to keep what you have got.
CIRCLE - You envy the squares and want what they have got.
TRIANGLE - You don't want what the squares have, but you want to be them (I'm a bit rusty on this last one, check out the original paper if you can find it on the web).

As facilitator, you then tell the group to 'Achieve their Goal!'

I then sat back and watched. For half an hour. This was a great way to discover who would be comfortable with devising. A few people just said 'I don't get it' and sat out. OK Devising is not for them, but at least they have come to that decision, they have made my casting job easy. The people who did participate went through the predicted patterns of behaviour. For example, the circles chase the squares for the first five minutes. Then the squares attempt to form a 'safe place' by linking hands, or in this case, forming a barrier of tables between themselves and the Circles and Triangles. It was fascinating. I could have left them for an hour, but felt that would have been mean. Every now and again, I would ask a participant if they had achieved their goal, thus confusing them still further. Towards the end I asked them what they thought of their colour. Up to this point, they had focussed on the shape alone. It was only at the end that they realised that their shapes were all either red blue or yellow, and this didn't necessarily match up to their shape. The ratio of colours was 1:1:1, spread evenly across the shapes. This meant they could then get into a colour group and discuss what had happened. I stayed out of these discussions and just observed.

Next we had a balloon debate. The deal is this. All of you are in a hot air balloon, falling rapidly to the ground. Only one of you can survive. If you don't decide who, within 15 minutes, the balloon will crash and all aboard die. The characters in the balloon are as follows:-

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Richwoman, Poorwoman, Beggarwoman, Thief, Scientist, Priest, Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker (OK they had it tough) and Singer.

First out of the balloon was the Priest, believing that if God wanted him to survive then he would (Ah, the power of Faith). I was most convinced by the Beggarwoman, who when it was decided that she was for the chop, clung to the central post with all her might, and had to be prized away and bodily thrown from the balloon. The richwoman offered to put people in her will, but it didn't save her. Finally, we were left with a face off between the Thief and the Singer, which the Thief won (so much for the modern world's debating ability, that a Thief should win such a debate).

The last game, I asked the group to tell a story with the following number 231412341213. They were confused, but I explained that it was a memory trick. I told the following story:-

"A man with 2 legs is sitting on a 3 legged stool, eating 1 chicken leg. Along comes a 4 legged dog who steals the 1 chicken leg and runs away. The man (2) picks up the stool (3) and throws it at the dog (4) who drops the chicken leg (1). The man (2) then picks up the chicken leg (1) and the stool (3)."

I wrote the number in chalk on the floor, so they could refer back and gave them 5 minutes to come up with a story. The story was first to be told visually by movement work and sound effects, the only words being the number itself. Then, they were allowed to explain what the story actually was.

My memory is not what it was. I remember that one story involved a race, another an accident with an ambulance, a third revolved around plane tickets. Before they did the show and tell, I rubbed the number off the floor. There was an outcry "How will we remember the number?" they said. I asked them to tell me the stories. Of the three, two replicated the number exactly without help, the only reason the other didn't involved a missing plane ticket...

I enjoyed the audition ;-)

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