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A Work in Progress

In December 2015, we presented our first ideas for Sister at Queen Mary’s University in Mile End as part of the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. Ahead of the performance, Spitalfields Music sent us some questions to get us thinking…

Chiara Vinci in Sister (Work-in-Progress) © James Berry

How does audience feedback help your creative process and the journey the work takes?

As a collective, we have a very open creative process - our works are devised in the rehearsal room with performers working closely with the creative team to develop music, movement and text. We have a constant cycle of feedback in rehearsals to make sure that everyone's voice is heard and to allow us to explore lots of different ideas. This means that incorporating audience feedback is a very natural process for us and we relish the opportunity to do so. At the end of the day, we're making a show to be put in front of an audience - without them our work can't be fully realised - so it's important that their voice is heard in the creative process. Audiences provide an invaluable outsider's perspective on our work and work-in-progress performances like this give us the chance to see our work afresh, highlighting what comes across to the audience and what needs to be developed further.

How do you feel about performing an unfinished work to an audience?

Presenting an unfinished work can be quite a nerve-wracking experience as you're trying out ideas to see whether or not they work. If you're pushing yourself creatively and taking risks, then not everything you come up with is going to work first time so the nerves come from that sense of the unknown. However, this is also why these performances are so vital; you need to experiment, you need to be able to get it wrong and you need to put ideas out there on the stage to see if they work. Otherwise, you might be throwing away that missing piece of the puzzle by writing it off without seeing it in front of an audience.

Do you ever feel that a piece is finished? Is there an easy/natural point to let go?

With devised work, finishing a piece can be tricky. There's not normally a set script or score and the form of the work can change quite a lot in the final few rehearsals. We tend to set ourselves artistic deadlines when creating a new work, aiming to get complete drafts of music and text ready for the final set of rehearsals so that everyone is off book and fully present in their performances. During those final rehearsals, if something needs to change - a trim here, more space there - then it can. That's one of the great things about working so collaboratively - everything has some give and take to maintain the right balance between disciplines. However, when it comes to the performance, we make sure everything is locked in place. It gives the performers a sense of security as they step out on to the stage. They know how everything fits together and they're confident in their parts allowing them to fully invest in their performances.

What is a collective for you, and what does it mean for how you work?

For us, a collective is a constant collaboration - a collaboration between art forms, ways of working and individual personalities. Over the course of creating a devised production, the team have a real chance to get to know one another and respond to each other creatively. We involve the whole team in discussions about the work to ensure that it develops organically. This constant dialogue ensures that everyone's voice can be heard and can influence the production. A collective is also a very flexible space - it can expand and contract depending on the demands of the project. We've worked with a number of different performers across our productions and have teamed up with writers, designers and even a voice-over artist to help create our work. Being so open to collaborating with different artists gives us the unique opportunity to learn from a wide range of talented individuals and we hope to continue this approach as our work continues to develop.

Is it important to create a unique musical voice, and how difficult is this?

As a company, we strive to integrate music, movement and text into a seamless whole, so I suppose what we're looking to create is a unique theatrical voice. We use each element when it feels like the most natural form of expression for what we're trying to say and we enjoy blurring boundaries between all three. This unique process has led to the creation of a very distinctive style for our productions - a mixture of classically trained voices, spoken text, electronic soundscapes and choreography. We feel it's important to own a style of theatre making as a collective - we want our works to be recognisably ours whilst still maintaining an individual identity. I guess our style has developed out of the tastes and preferences of our team and will continue to develop as we experiment and play with material for our future shows.

What/who are your influences/influencers?

One of the interesting things about working as a collective is that we have such a broad range of influences - each collaborator brings with them a knowledge and expertise of different works across dance, music, theatre and the visual arts. Musicians like Brian Eno and David Lang, directors such as Katie Mitchell, and theatre companies like Gecko and DV8 - to name but a few - have all played their part in inspiring us along the way. Part of the fun of working collaboratively is being exposed to art that you haven't come across before - opening you up to new ideas and ways of working. I think by having this big melting pot of influences we develop a shared language that acts as a springboard for our own creativity and pushes us to keep innovating and exploring.

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