Beyond the Image: Devising 'Peeking in the Portrait' from photography

Happy Monday!

We hope you had a wonderful Easter break- and for all of you creatives out there busting a gut whilst eating your choc eggs, we salute you!

This week we are beginning to create a NEW SHOW! Our next blog will be full of tips for devising (and sharing our new show fears!), but before then we wanted a chance to reflect on our current show 'Peeking in the Portrait', and how it came to be. 




Starting with an Image

In January 2017, we were in the very early stages of devising a new show. Through a combination of architectural work (meaning working with space and its inherent atmospheres) and long physical improvisations, we began to feel the energy and flow of what would later become 'Peeking in the Portrait'. However, we needed a stimulus for our show- something that would excite our imaginations, and trigger themes for our audiences. After a period of research, we stumbled upon the portraits of Lady Clementina Hawarden- one of Britain's first female photographers- and we fell in love with their curious and ambiguous nature! 

When beginning to work with Hawarden's portraits, it was important that we remembered to PLAY! The images gave us endless possibilities for characters, themes, settings and more, but this was because we allowed ourselves to explore them in ways which weren't necessarily about replicating Hawarden's world. Whilst we believed it was necessary to research Hawarden's life and the context of the portraits, and always come back to her work if we lost ourselves in the devising process, we also gave ourselves licence to create something new, something unexpected, and something to say about these portraits!

So the playing began! Here is a taste of some of the ways we interacted with the portraits as stimuli:

  • Re-creating images: performers would try to re-create the portraits with as much accuracy and detail as possible, and then added these positions into spontaneous improvisations
  • Distorting space: performers would play with the space in between characters in the still image, and play with where these images are replicated on stage (close to audience, clustered in a corner, facing another performer etc.)
  • Character work: using the details in portraits such as facial expression, eye contact, body posture and weight to inspire the physicality of multiple characters
  • Moving images: using the re-created images as a starting point for movement- this was often movement that was sparked by one person and then responded to by the rest of the group. Example: an outstretched arm, which is leaning on a wall in the original image, becomes a wave to the audience.

By playing in these ways with Hawarden's portraits, we saw themes such a love and loss, death and birth, motherhood and sibling rivalry- all emerging from play and non-verbal improvisation. For any of you who have seen Peeking, you may have noticed some of these themes were triggered throughout, or you may not have- we want our audience to have the freedom to draw their own meanings from our work, just as we did with Hawarden's portraits! 


An exercise to try in the studio (be this professional or your bedroom!)

1. Find an image to work with, particularly one with a human figure in. Pick something which interests you- something curious and unexplained!

2. Take a moment to note all the little details of the figure- ask where are they positioned? where are they holding their weight? where are they looking? are they tense or relaxed? Try to see how specific you can be, right down to fingertips!

3. Re-create this image as accurately as possible. There will always be details you can't get exactly right, but try to get the essence of the image. 

4. Hold this position, and notice how you feel - are you happy? confident? scared? nervous? unsure? light? dark? open? closed? Stay in this position until you have a strong connection to your inner feeling, whatever this may be. (Tip: this does not need to "fit" with the context of the image- go with your gut!)

5. Begin to move very slowly, so that you are gradually forming a new image. Notice with the small and subtle changes how your inner feeling has changed, and if you are in an image with another person, notice changes in atmosphere and interaction. 

This exercise is influenced by Michael Chekhov's 'Psychological Gesture' work- check him out if you are new to his work, totally readable!

You can catch 'Peeking in the Portrait' over summer if you are yet to see it- exciting news to come!! As always, feel free to pop us a message if you have any questions about this weeks blog.