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Alexander Kelly On ... What I Heard About The World

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Innovative theatre makers Third Angel have collected stories about replicas, stand ins and fakes from around the world. In What I Heard About The World they will recount some of these stories as they create their own fake, a giant map of the world, to critique society’s acceptance of the inauthentic on a global scale. Artistic director Alexander Kelly talks to Joanne Hartley about the process, the performance and what he has discovered along the way.
What We Heard About the World is a devised performance and I have been reading on your blog about the process of establishing exactly what will go into the piece. Have you finalised the content of the show yet?
Pretty much. We’ve finalised the content for this version of the show, but the research process is ongoing, so it is possible that later this year, or touring next year, we may develop stories that we hear whilst presenting this version.

Has the devising/rehearsal process been typical of Third Angel or have there been surprises?
I suppose it has been typical in the fact that it has been both familiar and different.  Working with artists from mala voadora, the Lisbon based company we are collaborating with, we were all keen that we would work slightly differently to how we would on our own. But obviously we wanted to work together because there is a shared sensibility.  I think the main difference is just how much material we had on the table at the start of this stage of the devising process.

Can you tell us about your research process? 

We set out looking for stories of fakes, substitutions and stand-ins, and we’ve been collecting stories since January – either online via our blog, Facebook and Twitter, and also through conversations and work-in-progress performances. These tryout shows ended up creating a stand-alone durational performance (which we call Research Table) through which we collect stories from the audience and place them on a map that we build one country at a time. In that version we give each story a two word title and a little iconic stand-up drawing to mark its position on the map.  We showed versions of this at festivals in Sheffield and Oldenburg, with Forest Fringe in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and at the Society of Cartographers Summer School in Manchester.

How have the public responded to your invitation for them to tell you their stories? 

Very generously. People have been great in the story-collecting performances, and the online response has been really interesting. People have sent us stuff straight after we’ve done a call-out, but also months later – it’s obviously lodged itself into a few people’s brains, and they hear something weeks later and think of us.

Have you made contact with travellers from far flung places? How far have your investigations reached?
We really have had stories about the whole world, and from people all over the world. Most of the festival performances had international audiences, and of course the internet enables the research to be global, within the online community. So we got ‘this is what happens in my country stories’ and also ‘I’ve been to that country’ or ‘I live in this place now, and what I’ve noticed is...’ stories. So the stories do come from native and visitor points of view, which is important to us.
Are there any stories you weren’t able to keep in the performance that you are sad to lose? 

Absolutely. We had about 200 stories on the table at the start of this stage of rehearsals, which we quickly ‘long-listed’ down to about 80. We got that down to about 30 over the next few weeks, and the show is made up of a selection from that shortlist. A lot of the later work in rehearsal has been getting the balance of the show right, so there were several quite developed stories that didn’t make this version of the show. It’s not unusual for us to make more material than we can fit in, but there were a couple we were sorry to lose very late in the day. But there is space in the show for a couple of different shorter stories each night if we choose.

Are there any stories that have become particular favourites? 

The story that started it – the lifesize 2D stand-ins of soldiers given to families in America when they go to serve overseas – has been an enduring favourite throughout the project. But I think that actually most of our favourites are in the show – though they are all favourites for different reasons.

Following its run in Sheffield What We Heard About the World is touring to Portugal. How do you plan to negotiate the language difference when you’re performing over there?
That’s exactly what we’re starting to work on now. We decided early on that we wouldn’t try to think about both contexts whilst we were making it. The run in Sheffield is long enough for us to get the ‘English’ version up and running, and then to think about the Portuguese version. We don’t think it is a question of simply translating the text and surtitling it. It will almost definitely be in two languages, but the exact roles of the performers will probably change, too. I’ll let you know how it works if you like...

Can you summarise what you have heard about the world?  

Ha! That’s a tricky one...my thoughts about our original theme (a suspicion of the inauthentic, I suppose) have certainly broadened and deepened. I have understood that it is, of course, nowhere near that simple. We’ve certainly heard a lot of the sort of stories we went looking for – of fakes and replicas used knowingly in the day to day – but they have covered a real spectrum of situations and emotions.  So I think there is probably too much to summarise – which of course allows me to finish by suggesting that the best way to find out what we heard is to come to the show...

What I Heard About the World  runs until 30 October 2010 at Sheffield Crucible Studio Theatre before touring Portugal in November and December 2010 

For tickets please contact box office on 0114 249 6000 or visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

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