Pit Lab* at The Barbican

We spent the last week of January 2013 at The Barbican researching and developing the design and technical side of Tonseisha in much the same way actors and writers often enter a room to play with ideas surrounding a new project. The Pit is offered as a venue to artists, performers and facilitators across all art forms as an incubator for creative work, experimentation and realising of ideas. To our knowledge, we don’t know of any group which dedicates this amount of time to their sound, lighting and design team to experiment and play with ideas which shape the world we’re building.

We were very happy to be awarded a week’s worth of time in the Pit Theatre, with full technical support, organised by the Barbican and Guildhall Creative Learning. We experimented with non-traditional lighting techniques, front and rear digital projection, slide projectors, colourscapes, live amplification of machinery and equipment, live sound looping, and various microphone types. One of our designers, Jonathan Swain described what we were trying to create as live painting, which I rather like.

We also invited a team of male actors in to try group soundscapes and the presentation of different aspects of character via multiple bodies in the space. We are very grateful to Austin Spangler, Phil Whelans, Thom Tuck, and Charles Adrian Gillott who contributed towards this aspect of development.

Here is part of our proposal to the Barbican:

saltpeter – exploding opera

Tonseisha, a play by Erik Patterson, is being transformed into a cross-disciplinary performance installation. This dedicated time and space will allow our creative team – lighting, sound and design – to propose and respond to creative stimuli, and strengthen our working relationships. This references the way performers are often given time to workshop ideas.

Prior to the LAB, we will have our team propose the most controversial, irreverent, pressing questions to do with performance in general and/or their field of expertise that they are concerned with. We will then curate a week of testing, sharing and playing. The hypotheses tested and our findings will feed into our full scale production, and importantly, inform our individual working practices and future projects within a community of artists.

Some example questions: Can lighting changes, as opposed to the characters’ journeys, drive the action of the piece and if so, for how long? What happens if the actors aren’t allowed to speak, but have to utilize sonic equipment for the purpose of communication? How much of this can take place in total darkness? Could we have the technical team on stage? Do we need performers (cf. Stifter’s Dinge)?

saltpeter, founded in 2010, is a company that believes in building exhilarating, inspiring art through positive long-term relationships and vice versa. Our shows emerge out of the artists we grow and weave together and our reach and references are international and cross-disciplinary.

We have discovered that our process-driven approach gives our work – large or small, high-tech or lo-fi –  a flavour of something bigger i.e. our belief in art as integral to everyday life.

Over the last 18 months, saltpeter has been using the play, Tonseisha, to investigate questions we have about art, music, and performance and the creative process. We have gathered a team of artists from various disciplines, drawn together because we find each other exciting and stimulating.

You can view more film footage and photographs of this week and our ongoing process on our Film and Photography pages. Images by John Hunter at RULER, Oda Starheim, and saltpeter.

Tonseisha – The Man Who Abandoned The World is a developing project based on the play Tonseisha by Erik Patterson

*Pit Lab has since been renamed Open Lab