This is a joint project between PlayActing Theatre and Schull Drama Group to present the Peter Shafer play, ‘Amadeus’, with a grand group of players, using the music, set, movement and costumes in a contemporary way; creative experts and participants alike contributing and sharing ideas with fluidity as an aim and as a theme.

This is the blog of the process from my point of view, as the Director and as one of those responsible for the mise en scène.

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In readiness…

Preface: Introducing collaboration and collective creativity

My experience and reflection on the nature of collaboration when creating theatre and drama has led to a passionate belief that by sharing artistic endeavours and thoughts, and by allowing each participant to have input and ownership of the overall process (in fact, really trusting in this process), the results will be the harnessing of the collective subconscious and the synergy of the developing project becoming larger than the sum of the parts. I call this natural evolution ‘collaboration and collective creativity’.

By collaboration and collective creativity, I mean the quality of cooperation in a creative context. From directing plays with professional theatre-makers or amateur groups, to drama workshops with teenagers and adults, to drama classes in schools, my aim has been the same: to find a means of coming to a place of co-creation that honours the equality and the equal participation of everyone involved, and fosters the free expression of the subconscious creative mind.

Questioning of other theatre professionals and artists about their processes of collaboration has led me believe that this word has a different meaning to each person and depends entirely on the individual creative person’s response. In my case, I seek a process which creates a working environment of close connection between the parties and which results in the minds of those involved being free to play and create, so that the sharing becomes a symbiotic flow of ideas and inspiration. This often happens in improvisation and can even happen in simple conversation if parties are open and aware.

There is method of training horses which operates by seeking a 51:49% relationship with the horse––a relationship as close to 50:50 as you can possibly get. The trainer always retains a slight edge in control, having regard to the size and nature of a horse. In my own work, I strive to create this atmosphere––where the participants and I are balanced almost equally but, as teacher / tutor / facilitator, I retain some element of ‘holding’ the workshop for safety and security. While guiding the people involved in this theatrical process I wish, ultimately, to bring the participants to a place where they trust the process of working. There is a focus on the continuing development of the actors’ abilities throughout rehearsals on: fitness, body movement awareness, sensitivity to others––bringing focus and intensity, spacial awareness, use of symbols, fun and laughter; the individual contributions of these participants being the glue that binds the development and shape of the work.

As director of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, I had the perfect opportunity to record this working process as part of a continuing exploration of my own systems and beliefs. I wished to research the theory that, in guiding the troupe of actors, encouraging them to be self aware and confident of their own skills and talents, comfortable with themselves and with each other, everyone having an opportunity to work in conjunction with the design team on set and lighting and a DJ on music, ultimately we would achieve a performance that would be ‘of the essence’ and the actors could rely on their own instinctive and learned knowledge, attached to and integreted with this system of collaboration and collective creativity.

When I say ‘director’ I use the term in a loose way. As I perceive it, my responsibility is to take charge of shaping the dramatic content, while working in collaboration with all of the various sections of the ‘troupe’. The putting of the play onto the stage, that is, the creation of a vision for how the play is seen by an audience and arranging for that practically, I describe as the mise en scène, after the French desciptor, and which more accurately reflects, in my view, the collaborative and creative process of designer, Julia Zagar, artist / producer, Alyn Fenn and myself, as leaders and guides of the troupe of actors, designers, and the other artists who contributed music, lighting etc.

Speaking about Antonin Artaud, Peter Brook (one of my heroes) says of his Theatre of Cruelty that he sought: ‘A theatre working like the plague, by intoxication, by infection, by analogy, by magic; a theatre in which the play, the event itself, stands in place of a text.’ (The Empty Space, Pg 55.) In undertaking the preparatory work for Amadeus, my desire and belief was that we could create a play that was an event as envisaged by Brook by following the principles of collaboration and collective creativity: openness to learning, working to create a freedom in performances, an ownership of the play by the entire troupe, a welcome contribution to the: set, the development of characters, the musical backdrop and the physical presentation; coupled with our constant desire in PlayActing Theatre to be relevant to a contemporary audience.

How then does this theory of collaboration and collective creativity impact on the production of a play? Is it clearly evident in a performance? This was the purpose and challenge of Amadeus: to follow this system, believing that collaboration and collective creativity would work; that all of the effort, individually and together, for the common purpose, the Play, is what will show the theory successful in its intensity and honesty. And, in keeping a record of the steps taken on this project (noting what worked, what didn’t work), to take the enquiry into this theory one step forward.

Introduction to the Amadeus team:

PlayActing Theatre

PlayActing Theatre is a small theatre company producing plays since 2004 that have toured West Cork with the financial assistance of Cork County Council Arts Grants and other sponsorship.

Since 2011, the focus of the company productions were plays written and performances by those involved in PlayActing, with the essential creative and practical support of Julia Zagar and Alyn Fenn.

Physical presentation, simplicity of design and sympathetic use of music are the hallmarks of the productions where effective communication with the audience is the essence of our intention in presenting work.

For ten years at least, Julia Zagar wanted SDG to produce ‘Amadeus’.

A textile artist and self-confessed fan of fashion and costumes, she has graced many Schull village events with splendid outfits, created from anything.

As a longstanding member of SDG, she has been responsible for the costumes for many of their plays.

She has been the designer for all of PlayActing Theatre productions. Julia had endeavoured to coax Schull Drama Group or PlayActing Theatre to run the gauntlet of a whopping great production with her.

Schull Drama Group

Schull Drama Group has a long history of producing plays in Schull village. For over forty years, there have been various styles and playwrights presented to local audiences.

I have directed a few of those plays, primarily in the early 2000s; the last production was in  2009.

In recent years, the strength of the group is shown in the three plays presented every year and they have taken some of the one-act and full length plays to competition in the amateur drama circuit of Ireland; succeeding in reaching the All-Ireland Finals.

They have presented evenings of ten-minute plays and have actively encouraged members to write and direct.

Productions can be elaborate, with fantastic costumes and sets, that have impressed, year after year.

Schull Parish Hall, where the plays are usually performed, now has an impressive array of stage lighting and corresponding  equipment, funded over the years by SDG.

The project begins.

In my view, the moment had arrived when a production involving a big cast was desirable and the combination of elements in late 2017 made the experiment possible: many excellent and experienced actors, years of presenting plays where artistic expression was a priority and a dedicated and accomplished background design / costume / set team was in place, great lighting options, access to musicians and sound technicians, choreographers and artists living locally and a desire to bring another visual extravaganza to the local community.

Besides, the music of Mozart is glorious and the text of Amadeus is fantastic.

Julia, Alyn and I, on behalf of PlayActing, approached the SDG chairperson, Caleb Cairns, in September 2017 (and the SDG committee later) to ask if joint co-operation was possible.

In November 2017, the ‘Amadeus Project’ was born.

Cork County Council agreed to grant aid this community project with an Arts Grant of €1,000 in their 2018 awards.

It was agreed that the project would begin with a series of four workshops. Unthemed and with a tenuous connection to the ‘Amadeus’ script at this juncture, these workshops fulfilled the desire of the SDG committee to offer workshops to members to improve their performance skills.

As Director, they were an opportunity for me to lead into the rehearsals proper in a gentle way that encouraged co-operation and collective creation.

The workshops were open to all of the community and were advertised in the SDG and PlayActing Theatre Facebook pages, through SDG email list and by word-of-mouth. A separate Amadeus Project Facebook Page was also set up to deliver information to those who came to the workshops and signed up to the project.

The Workshops.

On three separate dates in Spring 2018 we held workshops in Schull Parish Hall with a group of people. They were led by me, Libby Seward as a choreographer/movement coach and Julia Zagar as Designer.

They were planned to introduce the participants to their own movement, to moving as a group, creating images based on a specific theme together, using fabric to create a distinct group.

Each workshop built on the previous day’s work in relation to these objectives.

Libby worked on moving with imagination, incorporating all of the body, connecting different parts of the body that one is used to..

Julia brought card, paper and fabrics out of which costumes were created in the moment, and connections made with others in costume, playing with movement and those designs.

I focused on encouraging the groups to move/work together, teasing out the potential in that group, finding the set and using it. There was a focus too on status and awareness of playing with that potential –– between the participants, the characters that developed and the set.

Delayed but not stopped…

Due to unforeseen circumstances there was a delay.  In fact, it seemed like the project was discontinued, the funding lost.

But, circumstances changed and various people expressed an interest in seeing the project come to fruition in 2019, the royalties were available and the funding was approved for a further year.

After a first meeting to confirm the continuing interest of the participants in Amadeus, the first workshop proper took place in Schull Parish Hall on 18th March, 2019, bringing the Design team and the available performers together.

Twenty people in a room, with mood boards, a chair to transform on the night and games and playfulness to  bring this group together.

We aim to work on this project until November 2019; six performances will take place over two weekends.

Details of the process will continue in this blog.

Karen Minihan