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Well

Opening night

It's finally here. After months of research and development and four intense weeks of rehearsal we put the show in front of an (impressively large) paying audience at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. I didn't know what to expect. Would they love it? Would they hate it? Would they understand it?

Apart from a few niggles with ironing out sound levels - the sound design is a richly layered epic beast - the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. People found it beautiful, spellbinding, dazzling and spectacular which is always lovely to hear as an artist. But much more importantly nearly every audience member commented on how the piece had opened their eyes to something of which they'd previously been entirely ignorant. And in the post show discussion after the performance they asked such intelligent and difficult questions which Professor Stuart Reynolds (our scientific adviser) and Dr Sheila Halliday-Pagg (from our partner charity Impact UK) answered with clarity and sensitivity.

Here's hoping that all the other organisations with whom we're talking about the future life of the show follow in the footsteps of Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and Luton Hat Factory (who are taking the work in December) and programme the work in their venues and festivals so we can enlighten and educate more audiences about the ongoing tragedy of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh whilst simultaneously giving them an evening of beautiful aerial performance.

Pots pots pots

We knew we were interested in using water carriers of some type in the choreography to explore and highlight that the very act of carrying water is a significant burden - as Stuart says in one of the scientific voice overs 'Water's very heavy. You wouldn't want to carry a lot of water a long way'. But we never imagined how that iconic image of a Bangladeshi woman balancing a water pot on her head would become the primary design feature of the production. Back in April William discovered, after much trawling through the kitchenware shops of Southall, 4 beautiful copper pots. We used these extensively in the early development of the choreography and then pur Sound Designer Filipe Gomes got his hands on them. Fil works at the cutting edge of sonic technology and immediately whipped out some battery powered contact speakers which would sit within each pot playing a tone (tuned to the resonant frequency of each particular pot) effectively turning the pot itself into a generator of sound. Depending on how the pot was moved through space and across the stage would affect the sonic experience. Then William jumped back on the pot bandwagon and decided we needed another 8 pots to create a line of them curving across the stage partly to suggest the curve of the well. When lit from the side they shone like burnished gold and remained on stage throughout - a constant reminder of the heaviness of water and the chore that it is to collect it. Now we were on a pot roll Will went back one final time to the bemused kitchen ware retailer in Southall and bought another 4 which he then suspended in the air around the aerial equipment and wired each one with a light bulb both marrying the pots with the aesthetic of the aerial equipment and also creating beautiful moments where a performer could be lit simply by a seemingly empty upturned pot floating above their heads. The last Hurrah for the pots came in the very final moments of the show when 4 of the pots from the curving line are placed around the body of one of the performers. Again thanks to some technical wizardry these 4 pots had remote controlled LED lights set within them so at the touch of a button could be transformed symbolically into candles placed around the corpse.

Our partner charity

Back in April through the wonder of social media we were introduced to the work of a brilliant charity called Impact UK who work with several developing countries on a range of issues, one of which is safe water and sanitation. They contacted us through twitter and our know partners with us on the project as they launch a crowd funding campaign to raise money to buy filters for arsenic contaminated Wells in Bangladesh just days before Well opens. I hope we can help raise awareness of both the situation out there and the brilliant work they're doing in helping villages affected by arsenic in the ground water throughout Bangladesh. Please check out their work - they also have some brilliant videos on their website that give a real sense of what's going on over there. And as well as donating directly you can also help by spreading the word about the campaign through email Facebook and Twitter.

End of the First week

We've just finished our first week of full rehearsals for well. It's been intense but amazing. Because we are lucky enough to have the same performers who were with us in the research and development period earlier this year it means we already have a shared vocabulary and indeed a lot of material which we generated then. So somewhat miraculously we've already sketched out the whole show which for work of this kind is incredibly quick. I have no doubt we'll edit and remake much of it as we go but it's reassuring to know the bones are there and the narrative is clear (hopefully) and emotionally charged. Baby Noah joined us in rehearsals today, which was surprisingly easy. Working in a room full of crash mats and with very little in the way of props except our beloved (and sturdy) copper pots is pretty baby friendly it turns out. So onwards to the next week and really carving out the detail...

Debrief Dinner

Last night our costume Designer Kate Lane cooked us an amazing vegan feast and we had a debrief of the R&D showing and process so far. Kate also has a (not so) little one and we had Noah with us so what with kids and getting stuck into the feast itself we didn't get down to the de-brief part til 10pm-ish. Lots of exciting ideas for moving forwards - Filipe the Sound Designer has got some brilliant ideas about putting wireless contact speakers inside the copper pots that (as predicted) have become a huge feature of the show, essentially turning each one into its own resonating generator of sound. And so when the mouths of the pots were turned towards the audience the sounds would be louder. Really exciting and something to explore next month when we hope to have another R&D day. The big debate of the day was how to incorporate the scientific content in voiceover form as to be clear and convey the science 'story' of the piece without becoming either a lecture or a distraction from the complexity and richness of the visual narrative. Tricky. I don't think we've solved it yet but now I have to go away and write up an updated narrative and sound-script structure, and I'm sure that will throw up a whole load more questions. But what with the business part of the evening starting so late, before we knew it the clock was almost striking 12 and so we had to dash for last buses and tubes.

Showing

So after an all too brief six days of play on the floor and in the air we showed around 30 minutes of material to a very friendly audience of venues, programmers and some of our scientific collaborators today. I can't believe we made so much in such a short time - of course not all of it will be kept for the future but the finished show is only going to be 60 minutes. Very encouraging. As was the great response we had to the work - I think it was a bit abstract for some people, but we didn't have our sound designer - the wonderful Filipe Gomes - around to really establish the narrative through the soundscape (which will be a big part of the finished piece) and we really focused on finding the physical vocabularies rather than exploring the narrative and the characters (which again will be crucial to the show but lets not run before we can walk). And our amazing photographer Richard Davenport came in and took some shots of it - which with the help of literally two expertly placed lights (thanks Will) and Kate's gorgeous (and very finished looking) costumes will look rather lovely I think. And in true Metta style baby Noah joined us for the post-show discussion which meant that somewhat without thinking I spent most of it fielding complex scientific questions whilst breastfeeding. Classic.

Research & Development Week

Today we started our process of R&D for the show and I'm really excited already about what we're generating. I say we - I mostly just sit there in awe of the three performers who manage to perform the most amazing physical feats with such grace and poise. I think it is helpful though to have me there as an outside eye, as Shreya the choreographer, is also performing. But I feel exhausted and I'm not the one leaping and lunging and lifting and all the rest, so god knows how they're all feeling! They're working so hard to genuinely respond to the interview material which we have playing on a loop (so after a while we all got a bit mad hearing the same clips) and it's amazing the detail and the beauty of what's being created, though probably by the time it's in front of an audience the scientific content won't be so transparent. We shall have to see how much people read into the visual and gestural language at the showing next week. Can't wait to carry on again tomorrow though - and start playing with our lovely copper pots - and even early bits of costume (what a luxury). And from Sunday we're in Circus Space so we can begin to explore the silks and translate more of the very specific gestural Indian classical dance vocabulary onto the aerial equipment. I have this idea of turning a red silk (which for us represents the arsenic contaminated well water) into a wedding sari and the protagonist of the piece Asha performing a wedding dance while it still being attached to the ceiling. Let's see whether it works...

Workshop Audition

Just got home from a very exciting morning at English Touring Theatre - who in their loveliness as our mentors provide us with free rehearsal and audition space when they can. So we've just been auditioning around a dozen of the country's top aerialists/dancers for the forthcoming Research & Development week for WELL. The session was mostly led by Shreya Kumar, our Choreographer for the show, who taught everyone a short sequence of fusion contemporary and Indian Classical dance. Stunning as that was we then got some of them to translate that onto an aerial hoop. We also got them to try and balance a copper pot (sourced from Southall only yesterday, thank you Will) on their heads - which I think may well become a recurring motif of the show. It was so exciting to see the beginnings of what we might make for the piece and also to meet so many amazing performers. Plus this is our first collaboration with Shreya so a great opportunity to see how we might work together over the months to come. And I'd like to think the addition of a 10 month old baby toddling around the rehearsal room also gave the auditionees both an insight into the way we we work at Metta (i.e. in a very open-door fashion) and also made for a more relaxing environment.

Our First Interview

Today we started the interview process for WELL. We're talking to a whole range of scientists, development economists and specialists in arsenic and the contamination of groundwater. Our main scientific collaborator and partner on the project is the eminent and lovely Professor Stuart Reynolds who is in fact Will's dad, and has been teaching students at Bath Uni about the problems of arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh for the last 10 years. What a coincidence! In fact it was Stuart who sparked our interest in the project in the first place. So we whipped out our fancy new microphone and began - sat round the kitchen table - exploiting nap time to avoid additional comments from our 9 month old baby. As a seasoned lecturer of over 35 years Stuart is wonderfully eloquent - and dare I say it - poetic speaker and I'm really excited about incorporating the recordings into the eventual soundscape and musical score for the full production. And baby Noah stayed asleep for the duration!