Poetry in Motion – First Flight

When I first began conceiving the initial idea for my Creative Enterprise project, I hoped to create a live dance and poetry performance, using a local museum as a site specific theatre. I’ve always enjoyed dance and was involved, for about fifteen years, with Hastings Contemporary Dance School. But as I didn’t feel particularly qualified to choreograph the performance, my tutor, Mimi Thebo suggested I email the dance department to see if they had any graduate or third year students,  with enough practical experience and knowledge, to choreograph the dances. I was contacted by Matthew Bagley, a first year dance student. While I was apprehensive about working with a first year, which could possibly mean a lack of skills, I was impressed with the amount of knowledge and work he had done when I asked him if he could provide a brief outline for his work experience. He was also able to contact several dancers who were keen to work with him and perform in the show.

I also started researching several possible venues where we could perform and liked the idea of performing at Yeovilton’s Fleet Air Arm Museum. This place not only had historical relevance to the local community, with aircraft used in the 1st and 2nd World War, but also a personal connection, as my granddad had been stationed at Yeovilton during the 1950s. I talked about the idea with Matthew and then contacted the FAAM with the possibility of performing there. I was contacted by Christine Murray, who suggested we visit the museum to see whether it would be appropriate to perform there and so scouted the location on the 26th November.

After Matthew and I had discussed our ideas further, I called Christine to thank her for taking us around the exhibits and explaining our options in more detail. We had decided the performance would be best suited for the World War Two Hall, as it had more space and a better floor plan. Instead of making it a private performance, we asked if it would be possible to perform during the day and making it a special, live exhibition for all the visitors to the museum. Potentially drawing in a larger crowd, as we still hoped to create a lot of publicity for the forthcoming event, including informing several arts reviewers from local newspapers and the Mayor of Yeovil. She said it would first have to be discussed with the museum as a whole, but if approved it could mean a reduction in the cost of hiring the place, as we would not be closing off any parts of the exhibition or having a private function in the evening.

In order to create a tighter knit group, who were better informed as to what Matthew and I were planning, I created a Facebook group and updated my Twitter account to include more details about the developing performance. I decided to keep the Facebook group as a more personal group, where ideas could be discussed and to just keep it to the group members involved. Later, when we had rehearsal footage and photographs, and were inviting people to the performance, I had planned to create a more professional Facebook page and a separate Twitter account.

Matthew and I decided to work separately on various things in order to cover more ground, though always reporting back to each other. Matthew started working out the choreography for some of the dances and so Nick Compton and I went to the recording studio, to read some of the poems and send Matthew MP3 copies. As two of the poets could not attend this session we had planned for them to be recorded later. Nick and I also began working on our original poetry, reading much of the poetry from World War One to gain inspiration, although I did not want the poetry we had written to be a mirror image of the poetry written during the time. Nick created a poem that was more reflective of the 1st World War, whereas I used the figure of 133000 Iraqi civilians who were killed during the Iraq war, as I wanted the audience to reflect on both modern and historical wars.

However, I was coming across some difficulties. Firstly, it was difficult to get the other poets to attend the writing sessions, even while I was contacting them regularly. I did not particularly want Nick and I to be the only poets involved, as I wanted more variety in the poetry we had. Then Matthew, due to personal reasons, had to leave the project. Consequently, I was left with no choreographer, one poet, three dancers (one of whom was ill and another had injured her foot) during our first few weeks of rehearsals. With the performance date looming in a matter of three months and the only thing we were able to do was roughly plan out dances, rather than practice or perform them, I didn’t feel very hopeful or optimistic. My attempts to find another choreographer and more dancers were largely unsuccessful. I tried contacting Bath Spa students, close friends in Bath and even contacting my old dance school to see if any ex-students lived nearby, but I had very few responses.

As the month passed, I realised I would need to meet with my tutor and discuss how the project was not going as planned. I no longer felt it was even conceivable to do a live performance. When we initially met I wanted to abandon the project entirely, but Mimi Thebo convinced me to alter the project into an easier medium, and create a multimedia project. She reminded me that I had experience in choreographing dance routines before and in my second year I had done the module ‘Planning and Making a Film’ giving me a huge amount of experience in using equipment, how to plan a filming schedule and dealing with all the paperwork involved. However, I was still a little apprehensive, as I had very little experience in actually using camera equipment or editing. I contacted the Editor, Charlotte Robinson, on the previous film I had worked on, and a friend of mine, Constance Ferguson, who studied media and film at Canterbury Christ Church University, to gain a better understanding of how easy it was to use the editing software and what sort of camera equipment I should be using.

The next step was to create the basic story-lines for the poetry we were using and whether I wanted dance to be used or acting. Originally I chose five poems, Dulce Et Decorum Est, Eye Spy, Flanders Fields, I’m Telling the Story and An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. At this time, my poem 133000 had only been through one redraft and I wasn’t sure whether to use it. I created a dance for Dulce Et Decorum Est and Flanders Fields. While I tried to get my previous dancers interested in the idea they didn’t seem as keen, and so I asked two dancers I knew, Katherine Day and Ella Grace Mitchell, if they could be involved. They happily agreed and so we began our first rehearsals.The rehearsal for Dulce Et Decorum Est went really well, though I was a little unsure with my own choreography. I decided it would be best to begin with a historical poem and end with a modern one, so, after I finished rewriting 133000, I cut Flanders Fields from the running order. We then began rehearsing 133000, a piece I wanted to be based more on simple gestures and rhythmic movement, rather than gentle or flowing dance.

During this time I also began to look for other actors to play the roles I created for Eye Spy, I’m Telling the Story and An Irish Airman Foresees His Death. Originally I wanted Eye Spy to tell the story of a father, who had survived the 1st World War, but has PTSD. He takes a walk with his young son or daughter, fearing for his own mental health, while also being troubled by the thought that his child maybe growing up in a world with more potential wars in the future. Finding a child actor, however, proved difficult and so eventually I decided to stick with the idea of the young father (Alex Hayes), but only have his wife pregnant (Beth Kerridge). The story became more centered on his mental illness and his feelings of being unable to connect with his wife. He constantly feels his mental illness makes him weak and cowardly, which is symbolically represented by the figure of a young Edwardian girl and the white feather she carries.

I’m Telling the Story was cut out entirely for similar reasons, though I was disappointed when I had to do so, as it was the 70th anniversary of the concentration camps being liberated. In I’m Telling the Story, an old Jewish woman is walking home during the evening. She suddenly hears a dog barking and has a flashback to her time as a prisoner. I wanted to inter-cut the old woman running along the pathway, with her memories as a young girl of running along and being pursued. However, it proved difficult to find older actors available or a young actor to play the corresponding part of the girl. Although I did consider turning the poem into a dance instead, I finally decided to cut it out.

I’d placed a casting call on Casting Call Pro, a website that allows Producers and Production companies to contact a wide range of different actors. I put the two roles of the ‘Father’ (in Eye Spy) and ‘Irish Airman’ (An Irish Airman Foresees his Death) up. The Irish Airman role got a lot of interest very quickly, but when I went through the showreel footage each actor had, I thought Marcus Carroll would be perfect for the role of the Irish Airman. An Irish Airman Foresees his Death was a story that I already had worked out in my head; as a young man changes into his RFC uniform, he thinks about the time he spent with his politically charged friends (Nick Compton and Timothy Parry) and his sweetheart (Katherine Day). He acknowledges he is about to fly for the last time and never return to his home. I already had worked out a lot of the storyline, story boards and how I wanted the scenes to be edited in the final production.

I used the filming equipment from the SISO store at Commons and the editing software on the computers in the library to create the film and other materials to go with it. So the majority of my budget went on costumes and as I no longer had much time to redevelop my Arts Council Funding bid for a film, instead of a live performance, I decided to set up a Kickstarter campaign. The process was simple and straightforward, I went for an amount that would cover my expenses and used websites like ebay and charity shops to find costumes for an affordable price. The Kickstarter was also used to cover my ticket for the Mix Digital Conference, where I can show the fully finished film.

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