Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 12 - by Séana Maggs Cooke
Originally, I had an emotive beginning and concluding paragraph planned, depicting how brilliant my time with Maison Foo has been, and how poignant this last day will be; and although that first part is true, it turns out- I might be making a reappearance next week too! ...I thought I’d include this information as a substitute to my moving paragraph.
The morning begins with a conference in the Green Room; or, the kitchen. Today, Green lane is residence to only the 4 cast members and me, and in comparison to the appearance of Foo associates dropping in throughout the week, today feels slightly lonelier. The benefit of having fewer people is that the head-count for tea-making should prove an easier task. With note pads, laptops and pens at hand, a bullet point formation of the scene ordering is undergone. Beth points out that: the team need to run through the whole story so far, and determine what facts need to be added to help the audience make sense of the characters. Kate adds, that today, the team need to be ‘economical with time’- words of great wisdom! The flaw in the plan of note-taking is exposed to be that sat in the comfort of the kitchen, the vital ‘post-it note wall’ is not in view... and so we opt to return to the main rehearsal room, where The Foo and I retire to a cosy, loft-like balcony overlooking the room, and Matt stays on the ground with his sound equipment to create a musical script of his own.
What appears peculiar to me is how back-to-front this way of devising theatre appears to be, in comparison to adapting an already scripted play. It is only now that the company have started to document the end of their play on paper, and that is, of course, because they only improvised it yesterday. The four of us settle around a table and shift one of the lights from the rig above us to shine on our table for some extra heat. It seems fitting that we then almost look like we’re about to take part in a police interview; as the context of this session is to script the ‘court scene’.
The colloquialisms or ‘Foo dialects’ that have presented themselves throughout this week are comical and idiosyncratic, an example being Morgan talking about: ‘the dancy, dancy, singy, singy’ part of a scene (or so I assume,) and now, even the motion of turning on the heaters is dubbed as a ‘boost.’ So, once we’ve been given a boost and have settled around our ‘interrogation table’, The Foo cast become law students for a while. A lot of specialist linguistics is needed to write a scene set in court, so internet sources from yesterday are revisited to ascertain some appropriate terminology. Thankfully, the group are actors, not lawyers, and the element of absurdum is helpful in providing some lenience to play with in this scene.
The shop assistances return in this section: Hilary, Beatrice and Sue; and a type of talk-through hot-seating technique is discussed by the actors, to help them breakdown each character’s portfolios. A lot of brain racking is required here; (I give credit to myself on providing the team with sufficient brain food, as an end of week treat, in the form of cookies.) It is these cookies (and the amalgamation of The 3 Foos superb minds, of course) that helps to bring this script to life. An astonishingly witty section of the play reveals itself from this discussion and, as chief note taker, Morgan writes some stand-up comedy; which, when you come to see the play is supposed to be slapstick, and not necessary ‘laugh out loud’ funny, (I wouldn’t be that insulting without reason.) The humorous phrases heard earlier in the play from these facetious characters are recycled to great effect, and manipulated to set the scenario for this, new section of the play.
This trial is shaping up to become an almost satirical sketch, and watching the cast talk through the script is like watching a comedy panel show; no suggestion is too over the top here- the more bizarre, the better! It seems like the most effective way of affecting an audience on an emotional and social level is by enticing them through comedy, which is, in this case, presented by the 3 slapstick shop workers; and when the last section of this scene is scripted, it becomes apparent to me, that The Foo wants to present their audience with a sudden brick wall of realism.
Some masterful, improvised, collaboration starts to take shape after the court-room scene is rounded off; Beth, Kate and Morgan take up the performance area and Matt composes some on the spot music as an accompaniment, and I stay put in my toasty, upstairs office for a good view point of the action. The middle of the play is being experimented with here; ribbons are handled and thrown around the space to signify the opening of shops; it adds an elegant and artistic layer- to the now about 10 tiered Pendulum Foo cake. (I don’t take many notes for this scene; instead, I observe and enjoy an excuse to photograph the shenanigans.)
After lunch and tea, Maison Foo, (and I) trial the props- in this case the makeup used by the shop assistants. Kate is volunteered by Beth to become Guiney Pig, and even Morgan and Matt get ‘roped’ into the cosmetic testing; a perfect way to start on characterisation! Next, follows some more ‘circle time on the floor’ for discussions about appropriate place names, plus some alternative well-known magazine names that could be used in the ‘ribbon scene’; it also becomes a suitable time to laugh at some flamboyant suggestions. Then, the cast are back on their feet; Morgan displays a graceful routine of ribbon twirling, which opens yet another door on an improvisation session; Matt plays some samba-type tunes on the keyboard to provide some up-beat momentum to kick-start the creativity. Ribbons are then woven in and out of props and set, and streamed across the performance area; this jungle of ribbons adds another dynamic to the room for the actors to work with. Beth bestows an electric blue wig and becomes the ‘Shoe-makers Wife’, and gradually, the idea of the other two Foos puppeteering her arrives. As always, it’s hard for me to concentrate on the reporting task at hand, I become engrossed in witnessing this- sort of, interpretative dance being unveiled with multicoloured ribbons. In no derogatory terms; I can liken this improvisation to children building a den; creating a new and free environment out of any material they can scout,
The main part of the afternoon involves more ribbon-based experimentation, balanced by useful talks about inventing other scenes. A news broadcast idea is toyed with, and Matt creates several news themes to try out in an attempt to establish an appropriate atmosphere for this ambiguous scene. After a well placed tea break, more concentrated talks about content and how sound recordings will fit into the play ensues; as usual, Matt steps up to his composer role and uses his Mac, or “theatre in a box”-as he calls it, and ingeniously manages to warp the sound of Beth, Kate and Morgan’s voices to somehow turn them into completely new characters, that can be used as voiceovers in both news, and court scenes. The different accents, tones and volumes, and the way Matt’s programming is able to change the type of room the voice produced comes from, is astonishing!
I’m sure the weekend will be full of admin-based antics for The Foo, hopefully as well as some much deserved rest. It’s a week of triumph, with some trials and tribulations, (all of which have been over-come.) Today, a Friday-feeling of relief and jubilation seems to be shared. The framework for the whole play has almost been established! In 8 days time the first show will begin, and I am intrigued to find out what new experiences production week will throw at us all!