Rebecca Sharp: RememberedImagined #3

Like Ailie, I was interested to see how the collaboration would go considering we didn’t know each other previously – which wouldn’t ordinarily be a concern in the slightest (we’re all lovely people after all!), but given the fairly tight timeframe we had for writing the piece, I was aware we’d have to hit the ground running. Our working schedule was influenced by the fact that both Ailie and I had to travel in to the Archive and fit the project around other work already in the diary – we were in the same boat in that regard, which helped us immediately understand each other’s pressures and working styles.

We shared a slight panic during the first day at the Archive, as we realised our time there was limited, so we’d have to find something fast! We found a great tune and a concept as our starting point. I’d blocked off specific time to write the text and then hand it over to Ailie. In other collaborations, I’ve worked more closely with my partner, with frequent meetings, sharing ideas and bits of text back and forth. It wasn’t a problem that that wasn’t possible this time – we both knew that from the start, so it was a case of adjusting our expectations of the project and working within the new parameters. As soon as I had even a scrap of text I was happy with, or even just a concept or a mood, I emailed it to Ailie to let her see what I was thinking about – I was aware since she hadn’t known me previously, she might be anxious to see the sort of thing I’d produce! It also meant that while she was away on tour with other work, she’d be able to start imagining or even composing on the road, as she’d said she might. I liked the thought of her reading my strange hybrid text of English/Gaelic/Scots poetry and prose while sitting on a tour bus in…Germany was it?

Time, geography, work, life…it all fits together, nothing ‘gets in the way’ – this process has been a prime example of that. My aim for the text was twofold: to make it strong and clear in its intention and tone, to have its own character, while being flexible and open enough to give Ailie space for her part of the process. Some parts of the text are to be spoken, some sung, some whispered – I wanted to achieve a delicate balance between the text’s own internal rhythms, while allowing space for the other rhythms of the music to join in. And the fact that people are involved – seems an obvious thing to say, but it’s amazing how often it’s overlooked! In rehearsal there’ll be Ailie and I, both anxious and excited to make the piece the best it can be; a group of excellent musicians open for the experience; Maeve who will be singing (and speaking in our piece) and Angus Peter who will be speaking; plus others in the team who are advising on electronics and staging. That’s a lot of energy in one room, before you play a single note or utter a single word! Stop, breathe, picture the room, picture yourself in it, picture us all fitting together…or working it out when things don’t seem to fit.

I never like to think of a collaboration in terms of ‘my process + their process = end result’, I think the best results come from a true meeting in the middle, where both people change, grow and learn from the experience. Just because Ailie and I were working with limitations of time and geography in this case, doesn’t mean that we didn’t meet in the middle – we absolutely did, from a distance (it’s possible!). In truth we were each anticipating the other’s influence the whole time (speaking for Ailie here, sorry, but I’m sure she’ll agree!), which informed what we created and how we created it. Which is eerily prescient actually, since our piece itself is about two people separated by geography (and possibly time), contemplating the nature of absence and presence…

And the process is far from over. The Lab day on January 20th is where we’ll really see (hear) how it all fits together. I have a love/hate relationship with the rehearsal process! And this is a particularly intensive one. There’s pressure to get things right and to have everything work first time – this isn’t a luxurious rehearsal process where you can try various approaches over the course of several weeks. But I’ve had experience of both kinds of process – short/intensive/high-stakes and lengthy/exploratory; there are advantages and disadvantages to both and it always depends on the nature of the work and the people involved.

Of course I’m feeling good about this one! For a start, it will be the first time I’ll hear any of Ailie’s music! I’ll be meeting the musicians for the first time. I choose to anticipate what the opportunities will be: if a spoken part doesn’t fit or feel right in performance, we can move it somewhere else or use it as an interlude. If a whispered part works really well, let’s do more. If something feels hard to fit in, it’s probably because it doesn’t belong there – I’m not too precious to cut words where they need to be cut! This is where (I think) my initial approach will pay off – where you have a text that knows well enough what it is, while being malleable enough to use with other elements; add to that music that has been thoughtfully created with the overarching process and end result in mind, an excellent team and a challenging yet supportive environment.

So we’ll see where we’re at in a few weeks’ time…

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photo: Stephanie de Leng

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