From the technicolour fantasies of Disney to the anarchist trenches…

The London Sinfonietta’s Blue Touch Paper programme nurtures and promotes the next generation of composers and interdisciplinary collaborators by providing the context and space to develop new work. On Wednesday 16 May collaborative works currently being developed by 3 groups of composers and artists on the programme will be showcased in a works-in-progress preview event at Village Underground, Shoreditch.

Composer Steve Potter and writer/dramaturg Kélina Gotman have been working on 100 Combat Troupes, a music-theatre piece which stages the urgency and ambivalence of dreaming other possible worlds.  In the first of a series of blog posts ahead of the event Kélina gives us an update on the progress of 100 Combat Troupes

Paul Klee's Angelus Novus, inspiration for 100 Combat Troupes

24 March. 5.18pm: The first thing to say is that it’s Saturday afternoon, and I’m sitting out back in the newly-refurbished Crystal Palace Tavern (CPT, for short- I always want to call it the Camden People’s Theatre, even though it’s not), and Steve is slaving away at home working on the Rivers of the World sequence – Adam’s scene, the most difficult one.

We had a great session this morning, looking back over the script, which I revised – finally – after procrastinating on it for a week or two. Steve had some comments, and we more or less solved (I think) the Messiah sequence, the last scene. It wasn’t really clear what it was about: what the mood was, or what the point, was, really, either. I think we’ve figured out that it’s a coda, silent (no language), but playful. The actors will be doing very little: sitting at a folding card table, which we need to acquire, or find. Pulling out foldable chairs. Talking like old friends, gesticulating. It’s going to be shorter than we had thought. One minute, rather than four. And end in an 8 second burst of Balkan gypsy music, then nothing. It makes sense, after Adam’s wild scene.

I could say more, but I have 100 to 400 words for this blog post, so will move on to the other thing we figured out this morning, lest I try my reader’s patience, and that’s the Disney sequence, which I think Steve has totally nailed.  We had a rehearsal (or a workshop) with the London Sinfonietta on Monday last week, and I was concerned that the soundscape was too disjointed. There were all kinds of things going on, and it was going to be disruptive, and felt random. Kirstin has a huge, intense, monologue – much of it is gibberish (intentionally so), a childish princess-like patter, a grown-up girl’s fetish dreams of infinite girldom, the disaster land of Disney, and the music was going to make the scene too messy. Confusing. But Steve has found the perfect soundscape: we’re still using the sped-up Swan Lake, as per a momentary flash of inspiration from many months ago, but it’s more audible now; it’s also halting. Like a little girl refusing to grow up, not getting anywhere; the tune blasts for a few seconds, then pause, then starts again, a zillion times. Start stop, it’s perfect as a counterpart to Kirstin’s rapid-fire babble about Aibo (the robot dog), Dorothy, and other things, which I won’t get into right now. Let’s just say that she gets suddenly pissed off, swears at the two other actors, who have hit her (accidentally) in the head with a projectile. The trick was to get the music to turn, but without having it be so violent a shift that we would need 100 more rehearsals to get the timing right. Here, our stopwatch structure will allow Kirstin to fire off her scene (in exactly 2’20’’), while the musicians watch her for their cue – Steve was suggesting we ask David Hockings, the London Sinfonietta’s Principal percussionist, to watch for the shift, and then the music turns – subtly, but definitely, darker.

Next on the to-do list for the day: fire off the revised script to Kaite O’Reilly, who has offered ridiculously useful mentoring so far.  See what she says about the changes.

 Kélina Gotman, writer/dramaturg, 100 Combat Troupes

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