on stage at hay

Above: Clemency Burton Hill introduces The Soldier’s Tale.

Above: after the title…

…  the credits roll.

Above: Conductor James Slater watched by Lisa Dwan awaiting her first cue.

Above and below: Joseph the Soldier makes his debut.

Above: curtain-call.

Above:  You can see how cold it was by the way Stephanie and Clemency are wrapped up for the after-concert talk.

Above: James speaks about Stravinsky.

Stephanie Flanders remembers her father Michael Flanders, who together with Kitty Black translated The Soldier’s Tale.

My thanks to all those who left warm comments at the Artlog yesterday, congratulating me on getting to the conclusion of the project. Forgive me for not replying individually. Your support always bolsters my confidence. But as is so often the way when one gets to the end of an intense period of work, I’m feeling the worse for wear, having succumbed to a chest infection brought on by a cold, and so I’m returning to my bed in a few minutes to try and sweat it out/sleep it off.

back from hay-on-wye

Today I’ve returned from six days away. Two were spent rehearsing The Soldier’s Tale in Brecon, thereafter re-locating to the Hay Festival site where the performance was given on Tuesday evening. James Slater conducted and Lisa Dwan was the Narrator/Devil/Soldier. From the back of the auditorium I cued the sequences of images and animations I’d made that had been photographed and edited by Pete Telfer. Alas he wasn’t able to be present, which was a shame as his contribution to the project has been inestimable. Theatr Brycheiniog technical director Geraint Thomas accompanied us to the festival site to ensure that I’d be properly set up to run the visual cues. The performance was fully-subscribed, the audience was warmly appreciative and for the first time since rehearsals had begun, I cued everything perfectly. (Talk about seat-of-the-pants.) Afterwards Clemency Burton Hill insightfully chaired an onstage  discussion with the conductor, the actor, the artist and special guest Stephanie Flanders, best known as the BBC economics guru, but present at the performance as the daughter of the translator of The Soldier’s Tale, Michael Flanders.

My thanks to all the staff at Theatr Brycheiniog who made our stay there so comfortable, and to the Dean of Brecon Cathedral who loaned us the Queen’s Room at the Cathedral Diocesan Centre for our first read-through with Lisa Dwan on Sunday. I’m hugely obliged to David Moore and Sue Hiley Harris who who made Peter and me (and Jack too) so comfortable in their home. And finally, three cheers for the musicians of the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra, who under James Slater’s baton gave a ravishing account of this wonderful piece. I had a blast! Can’t wait for the next time. My only regret is that I stood next to Simon Armitage in the Hay Festival Green Room, and in a quite untypical fit of shyness didn’t tell him how much I love his translation/re-telling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and what an inspiration it’s been to me as an artist!

I believe Peter has some photographs he took at the performance, and I’ll download and post some of them here later.

the princess dances…

… and I reference everything from classical ballet…

… to Berlin Cabaret…

… to the Danse Apache of Paris nightclubs.

I guess once a choreographer, always a choreographer.

She’s quite a gal!

images and animation from the second day

You can see work from the second day of three spent composing images and creating animations for The Soldier’s Tale, at the following link.

Click HERE.

The animations have yet to be cut and edited correctly, but you’ll get a general impression. Our finished visual presentation is going to be a combination of animation and montage. This is an economic way to use movement in the storytelling without recourse to end-to-end animation, which would be visually exhausting with so much going on. In the montage sequences, we’re able to suggest animation cycles by employing sequential still images, allowing the eye to rest and affording the onstage ensemble and narrator a more controlled visual environment.

It’s been exciting arranging the maquettes for the camera. Pete has a great eye for composition so as to create dynamic positive and negative spaces while retaining the narrative focus, and you’ll see in the examples shown at the link how appealing the montage sequences are going to be. I’m pleased too at how versatile the puppets are. There are just four maquettes of Joseph, showing him from the front, a three-quarter profile and a left and right profile, with one extra head for good measure. I meant to make an image of him from behind, but ran out of time. By swopping the heads between bodies, I’ve been able to greatly extend his expressive qualities, aided and abetted by the hats, of which there are three. Looking back over the work done on Tuesday, it’s quite impressive how much the little chap manages to achieve as an ‘actor’. My friend, artist Shellie Byatt, writes that she’s in love with him, and I begin to see why!

the devil’s pack of cards

Tonights task has been to draw cards for the game between Joseph and the Devil. These are the last of the ‘props’ to be made for The Soldier’s Tale, and I would have dearly loved to have deleted them from my ‘to do’ list, but they’re essential to the narrative. Moreover tomorrow I’m sure we’ll be getting to that scene, and so after supper tonight I bit the bullet and got working. I’ll set the alarm for 6.30 tomorrow, and finish a couple more before the animation session begins.

Making these has been fun, even though I was really too tired for the task. Now I’m thinking how entertaining it would be to design a deck of cards, though I’m quite sure it’s  a commission that will never come my way!

animating The Soldier’s Tale: day 1

Well, my knees are pretty stiff after a day spent on them while labouring over the makeshift animation table I’ve set up on our dining-room floor here at Ty Isaf. Pete Telfer was behind the camera. We completed the opening title and credit  sequence, and got started on the first appearance by Joseph the Soldier.

The credit sequence is looking pretty good, but the scene with Joseph needs some close-up shots inserted, and perhaps also a bit of slowing down. But all in all not a bad day, and having got all the time-consuming animating of letters for the credit sequence out of the way, we should be able to speed up progress tomorrow. You can see a preview of what we achieved over at Culture Colony.

building joseph’s village for ‘the soldier’s tale’

Here are images of the scene in progress. I should get it finished this evening. I’m aiming for a Regency toy theatre feel, though with a European slant. Once again I’ve been plundering my stash of wooden building-blocks as source material for this, and as they’re all made in Germany, they bring their own ‘character’ to the endeavour.

Oil pastel is pleasingly messy to work with, and gives the interesting sense of being both painted and drawn.

I start off with the farmyard at left being fenced along its front edge …

… but re-work that when it turns out to be too fussy in detail right where I don’t need it. I replace the fence with a simpler hedge.

Toy theatre sets are always framed by ‘wings’, and so I’ve added architectural foreground  elements at either side to reference that aspect of them. Earlier on I did the same with the scene of the Princess’s garden. (See small image below.)

Above: a landscape of farm, yard and pond, windmill, church, cottage and distant houses with hills beyond, all viewed as though from the high terrace of a hill-town overlooking it.

Below: typical Pollocks toy theatre scene, quite naive in style and with bold hand-colouring. It’s this tradition that  I wanted to reference for this project.

The Soldier returns to the village that was once his home.  His mother lives in that little yellow cottage, but in his absence there have been changes that will surprise poor Joseph.