Written and Performed by Natalie Songer
Direction/dramaturgy by Nicholas Barton-Wines
Produced by Karen Goddard
Sound design/composition by Calum Paterson
Supported by Arts Council England, Colchester Arts Centre, Eastern Angles, and Playwrights East.
Work in Progress Performance at Colchester Arts Centre: 10th December 2019
Today we tech and dress the show at the Headgate. This is not where we will perform it, however; there’s not enough time in the Arts Centre’s schedule for that with an in-kind space being offered. The lighting that will be trickiest to emulate as the rigs do not match, and the desk will not travel with us. I suppose that’s one of the downsides to in-kind space. I am tense going into this morning because I am least fluent in talking LX with technicians who have not seen the show. It is something I need to develop in my work and it is hard to do without working on shows. Due to the capabilities of the rig we have, it results that I will need to mix the lights live for the tech run and the dress rehearsal which is being photographed. At this point I change priorities: this is now about the balance between beautiful states for Dave Guttridge to photograph, and subtle transitions to not to throw off Nat. Smooth and refined changes are not for this leg. As Nat gleefully says to the room, “all three of us will be working live to tell this story”, and all three of us begin concentrating on an hour of performance.
This dress rehearsal is to our small first audience of Dave King (Headgate Theatre boss) and Karen Hill (who will be filming the performance with Dave Guttridge). It is a great landing point for us all. We get to test our ideas on trusted and appreciative folk who will be generous with their response and gentle with their feedback. The run begins with lots of laughter and chuckles (phew!) before a gear change shifts the room’s attention to the wonder and tragedy within Tom and Cor’s stories. We finish, and from the LX box I catch the audience wiping their eyes. They have been swept up with the show like we have been each rehearsal. It is deeply reassuring.
Soon the room is ablaze with discussion and conversation about the themes and resonances of the show; historical, personal, and artistic. Karen leans over to me and whispers “I think people are going to have a lot they want to talk about tomorrow”. She’s right: this is a deeply personal story which reaches a lot of people’s own lives. Dave K shares that he was feeling the emotion run through him and it was the moment with the plastic wallets that finished him off. I throw my arms up is celebration; I have been tinkering and torturing with this specific object choreography for two weeks and I am so happy it’s finally eliciting the response it needs to. It is these surprises which are so important for me. Ever since seeing Vox Motus’ Dragon I have pursued surprise in theatre. Each scene of Satellites has a surprise in it, and it seems Dave K has been struck by many of them, asking how long they took to figure out and sharing his reading of their suggestions.
I am excited for tomorrow, but very nervous. I want this project to deliver the punch it can. This performance is now leaving my hands after months of crafting. It’ll be back one day to finish off, but for now there’s just one more obstacle; a 7.45am get in for tech. This Satellite will make contact tomorrow.
It is an early start for Calum, Karen and I stood inside the Arts Centre at 7.45am. Teaming up with Mark and Anthony (“two of our best technicians” according to their boss, Mark Butchers), we work quickly to set up the venue and begin putting in the forty LX cues which bounce between different states. Today is fast. By firing through the lights while Natalie blisters through a speed run of the show to check she is lit and mic-ed I leave her more flustered than I would like to. We agreed last week she would not do a dress rehearsal, and this decision leads me to operating the lights as compromise. It’s not fair to land this show on the shoulders of a technician who has never seen it before – it’s too busy. This speed run is what I need to get a feel of how the lighting moves and, for times sake, adjust my cues to fit what we have programmed on the desk. I always loved cueing shows, so this is just another version of that – there’s something about the musicality of it which scratches a creative itch.
The performance is fast. With just one shot to make my adjustments fit while an audience sits between Nat and the rest of the team, I have no room for mistakes. This takes almost all my concentration. As I write, I remember two moments; the tension of the room swells when Character Natalie learns that Cor was swept up in the concentration camp system, and the joyful release when Tom reaches Palomar Observatory. I feel the room shift, and the people within it. They are held by our work, and it is deeply satisfying. Before we know it, we are in the closing sequence; a rocket launch.
The post-show discussion is so heartening. Hearing the thoughtful reflections of the work, recognition of the individual elements and disciplines, and the excitement for what might come next is reassuring. Our feelings about what we have made are shared with our audience. It is powerful stuff. Once again, I find myself reflecting on the importance of these discussions being a safe and fostered environment. We are informally clustered around tables, artists sat amongst audience, and the discussion is facilitated. I deeply value the active reflection I have undertaken on this project which helps me address my own patterns and adjust myself where necessary. Sometimes doing things the way they’ve been done isn’t the best way. My ambitions for how these events are held will be an ongoing journey, it seems.
My evening is spent with Calum at Nat’s house having dinner with her family. We are joined by Margriet and Oma who have flown from the Netherlands to watch the performance. It feels strange to me that I have never met these people before but I know so much about their family and history as we share stories across the table. It will be the last time for many months that I will sit with their history.
For now, the show slots back up on the shelf waiting to be rediscovered.