by Lydia Harper
My journey with Devolution Evolution started in August 2020. I was due to have hip surgery and needed to isolate ahead of going into hospital, so I was at my grandmother’s flat whilst she was staying out of busy busy London. I used this time as my creative period for the first phase of the project - I made a short dance film inspired by ‘CATALYST’. My second project was directing a show to be performed in a Shop Window in Luton – ‘TO A CUMULUS’ I also collaborated as an outside eye on Gemma Creasey’s Shop Window show which was silly amounts of fun.
Devolution Evolution came at a really interesting time for me – I was slowly making quite a huge transition from performer to director and beginning to be in a muddle as to what my next steps should be. Tangled Feet gave me the opportunity to explore who I am as a director and what my solo artistic voice sounds like!
The process / My process / What’s a process? / How do I process?
I am very outcome driven so a big part of my journey with Devolution Evolution was embracing the process and enjoying it without simply focusing on the product! On cold wintery walks with cups of tea in hand, my DevoEvo buddy Fiona Watson and I spoke about the difficulty of trusting your artistic instinct and being able to keep faith in your ideas. During these walks I realised that the type of work I want to make is guided by a connection with the audience and an emotional interaction between them and the performers. And that is less scary instinct to trust – finding something that feels like you in the form of theatre…it feels like you are on the right track.
A process. It seems like something all artists should know and have and hold intrinsic to the work they make. But I was stepping into unchartered waters! I knew I wanted to create / direct something of my own but that was as far as I got!
For phase 1 and my short film I started with a tiny idea and found it through movement – dancing out how I felt and letting the emotions guide my physicality. Then I looked at everything I had done with an editing eye and began to expand the project’s narrative to include other performers and their space, realising the narrative through the physicality and building that journey.
For phase 2 and ‘TO A CUMULUS’, my starting point was ‘head in the clouds’ and the sort of whimsy and playful imagination that might come from someone described like that. Allowing myself an unlimited imagination and a focus on feel good / silly / zany / chaos that makes someone stop and think, then walk away grinning from ear to ear, allowed me to write the show, find the most fantastic team of performers and get into a rehearsal room and play! We played games, we played silly walks, we drew pictures, we danced, we ate donuts and we found the fun! Then my job as a director is easy – organise the fun so someone watching has just as much of a good time as the performers onstage.
I think my process involves finding fun, joy and happiness and capturing that essence for onstage!
With my film I wanted to try and capture what it means to be trapped and the freedom that can come when you first step away from that. The initial idea came from a deterioration of mental health and how sometimes it feels like you are watching yourself from the outside crumble, and unable to make a change that would save you.
I wanted to suggest this visually, so I explored using a framing devise of shooting through windows or doorframes. An external perspective of yourself or a loved one that you witness. This fed perfectly into working and performing in a shop window – creating theatre in a space not designed for theatre, welcoming anyone and everyone into a world through a window. A sneak peek into someone else’s world!
The audience responses to my film were clear - it was a universal piece that could be applied for everyone’s circumstance. Writer’s block, living through lockdown, living with depression, anything! This was what I wanted to hold onto whilst working on phase 2 - a feeling of unity and a feeling of collective understanding and shared emotional response.
There were two main responses – the first was a connection with the isolation and a powerful sense of being seen in your worst moment, the entrapment and the isolation became a signifier of unity and the uplifting knowledge that you weren’t alone throughout it – we all felt the same withering desperation. The second response was a much more positive and warm and was the feeling of dancing in the rain after a heatwave, stepping outside and feeling the sun warming your face, finally hugging a loved one. A much-needed release that invites joy without any consequence or toll. That is the feeling that I wanted to continue working with – collective joy.
What an experience! Rehearsing in a public forum with constant spectators, seeing Becky-Dee’s design come to life around us, sharing the space with two amazing shows and getting to be completely immersed in an audience that were completely infatuated whilst simultaneously bewildered about what was going on.
I was very excited about creating ‘incidental theatre’. Theatre that is available for everyone and can be enjoyed in passing, for 2 minutes or for the duration of the piece. The world is hurting, and people need moments of joy.
I wanted to include as many people in my project as possible, so I chose limited rehearsal time and maximum cast size. We had 1 afternoon in London creating characters and building a physical language for them. Then we had an afternoon in The Shop putting it all together and building the show, before the performances began the next day.
‘To A Cumulus’ was chaotic, it was silly and it was funky. We had cardboard car chases, bubble machines, floating cloud girls, a chocolate eating detective, a rascal in gold boots and a ball fight. The title came about from my love of silly puns and exploring scientific cloud names and my driving force of wanting to bring everyone together in a collective, accumulating them if you will……..To Accumulate = To A Cumulus.
All of my actors gave so much and made it a magical experience
Charlie Caplan a ridiculous rascal constantly causing bewilderment
Ankit Giri a hopeless romantic floating on the best level of imagination
Carla Garret the funniest clown and who sprinkles magic everywhere.
A tiny human in a tutu spontaneously joining in with the performance.
Heard in the audience “Why is heaven being performed?”
Seeing the Devolution Family, many of whom I have only ever met via Zoom, congregate in and around Luton, filling the town with friendly faces who have been supporting me and my artistic journey for the past year.