8. provocations and insights

by dave brown
| august, 2016 |
| inside a process |


catch up on the journey so far ~ provocations 1-7

In this edition I would like to share an inside look into the first two weeks of the performance-making process we're engaged in with a student ensemble from the Adelaide College of the Arts. 

This process is a part of The Tu2tu Shows PROJECT, which is pioneering the ideas of The Paperboats platform.
The project is being developed by a closed community of partners with performance-making ensembles in Adelaide SA and Austin Texas with creative producers from Singapore and Wellington NZ watching on.

Our Adelaide College of the Arts endeavour is an eight week process, working 4 hours a day for the first 5 weeks and 7 hour days for the last 3 weeks.  

Hoping the Hat Fits ... 

A common dilemma for theatre-makers is that you often have to promote your show to audiences before you've even begun to make it!

The Tu2tu Show is an intimate performance-event for 3-7 year olds, exploring "two-ness” and "togetherness" through music, movement, image, story snippets, participation and party. Part performance, part game, part celebration; this is an immersive performance experience for 3-7 year olds about how we connect with one another. 

This description has been developed from the animating framework - the ever-evolving pool of thoughts, ideas, resources and activity that underpin the conception of a performance-making project.

Across the first two weeks we've been focussing on:

1. Preparation
  • having fun
  • getting to know each other
  • understanding the animating framework
  • developing foundation skills and ways of working
  • developing a common language
2. Generation
  • provocations offered to generate content
  • rigorous documentation of process and outcomes
  • developing protocols for critical review of content
  • sharing and discussion of process and outcomes
AC Arts Performer-Makers
Chloe Willis, Hasan Kourghi, Danae Tayla, Gabriel Allani, 
Lucy Hass-Hennessy, Temeka Katelyn, Angus Leighton,
Poppy Alice Whitford Mee, Nicola Grant.

Our Tu2tu Team comprises the AC Arts ensemble of 12 makers, supported by:
  • myself and Roz Hervey as director-makers
  • Geoff Cobham, our design provocateur
  • and guest provocateurs, Katrina Lazaroff, Stephen Noonan, Scott and Juliette Griffin and Erin Fowler.
We're excited to welcome to the mix, composer music-makers, Zephyr-ROM, comprising the Zephyr Quartet and voiceROM.
Zephyr Quartet: 

Belinda Gehlert - violin 
Emily Tulloch - violin 
Jason Thomas - viola 
Hilary Kleinig - cello 


Dylan Marshall - sampler 
Jarrad Payne - drums
One of Australia’s most laterally thinking and inventive music ensembles, ZEPHYR QUARTET is a wonderfully talented and adventurous string quartet, delighting in the exploration of diverse music and forging dynamic collaborations.  

We're thrilled to welcome them aboard The PaperBoats in what we anticipate will be an ongoing, slow-brewing affiliation. 

For the AC Arts Project, they bring the quirky instrumental hip hop duo, voiceROM on board to work with them, in the style of their recent album collaboration VoiceQuartet.

The six musician/composers will float into the project around week 5, as performance segments start to emerge.
The Way Ahead ... 

On day one, I explained to our ensemble that we'd be treating
theatre as a game and acting as play.  

We'd be making meaning retrospectively by responding in an open-ended way to simple provocations that generate content.

We'd remain alert and alive to happy accidents and imagery within the context of our "activating framework" but that we'd be flexible enough to respond to what happens and what excites us.

We'd be led by what the outcomes we generate are telling us to do.

Our performance will be non-verbal or language lean. It will be image-rich, musical and poetic. It won't be a literal narrative.

photo Nicola Grant
Our first provocation was this:

In two groups, you have 15 minutes to make 2-4 minute performance piece. You can't use any words. The piece will have no meaning but it must totally engage your audience.

The outcomes were both engaging and meaningful - but the meaning was discovered retrospectively.

For example, the first group of two performers had us enter a room. Music was playing. The performers were both highly energised and they seemed to be preparing the room for us.

They placed chairs in the space and a mat of the floor. They sat us down. They opened and shut cupboards, pulled out bits and pieces of what seemed significant items and placed them in the space.

They came across some folders and distributed them to us - all with frantic "there's a bomb in the room" tension state. Then when everything seemed set up for something to happen, they left the room. 

The room was electric. What now? What now?! What now?!! A minute of awkward anticipation ... and then laughter, when the audience realised, "that's it!"

We discussed the way we can analyse "a performance sequence" using the notions of Anticipation, Release and Payoff.

I use the mnemonic ARP-pttooooo!!! expressed as a repressed sneeze to remember the three segments of an action sequence.

The image of a sneeze works well. The ANTICIPATION of Arrrrr ... the RELEASE  of tisssshhh ... and the satisfying PAYOFF of ooooo.

In the above example, the entire set up is ANTICIPATION, the RELEASE is the moment the performers exit the room and the PAYOFF is when the audience realises they've been duped!

Each segment of an action sequence can vary in duration according to its structure - for example, sometimes the anticipation will be short, the release long and sustained and the payoff instant.

Our day 2 provocation went like this. Make a 2-4 minute, non-verbal performance segment around the idea of giving a gift that you want for yourself.

The outcomes for this provocation were performed with a lot of indicative, mimetic gesture by the ensemble. 

We spent the rest of the day 2 session working to acknowledge and affirm the visual theatre idea that
“playing an action without conflict or comment will draw us in and engage our imaginations at a more profound level than bolder or more physical levels of engagement” .

We developed this idea across the first two weeks by introducing some physical theatre principles like: complicity, finding the game, declaring the game, fixed points, comic stops, yes/no responses, reversals, in-major or in minor status, LeCoq's tension states and Viewpoints variables of space and time.

The core idea of these explorations is expressed nicely by John Wright in his book on physical comedy - "Why is That So Funny"

"Acting is a reaction to an action rather than an expression of a feeling ... if acting is about reacting, complicity with yourself is about letting yourself be open to those reactions."

David Mamets maxim applies here too ... "Invent nothing; deny nothing."


Roz Hervey is an associate director-maker on the project. She runs two sessions a week.  In this way the ensemble gets exposed to the methods of another maker and we all get to respond to a different range of provocations.

It's play, play and more play around all sorts of possibilities, in these early days to generate outcomes. We've begun our search for the form and the content of the piece.
On Roz's first day, we raided the AC Arts wardrobe and found some costumes that suggested "twins".

We played dress-ups! And then Roz asked the twinned pairs to go off and make a non-verbal image-theatre segment incorporating a wave, a shiver, a jump, a circular action, a slump,  a head move, a knee move, as comic stop, a fixed point, a suspension, a reflection and a complementary action.

After 40 minutes, we had a look at the outcomes.
This is a typical example of a provocation that distracts the brain from meaning making. We're given the task of putting a sequence of actions together.

When we view the outcome we ask, "What did you notice? Describe what you saw to someone who wasn't there."

We begin to retrospectively "find the meanings" ascribed to it by the viewers.

"What did it remind you of?" will help the viewer connect their own life experiences to what they saw.
"It reminded me of the day my mum took me to the dentist."

The question "how did it make you feel?" invites the viewers to describe any emotional impact the piece might have had on them.

This exploration of "meaning" led Roz and I to offer back to the group some essence of their sequence, which prompted the groups to develop their pieces further.

This time around we asked them to be more aware of the dramatic tensions in the outcome. 

We alluded to the idea that "drama is tension that is exploded and resolved” 

We developed the habit of naming the segments and placing these titles onto our post-it board.

Here's a little video snippet of an outcome from that session.
angus and chloe snippet
click on image to watch the video snippet
Two-ness and Reflection

Light offers so many possibilites in image-theatre. When performer-makers engage with the possibilities and light and design early in development, these elements are more likely to become an integral "character" or "functional element" in the work.

Geoff Cobham, lighting designer extraordinaire, was our guest design provocateur in weeks 1 and 2.

In two x 6 hour sessions, he offered provocations around light and design and the notion of reflection. 
We set up a haze-filled room with a range of lighting offers that were "played with" by the performing ensemble in what were open improvisations ... prompted and nudged by Geoff and I, that invited the ensemble to "play" with lines and beams of light and reflection.

For example, Geoff offered a gift in a box. When the box was opened the lights dimmed and emerging from the gift was a laser beam.

This simple provocation led to conversations of action and response between the laser light and the performers through the use of other boxes and reflectors.
Soon we were making little non-verbal action sequences that we're functioning as image-narratives of cause and effect. 

Across the 2 session, we used lasers, a Mac 250 Intel profile light, mirrors, soft foil reflectors, semi transparent reflectors, strobes and boxes.
We spent our time in this world of light, colour and reflection - utterly engaged.

We saw the possibilities of using the evocative, aesthetic power of light, colour, reflection and sound to convey meaning through action and imagery using lo-fi technology. It was delightful. 

My provocation to Geoff was for him to leave us with a lighting rig design that we could use as a starting point for our theatre-in-the-round Tu2tu Show. 
geoff cobham's rig
Geoff Cobham discusses his rig!
click on image to watch the video
DIARY ENTRY: It's August 2. Last evening on the way home from creative development, I felt troubled by the lack of a coherent structure to "house" all of this content we are making. Roz and I have been trying to discover a structure where the presentation of birthday gifts would prompt each performance segment.

In my head I'm constantly trying to "find' how this could work but it feels awkward and complicated.

I can't see it. I feel stuck! I can't see the way forward.

It's a terrible feeling - to feel lost. The only thing to do is to keep making. Keep trying to slot bits and pieces together and see what emerges but it's a challenging way to work when you can't see where it's going. 

Every night before sleep, I always ask myself a question, so my subconscious brain can mull it over during sleep. When those questions are particularly troublesome, I often find I'm awake in the middle of the night trying to wrestle with them in my head - trying to unravel the muddle.

So at 1am I lay awake. I get up. I make myself some warm milk with honey and vanilla and sit by the fire.

Then something comes to me. It is blindingly obvious as these things usually are.

I realise that I've got to "let go" of this present idea. I'm trying to make things fit into a pre-conceived notion rather than allowing the work to find itself. 

I realise, yet again, that it's all about trusting the process and allowing the time and space for things to emerge. 

Overthinking can be a problem! 

If you wish to respond, comment on, query, discuss or contribute to any of these ideas, please email me:

To find out more about The PaperBoats please check out provocations 1 to 7 and view the website -


This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory group.


Copyright © 2016 The PaperBoats, All rights reserved.

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