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Inside the Box: Performing, Composing and Devising in Music Theatre

Armstrong, T and Chapman, J (2014) Inside the Box: Performing, Composing and Devising in Music Theatre In: Performance Studies Network Third International Conference, 2014-07-17 - 2014-07-20, University of Cambridge.

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The background to this paper is the collaborative creation of a music theatre work, Arachne. The collaborators’ own backgrounds are diverse, encompassing work in devised theatre, contemporary choral music, baroque performance practice, notated acoustic and laptop-based electronic composition. Initial musical material was sketched in 2011-12 but the bulk of Arachne has been developed using a devising process in which all participants have contributed to the narrative, theatrical, musical and dramaturgical evolution of the work. The diverse mix of participants and their working method are clearly suited to the study of distributed creativity (Sawyer and DeZutter, 2009) but what makes Arachne particularly distinctive is the presence of pre-existing collaborative teams within the main group; these form sub-groups each with a track record of successful collaborations. Arachne is a practice-led research project from which three research questions have emerged: how does such a diverse, interdisciplinary team (two composers, three performers, one director) collaborate in the notoriously difficult and contingent process of devising new music theatre; do participants’ working practices change as a result of such collaboration and, if so, in what ways; are the participants’ differing backgrounds and past collaborations a spur or hindrance to creativity? In addressing these questions the paper will aim to evaluate the success of the collaborative strategies employed, uncover group members’ understandings of their roles and track this particular instance of the creative process peculiar to the act of marrying music and theatre. The paper will be presented by a performer and a composer-researcher from within the project team; its content will draw on audiovisual documentation (rehearsal footage, recordings of discussions between the collaborators, performance excerpts), live performance examples and data from a focus group interview with the participants that was conducted after the first live iteration of Arachne. The paper will trace the evolution of selected elements by examining their successive iterations through the collaborative process, identifying sources of obstruction, generators of momentum and points of failure and success. Key areas of focus include notational strategies, the role of improvisation and the notion of ‘play’. The content will reveal the degree to which compositional, performative and improvisational creativities have been imbricated through the key collaborative dynamics of mutuality and complementarity. (John-Steiner, 2000) The significance of this paper lies in the field under investigation. Arachne is part of a lineage of theatre and music theatre practice that encompasses the work of artists as various as the Wooster Group, Robert Lepage, Heiner Goebbels and Orlando Gough. Two members of the performing team (the singers Melanie Pappenheim and Rebecca Askew) and the director, Emma Bernard, work within this tradition. Whilst this repertoire has received attention in the performance and theatre studies literature, it is underrepresented in musicological writing; given that such work models a very different relationship between composers/writers and performers it is time that its creative practices were brought to the attention of the musical academic community, which is what this paper sets out to do.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of Music and Media
Authors :
Chapman, J
Date : 18 July 2014
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 16 May 2017 15:31
Last Modified : 05 Mar 2019 15:37

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