Don’t stand so close to me

Over view of the day

The show on April the 2nd was one of the smoothest
running events of D.A.N.C.E i’ve ran, which is a credit to the performers and
maybe I’m getting the hang of this a bit more. I was thrilled to see how much
everyone put into it.

We started off with a discussion, about our expectations for
the day (as well as discussing our favourite animal –Dancer Ian Dolan chose a
seagull, make of that what you will) it lasted well over 30 minutes, and in
fact could have gone for longer as we discussed the elements of play that is
involved within the performance and the importance of status – it’s difficult
because due to the comedian speaking inherently they have a higher status and
focus, how do you manage that? How do you create a balance between the two
performers without their being more weight than the other? I’m still not sure
but it’s interesting to explore, maybe by the end of this project I’ll have a
focused answer for you. Or i’ll be applying for more funding to continue
asking.

Comedians standing
close to the audience

One of the main things I noticed in trying to address this
balance is staging. Where each of the performers stands on stage.  I’ve noticed increasingly that the comedians
tend to stand very central and in some cases stand as close to the edge of the
stage as possible. This i’ve realised is natural for any comedian to want to
do, of course the comedian will want to stand as close to the edge as possible
as that’s what they are used to, what they are doing is having a conversation
with the audience, it’s a dialogue so naturally they will want to be as close
as they can to the receivers of this dialogue so both parties are engaged in
the relationship they are having.

However in the context of this event, this can hinder the
performance, it draws attention away from the dancer behind them, who in turn
is in danger of looking like a ‘backing dancer’ to the performance, which is
absolutely not the aim of the event.  Is
it better for the comedian and the dancers to have their own ’boxes’ one each
side of the stage for them to perform in? Or should the comedian be off stage
in the corner so the focus is on what the audience is hearing and all they are
seeing is the dancer interpret that. This may be a task that I try for next
time, however that in itself brings about its own problems, it leaves little
room for interaction between the two performers.

And that interaction is important and key to the development
of this concept; this was encouraged further in this event, with some dancers
interrupting the comedians set entirely with dialogue, which was great to see.
Other interactions included contact between the two performers, with dancer
being gestural towards the physicality’s of what the comedian was doing.

One of the main things I noticed was eye contact, at times
there seemed to be very little eye contact between the two performers (in some
cases this was deliberate), it’s interesting because in many ways the comedian directs
the audience attention, it’s important for them then to understand their
responsibility to the dancer, and ensuring they are acknowledged throughout the
performance, by looking at them or drawing attention to them. If the dancer is
ignored, then is there still an element of collaboration here?

Highlight of the day

For a large part, this blog post seems to be focused on what
the comedian is doing, Apologies for this, it’s perhaps because I’m a comedian
myself and understand the thought process around this more, and I’m still
waiting to hear feedback from the dancers.

There was a couple of real highlights for me this time
round, one being where we were getting the chorography together for Jack
Brittons ensemble pieces, there were two in total, and although it didn’t plan
to go this way, the comedians directed and choreographed one piece, where all
the dancers were performing and the dancers directed and choreographed the
other with the comedians dancing. It was a magnificent moment of collaboration,
and hope for this to continue in future events.

The other real highlight for me was #MarbleFeedback

Evaluation

Evaluations can be really boring (although I find them fun,
but then that might be due to the satisfaction of ticking boxes), however (and
thanks to Richard Fletcher for the idea) I’ve got a new fun way, ladies and
gentlemen I present to you #marblefeedback.

A little context first, this project as I may have mentioned
is about tracking audiences perceptions of dance and comedy, and whether the
event can change their views on it. At the start of the night audience members
are asked to fill out a form monitoring what they think of both art forms
currently, and is there anything that puts them off attending these events.
They are then given two marbles, a white and green one, and not told what they
are for.

At the end of the event I explained that each of these
marbles represents comedy and dance, they were then asked to put them in one of
two boxes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with the question being ‘Has this event made you think
differently about comedy or dance’. Excitingly the majority of the audience put
both marbles in the yes box. Which proves that this event is actually doing
something to change views.


Leicester Comedy Festival

Leicester Comedy Festival saw the launch of the activity for D.A.N.C.E.
Kicking things off was ‘Is That Comedy?’ A panel discussion exploring comedy
and its relationship between other art forms. On the panel we had Josh from
Comedy Theatre group Sleeping Trees,
Pete Shenton from New Art Club (who
also appeared in D.A.N.C.E the following day), Chris Jenkins who started out in
live art before exploring comedy with his character ‘Top Joe’ and academic Tim
Miles.

We discussed how comedy audiences in some ways were more
open to something a bit weird and unusual, with both Josh and Pete mentioning
that they moved their shows to the comedy section at the Edinburgh Fringe, but
even then that is fraught with difficulty, and wondered aloud how it would be
great if there was another section called something along the lines of  ‘Comedy+’

The next day was D.A.N.C.E, in a change of venue (which is
usually the Attenborough Arts Centre) to Firebug. If you’re not aware, Firebug
is an alternative bar and music venue, which featured comedy during the
festival, it very much has a pub/bar vibe, and is fairly loud. All in All
though is great.

During the day of each of these events, I run workshops/
rehearsals with the performers, this is so they can get to know each other, the
comedians can understand what it’s like having a dancer perform with them, and
the dancer can get an understanding of their material.

It is always the start of these days where I feel most on
edge, with everyone arriving and not knowing each other or being entirely too
sure on what to expect, the day and the strict schedule does start with myself
panicking and thinking ‘we don’t have a show yet’, this eases off through the
day as the performers work together, all the same I wake up feeling quite
anxious, and that’s even before I’ve put Radio 4 on.

I always feel really constrained by time when running the
event, performers often react when I tell them that they’ll be needed for an 8
hour day by asking ‘am I needed the whole time?’ and the answer is yes, in fact
I wish there was more time, but I think condensing everything down in one day
is best for peoples diary’s. And the reason that a whole day is needed is,
there’s a lot to process;

-the performers need to get to know each other

-we need to showcase everyone’s sets and give an example of
dancing so that all the performers know the basics of what they’re working with

- Time needs to be given in running exercises that explores
the concept

-the performers need time to rehearse and workshop the
comedian doing the set and the dancer improvising and reacting to it on stage
with them

-then there’s the swap element where the comedians does some
dancing and the dancer does stand up. This material might be a story that the
dancer has had, or another piece of stand up material.

-a dress run

Plus breaks. When you break it down it’s not really any time
at all.

These warm up games, come in the form of interviewing each
and understanding about each other’s industries, in the past everyone has split
off into pairs and done this, however due to having money to throw around now,
James Hissett is recording the interview for the documentary coming out early
next year.  Both the comedian and the
dancer get taken off into a room and are filmed for 45 minutes interviewing
each, asking questions that relate and include terminology of their specific  industries (e.g. the comedian asks the dancer
‘do you ever bomb on stage’). I haven’t been privy to this footage yet at the
time of writing, what I can say is though each time the performers come out
they had transformed, they had created a bond. Watching some of the performers
come out of the room last time, all smiley and happy, made me start to wonder
if they had taken something.

But it’s important that this is done, with stand up there is
a level of vulnerability that comes from sharing your material with someone,
this set routine that you’ve honed that’s part of your identity, in this event
another performer has been invited to change what that looks like and in
essence the stand up then has to share a part of themselves that they wouldn’t
usually do. Likewise for the dancer, it’s quite a daunting task to come into
this space, and re-interpret this text to add to the meaning of it without
changing its purpose. Or maybe it should change the purpose, and the original
meanings of the text are thrown out to be remoulded in a different way. I don’t
know i’m thinking aloud, what I do know is I want to encourage a focus on the
performers creating a collaborative performance, rather than one performer
outweighing the other.

What was really nice to see throughout the day, everyone
breaking out into discussion about the concept, acknowledging the difficulty of
the individual’s art forms for the other performers to try.

The show itself was a success, taking place at Firebug for
the first time, the show sold out (also a first but whose counting). In this
kind of environment where dance wouldn’t usually take place. It was great at
engaging with a comedy audience, that wouldn’t usually go out to see dance and
exposing them to it, where as it became apparent that dance audiences would
travel and go to any venue to see dance. Comedy audiences don’t on the other
hand seem as committed to going out of their way (what a sweeping statement
that is). Is this a comment on the disposable nature of comedy? (woah what a
thing to say there), in the way that once you hear a joke, you’ve heard it then
and doesn’t have the same replay value that playing an track or a cd
(specifically David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’) has. Perhaps this comment of a disposable
nature comes from the feeling that there is lot of comedy that’s available and accessible
to watch and view, but that quantity isn’t the same in dance?

Mere thoughts, I’m not trying to come to a conclusion (which
in itself I had to conclude that) but I think it’s interesting the nature of
these different audiences, as with performers and what parallels and common
ground can be drawn.

The next event is on the 2nd of April at the
Attenborough Arts Centre, if you’re interested you can buy tickets here: https://uk.patronbase.com/_AttenboroughArts/Productions/W766/Performances

Thanks for reading

Dan

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The Performers that took part in D.A.N.C.E in Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 were:

Jack Campbell, Fern Chubb, Pete Shenton, Sarah Keyworth, Andrew Mcburney, Scarlett Turner, Jack Britton and Lewys Holt




You Got Money To Do What?

At the tail end of 2016, i received news that I had been
awarded funding from Arts Council England, with support from Dance4 to research
and develop one of my projects – D.A.N.C.E (Developing a new comedy
experience). This is an event that i’ve been running once a season since late
2015, and involves comedians performing their sets and dancers improvising and
reacting to them on stage.

I’ve been interested around the parallels between dance and
comedy for a while, from being close friends with many and living with them in
my time. I always wondered when I first got introduced the industry, if there
was a circuit like there is in comedy. Is there an obvious route for
progression, do dancers take shows to Edinburgh – how long are they usually?

But also wondered about the performance and what it feels
like performing to an audience, in an art form that usually doesn’t expect an
instant reaction from the audience in the same way Stand Up comedy does with
laughter.

The groundbreaking moment for me though, was watching the
dance improv collective Quickshifts
perform one of their shows in Nottingham Contemporary. It was improvised with
live musicians also improvising, and as a result often the words that were
spoken (which in itself I didn’t really realise could be a thing before) and
the movements that were made were very silly and a lot of fun. It had completely
broken my preconceptions of dance, I didn’t realise that it wasn’t serious all
the time, which it can make fun of itself, that it could be funny.

And in many ways that’s what this project is about; it’s
sharing that realisation with comedy goers, and other members of the public who
think that Dance is serious and not for them.

Throughout this year (2017), I will be producing 6 D.A.N.C.E
events, a residency in Nottingham, delivering workshops to students, exploring
this relationship between dance and comedy, specifically looking at Stand Up
and improvisation; this will culminate in a documentary being made from the
wonderful James Hissett.

This blog will be produced alongside teaser trailers for
this documentary, to be released after each event, as a chance to discuss my
findings, explore and analyse the experiences being made. And to make the arts
council evaluation really easy to write at the end.

Thanks for reading

Dan

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