Where Water is its own Performance

With the story trail being previewed this weekend and ready for the public on Monday (eeek) our attention turns to the performance. Following our site visit we were able to finetune the piece to embed it to its narrowboat stage. And with the story trail episodes all in place we were also finally in the position to insure the live performance connected with all the other elements of the story – as well as the contributions from participants.

towpath_night_03The performance is another layer to this many layered story. Plus it has the benefit of us all engaging fully with you, the joys of liveness that comes from performance. This immediacy is what makes the performance, especially with its focus on the present timeframe of the story – the past and possible futures being covered elsewhere. It will also feature the origami boats, more projections and fleeting references to text from caches and zap codes.

As with everything else about the story, it has only been possible because of being made by four of us. The fabric of humour, politics, fantasy, improvisation and theatrics gives the forty minute show a real energy. We’ve written it so it doesn’t matter whether you trail before or after the performance.

With it being on Friday evening, there’s the weekend in which to explore the rest of the story. Equally we’re imagining people will have trailed the other episodes before coming to the story. Just like the trail, it won’t matter where your entry point is, just how to piece it together and what you take away from it. Just like water, it has a cycle, where there is no start, no end.



Creative collaboration, or how to build a narrowboat*

We decided early on that we wanted to create some kind of printed object as part of the Towpath project, something that people could take away with them. Sarah quickly came up with the idea to create an origami narrowboat: a simple and elegant fold that leaves space for text, and fits perfectly with our focus on canals and water transport.

One of the first prototypes was a ‘ghost boat’ made from semi-transparent paper, which ended up being very beautiful but structurally unsound. Transparent paper doesn’t like to fold, unfortunately, so we had to leave the ghosts behind and go for something more solid and crisp.

Once the right paper was found, the design process involved a LOT of finicky work on millimetre bleeds and text placement. Many, many files passed back and forth until Sarah and Helen had the draft worked out and ready for testing. This was a print project that absolutely required a hard proof copy from our printers. Small blips that were unnoticeable when the piece was flat became glaring once it was folded into shape.

Folded up, the boat looks like this –

a small flotilla, moments before they blew across the garden

It’s got text on all sides, but take it apart and it’s only a few lonely lines on a mostly blank piece of paper. Not much room for writing. As a piece of sculptural literature (is that a thing? If not, I hereby designate it a thing) the boat needed to justify itself not only in form, but also, of course, in content. It needed to hold pieces of the story, as well as being coherent enough on its own that it would mean something to people who might not have encountered any other parts of the Towpath story via the trail or the performance. A lot for a small boat.

All of this brought us back to the core of the story – an extreme edit, which now sits in the middle of the boat, with quotes from our two main characters running along the waterline on each side.

This extreme editing process also produced the surname of one of our main characters – Tib Aberforth – which impacted the performance script, and the trail text. Like the collaborative process we’ve used to write the text, the different formal elements of the project have grown together, influencing one another as the story has emerged. This little boat actually carries far more than its size would suggest.

We printed 1500 origami boats to distribute around the Festival venues, and I personally have folded about one hundred so far. Better get cracking…

*In the spirit of our collaborative venture, I’m using discussion and notes to write about the piece of the project that was largely led by my co-conspirators Sarah and Helen.