Fringed by Lenni Sanders

iOrganic are having a bit of a quieter August than everyone at the Edinburgh Fringe. The last time I went to the Fringe I was super busy and couldn't really relax and take in a big bunch of shows, but the next time I go (2018? 2019? ...2020? Now we're thinking kind of far ahead!) I think my biggest agenda will be to keep an eye out for small scale and interactive performance and watch as much of it as possible. Since me and Harry have been working together I've become more and more interested in this kind of performance.

Being part of Sensored at Contact last summer was a great opportunity to work alongside some artists who were making lovely things that a smaller number of people would experience at a time. It was really eye opening for me as my work before that had generally been not very interactive and generally intended for a fairly big group of people who are sitting down quietly and relatively far away to listen to (or even for people to listen to over the internet without me being present at all). I think small scale, interactive performances offer a way to be VERY present with the audience.

I think the nicest Edinburgh Fringe I can picture is me going into a series of small-ish rooms to experience the kind of performances where I feel excitedly uncertain about what my role is an audience member, where the boundary is between the performer and the audience. I'm very interested in the kind of performances that feel like everyone in the room, audience or performer, is there as a person who might do something surprising.

Lenni

Vacancy - Daffy Duck Became an Accountant by Lenni Sanders

Lenni and I enjoy coming up with new ideas. Some of them are currently impossible for us (building an entire steam-boat dedicated to poetry and story-telling that we can sail down rivers and seas) and some of them are much more achievable, like new shows and stories to explore. We’ve written here before about how we come up with these ideas, so now I’m going to talk about a specific idea. Vacancy.

Vacancy is a performance that we will be making that explores the banality of job applications. Sounds fun, right? But we want to mush this together with infantilisation. The blurred lines between adult and child audiences of Adventure Time (which I love) and innocent smoothie bottles that chat to you. The audience will be applying for the role of child.

We want it to look and feel like the Daffy Duck became an accountant and that TJ Detwieler slowly realised the futility of his escapades and ended up in a back room doing data entry. We’ll combine elements of job interviews with team building exercises and presentations. We’ve not completely worked out the exact details of this but we’re looking forward to developing it over the next few months. Then we’ll build the steam-boat.

Openness in Heritage by Lenni Sanders

This month I worked with Abi and Andrew at First Draft, a regular cabaret night that I co-run, to produce a one-off special at The People’s History Museum inspired by the Grafters exhibition that is currently on. We worked with Ian Beesley, the curator, and Catherine O’Donnell, the Events Co-ordinator, and a whole crew of great performers to produce a great night of performance. It’s something that Lenni and I are interested in doing as iOrganic, how do you creatively interpret objects and stories in a way that is accessible to new audiences.

What was clear from our first meetings with Catherine, it is clear that one thing that is necessary is the openness of heritage spaces to invite performers and creatives into the space and also the confidence, shown by Ian, in performers to produce something that at once respects and develops the the stories of the objects.

At iOrganic, Lenni and I give a lot of thought to developing inquisitiveness in our audiences and in offering different ways to access these stories. Interpreting objects is just one part of what we try to do, the rest of it is creating an environment in which people can challenge those stories and to ask their own questions.

‘Perspectives’, the First Draft event, was a real success. It was all down to everyone being open to new ideas. The performers being open to the heritage stories; People’s History Museum being open to performers interpreting; the audience being open to going to events that they aren’t necessarily used to. Openness is key.

Creating Spaces by Lenni Sanders

A lot of what we do at iOrganic has to do with creating space for thinking, for play and for interacting with language and ideas. Doing this means that I spend a lot of time considering what type of spaces I create when I’m doing other things. Like reading.

When I’m really looking forward to reading a book, I plan when to read. I give myself a period of time to read and I make a cup of tea and I lie down. I like to have a window near by. Then, with a cup of tea, the door closed and a book in my hand… I watch the cats mess about in the street for an hour. I do much more reading when I’m on a bus or when I find out I’ve got to wait an hour more than I thought I did. Even in the 10 minutes I normally arrive early to work. This week I read whilst the football was on with people chatting.

So what is it about creating space that makes the former so unsuccessful? I think it’s because the space you need to make to read isn’t physical. It’s about creating space in you mind to be open to ideas and in which to slowly turnover sentences as you re-read them again and again in awe at their music. Sometimes that space is there, sometimes it isn’t. To some extent you can’t completely control the experience that you’re going to have through trying to determine everything. Instead, its much more to do with capitalising on a space that’s been made accidentally. Sort of improvising with inspiration as it comes.

This relates to iOrganic in one main way, we don’t try to create performances that we control completely but instead we create shows that offer as many hooks and ‘ins’ as possible. Yes, we can be the book, the main focus, but we also want to be the cats messing out on the street, as well. We want to have lots of stuff happening to allow for all of the different ways that people engage. We want to present something that will grow in the space of thought and bring someone into the rest of the performance. That space that isn’t necessarily there all of the time and doesn’t have a single route to it.

I’m sure I can train myself to have that space on more often, I’m sure that the way to do that is by reading more, so I’m off to a busy road.

Mummy Auction TV - A Quick Delivery by Lenni Sanders

At iOrganic we’ve been pretty busy recently! While producing The Unreal Tour we were approached by Manchester Museum to create a new show for their Gift to the Gods Exhibition Evening… which was under a week from The Unreal Tour performance.

We kicked pretty quickly into gear and came to a concept after a big creative chat throwing ideas about. Mummy Auction TV. How better to tell the story of all the bizarre uses for animal mummies throughout history. We thought about how to make the idea of using mummies as fuel or paint or as medicine… how about the bizarre world of Bid-Up TV and auction television.

I used to be obsessed with these programmes when I was a teenager. I would watch them for hours. They seemed at once prosaic but also poetic, a heightened sense of everything but only really kitchens. A more kitchen-y kitchen than your kitchen to convince you to buy a knife as someone says ‘wow, that’s sharp’. But, I mean, it’s a kitchen knife. It’s pretty boring. And then there was the time that an unbreakable drill was dropped off a building to prove it wouldn’t break and the presenter’s manic grin as he segued quickly away from the pieces of ex-drill sprayed across the floor.

It’s a strange world. One where people used what are now museum artefacts as fertiliser and where auction TV exists.

The performance when wonderfully. We introduced each scene at Liverpool Docks with a short poem then one of us would get behind the TV screen we built and present the animal mummy as one of the many things it was used for, including unbinding it for wrapping paper. After a couple of minutes we handed out cheques which visitors would fill out, according to how much they would be willing to spend on that mummy for that use. We would then read them out and reveal the value now ending by breaking what little character we had to have conversations with our visitors.

Over the ambient music and with the images of the docks playing on a loop, we created the atmosphere and tried to put our audience into the kind of mindset where you can buy an animal mummy to spread over your crops.

All under the watchful eye of Napoleon, our home-made cat mummy.

#unrealchethams Saturday Roundup - 5 by Lenni Sanders

We’re less than a week away from The Unreal Tour! It’s been a week of producing our digital content for the performance. We really love working with pre-recorded audio and video elements but there’s a great deal of work that goes into producing something that we just press the play button on during the performance.

In this case, we have a series of videos to record and edit to play in the ‘holding space’ where each audience waits for the performance to begin and also apre-recorded audio piece which plays in the final set-piece of the performance. Both of these are opportunities to exhibit our poetry in a show that has a greater focus on play and exploration.

We are using skills that are definitely, it’s fair to say, in development. Lenni has got a real handle on editing audio to make it run smoothly and I’ve started to get to grips with video editing. It’s been really fun to explore these ways of making things. From our makeshift recording studio (a duvet thrown over our heads) we get the raw audio footage and Lenni takes it from there to make it work and it is sounding great! The video is a case of finding the best moments to cut to more interesting things than us just staring at a camera reading poems. I’ve mainly been enjoying adding clips of us giggling over poems. And there was a lot of giggling while we tried to mime/gesture to pre-recordedaudio. It didn’t do the camera battery much good which added a fun level of jeopardy.

Come along to The Unreal Tour to find out if that battery ran out, after all!

#unrealchethams Saturday Round Up – 3 by Lenni Sanders

We’ve had another lovely week at Chetham’s Library! We’re getting down to putting together our Unreal Tour for February 18th, working out what kind of structure it will have, and choosing our favourite stories of Chetham’s (real and imagined) to integrate into the script. This week, there are some fab new stories in our red postboxes in the Scriptorium which are going to work their way in (and there’s still plenty of time to add yours too!)

We’ve been really enjoying working out a route for the tour, and coming up with how we’d like to engage people in interactive ways in each room or space. A fairly big part of the way we write and perform as iOrganic involves using games in various ways in our performance – using the structure of a game, or creating that kind of mood. We plan for the Unreal Tour to slip in and out of games, or game-like moments, so it’s been fun thinking about how to do that.

This week we also hosted our Unreal Histories workshop. We all created stories in the first half, and made some forgeries and documents that support those stories in the second half. At the start, we showed our workshop participants a selection of particularly interesting books and papers that we felt summed up the ideas we wanted to encourage them to think about:

William Henry Ireland’s Shakespeare forgeries
a little book written entirely in an enigmatic code (but actually containing a sweet poem about going to your friend’s house)
a piece of 1800s conservative propaganda that disguises itself as a newspaper

Overall: things with murky or obscure histories, things that are not as they initially appear, or things that have been created with unusual motives behind them.

I really enjoyed Saturday afternoon – everybody who came contributed to the fun, relaxed atmosphere, and made some fantastic documents and “artefacts” (which we are going to integrate into our performance by talking about as if they’re real). We had some great conversations about authenticity and the way historical truth is constructed, and just generally a lovely afternoon. Thanks everyone for coming!

I’m going to update this blog post with pictures from the workshop, so keep your eyes peeled if you want to have a look at what we got up to.

Lenny

#unrealchethams - Paper by Lenni Sanders

Over the past couple of weeks of our residency at Chetham’s we have been thinking a lot about manuscripts, documents, and papers. They are the perfect example of ephemera: often existing in their lifetime to prove something or act as a reminder, which becomes irrelevant when the person it belonged to no longer has any need for it. I was thinking about this in the Football Museum as well – there’s a ticket for a match in there about the size of a postcard. Our tickets are shrinking smaller and smaller, often to the extent that they don’t have a physical form at all because we only need a digital copy on our phones. I wondered where archaeologists are going to find our tickets. A running thread while we have been thinking about manuscripts and documents has been authenticity, copies, and proof: our workshop about forgeries (coming up this Saturday) has been on our minds.

There is a beautiful manuscript kept in Chetham’s about the size of a suitcase (or less romantically, A2) which is covered in immaculate, perfect Latin calligraphy, and in the top corner, a picture depicts two figures exchanging a document or deed. It is decorated in gold leaf and very detailed filigree flourishes. That’s the picture accompanying this post. For a long time, there has been much debate about whether or not it is really medieval. It almost passed as a genuine medieval artefact but eventually it was decided it isn’t – because of the lack of depth in the image, amongst other reasons. It makes me think about the motives of this manuscript’s maker. Did they make it for profit, as a private memento of the original, or simply for the joy of copying? Before photography this was the way to capture something so you could return to it. I can’t help but picture the artist bending over this manuscript carefully making every letter exact and precise, and whatever reason they had for making it I feel like they took pleasure and pride in making it so well.

We have also seen a 15th century indenture in Chetham’s: this kind of document draws its name from the indented edge left where “chirographum” has been written across the middle, before it was cut in half in a wavy, jagged line. This is so the two people in possession of each half of the document would always be able to prove they held the real version by putting their halves together, confirming their contract together. I was struck by how simple and how clever this idea is. The part we saw was the bottom half and I wondered where the copy that had been attached at the top was now, and whether it existed any more. After a while indentures were no longer regularly cut in half so documents like this, in half, are quite rare.

The material these documents are on is fascinating. Wood pulp paper quickly weakens, yellows and becomes brittle over time but vellum parchment sheets are often surprisingly well-preserved. On some documents (if the vellum was not very thoroughly prepared) you can see a ghost of where the animal’s hair follicles would have been.

Here is a short poem I’m working on about vellum’s tendency to stretch and warp. We’ve been told an eerie fact about vellum: when it isn’t kept in stable enough conditions (eg temperature) it warps back into the shape it would have been on the animal.

Vellum

Under a weight of temperature
it is too old to bear, the vellum cockles:
it remembers how
it is the outside of an animal,
it bends to accommodate
its lost body. Long years
pressed flat
among the other sheafs:
long years bearing
other peoples’ sentences.
Tired, it crumples slowly
in the closing
of some invisible fist:
curls up to sleep
in a more comfortable position.

Lenni