Now that I've been back a couple of weeks I've had time to dejetlag and reacclimatise to GMT and it's time to summarise the rest of a very full week in Hobart. Frank patiently and focusedly led us through development of the characters in the piece. Through various gently competitive games and much discussion we watched them grow and shrink and change until by the end of the week there was a general consensus as to how they would look and move, behave and interact. From very broad stereotypes they morphed into an opposite but equally broad stereotype to something in-between. This in many ways mirrors the journeys they take in the piece, their own - and the audience's - preconceptions being turned on their heads. I felt very privileged to be part of this process as my involvement is often much later in the process, and there is a general feeling that we're all very much on the same page.
It was great to get to know the chinese members of the team in a different context, as in China the meetings can often be quite formal and polite and it can be difficult to really get a point across. It also gave a chance for the western and eastern ways of approaching it to be clarified, and in particular, for Frank to feel assured that his vision is understood by all. Shi Lei, the costume designer, was concerned that she couldn't start to design costumes until she knew exactly who the actors were as usually she would be designing for known performers on the payroll of the CATC. Frank managed to convince her that the detailed work we'd done over the week was plenty to be going on with in terms of ideas, and that the actors were, in any case, going to be quite transformed from their natural body type in a quite cartoonish way. In fact just at the end of the last meeting she produced a beautiful sketch that really captured the essence of one character, and had since emailed drawings to all the team. Yigang, the animator proved to be a pool of calm energy oozing out lovely sketches all along the way [his version of Blowin' in the Wind' was also quite a revelation]. He naturally was very concerned about deadlines, as the animation process is going to be the most involved, and Frank's next task is to pinpoint all the areas of animation to send to him.
There was another wonderful translation moment during one of the brainstorming games which involved writing down qualities for the characters on pieces of paper. Alongside such terms as Deluded, Persistent, Regal, Shi-Lei had written 'Feet Gas Field' which had us all perplexed. She'd translated her chinese using the internet so it had become very literal. Much discussion with the translator it turns out the original mandarin actually translates as 'Charming', via putting one's 'feet' in the 'field' of people's company and changing the 'gas' or 'air' positively - get it?!
My productive involvement doesn't really take off until the beginning of next year when hopefully there will be animation sequences to put sound to. I left Terrapin with a CD of musical character thoughts which developed through the process, most of which were already outdated by the end of the week, but I feel I can really trust Frank to not take them as gospel as he understands the creative evolution these things follow. It was also great to meet Fin the writer, a real gust of positive energy who actually has been doing a fair bit of work for theatre companies in the UK with people I know - small world. He was also heading Brit-wards at the same time we were so we spent a happy short time in Hobart airport with him.
I take away many fond memories of Tasmania, particularly the casualness of the rich wildlife and the calmness of the roads. Most of all, though, it feels so close to home despite the exotic nature all around. I suppose it's English in its heritage and in its greenness and is also at the same latitude south as we are north which accounts for a lot of it. It's only on taking the long journey back over mountains and deserts that the distance at all comes into it. Even then it seems as if it's only round the corner and one could pop back there anytime; it is amazing that it's possible to travel such a huge distance in a relatively short time and maybe that creates a different mindset [the original settlers would have gone through the experience of a months-long adventure]. So instead of being blown away by being in such exotic climes it's like a breath of really fresh air coming into one's own home. I suppose 'Feet Gas Field' could quite sum it up.
With such an intense schedule in the final week as well as continuing to explore the island, at least gastronomically - HUGE savoury muffins from the Laundry Cafe in Salamanca Square, wonderful fish n' chips ('n scallops 'n squid) from Mures on the waterfront, a bottle of Tasmanian wine to gentle jazz in a wine bar-cum-bottle shop on Salamanca Place, not to mention really good coffee, well actually i think I should, particularly the flat white in the Tricycle Cafe - I simply ran out of energy, and sometimes internet connection, to do this blog. I'm sure I haven't really entered into the proper spirit of a blog which I assume is supposed to be in-the-moment thoughts, but I've tried to use it in a way that makes sense to me, and I hope to you, dear reader. It's like busking really - nobody has to drop a penny in the hat but they can if they want to. I'm not sure what's going to happen to the blog when I'm in Shanghai next year as I won't have access but hopefully I'll find a way of keeping in touch. My eternal thanks to Shona Powell at Lakeside for putting this opportunity my way and to Catherine for joining me on the adventure.
Until then, fair dinkum, zài jiàn and here are some more pictures:
Left to right: Production Designer: Kate Davis, Animator: Zeng Yi Gang, Costume Designer: Shi Lei,
Terrapin Manager : Kevin O'Loghlin, Writer: Finegan Kruckemeyer, Director: Frank Newman, Composer: Matt Marks