Departure Lounge - Blog by Vanessa Macaulay

I arrived at the HopBarn and completely fell in love with the surroundings. Its uniqueness not only comes from its remote location but the barn itself is just so beautiful, but the facilities offer more than I ever expected. Let me first begin with the studio, it’s very spacious and I loved the high ceilings and the effect it had on the sound I was recording (I’ll explain more on this later). The living quarters were very comfortable so I found it very easy to settle in and get focused for the week ahead.

At the beginning of the week, the performance “how to make an enticement machine” was in the early development stages with the running time of 20/25 minutes. By the end of the week, I developed the piece to a full-length solo that I wish to tour in the future with the total running time of 50/60 mins. I would like to share some of my thoughts, my processes and feelings towards this residency in association with In Good Company, The HopBarn and Derby Theatre. It gave me the time, space and support to explore new ways of developing this piece, rake over fruitful ideas and really focus on what I wanted this piece to say. So, this experience has undeniably been an invaluable opportunity for me as a young emerging artist to really hone in on my creative practice and develop my interests.

I feel as though it is appropriate to note here my practice is solo based. Working independently was undoubtedly very challenging, only heightened by the fact that I was in a rather isolated setting. However, it is a very important aspect to this process as the work created expands from personal connection to problematic assumption of my own lived experiences. It can be hard to stay focussed, especially whilst working alone in any setting. So, I decided to put a notepad in the corner of the room for ‘other stuff’ when working and my mind wondered from the current tasks whether appropriate to the overall development of the piece or something completely irrelevant, I would write it down in the notebook and return to the current task to ensure that I remained present in the moment of creating. I also decided it was necessary to put some structure on each day to ensure that I was working productively. Each day I would start with a yoga warm up, I find this a useful and way to warm up my body and mind and to focus on individual tasks. I would then play all the songs I reference in the piece, quite loudly, whilst lying on the floor completing visualisation techniques. After this, I broke down the piece into sections, making notes on questions, problems and possible development ideas. I then worked through each section day by day, setting up tasks and recording it as way of feedback. I Invited my friend, Vanessa, to stay to not only have that emotional support but another outside eye and feedback. I’m thankful for this as it broke up the moments of solitude that I had early on in the week. 

I started working on Monday with Mike, the HopBarn sound technician; without him I would have been very lost in a technical black hole of XLR cables and microphones.  Before arriving, I had key areas I knew I wanted to develop and sound was one of them, specifically the use of a live sound looper. Mike broke down the basics in terms of operation and gave all the support I could have possibly asked for. Fuelled with new knowledge and new toys I started an exploration with live recorded sound. In the piece, there is a section where I read music lyrics into a microphone, I used this as the site for potential development. The lyrics are written out on individual pieces of paper and a placed on a music stand, once I’ve read a lyric, I scrunch it up and throw it on the floor, I found it interesting the overlaying sound caused by the scrunching of the paper and the sound of my voice when using the sound looper. I played with speed, tone, and volume for the rest of the day and was very pleased with the outcome. 

Pop culture is so relevant to this work, so I often use social media as a platform for my practical explorations. This could be in many forms and I found it useful to just scroll through, whether that is a picture on Instagram or a trending video on YouTube or trolling on Twitter, I always find the public sphere mixing with the politic so useful for the images im working with within the piece. Through exploration in the studio, I allow these images fester in an alternative context and mutate in order to reframe the narrative of the black female body. I like to think of it as an attempt of shape shifting of the construction of the black female body which becomes a question as it moves towards something else, something undefinable. My aim throughout this development was to focus on breaking what has been made invisible and hyper-visible. I worked with the idea that If I can break what and how you see, specifically how you see me and my performing body, then perhaps we can enter a dialogue not based on stereotypes, but perhaps we can then approach something that is more real.

The Departure Lounge Package holiday as whole experience has helped me to ‘find my voice’ not only as a theatre maker and performer, but by supporting me and providing time and space for me to think about what I want to say and how I want to say it, for that I’m very thankful.

Vanessa Macaulay