Sunday, 30 July 2017

A Dramaturgy at Sea: Avi Simmons @ Edfringe 2017

A Heart at Sea
is an epic folktale told on miniature scale. Stunning visuals and beautiful live music come together to create a breath-taking spectacle. 

Original songs written and performed by Avi Simmons, and live looped soundscapes, tell the story of a Boy who bottles up his heart and throws it into the sea. 

Pleasance: Below 
Aug 2nd-4th (Previews) | 5th- 28th (Excl. 15th)
14th & 22nd (Relaxed) | Running Time: 55mins

Intricate puppets are swept through transforming wooden worlds that are held within a beautifully carved chest. Puppets roam on this unique contraption to recount the story of whales, tiny boats, and beards. In this intimate Edinburgh venue, audiences have the chance to encounter a moving piece of theatre about grief, reconciliation and adventure. Suitable for ages 7+.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

A Heart at Sea was born out of a love for puppetry, song-writing and live music. We wanted to create a show that told a folk style story, using folk music and puppetry to bring it to life. 

The image of someone bottling up their heart and throwing it in to the sea after suffering grief was something we thought was a powerful image for how we as humans try to deal with loss, and the show grew from there. We also wanted the show to fit into unusual and non-traditional performance spaces, hence the miniature scale, and transforming wooden set which expands from one, small hand-carved chest.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely! We are die-hard believers in storytelling being an irreplaceable tool for unlocking conversation, emotion and discussion. That is what performances does, it tells stories that move its audience to see something differently, or informs them of intricacies in a topic they would not engage with otherwise. They can chew on that, and if people are chewing on things, they will likely discuss them.

How did you become interested in

making performance?

Both company members studied drama and theatre at The University of Kent. But our interest in performance, and our individual specialisms (puppetry and song-writing) can be traced back to childhood.

Avi sung home grown pop songs to her peers on the steps of the primary school playground, and wrote poems on small pieces of paper which she folded tightly, and carried around in a palm-sized pouch.  Peter fashioned puppets from a young age. His first puppet, namely ‘Graham the tent peg’, is still fondly recalled at family gatherings. 

Once at University Peter started creating more complex puppets and part of his studies was creating Mehitabel the cat, a advanced Bunraku style cat puppet made from a plastic pipe, a bike chain and a leather jacket.

There is something extremely satisfying about building something from scratch and performing with it, and A Heart At Sea has been a labour of love for both artists in that sense. Peter loved making the set and puppets for A Heart At Sea, carving them out of wood and working on mechanisms. Avi had the challenge of crafting songs and lyrics that are beautiful whilst still carrying the audience through the story with clarity.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

The transforming wooden chest was the starting point for the piece. We needed to decide how many of the scenes in our story we would be able to fit into one chest, and therefore the storytelling and song-writing was informed by these decisions. The show is the result of carefully considered interweaving of live looping, poetic narrative told through song with stunning visuals, and puppetry.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

A Heart At Sea is the first of Half A String's productions. The company vision is to create  powerful stories resonating through physical objects and live music, and present unique productions of visually stunning and heartfelt theatre. The show certainly does

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The show has been called a ‘cathartic’ experience, and we think there is something in that. It touches tenderly but vividly on a common experience we have as humans – to shut ourselves away when we get hurt. We often attempt to selectively numb emotional pain in the confusion of grief. 

Our hope for the show is that it will give people a sense of connection with themselves again, if they have experienced that, as well as hope. It is a show recommended for 7+, and we decided not to dull down the tragedy that happens n the show, so that it opens an opportunity for a theatre piece to present children with language to discuss loss.

And of course we hope that families will go away having experienced something magical together!

About the Company

Half a String was born through the collaboration of visual artist Peter Morton and musicianAvi Simmons in the creation of their first show A Heart at Sea. Run by artistic director Peter Morton the company grew out of a love for storytelling, live music and puppetry. 

A Heart at Sea was launched in April 2016 in a secret garden, in the pilgrim’s city of Canterbury, and since then has been astonishing audiences across the country in a variety of intimate venues from black box studios to a 13th Century Franciscan Chapel. 

The company are producing a studio recording of the music from A Heart At Sea that premieres at the Fringe, which will be made available to Press and Edinburgh audiences.

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