‘Below the Clair de Lune’, was the title of our finished project for Northern Stage that took place from the 18/5/18 and will remain there until the 2/6/18.
Upon our initial visit to the Northern Stage I noticed the empty space underneath the stairwell and immediately recognised it as a good space to have a projected piece. When developing my initial ideas, this was in the forefront of my mind.
My initial idea was to create a short documentary about people working in hospitality in Newcastle upon Tyne and their experiences with work place romances. Not necessarily people I knew, it was inspired by small cafés and eateries that seem almost stuck out of time. Frequented by people who have been going to the same place, ordering the same thing, seeing the same faces, every day for years.
The link to the play, was that Frankie and Jonnie meet working in a diner in 80’s New York. I wanted the documentary to show the idea of a ‘workplace romance’ as a transferable, very humanistic idea that is repeated throughout time and anywhere in the world. Something that resonates through the global community endlessly, that many people can relate to.
A phrase from this trailer that resonated with me was “it’s business as usual”. (also note the gossip at 0:52)
Kyp volunteered to work on the project with me, and we also had different ideas about turning the fundamental idea behind this into something more interactive, perhaps using the tables in the restaurant. These ideas all seemed to fall apart when we thought about the logistics of setting it up.
Developing the idea, we first thought about asking strangers in cafes about these kinds of experiences. After judging the timeframe of the project, we decided this might not be the best approach as it may be difficult to get permission for filming and to persuade people to get involved with the project. Although it did stay a possibility, we decided to interview one of my own colleagues as a test run, for convenience in terms of filming location and willingness to participate.
We carefully developed a set of questions together, bearing in mind questions that might end up leading to dead ends and that different people may talk about relationships that they are still in as opposed to relationships that have ended etc.
On the basis of how the first interview went, we decided to continue arranging interviews with people I knew, as I had a few people in mind that I knew would be interested in getting involved with the project.
We had various ideas surrounding how to format the documentary, one being to specifically use questions asked in the play, and then to cut the scenes with scenes directly from the film Frankie and Jonnie (1991). This idea fell flat as we couldn’t work out how to use the questions directly from the play without them sounding completely out of context.
Throughout the project we worked together, during filming and editing sessions. This was particularly good for our development of ideas and we had good back and forth, very open discussions about the direction of the project and worked well together. After our first filming session, we reviewed the footage and both particularly picked up on the interviewees body language, small movements and slightly uncomfortable way of being in front of the camera. Kyp then directed me to the attention of the short film ‘The Girl Chewing Gum’ by John Smith, 1976
This reference is where the idea for the final form of our documentary came from. We found humour in taking the idea of ‘directing’ the small movements and body languages of our subjects, playfully subverting their roles from interviewees to actors in a ‘play’.
We knew that we wanted the piece to be projected in the downstairs area of Northern stage that I previously mentioned but we also wanted the installation to have an additional interactive element. We were experimenting with different ways of formatting the title screens, how to show the ‘stage directions’ without detracting from the actual footage. We liked the idea of having more extensive descriptions of the scenes and behaviour but couldn’t fit it all on one screen without the final piece seeming too busy. We spent a lot of time working out minute details and researching correct stage language, for example all of the stage directions such as ‘Move stage left’ or ‘exit downstage right’ are all accurate to the ‘performance’. This is when we decided to have a physical script of the ‘play’ set up in front of the piece that people could read alongside. We wrote the script post-final cut, slightly altering the text so it read as a non-dialect specific text that seemed to be personalised by the ‘actors’. We modelled our script on the script for Frankie and Jonnie in the Clair de Lune.
We dressed the area around the projection as a restaurant table, with the script presented on the table. We used a table lamp to invite the audience to read the script. Underneath the table/table cloth we had all of the projection equipment tucked away neatly. We dimmed the area using stage light wrapping, which was a way around the health and safety risks involved with dimming the lights in the area. Communicating with the venue about doing this was difficult, but on the day of installation we eventually had some help from a stage technician with dimming the lights that were dangerous to reach.
We had difficulty communication with the venue about when we could come and test projection, often not getting a response or very late responses. Also, the date of the opening night of the play was miscommunicated to us from the very start of the project, which was disappointing as we had planned for the date very far in advance and were not actually able to attend the opening evening. We still opened the installation on the night that we had planned for, and had a decent turn out of friends and participants which slightly made up for the disappointment of having been given the wrong date. I set up my own signs advertising the installation, posted on social media and had some viewers that were attending other events in Northern stage that evening. I also asked the bar staff to communicate to their customers that there was an installation to see downstairs.
‘Below the Clair de Lune’: