03 Dec Blog | ‘MISSING’ IN CHINA – Part 4
In China we have had to do something we don’t do anywhere else in the world. We run ‘subtitles’ of our ‘script’ in Chinese throughout the show. It’s really strange to watch. In Shanghai they were in English and Chinese and I asked the performers not to read them or be distracted by them. I said, “Forget them completely and play the scene the way you think it should be in the moment.” Roz our producer has been working around the clock with Maggie (one of our local guides and translators) to put together a coherent Chinese translation of a script that Amit, Roz and Daniel worked on back in the UK. Roz is desperate for the words we project to be in keeping with the ethos of Gecko’s work. She doesn’t want to make it too easy for the audience and give away too much.
The reason that I find subtitles weird is very simple: I have never seen a Gecko script, not in 6 years, in fact. For lots of Gecko work (especially in devising) I try not to ask what the performers are saying in Japanese, French, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian, Hebrew, Chinese, Italian or whatever they may be speaking. By not knowing the words we can help keep the story or the emotion open and ready for the audience to interpret in their own ways. It took me a long time learning from Amit to understand what that really means. It’s not about gesture, it’s about an international truth that comes from an emotional performance. Of course the performers know what they are ‘saying’ and they take that instruction from Amit, but the audience in general don’t know. So it’s essential to make sure the piece holds together to someone who has no languages at all! Here in China with the script on the wall, Roz has worked hard to ensure that there is still room for the audience to insert themselves and their life stories into the work. She has shaved down huge amounts of the subtitles but I still find it strange that there are words on the wall in a Gecko show. Amit wants the show to speak from the heart to the heart. It’s really hard for us to do that with words in this style. Maggie has been great at this, helping us to give a gist of what is happening, keeping our audience on track. I wonder if next time we are in this part of the world the script could be developed by a Chinese artist?
With Matt firmly in the show now, Emma, our other new stage manager, is learning Laura’s track. Laura has been with this show from a very early stage and knows it as well as anyone and I am finding it fascinating watching her teach Emma her (very busy) backstage journey. Emma is doing great and already has over half the show under her belt. I feel I am seeing the work from the inside afresh by going over the minutia of the stage management. Finding stage managers with a passion for detail is one thing, finding one who can integrate themselves into the show/cast rhythm is another. As a company we are using the time together to really secure every moment of the show before it heads to London in March (and even more international dates throughout 2015). We aim to have Emma fully in the show by the end of China! She’s going to be brilliant.
The theatre in Wuhan is freezing. Everyone is in good spirits about it but we are all kind of hoping that Shenzhen might be a little warmer. The performers didn’t even build up a sweat during the show – that’s a first. Ushers were all decked out in arctic gear and for a post-show discussion I stayed in my coat and scarf. There was a sauna-like VIP room of course… An interesting throwback to a time when artists were not given much respect perhaps – a freezing communal dressing room with no toilet or shower sat next to an ornate, carpeted, sofa-filled cozy for the important folk.
That said we are being so well looked after here, treated with utmost respect. Our local crew continue to be wonderful. Mr Song and his army tackle every problem as a team, with a smile on their faces (because they love their jobs!) and a determination not to let us down (that I actually find a bit moving), and it certainly motivates us to work harder knowing how much their crew are putting into the tour. Maggie and Ginger have been with us in Wuhan and they seem to have endless patience. Gecko may be very organised on stage as a company, but sometimes off-stage it can be like herding sheep, or children, or lambs (child sheep?) even… It drives Nathan crazy.
I am really grateful for a TV in my room in the hotel, it has been my little slice of home. HBO Asia pumps out one movie after another and when you need some downtime away from the crazy city (or the even crazier company) a cheesy Hollywood movie is just the tonic. Last night was World War Z, featuring Ryen (of MISSING and INSTITUTE fame! If you have seen the movie, he’s the first guy to be featured getting the virus in the first 5 minutes). You’d think all the plaudits of such a huge and important role in a critically-acclaimed film would have gone to Ryen’s head… And you would be right… I’m joking! He’s lovely really…
Here he is trying to be the Vitruvian Man: