Blátha Bána ~ White Blossoms

Pre September 2009

Initial thoughts and inspiration

It was a long held ambition of Graffiti's to create a piece of theatre for the very young.

It was an area of work which had intrigued Emelie for years. In May 2008, Emelie had attended the ASSITEJ World Congress in Adelaide and followed the Early Years stream. The work of La Barraca in Italy was honoured at that conference as champions of Theatre for Early Years. Emelie also attended a lecture by Suzanne Osten of Unga Klara discusing her show Baby Drama.

Emelie began to set things in motion for Graffiti's first exploration of work for the very young. They had previously created work for ages from three/four years up - but this was a new field which really engaged and excited her. After her visit to Austalia she attended the festival at La Baracca in Bologna and started to research the area. Around this time, an understanding was emerging in other fields - neurology, social studies - of the importance of Early Years Arts.

In August 2008 Síle returned to Graffiti and took up her post as Assosiate Director. Síle had previous training in early childhood studies and she had been running a creche in Prague - circumstances seemed to be conspiring for Graffiti to make a play for the very young. Watching other pracitioners' works and seeing productions that they liked (but which didn't satisfy all their hopes for the work) proved an inspiration for the pair. They spent as much time asessing the aesthetic that did not appeal to them as searching for the work that connected with them.

In Emelie's mind were the qualities of a show she had seen in the late eighties at a festival in Turin by a Spanish company. At that time that Graffiti couldn't have afforded to do anything like it. Twenty-five years later they were in a better position and decided to embark on the journey which became Blátha Bána-White Blossoms.

September 2009

First Conversations

Immediately after Graffiti's regular production in September 2009, Síle and Emelie put aside Thursday mornings every week to play with the idea of making a piece of theatre for Early Years.

Graffiti always likes to take their time with new work (commissions and devising) so that the work has time to breathe and develop.

Emelie: ‘One of the things that neither of us wanted to do was to comprimise in any way. If we were going into this field it had to be exactly the way we wanted it.'

They had two guiding philosophies about how they would proceed.

  1. They decided they wanted something quintessentially Irish
  2. They wanted it to be very beautiful - if it is going to be the child's first experience of theatre arts, it should be as beautiful as they could make it.

They were inspired by Charlotte Fallon from Theatre de la Guimbarde who succeded in the seemingly impossible task of making a piece for babies on the theme of Orpheus. She dissected the story and discovered the basic mythic points within it which she then used as a basis from which to devise. Emelie and Síle decided to mine the wealth of Irish myths and legends for stimulus. They decided to independently assess the myths and pick the one they deemed most suitable. After the weekend, in an early example of the synchronicity that characterised the whole journey, they both came back with the myth of the Children of Lir.

October 2009

A Structuralist Analysis

They discussed at length their planned methodologies, their instincts for the piece and dissected their motives and the aesthetic of their hoped-for production.

November 2009

Poetry emerged as an important force in the early days of brainstorming. "If we were using words they would be poetry". So they searched throught the anals of Irish poetry in both English and Irish. This desire to make a piece infused with Irishness began to colour the language too. They discovered poetry in both Irish and English that enchanted them. The writing of Leanne O'Sullivan inspired them.

21st January 2010

Síle and Em find their aesthetic.

It was one of calm.

“We had all sorts of possibilities at the beginning. Would you make it funny? Would you make it colourful? How would the young child receive colour? For a very young child would it be too loud? And on reflection we went away from comedy. We didn't feel that it was right. We were moving towards an atmosphere of quiet and observing, listening, quiet absorbtion that seemed to characterise small babies and children.“

February 2010

The Sensory and Visual, developing the aesthetic

Together they developed their instinctive sense of the aesthetic. “Our environment, we weren't even calling it a set in the early stages, was determinedly beautiful, quiet and calm.”

April 2010

The Swan, The Tent and the Castle

The physical elements that seemed to be emerging from their initial explorative stages of the Children of Lir myth were the swan and the castle. Additionally the physical qualites of sand, water, feathers and wind were also emerging as sensual elements. Also the physical holding structure for the piece seemed to be taking shape too.

The idea of a medieval tent with in which all the action happened was lodging itself firmly in their imaginations.

May 2010

The Musical Aesthetic

The music of Arvo Part, particularly his compostition 'Spiegel im Spiegel' became, at this early stage, the touchstone for the aural aesthetic of the piece. The delicate and quiet nature of the piece, the contast of smooth strings and gently precussive piano seemed a wonderful accompaniment to the white world they had begun to imagine.

June 2010

Identifying Collaborators: the Making of a Team

From almost the inception of the idea Emelie and Síle had identified Fiona Kelleher as the musician whose aesthetic and beautiful voice they felt would be perfect for the piece. They had met Fiona years earlier and were reintroduced to her while she was researching lullabies. As soon as they heard her beautiful high register and the clarity and fineness of her voice they knew thay had found a crucial member of their production team.

At this point they also identified that they wanted to work with Una Kirwan as the performer for the piece. They had both worked with her before and felt her performance style would lend itself to the open physicallity they wanted. They had worked on the presentation of the body to children and had instincts on what would be successful physically and what wouldn't. Una also had a 'look' that they felt was friendly and would be welcoming to their very young audience.

Emelie and Sile had known Deirdre Dwyer and her work for a number of years before this opportunity to work together emerged. She was not a designer who had worked with Graffiti before, and as such it was to be a journey of discovery, wthout assumptions, together, in this fragile new work. Both Deirdre's previous work and her investigative approach convinced Emelie and Síle that she was the right visual designer for the piece. They knew they needed to be questioned about their design choices and wanted to create a team that would be able to communicate across the disciplines and talk with each other critically to push the work farther.

This approach also permeated through the whole production and into the production and stage management team.

23rd August 2010

The Team gets to work.

Síle and Emelie had equipped the studio space with white gauzes, shiney objects, feathers and sand: things they were inspired by and that they thought could excite or provoke the team they had assembled. They attempted to communicate the aesthetic (which they by now felt quite confident in) to their new collaborators. As well as the visual stimuli, the new team was also presented with excerpts of poetry, music and sound (particular instruments). They had also prepared an outline draft of the entire piece, with sketches (verbal and visual) of the 'scenes' or 'episodes' which, though not strictly narrative, had some background in a simple story structure, with an arc.

We layed out the space in a circular shape keeping in mind the sense of a medieval tent. We put the sand at the back and a shape with three 'stations' or performance locations quickly emerged. We were working from a series of 'episodes' that had been identified by Síle and Emelie, and Una began to improvise around them and with the objects presented.

The idea of a boundary between the audience and the performance space was very important to help babies understand where they were allowed and also where they were not welcome! The barrier in the picture is made of twisted gauze in the curving shape of the swans neck. On the gauze are placed jars which hold LED lights. The notions of twinkling light and the iridescence of the gauze were being explored. In the forground of the picture is a ball with glitter and water in it. The motion of the glitter when the ball was rolled or shaken felt like waves and in this early week we used the balls to represent the storm. In the background you can see sand castles which were to deteriorate over the duration of the performance.

Throughout the development week, Fiona Kelleher improvised (vocally and instrumentally) with Una, and her experimentations in the soundscore began to take shape. At times, a fragment of a song emerged and felt "right" - in many cases it became the basis for an element of the finished sound score.

A sequence of photos taken during an early run twords the end of the development week. We had identified that we liked the sound of pouring water! The storm at the final lake was represented by billowing fabric which also communicated a feeling of wings and flight.

September 2010

Experimentations with Projection and some sound development

During the week's development there had been the idea of projecting a surrounding image on the inside walls of the tent. We could fly high with the swans and go deep into water with the fish. In September Emelie, Síle and Olan Wrynn, a theatre designer and production consultant, experimented with projection on different receiving materials

After the weeks development Síle and Emelie invited the three visiting artists to reflect on the work of the week. Here are the responses from Una, Deirdre and Fiona.

28th October 2010

Sile, Una and Cara creatively problem solve.

Cara Morrissey–Gleeson, a University of Limerick Student who was on work experience with the company at this time, Sile and Una all set out to try to answer the questions that had emerged arround Una’s Character. Was she sister (as in the legend), mother, carer or some other force? They tackled this question using brainstorming and creative writing. Each of them writing a response to what they had seen in the development week.

29th October 2010

The team reconvenes.

In the interim the team had had the time and space to consider what had been most successful about the development week.

We had considered all of the elements and the transformative force of Water was leading in importance. The physical element of sand was not helping our storytelling and so we reached a radical conclusion: the Castle no longer seemed an essential element and it was cut, to make way for a stronger connection with water.

22nd November 2010

The ideas develop more firmly

Emerging from these new instincts, we need to start making firm descisions. It is at this point that we more clearly start to identify Una's character with that of a Mother rather than that of the older sister Aoife. The essential idea of home and warmth has been transferred from the Castle to the Mother.

Presentation at Meitheal na mBeag Conference 2010

At the inaugural Meitheal na mBeag Conference in November 2010, Síle spoke on a panel which focused on different working practices in the field of TYA as Gaeilge. She chose to represent the work-in-progress on Blátha Bána-White Blossoms - a project unique in its poetic bilingualism among other things. At this Conference, Síle attempted to define the emerging "Principle of Rightness" which she and Emelie found categorised the whole project. This Principle stated that "if something (artist, texture, sound, shape...) felt instinctively right for Blátha Bána - it was right".

A draft of Síle presentation at the Meitheal na mBeag conference in November 2010

6th December 2010

Another three days of development

20th Dec 2010

Initial Costume ideas and thoughts

Just before Christmas we met and Una tried on a sample costume that Deirdre had made. The general feeling about this costume was the fabrics were too dense and monochrome. There was a desire for some more ethereal fabrics, lightness and the capacity for iridescence.

26th of Jan 2011

Keeping in contact

At this point we engaged a new team memeber. Olan Wrynn, who has worked with Graffiti for years, as a designer and as a production manager, was invited into the process as a Consultant and Production Manager. There were many technical and practical concerns that were emerging with the design that needed someone with Olan's technical skills and design expertise.

It is important to note that the artists engaged on this long-term project were by no means working full-time on the project. Most of the artists are freelance, which suited this process as it allowed for plenty of reflection between periods of active engagement with the project. Graffiti itself was keeping up a regular and extremely busy schedule of other performances, workshops and projects. Blátha Bána was a favourite, but had to fit in around the company's and the artists' - and the building's - schedules.

14th Feb 2011

Addressing the missing rhythms at the end of the piece

24th March 2011

Next step: investigating materials & making budget

11th April 2011

The development of the set through model making

In April Deirdre’s energies turned to model making. The white card model is the first step in developing the physical set. Just using white card allows focus on the physical and scultptural structure first, leaving thoughts of colours and patterns until later. Deirdre made the model in a scale of 1;10 because the structure would have been too small in the tradional theatre scale of 1;25.

It was also at this time that Eoin Winning was approached to become the Lighting Designer for the piece. He had an established and warm relationship with Graffiti as a Lighting Designer and was enthusiastic (and practical!) in his early visits to the model.

At this point Deirdre progressed to the colour and texture of the space. Blossoms were very influential particularly these painted versions. The idea of stenciling or stamping the bossom pattern on branches emerged.

May 2011

Stream Pump development

In May Deirdre and Olan bought a pump and had an attempt at stream prototypes. We felt it was imperative to get on top of this challenging aspect of the design, in order to be able to confidently move forward.

September-November 2011

Production meeting and forging ahead.

With an increasingly clear idea of what we were trying to achieve it was time to contact an engineer. Tim Crowley was consulted about how it would be best to make the structure of our set. There were many questions about suspending our walls from above, having a standing frame with supports or a self-supporting frame. With sketches from Deirdre, conversations with Olan and expert advice from Tim we reached a conclusion on our building and planned to have it built in time for a week's rehearsal in December.

Throughout September, October and November, progress was made on many aspects of the production. Certain tasks were completed and others begun to ammortise the considerable costs over the course of two years, and two funding periods. Careful consulations with Graffiti's General Manager, Jennifer O'Donnell, happened regularly to stop us losing the run of ourselves in our enthusiasm! This cautious, step-by-step approach kept the significant budget in control and also maximised our reflection time within the process. In addition, it allowed for the free-lance schedules of most of the collaborative team.

November 2011

Final drawings and the set comes to life

During this month the polystyrene floor was being carved, the metals (the large frame structure) were being bent and shaped and the materials for the trees was being sought out.

For the trees, Deirdre had considered getting real Manzanita branches to represent the trees but was still wedded to her little metal models. With Olan’s consultation and help they investigated bending copper pipe, which was moderately successful and so explored the possibility of aluminium pipe. In November Olan and Deirdre bought pipe and a pipe bender and tested out the theory and were delighted with their results. It seemed that with a little brute force metal trees were a possibility.

In Galway Fiona presents at the Meitheal na mBeag Conference.

11th to 16th December 2011

Another week with the whole team

To get to the next stage in development the team needed to see Una on the set interacting with the stream. So November and the beginning of December saw a whirl of activity, carving the polystyrene landscape and installing the mechanisms for the stream.

February 2012

Planning for the final run up

March and April 2012

Getting things done

The end was in sight and Deirdre, Olan, Fiona and Eoin were hard at work completing the work on the music, set, props, costume, lighting and publicity. We ordered a truss to traverse the performance area, ordered a front cloth for printing, made butterflies and swans, put together lighting designs, bought gels and replaced bulbs, made trees, recorded songs, timed tracks with precision, visited garden centers in search of blue stones, ordered and separated thousands of blossoms, engineered and developed methods for dropping single and multiple blossoms, painted floors and landscapes, bought goldfish and tanks, located jugs and generally tied up lose ends.

May 2012

Rehearsals and Final Preparations

We had one final full week of rehearsals before the show opened. All of the final details were put in place.

16th of May - Our work comes to fruition..the Opening of Blátha Bána-White Blossoms

June 2012

The Critical Response

Note: Blátha Bána-White Blossoms enjoyed a sell-out run in May 2012 and was revived for a second sell-out run in April-May 2013. We hope it will have future incarnations.

January 2013

Reflecting on our documentation

Síle, Emelie and Deirdre fastidiously kept all their notes and documents carefully and in January 2013, with support from the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, Deirdre was given the task of sifting through all the work and piecing together this journey from inception to completion of Blátha Bána-White Blossoms.