Tag Archives: Finger Trigger Bullet Gun

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Bridges

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It is almost a year since we premiered Finger Trigger Bullet Gun at LIFT. The show is about the start of the First World War. Britain gets a prologue and a few fleeting mentions but the show is centred on Berlin, Vienna and Belgrade and history from their perspective. Working on the show taught us an enormous amount of history and some geography. It opened our eyes to how narrow our view of this area of history is. This lack of knowledge combined with the setting a hundred years ago and many hundreds of miles away made the piece feel quite distanced from us, until the final scene brings all these historical incidents crashing, terrifyingly into the present.

Now we are in Novi Sad with the show and it all feels different. Novi Sad is Serbia’s second city. It stands on territory that was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the city is on the West of the Danube but the old town is on the eastern bank right up against imposing walls of the vast Petrovaradin Fortress, built to hold back the Ottoman Empire.

From the fortress more history becomes visible. Below stone stumps speak for a bridge destroyed in the second world war and never rebuilt. To the right there is a temporary box metal bridge over which trains and cars take turns to cross. Further downstream a new bridge is being built to ease this transport bottleneck. The bottleneck is further history, a legacy of April 1999 NATO bombers destroyed all the bridges in Novi Sad.

In Britain history is turgid, in Serbia “ history appears […] twice a day”. There seems to barely be a question in this city the answer to which does not start in deep history. It is clear Finger Trigger Bullet Gun is coming home.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: FTB-Gone

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The last three weeks have been intense, rehearsing Finger Trigger Bullet Gun and then performing it in London and Birmingham. We are still picking over the results.

As originally conceived, a two week rehearsal period for a 40 minute piece didn’t seem too ambitious and it allowed us to keep within our tight budget. However the idea expanded and bracketing scenes pushed towards doubling the anticipated length. Suddenly the rehearsal timetable was looking very tight.

It was challenging to be staging someone else’s script for the first time (I don’t count The Carrier Frequency). Suddenly cuts and tweaks were not ours to execute with impunity, we had to pass such proposals back to the playwright. It was also challenging to be working with a piece translated from a foreign language, we needed to check original intentions against the translation and check we were delivering what was intended. This was especially demanding given the great density of Nenad’s text.

Time pressure meant that actors were learning lines throughout the rehearsal process. Where normally we would get the show to a good position before anyone attempts to go ‘off book’ here I was juggling giving notes with recognizing the actor’s weren’t necessarily in full control of their lines.

In parallel with line-learning we learning how to wrangle our dominoes. Here Graeme’s great fondness of maps came to the fore. Where I had anticipated the figures in the show performing on a giant domino map of Europe I had also anticipated this map would be fairly abstracted. Graeme’s solution was much stronger. We twisted the dominoes so the fell coloured side down and manipulated the route so that the majority of dominoes fell towards the end-on audience. We learned to double up ‘the spine’ of the topple and minimize the topple’s ambitions in order to guarantee the majority of dominoes would always fall.

We showed a scrappy version of the show to our helpers from Washwood Heath Academy on the Thursday. We showed a dress/tech rehearsal to Nenad who had arrived the previous day from Belgrade.

The show premiered for LIFT at BAC, London on 28th June

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100 years since the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Though this performance garnered what we are told is a fantastic review in Serbia’s Politica newspaper more generally we didn’t feel the piece worked particularly well in that context.

Back in Birmingham on Wednesday I was surprised and relieved to discover how much having the piece ‘end on’ helped (in London the audience was on three sides). In London the audience had bought tickets to see a day or weekend of events, in Birmingham the audience had come just for the double bill of us and Out of Balanz and being first on our audience came in fresh. This seemed to help and the cast having had extra time with the text gave them greater assurance. The performances seemed to be received better.

The piece, with its density of language, history, politics and philosophy remainded challenging for some but we have also been getting a lot of great feedback. It is a rare and startling treat to hear a voice from an Eastern European perspective about history we thought we knew and politics we still think we know. The tension and release of the dominoes and their power as a metaphor got a lot of positive comments too.

We’d turned down interest in the show from a Japanese film crew. Nenad appears talking about the show at the end of this article in the LA Times. So it was certainly doing something interesting.

What is the show’s future? Who knows. We staged it as an experiment without any plan other than to do it. We were happy to embrace whatever it turned out to be and hoped we could take our audience with us. Now, if there is demand, we will do it again. If not, then it has been a fun ride. Whatever happens we’ve got an enormous number of dominoes available for toppling parties and charitable enterprises should there be the call for them.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Station House Opera

This post has been a little while coming and has just been spurred on by reading, with much amusement, about Andy Field’s provocative Steel This Workshop. Part of Live Art Development Agency’s DIY Series Andy is asking people to ‘rip off’ other people’s work in order to explore ideas of inspiration, appropriation and homage. I’ve been thinking in this area recently because Finger Trigger Bullet Gun, the show we are currently rehearsing for LIFT (who commissioned it) and later BE Festival involves dominoes.

The show involves dominoes because it is, in part, about the start of the First World war and the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand. The vast chain reaction from the finger pulling the trigger to fire the bullet from that gun suggested to me the mechanics of a domino topple. This is fine, but then at some point I remembered that Station House Opera have a vast breeze block toppling performance called Dominoes they have been doing since 2009. Now the two projects are significantly different and I wasn’t consciously thinking of their project when conceiving ours, but it is quite possible that without Station House Opera piece my brain wouldn’t have made that imaginative leap. So I feel I owe them another debt of gratitude.

‘Another debt’ because I love Station House Opera and find them inspirational. Cuckoo was the first theatre show I ever saw that I genuinely liked and was enthused by. They use of rules and interest in form is something that I must have absorbed quite deeply. The fact they remade Road Metal Sweetbread for each venue allowed me to think that Of All The People In All The World could be remade for each venue, as later could The Steps Series in a more radical way. I love the fact that they are serious and seriously funny. I especially love the fact that they push things hard and make things difficult for themselves. The fact that this sometimes means that a show doesn’t work very well makes them even more admirable in my eyes.

The fact that the are not absolutely nailed on Arts Council England revenue funded favourites is a travesty and shows there is no justice in the world.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Site Visits

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My advice: always do a site visit if you can. Obviously site visits are extravagant, they cost you travel and they cost you time, they may even cost you accommodation and you may not be able to afford any of those things – in which case, don’t do a site visit – but if you can, do.

Unless you’re a gifted architect it’s unlikely that photographs and a floor plan will come close to allowing you to envisage your show strongly in a space. When you are in a space you can focus in on details or be inspired by relationships, proportions and accidentals that an outside would not be able to spot and you wouldn’t be able to ask about (unknown unknowns).

Site visits fill you with confidence and allow you to plan with more assurance but they are also wonderful diplomatically. Nothing convinces a host venue/promoter/festival of your commitment than your jumping in a car / plane / train in order to visit them and their proposed venue for your show. This goodwill is built on further in the conversations you will inevitable have about the show on their turf, your site visit will help them inspire their staff and audience about your show. When you arrive with your show you will be a returning friend and everything will be easy from the off.

Today I had a meeting in London with the Warwick Commission and so took the opportunity to visit BAC, the site of our forthcoming production Finger Trigger Bullet Gun as part of LIFT. Even though I had seen photos of their Lower Hall and a floor plan, even though I have been reassured by trusted third parties that the Lower Hall would be fine for the show I still chose to extend my visit by six hours in order to just stand in the space and size it up.

BAC has developed significantly since my last visit four years ago, which in itself was a huge development on my previous visit. The Lower Hall didn’t hold any surprises but it was worth doing. The most outrageous site visit in Stan history? Craig and Karen, Of All The People In All The World, Melbourne: worth it.

Stan's Cafe Theatre Company: Script Delivered

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Nenad Prokic has delivered his script for Finger Trigger Bullet Gun. I was very excited to receive it and it doesn’t disappoint. 25 pages of full-on text from the man who physically forced us to adapt The Anatomy of Melancholy. It’s going to be a real challenge to deal with – but that’s nothing new.

I had a fantastic evening. Reading the script traveling to Wolverhampton on the train. Finishing it off over a delicious IPA in The Posada on Lichfield Street. Then talking about possible collaborations with the University of Wolverhampton over a fantastic sophisticate curry at The Bilash. Then probably the best performance of The Anatomy of Melancholy I’ve seen so far from our team entrenched in The Arena – they have really hit their stride and look really confident and in control of their material. The trip was topped off with some art talk on the way home with Rob, Chair of our board.

And I have the cheek to call this work – outrageous. Luckiest man alive.