Extant’s formative exploration into stage language and movement.
Extant launched itself with a research and development project in 1998, called The Stage Language Laboratory. This aimed to explore the uncharted relationship between visual impairment, spatial awareness, movement and the Stage, to challenge the preconceived notion that blindness impedes exciting physical performance.
This work spanned a year and involved a group of blind and partially sighted performers working solely together in workshops to explore our own experiences. Then we came together with certain art form specialists who it was thought might add to the process of experimentation with forming this new stage language. We worked with Lindsay butcher on Ariel and acro-balance, Katherine Hunter on physical theatre, Guy Evans on Sound Beam, Janee Hall with Contact improvisation, and Smadar Bunzel with Eurhythmy, to name some of the areas. A report on the outcomes of our work and video, filmed by Raina Haigue and Neil Payne, was produced at the end of this phase.
Receiving further funding from the Theatre Department at London Arts and their New Comers Award, we were able to enter a second development phase of this work, carried out in the first six months of 2002. The purpose of the project was to produce creative material that could be integrated with the theatrical experimental mechanisms resulting from the Stage language Laboratory, and to test them out in a more specific and rigorous way.
Working specifically with blind and not partially sighted actors this time, we have developed in an intense workshop setting, the rudiments of some cutting edge work, both conceptually and practically, which makes the first serious attempt to integrate interesting theatricality, with liberating movement for the blind performer, along with an awareness of access for a blind audience.
Stage Lab 2 was designed to fall into four distinct areas of focus; from the creative composition to the working with technical and performance specialists, and an in-depth evaluation report was produced out of this research block that documents our findings and progress, together with the first draft of a new play with a working title 'The apprehension equation'.
A further block of research was proposed called 'The Next Stage'. This involved the script of the full-length drama completed as a first draft by Maria Oshodi. the Director, Eileen Dillon and Maria Oshodi worked together during a script development period, on selecting areas of the script to work from within rehearsals with the performers.
A five-week workshop/rehearsal took place involving writer, director and blind performers. During this time selected extracts of the script were worked on to develop the presentation of them in terms of the performance styles and access considerations resulting from Stage Lab 2, bringing them up to a work in progress level of production.
On Thursday 27 March 2003, this work was presented as a performance to an invited blind and sighted audience at Jackson's Lane theatre, London,with the specific purpose of receiving feed back on their experience of the work in terms of content, theatricality and accessibility.
The aim was that the performance would not be dependent on technical intervention to provide the access for the blind audience, instead that it would come through live description and through the staging and coding within the script.