Strawberry Vale: What does it mean to be adult & how to animate that?

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A career telling stories was a goal they presumed I’d grow out of once. But then ‘they’ were grown-ups, who, I have since come to learn, are still figuring out how to grow up themselves. Gin, our teenage protagonist in Strawberry Vale, is trying to discover what it means to be Adult. So how, as meagre Adult Storytellers, can we help her? The 9 Grams of Moon team, whose skills range from frame-by-frame animation to sound design, must help transform her stage into an urban fairytale – that seems as good a place as any to come of age. We hope our company is about to, too.

The story began with Emi Tse, inspired by the people she encountered during a humbling trip to post-crisis Greece. After hearing many personal and touching stories, she wanted to reimagine these experiences through experimentation with form and media. In an early version of the show, I performed the role of Gin, but this time Emi suggested I also co-write and co-direct the show with her.

Animation gives us a wider scope

With the visual elements and characters already in mind, we took a step back to develop the details. We considered how the multimedia world of Strawberry Vale would unfold from Gin’s perspective, and how her interactions with the projected backdrop would shape her journey. In concluding that our interdisciplinary work should complement the storytelling at the heart of it, themes such as growing up and imagination came into play.

Working collaboratively, Emi understands the technicalities behind producing a multimedia production whilst I help flesh out the dramaturgy and write dialogue. Animation gives us a wider scope of where we can take Gin’s journey, but we only have the resources to animate each scene once so there is meticulous preparation involved. We break down the structure and timing of each scene before it is passed on to the animators who have very specific tasks. Similarly, writing dialogue is challenging because we don’t have the flexibility to rework it, particularly as there’s also a beautiful score by award-winning composer Andrea Boccadoro and sound design by Thomas Brake to consider.

Once it’s ready for rehearsal, I begin improvising with the animation and Emi tells me what’s working. It’s very much a team effort. We have a fantastic choreographer – Kat Leung – who works closely with us and a huge amount of the movement on stage is of her design. As the performance has to match the projected backdrop, for one scene she even had to teach me how to ‘walk’!

Making theatre is no fairytale and the realities can be strenuous – particularly financially.

It’s not just Gin who’s getting to grips with walking through Strawberry Vale. Making theatre is no fairytale and the realities can be strenuous – particularly financially. We do as much as we can ourselves but sometimes working around ‘day jobs’ means we have to sacrifice ideas we loved. After receiving ACE funding, the basis for our show has become achievable, and working with the support of Ovalhouse is a fantastic opportunity – as an emerging company it’s great to have some guidance.

Gin believes that to grow up she must leave fantasy behind, but as storytellers, we know that’s not true. We hope that alongside Gin, our audiences see that whilst being Adult means learning responsibility, it doesn’t mean unlearning imagination. There’s no age limit on telling stories and there’s certainly no age limit on enjoying them.

With the support of Ovalhouse, ACE and the fantastic 9GM team, I’m excited to watch Strawberry Vale grow into a full-length show. For now, asides from a few growing pains, we’re very excited to be showing our work-in-progress as part of Ovalhouse’s FiRSTBiTES.

Strawberry Vale runs at London’s Ovalhouse from 30 June to 2 July 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.