The Story So Far
The Story So Far
Performance Arts Lab had a very successful first iteration of its program in Fontainebleau between 2014 and 2016, supported by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Over the course of three years, we developed a four-week programme centred around intensive vocal, language and stage training for students from GSMD, the Liszt Academy in Budapest, and the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin. Performances included staged opera scenes, cabaret evenings, faculty recitals, presentations of specially written work from the Composers Studio, and special performances in the stunning Château de Fontainebleau and the prestigious international business school, INSEAD. These were well attended from the beginning and grew to “over-full” capacity in 2016.
We realised Fontainebleau was an ideal location. Built around the world famous Château in the middle of an equally famous forest, it has the feeling of a rural haven, while being less than an hour from the centre of Paris. It is inspirational in its history and ambience, with a rich cocktail of ancient and modern, commerce and culture, offering not only an enchanting connection with the Château, but also interesting possibilities for collaboration with INSEAD.
The town itself is a beautiful, serene and most hospitable French town, whose residents have been warmly supportive of our project, showing equal openness and enthusiasm towards both standard repertoire and our more experimental work. This is not to mention the name Fontainebleau itself. “Fontaine” means “spring” or “fountainhead”, and “Bleau” is a surname of French descent, roughly translated into “blue water”, which conjures up a strong sense of energy, sustenance, nurture and creativity.
Our dream, in time, is to establish a centre which could house an entire summer programme, including opera, orchestral training, chamber music, dance, composition and technical theatre programmes. Until this dream becomes a reality, and as the programme expands, we are pursuing a model whereby different partner institutions host our summer courses, increasing the sense of collaboration, and of learning and developing together.
A Day in the Life
A Day in the Life
9.30am Movement class / physical warm up for the singers / drama session.
During this time the repetiteurs are free to practice.
The timings for the day continue as below. They are however, subject to change in order to best support the most appropriate creative process.
12 noon - Rehearsal
1-2 pm - LUNCH
2 pm - Rehearsal
4 pm - AFTERNOON BREAK
4.30 pm - Rehearsal
7 pm - FINISH and DINNER at local restaurant.
From around midday, until 7pm, with breaks for lunch and mid-afternoon, rehearsals take place on the selected repertoire in the main rehearsal space. Around these sessions are constellated one-to-one vocal coachings, and individual or group language coachings.
A number of rehearsal rooms are also available for private practice. Some of these sessions are allocated specifically by the Music Director, but many are operated on a sign-up system, for which students may work either on the course’s selected repertoire or other repertoire they are studying. This is in order to create a culture in which a high level of self-motivated work between rehearsals and a mature sense of taking responsibility for their own work becomes the students’ normal modus operandi.
The composers run their own schedule throughout their course, joining the main opera programme on a daily basis once their material has been written. Normally, the first few days of their programme centre around research and early development of material and subject matter. From this work, specific pieces with specific cast lists are conceived, and these are then refined to fit ideally onto the group of singers on the Opera Programme.
Composers take time to get to know the singers for whom they are writing and initially develop the material together. The material is then worked on in collaboration with the course leaders and revisited every day or two, with space between sessions for the composers and librettists to refine the material.
It is always made very clear to the audiences at the public presentations of the Composers Studio material, that the work is still in development and the singers have full permission to use the score if necessary. This way, we can ensure the maximum amount of room for risk taking and development without the pressure of needing to present an immaculate finished product.
Our concerts are always free of charge and audiences are made very aware that the purpose of the concerts is to enable the performers to continue to investigate the ideas they have been experimenting with on the course, rather than the focus being on the presentation of a finished article. It is about the continuation of a process without pressure in front a supportive audience.
Our audiences in Fontainebleau have embraced this role with wonderful generosity. It helps that the performances have always been, nonetheless, fabulous occasions!
“The aim of the Composers Studio is to give aspiring opera composers intensive exposure to opera creation by working and living alongside opera being rehearsed and performed. Essentially, they form part of the creative ensemble and see and hear the work they make being integrated as part of the singers’ normal routine. The Composers Studio also seeks to address the issue that while many composers have ambitions to write opera or music theatre works, there is a lack of opportunity to gain experience working alongside singers and opera in production.
The uniqueness of the opportunity stems from working in parallel with young singers rehearsing an opera production and/or opera scenes and benefitting not only from the part of the course specifically designed for them, but also observing and participating in rehearsals (possibly as instrumentalists in some way). In particular they benefit from the mentoring and close observation of the Director and Music Director as they work with the singers in a variety of contexts, from basic stage training and movement, supervision of vocal coaching, to rehearsing for production. This level of professional expertise is not readily available outside a fully functioning opera house.
The composers divide their time between:
A programme of work (the ‘Fundamentals Programme’) focused on increasing skills and sensitivity towards all aspects of opera.
Actively observing, participating and being mentored in rehearsals.
Participating in seeing the work they make being developed, rehearsed and performed.
The Fundamentals Programme of work is concerned with acquiring or sharpening basic skills. These include narrative and dramaturgy, structural development and the application of music and form. It partly uses a process of ‘Lab’ work. Labs are where composers in a self-contained unit explore aspects of opera making usually by taking a theme and developing short scenes from scratch. They write the libretto, the music, consider the visual element – and even perform the scene themselves (or with limited help). The process alerts composers to the elements involved in musico-dramatic forms and enables them to explore how they interact.”
In addition, for two summers the student librettist, Zoe Palmer attended the Composers Studio. We are pleased to include her poem “3 Carp” inspired by the Château Lake and written in the rehearsal room.
Three carp rise up from the
thousand question marks of
a dark pond
flicking fine, split-second rainbows
into the afternoon
as they heave their wet-weight
back down again
through the green filter
where chords of light
split into a chorus of dancers
who dive deeper
What secrets have you come to whisper?
In the O of your mouth-muscle
tiny mirrors of heavy clouds
then deflate as you suck back in again
for a moment
your fish eyes catch the two of us
hand-in-hand on the riverbank
listening for your song of deep water
streaming out over your gills.
By Zoe Palmer
Shape Changer is a concept whereby the essence of our summer work is shared with our collaborative partners at other times of the year. This could take the form of a preparatory workshop prior to the summer course in order to prepare participating students for the summer training, or it could be a means to develop further the work done on the summer course a few weeks or months later.. Equally, it could be a taste of Performance Arts Lab for students who are not able to attend the summer course for whatever reason, or who are not yet experienced enough to work at the level of the summer programme. In this way, we would hope to provide encouragement and training for as wide a range of participants, and to facilitate as much collaboration and cross-disciplinary interaction as possible.
Workshops would run over a weekend or for periods of up to five days. The focus could be on a particular facet of one discipline, for example, the singing and acting of recitative, or on the creation of new work in any given discipline, or indeed on investigating new ways of combining disciplines, for example singing and dance. Our interest in the crucial area of interaction between creators and performers would be key to as many of these workshops as possible.
In addition, we will use Shape Changer as a means of investigating and facilitating new ways in which the arts and business sectors could work together.