Julia Head on WULF auditions

Written by Julia Head, an associate artist at Fen. 

In 2015 I was part of the Bristol Old Vic’s ‘Made in Bristol’ scheme. The programme was great, it lets you learn about, and experiment with your practice in a working theatre surrounded by professional theatre makers. Last year I was involved in a Young Company production at the Bristol Old Vic on which Maisie was the Movement Director. I remember being fascinated by her facilitation in generating grotesque movement sequences, unlike I’d seen movement done before. It wasn’t dance. It was visceral and ugly and bold and I loved it. 

It is important that I stress now, I am not a dancer. I did ballet when I was four but quit because the teacher wouldn’t let me wear shorts. I do not know the ‘correct’ way to move your body or how to look beautiful with pointed toes but I do know how to move. As children we are very comfortable exploring how our bodies move and as we get older and chairs become more comfortable we lose that confidence in our ability to try.

I was asked to join Fen for an initial R&D period in March for WULF. We had a week of devising over at Desperate Men in Easton (lovely studio spaces!). During the week a quiet bearded man sat in the corner of our rehearsal space with headphones on, staring at a tiny piano attached to a laptop. This was Rowan. At the end of every day he would play us the music he had been creating.  Beautiful resonant ambient bass that was made from field recording’s from the Somerset Levels.

Initial R&D for WULF in March at Desperate Men. Photo by Rowan Evans.

Initial R&D for WULF in March at Desperate Men. Photo by Rowan Evans.

During that initial R&D period we were experimenting, choreographing sequences and trying out parts of the original poem in different formats. It is always exciting to be in the room when the first building blocks of something are put in place, there’s this spark when you know you’ve got something good waiting to be made. That’s what we had on that initial R+D, a seed of something to follow.

I was asked to come in and help run the auditions for WULF last Saturday. My role in the audition was to facilitate and be an extra eye in the room. We had four hours with everyone and it meant we could run the audition in a workshop format. We ran several exercises exploring movement, tension, rhythm and text. What was so lovely about the auditions was having a group of women from different backgrounds and disciplines all in one room together. There was such a variety! Training included dance, butoh, circus, acrobatics, acting and physical theatre. A large proportion of the women told us separately, how lovely it was to be given the freedom to move in a room with so many other women and how uncommon it was. They were right, watching 20 women move through a space together made me realise how rare it was and how beautiful it could be. It made me want to create some sort of epic performance with hundreds of women!

WULF audition at The Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Christabel Holmes

WULF audition at The Bristol Old Vic. Photo by Christabel Holmes

Part of the audition was listening to everyone read the poem Wulf and Eadwacer in its original language - Old English (also known as Anglo-saxon). Old English sounds like a mixture of Germanic and Scandinavian with a little bit of English thrown in. It was so great to hear everyone in the space speaking this beautiful historic language, especially because we had so many different accents in the room. As someone who has had no teaching in the language (and didn’t even know it existed!) it was beautiful to watch.  Almost everyone we auditioned spoke about how beautiful the language was and how they hadn’t heard it before. This is one of the aspects of WULF which is so exciting, the show will be bilingual, a mixture of modern and Old English. It will open up the language to a modern speaking audience who may have had no idea it even existed. 

We begin the R&D in two weeks, in the meantime trips to the somerset levels are being made in order to gather more field recordings for music and projection. Keep up to date with the companies progress via this blog. 

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