A Room of our Own - Creating the stage adaptation of The Waves by Virginia Woolf
A Room of our Own - Creating the stage adaptation of The Waves by Virginia Woolf
The Waves by Virginia Woolf
Published in 1931, The Waves is the most experimental of all Woolf’s writings and indeed remains one of the most innovative texts of twentieth century British literature.
Six characters, six friends, three women and three men: Bernard, Louis, Neville, Jinny, Rhoda and Susan. Six voices provide six narratives which co-exist and interweave to share with us their intense and extraordinary inner landscapes – their intimate memories, aspirations, admissions and regrets from childhood to old-age.
The waves are omnipresent throughout the novel, their sound, their rhythm, the rise and fall of the tides like an ebb and flow, a rise and fall, of thoughts and memories, sometimes forceful and tumultuous, sometimes calm and soothing. This undercurrent of movement reflects the tension between conflicting experiences and themes: unity and isolation, past and present, certitude and apprehension. Through these narratives, the characters seek to affirm their identities and their place in the world.
The characters’ narrations are interspersed with nine passages, written in the third person, which describe a coastal scene at different times of day – from dawn to dusk. The story of six lives encapsulated in one day.
Presentation by Claire Bloomfield, director of the Waves and President of Association Chapter One
Genesis of the project : ‘a new kind of play’
When imagining ‘The Waves’, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: ‘Why not invent a new kind of play… I think it must be free from facts: free; yet concentrated; prose yet poetry; a novel and a play’. From my initial dipping into this remarkable piece of writing, twenty years ago, this is how I have experienced and imagined it: ‘free; yet concentrated; prose yet poetry; a novel and a play’.
An inclusive theatre – bringing the group together
Initially trained in classical theatre in London, and with experience as an actor and director in the UK and France, I have since been developing my skills in creative, collective approaches, particularly those which combine text and movement. I have been working in international education for the last fifteen years, specializing in developing holistic approaches to enable young learners to encounter and explore text through the arts. The focus of ‘ensemble’ learning is on creating an environment, a platform and working ethic, which is inclusive and encompassing of the individual needs and experiences all of those in the group.
It appreciates the value of each individual’s point of departure – of their strengths and fragilities which bring richness and potential to the group as whole.
A selection process would have been contradictory to the ethos of the ‘ensemble theatre’. It would quash the potential and potency when a group with so many different experiences and skills come together to appreciate and support each other in their development.
We therefore held a series of introductory workshops over a period of four months which allowed participants of all levels of theatre and dance experience, including complete beginners, to discover the ‘ensemble’ based approach, along with techniques of dance improvisation and devised theatre.
The video montage below is taken from our first ‘open’ workshop, entitled ‘The Waves, theatre of rapture’. It shows the powerful interaction, rapid cohesion and resulting creativity of a group meeting for the first time and encountering a text through ‘ensemble’ based techniques.
These images are from our second workshop ‘Still Life’, which included a group visit to the Modern Art Gallery in Strasbourg before returning to the rehearsal room to explore the relationship between form, text and movement.
Following the period of introduction workshops, the group of actors and creative team was formed from those interested and able to commit to the project for a further 18 months.
Adapting the novel for the stage : The shared creative experience of devised theatre
Coherent with the identity of ‘Association Chapter One’ and its title caption ‘The rest of the story is yours', we are striving towards a process which is inquiry-based, organic and evolving. There is a democratic appropriation of the material and collective input into developing the stage adaptation of the novel. For this, we will be using the ‘devised theatre’ practice of discovering, deconstructing and reconstructing the text through movement and sound. The ‘director’ should be viewed as an ‘enabler’ who provides opportunities for the actors to create and interact. My experience in ensemble-based education has enabled me to develop my practice at providing a platform for exploration from which all of the group can find ways of expression and of bringing themselves to the project.
Bringing the languages together
Our stage adaptation of The Waves will be created and performed in Strasbourg, France. It is important to me that the project be open and enriching to both English and French-speaking participants. The workshops and rehearsals take place in both languages, with participants choosing the language they present in. In this way, we will be developing together a bilingual presentation for our audience. Unlike traditional use of subtitling which separates the two languages, we will be seeking to bring them together. There will therefore be both languages spoken on stage as we strive to retain Woolf’s particular rhythms and soundscapes while conscience of communicating meaning to our French-speaking audience members.
Creating a scenic language
‘Why not invent a new kind of play?’…. an invitation and a challenge. In 'The Waves', Virginia Woolf transcends the ordinary. She is both inspiring and uncompromising in her quest for innovation – and she demands the same rigour and dedication from us. The novel is radical in its experimentation with rhythm, structure and imagery – in its confrontation of the contradictions of our human state. It propels us into a heightened, sometimes surreal, sensorial experience of the everyday. It plunges us into a theatrical aesthetic of vivid correspondences between sound, image and gesture.
‘Rhoda: A wind ruffles the topmost leaves of primeval trees. (Yet we sit here at Hampton Court). Parrots shrieking break the intense silence of the jungle. (Here the trams start). The swallow dips her wings in midnight pools. (Here we talk.)’
This synesthetic universe ignites and fuels the development of a particular scenic language: a hybrid of dance, theatre and the visual image.
Process-based theatre and the use of video documentation
As a teaching artist, I have always been focused on process-based theatre and am now keen to explore ways of sharing this with the audience – creating a ‘blurring of edges’ between process and product – celebrating the value of the journey as well as the destination. The first person I approached when conceptualising the project was a mixed-media and documentary video artist, Vanessa Lenzi. Vanessa shares and co-constructs the creative journey with the actors – from recording their first fragile encounters with the text and each other, through to public performance.
Excerpts of film footage from the rehearsal room will be integrated into the live action – inviting the audience to share those ephemeral moments usually hidden from view and experimenting with the unusual juxtaposition of combining elements of the process with live action on stage. Recordings of rehearsals also provides us with the important possibility to review the work-in-progress footage, to evaluate, to notice moments and possibilities we had not been aware of in rehearsal.
The design concept: ‘construction’
The Waves explores identity – how we construct our pasts and ourselves through our own narratives, our retellings and re-imaginings, how we project our identities and are impacted by how we imagine others perceive us. Woolf’s characters exist in flux between fact and fiction, fixity and movement, definition and interpretation. Our staging reflects the theatricality of this idea of play and construction – of different perceptions of an event, how identities and realities are created on stage, how an actor develops and inhabits a role.
In her collection of essays ‘Art Objects’, Jeanette Winterson describes Woolf’s language in The Waves: ‘The words are not difficult…or obscure…The grammar is not exotic…(and yet) There is not a single sentence that you would be likely to overhear... Not a single sentence you would be likely to use yourself. This is the language we do and do not use.’
Responding to Woolf’s use of language and her desire to reveal intricacy and complexity through simplicity, we will be using very simple, everyday objects in our scenography to play with possibilities, to experiment with finding depth, beauty and wonder in the everyday.
Rhoda: 'This is a thin dream, this is a papery tree'
Susan: ‘Through the chink in the hedge, I saw her kiss him. I raised my head from my flower-pot and looked through a chink in the hedge’
A room of our own
Just as Virginia Woolf described the literal and figurative need for ‘A room of one’s own’ in her feminist lectures of 1928, so, ninety years on, we now need a room of our own. We need the space and security this brings in which to take up Woolf’s call to invent a ‘new kind of play’.
Working as a true ‘ensemble’ group of artists reveals both our different needs and the gifts we can bring to the group. This requires time and freedom to grow, to explore and to experiment - to ride the wave and let it take us on a journey. Hence the fundamental requirement of this extended rehearsal period of 18 months from September 2018 – springtime 2020.
Where are we with the project ?
Following our period of introductory workshops, a team has been formed which comprises 7 actors and 3 members of the production/ creative team.
Weekly evening rehearsals began in September 2018, in addition to all-day workshops taking place once a month. We will be holding a ‘residency’ (one week intensive rehearsal period) in July 2019 at The Salle des Colonnes, Strasbourg.
We have obtained performance rights to use the Cécile Wajsbrot translation.
We have successfully applied for a ‘coup d’envoi’ – two weekend performances, at the Cube Noir theatre, Strasbourg-Koenigshoffen, These will probably take place in the Audumn of 2021. We hope to then take the creation to further venues in the Strasbourg area.
Funding our project:
Chapter One is a non-profit making association – everybody involved gives their skills, services and time for free.
The Waves is our first theatre project. For our funding, we depend fully on donations and sponsors, our fund-raising events (such as our recent party in September) and on membership fees to Chapter One.
Waar dient de collecte voor
Your generous support will allow us to finance:
With 2000 euros, we will have a room of our own! We will be able to rent rehearsal space for the remainder of the creative process and to adapt the staging for our transfer from La Salle des Colonnes to the Cube Noir;
We will have 1000 euros to go towards the purchase of a camera of our own and a video-projetor, as we are currently needing to borrow this equipment (fundamental to our project and for future Chapter One projects).
The rest of the amount will be channelled into hiring the lighting and sound equipment for our summer 'residency' rehearsal week at La Salle des Colonnes in July 2019 and for the performance week, plus the lighting technician fee
We will give 400 euros to KissKissBankBank as commission (8% of the target amount) - all other funds raised go to Association Chapter One
If we exceed the target amount, we will be able to put this money towards financing our props and costumes