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Accidental Collective

Photo: Tim Stubbings
A few months back I had the pleasure of writing an article about Kent-based performance group Accidental Collective.

The pair (Pablo and Daisy) are The Marlowe Studio's first Resident Associate Company and tomorrow their show here is where we meet opens in The Marlowe Studio (Canterbury).

The production was inspired by John Berger's novel of the same name, and intertwines stories from the novel with stories from the performers own lives. It's a story of love and loss - but in a way that's subtler than that phrase implies.

It's about resurfacing stories and relationships - the process of remembering with difficulty but with warmth, and connecting to a personal and wider history.

I watched a rehearsal last week and found these little glimpses into the performer's lives really quite sweet and heartwarming. The mix between straight-out storytelling and naturalistic scenes from the novel also makes for a different theatrical experience. There's also a bit of violin playing and dance - it's all there really!

Anyway, the original article was published in Spotlight magazine, available to The Marlowe Friends,  and can be found here. It was frustrating writing the piece as so much more I could have said - and also because the answers given were creative in themselves, and enjoyable to read.

So here, albeit still slightly edited (full text here), are the lovely and insightful answers that the pair gave to my questions...

While your work seems to mix different art forms together - how would you describe what you do?

D: I think that’s absolutely right – when we make a piece of work, we allow ourselves to be influenced by and borrow from a range of different art forms. We don’t put on straight plays, so we don’t have to abide by those set rules! In terms of how I would describe it, I’d just call it performance – it’s not a completely different thing to ‘normal’ theatre.

P: What we make and do is something different. It’s more like poetry than like a novel; more like a collage than a painting; more like a debate than a lecture; more like a party than a parade.

When we begin to work on a new performance, we don’t start with a pre-existing playtext. Instead, our starting point could be an image, and idea, an old photograph, whatever we find lying around or whatever tickles us creatively.

There is a word from French for what we do: bricolage. Cobbling bits and pieces together, juxtaposing or merging them, we playfully construct an experience for the audience that aims to be stimulating, visually arresting, poetic and meaningful.   

A lot of your work looks past what the two of you do and towards bringing together an artistic community of contemporary performance makers in Kent – can you tell us about that?

D: When we first set up as a company in 2006, there were not that many local artists making new work. We very quickly realised that you can’t make work in a vacuum – we needed there to be a performance scene and there wouldn’t be much of a scene if there were just us!

It was then that we began to really work to encourage other graduates and theatre-makers to stay in the region and make work. There is this idea that to be successful you need to leave Kent, but that isn’t the case. Over the years, the work of Cathy Westbrook's PANeK has been unequalled in establishing a community of performance-makers in the region. This is how our very own platform for showcasing performance was launched, Pot Luck and now the very exciting Marlowe Scratch Nights.   

P: Our natural inclination was, of course, to want to help establish a collegial atmosphere, based on peer-to-peer support and advice. We set up some informal meetings were some needs became apparent: artists wanted to meet other artists on a regular basis and a chance to meet others from beyond Kent, they wanted an opportunity to try out new ideas and gain feedback, they wanted to attract and build bridges with new audiences, and establish relationships with venues in the area.

With Pot Luck [and Scratch Nights], we are now able to offer some great opportunities for artists to make new work and involve audiences in the process. These platforms are also a chance for people to ‘taste new flavours’ and try out kinds of performance they may not usually go to see.

It’s a bit like tapas, you get to have a bit of everything and, even if it’s not all your cup of tea, there’s bound to be something unusual that you really like. As a Pot Luck audience member said: “It’s more than the sum of its parts”.

What is your experience of working outdoors and in unusual locations? How have you been influenced by Canterbury and its cultural landscape?

D: We have certainly performed in a lot of unusual locations – Herne Bay beach, in Canterbury shop windows, in tents… We found it a really good way of growing an audience who might not necessarily go and buy a ticket in the theatre. It is very exciting for the region that The Marlowe Studio is supporting and programming home-grown performance and we are looking forward to making something special in the wonderful new studio space.   

P: When we formed Accidental Collective back in 2005, we didn't deliberately set out to be an outdoor theatre company. At the time, there weren't any platforms in the region for the kind of performances we wanted to make. Venues were somewhat conservative with their programming, perhaps because they thought that audiences were very set in their conventional tastes.

So rather than performing in theatres we began making pieces for unusual locations. As they say: if the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain.

We then quickly developed a taste for making work that punctures or interrupts the everyday. With this kind of work we were, and still are, particularly interested in the way that people can stumble upon it by accident.

Our performances have, in a sense, many openings and doorways; there is more than one way to engage. We have also learnt to respond to all sorts of circumstances and to improvise on the spot. When you create outdoor performances you can plan and rehearse all you want, but what really matters is the live moment. There. On the spot. With an audience.

The term contemporary performance may intimidate some audience members who aren't sure what it means but may presume it is along the lines of contemporary dance or embarrassment inducing audience interaction. 

Actually one of your performances focused on sharing a cup of tea – perhaps one of the least alienating British experiences you could think of. 

So why should "mainstream" audiences come along to performances such as those of Accidental Collective? And should they be afraid?

D: Our work is actually always about connecting with people, about celebrating the little things, and about kindness. It’s not scary, at all – it’s just that its form may be new to some people. An Accidental Collective show will always be surprising; it will make you think, but there are often moments of humour. Our work is about people and places – it’s about you and me and our experience.    

P: ‘Contemporary performance’ is just an umbrella term for pretty much anything that goes beyond traditional narrative and traditional acting. It is shorthand for a kind of theatre that defies definition, because a strict definition would immediately negate all the possibilities of what it could be and what it could become. There are all sorts of ‘contemporary performance’ out there! The kind of shows we make fit more easily within that category than within the category of straightforward theatre.

There is nothing intimidating about what we do. For a start, you don’t need to be an expert of have a lot of knowledge about this kind of work to enjoy our performances. Like all good art, we like to create pieces which are affecting and can be enjoyed without having to read an explanatory note about it first.  

We offer something new, something refreshing. Precisely because we are aware of that, we like to ‘take care’ of our audiences. People’s expectations about what theatre can be should be expanded, but gently. Coming to one of our performances is definitely going to be a different kind of experience, but it will never be an intimidating or threatening one. Of course, we are not saying that there should be a ban on all traditional theatre; we would just like people to have a more ‘balanced diet’.  

One of the advantages of this kind of performance work is the level of autonomy involved – that you will make things happen for yourselves – what are your backgrounds and how did you find yourself creating the work that you do?

D: The autonomy is certainly a positive when it comes to creating work; it also means that you need to be very driven and strict with yourselves – no one else will do it for you! That is one of the reasons we are so excited about working with The Marlowe Studio.

We both met on the four-year MDrama degree at the University of Kent. We are a strange combination: Pablo is half German and half Spanish and I am originally from Yorkshire. I grew up with Marlowe favourites, NBT, and with another fabulous regional theatre, The West Yorkshire Playhouse. I think we were drawn together because we are both excited about all the possibilities there are in theatre.    

P: I've also always loved stories. My German grandparents used to buy me cassette tapes with fairy tales. I listened; and I imagined. As far back as I can remember I have always been involved in theatre; at school or in after-school classes. In a way, it was an extension of playing games.

Considering that I grew up in a Spanish provincial city (Alicante), my mother took me to some pretty exciting stuff: opera, dance, The Garden of Earthly Delights by the Black Theatre of Prague, Manes by La Fura dels Baus, etc. I also developed a weakness for contemporary visual arts, in particular sculpture and installations. Having a dual nationality as I do, when I was at secondary school in Spain, I joined a student theatre company that performed cabaret sketches in German. We were called Lampenfieber (stage fright).

Back then, my knowledge of theatre was reduced to learning lines and being told where to stand. It was simple, but it was good fun. Then, I came to the UK with a scholarship to study at an international college, and I took theatre as one of my main subjects.

Suddenly, it was as if someone had opened a huge window. I realised that there was a whole unexplored landscape before me. Theatre could not just be a hobby, but that it was a whole field of enquiry and experimentation.

So, the natural course of action was to study it at a British university; at the time there were no degrees besides drama school in Spain, and I knew that before settling in to learning the craft, I wanted to learn more widely. I came to the University of Kent in 2002 thinking that I’d like to be a director of playtexts. However, as I discovered more about theatre, I was drawn towards its more ‘unusual’ forms and a more collaborative way of working. Then I met Daisy and, well, the rest is history.

You can find Accidental Collective on Twitter and Facebook.

here is where meet is on in The Marlowe Studio from Wednesday 19 to Saturday 22 June. Tickets are £7 with a £5 concessionary rate, and can be purchased by visiting The Marlowe Theatre website or calling 01227 787 787.