Sporting Frolics and Alien Abductions

1 May 2012 in Dance & Drama, Highland, Showcase

Dave Smith plays a major role in both of the remaining North By North East touring shows this summer.

AS ONE half of the Right Lines team with Euan Martin, he is involved in the company’s new production, From These Parts, which hits the road in June.

BEFORE then, though, Cartoon Theatre will be touring the English version of their new show, A Sporting Chance, this month. Cartoon Theatre is part of Dave’s ongoing work with John McGeoch in the Evanton-based Arts In Motion, and arose out of an earlier venture, Clown Jewels.

Dave Smith at the controls

Dave Smith at the controls

“That was a company we had touring kids shows around village halls in the Highlands, and making a bit of a splash,” Dave explained. “We then started to introduce computer graphics into the mix, in the tradition of circuses historically bringing in new technology, and John McGeoch and I got really interested in that side of it, to the point where we were basically doing a show that was based on animation and interaction.

“That show was called Cartoon Theatre, and it was set in an old music hall and was basically a combination of modern technology and old tricks. It had an old-style backdrop that came down, but the backdrops were animated. After that we decided to brand the whole thing as Cartoon Theatre, and we have now done several other shows in that style, but mixing live performers with animated projection.”

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance

The technical aspects of marrying live action with projections and music can be daunting, and I wondered if it was still something of a headache for them?

“We tend to keep pushing it until it becomes a headache, and if becomes too much of a headache, then we don’t do it! We are always trying to develop new ways of making the interaction happen, and there is a lot that has to be done as it were behind the scenes to make it all come together.

“We have done a lot of work in terms of show presentation software to make that happen. In some way the software does get easier to use, but it all gets more complicated as well, and there are more things you have to learn to do.

“You spend hours learning stuff that quickly becomes redundant, and on the one hand you regret the time you spent on that, but on the other it is all part of the process. I used to work in a printers back in the days when cut and paste actually meant scissors and glue, so we’ve come a long way.”

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance is nicely timed to coincide with the growing Olympic fever. The show has received the Inspire mark as part of the Olympic Inspire programme, and they will be performing it in Mallaig on Olympic Inspire Day (16 May) as part of the tour.

“Yes, we are using the Olympics link, although we had intended to do a show that was about sport and was quite physical anyway. We had been thinking about that, and then it was actually only latterly that we realised the timing was going to sit quite well with both the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.”

That physical side of the show makes considerable demands on the sole live performer, Artair Donald, and Dave acknowledged that they had been putting him through his paces on their inaugural tour in the Western Isles with the Gaelic version of the show in April.

“I think he probably lost weight in the rehearsal process and then even more in the week we did in the Western Isles, but he was very willing to really get into it and try lots of things out. We’ll be taking the English version of the show out on the North By North East tour.

“It is very physical, but there is also a fair bit of speaking in the course of the show, and in the Gaelic version in particular we tried to get projected text up on the screen quite a bit from a language development point of view. We’ve also been developing the technology to allow us to switch languages quite easily as well, so we can change shows quite quickly.”

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance

Expect, then, a live performer, lots of animation, and original music by James Price (who provided the music for Right Lines’s very successful Whisky Kisses), but not too much by way of a physical stage set – one of the advantages of touring a show in which animation plays a central role.

“One of the joys of Cartoon Theatre is we have a scaffold rig and a few props, but the animated projections really create the set, so we don’t have to lug a whole elaborate stage set around. The visuals basically fit on a USB stick, and if we have a laptop and a projector we are in business.

“We needed this one to be pretty portable and to fit into a variety of different venues. It tours with two technicians and the performer.”

Although the show will appeal to kids, the target audience is much wider.

“We usually try to position them as family shows, and we find adults usually enjoy them when they bring the kids along. With this one we are also reaching out to the reluctant teenagers in the family through the techie side of it.

“We are also running animation workshops in each area where the show is taking place, and we’ll incorporate something the kids come up with in the show that night.”

A Sporting Chance

A Sporting Chance

Meanwhile, Dave had literally just finished the final draft of the script he and Euan Martin have written for Right Lines’ From These Parts, a Scottish alien abduction comedy that explores the changing population in the Highlands – and what it means to be local in a cosmic context.

A fast moving four-handed comedy starring Ron Emslie, Vari Sylvester, Helen Mackay and Ewan Donald, it will examine the issue of migration to and from the Highlands on local, national and intergalactic levels. Questions addressed include why do people come, why do people stay and why do they go? And what exactly does it mean to be a local?

“It’s a kind of crossover between alien abductions and the wider issue of incomers of all kinds,” Dave explained. “The central character, Jack, is an alien abduction enthusiast who has got involved in an on-line community of fellow enthusiasts. He has been given the job of builidng an Intergalactic Communicator to make contact with life out there.”

Although the show features Ron Emslie and is directed by Ian Grieve from Whisky Kisses, it will take a very different approach from that musical.

“There is a bit of music in From These Parts, but it’s not a musical. It is a comedy, though. It’s not heavily based on projections, either – although we sometimes do a bit of that with Right Lines, I quite enjoy getting away from it in this side of my work.

“We do have a bit of pseudo-technology with Michael Start’s Communicator. Michael and his wife run a flea circus, among other things, but his main line is automata – he was part of the Oscar-winning team on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. So he is building the crazy machine for the play.”

All photos by Thomas Bowman. A Sporting Chance is on tour in May, and From These Parts in June.

© Kenny Mathieson, 2012