I recently had the good fortune to meet Rob and Lisa Spaull, who run Little Light Dance and Digital Theatre Company. They wanted to make an ‘interactive digital dance performance’ based on my children's book, The Flying Bedroom.
What's unusual about this performance is that the entire set is projected onto the stage. The walls and furniture are projected onto a backdrop, and when Elinor's bedroom flies, the digital projection shows the bedroom taking flight across the sea or into outer space. Rob Spaull designed the scenery in a gaming engine, which means that he can launch a rocket or fire a cannon with the click of a mouse. The only props are Elinor's suitcase and the things it contains. Special effects such as a wind, explosions, sound effects, splashing water, etc., help create a ‘multi-sensory’ experience, and Elinor and the characters she meets are played by two dancers.
Little Light sought funding from the Arts Council of Wales to produce a few pilot performances at small venues in Wales, and Little Light bought the performance rights for The Flying Bedroom from my publisher, Firefly Press.
Here’s a short promotional clip:
Despite having never written a play script, I was commissioned to work alongside Rob and Lisa to reshape the storyline to suit this live performance. I produced a rough script and today I saw the dancers rehearsing for the first time. Here's what I've learned so far:
1. Multitask Your Characters
Because there are only two dancers, one dancer needs to adopt many different roles. Instead of presenting a problem, however, this challenge provided much comedy. It certainly gives the actor more stage time.
This was a reminder to me that in a book, too, it can be possible to combine two or more characters’ roles into one. If you have minor characters that appear only to perform a specific function, it can be thrilling to see them appear again, much later, to perform another task. Readers love the unexpected recognition – just like in real life. It simplifies your cast of characters. It can also be like putting two dilute characters together to create a stronger one.
2. Clothes and Props Speak Volumes
There’s a costume designer involved in the project. She has created some inventive props and outfits for the characters. They are more than just serviceable – they provide humour, reveal character, and emphasize the action.
In novels, too, objects can serve as symbols or metaphors for a character’s state of mind, or establish the mood of a place. They also give your readers some eye candy. Allow your book’s props to work for you by putting some thought into choosing how they look, and what they represent.
3. Time is Elastic
The entire performance is only 45 minutes, which meant cutting much of the book’s narrative. But that was fine – cutting out the chaff makes the storyline cleaner and stronger. And it’s possible to manipulate time on stage, just like we do in prose. Important moments in the stage play are prolonged by dance routines. And when a whole night passes without much happening, the sun and moon can rise and fall swiftly to mark the passing of time, or a blackout can mark a transition. Just like in a book, it’s important to vary the pace and allocate time proportionately.
4. The Other Senses
This performance will be ‘multi-sensory’, which means it will be possible to do things like spray water on the audience when the bedroom is at sea, puff smoke when it’s on the moon, and introduce the sounds and smells of the sea. This will give the audience a really immersive experience.
It’s a reminder to me to include senses other than visual in my prose, too, to allow readers to really enter the world of the book. Too often, I rely only on visuals.
5. Actions Speak Louder than Words
The dialogue in the play must be minimal, but it's been a revelation to realize how much emotion and character motivation can be conveyed through the body language of the dancers. This of-course applies to writing, too; trembling hands or a small gesture can speak volumes.
6. Go Too Far
With digital projection it’s possible to create a rather alarming explosion that blows a hole in the side of Elinor’s bedroom. When I first heard this plan I thought, ‘We can’t do that!’
But when Elinor’s bedroom sinks, she has a whole new adventure under the sea with mermaids and a deep sea diver – none of which was in the original book. So my note to self was: Think Big. Ask, ‘What’s the worst that can happen’? Then ask, ‘What then?’
There are five performances across Wales in February. Come and check it out!
Heather Dyer writes for children aged 7-11: www.heatherdyer.co.uk
Heather also leads writing and creativity workshops through the Royal Literary Fund: http://rlfconsultants.com/consultants/heather-dyer/