In With the Old, Out Comes the New

As we’ve discussed before, creativity comes with a great deal of getting inspired, borrowing, and sometimes straight out stealing.

But who is to say that a derivative work cannot be equally as satisfying as the original? As long as the pieces are different enough, is it fair to say a certain one is better?

Take for instance the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera  The Mikado. The composers set the opera in Japan, far away from Britain, allowing them to satirize British politics more freely by disguising them as foreign notions.

Opera Australia’s 2011 production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.

In 1939, the classic was adapted into a new piece entitled The Hot Mikado and performed with an all African-American cast. Primed with a lot more sass and a lot more swing, The Hot Mikado became a hit that is still performed to this day.

Now it’s been over 70 years since the original piece was given a facelift. Thus, theatres are still looking for ways to update the show and help it feel as novel and sexy as it was when The Hot Mikado first took the stage.

This recent production does just this by updating the 1940s American setting to a modern one that tips its hat to the original Mikado, complete with the “three little maids” in anime-style schoolgirl outfits. Up to you to decide which version you prefer – but I’d say there’s definitely room for both in the world of live performance.


Watermill Theatre’s production of The Hot Mikado in 2009

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on New Zealand

Because you can’t take me anywhere without me clambering to check out a show, New Zealand has become the next stop on our global theatre tour.

The day before I left for the trip, I scoured the theatre results in Wellington until I happened upon the title “Chekhov in Hell.” Intrigued, it only took a quick description to sell me on a Saturday night ticket:

“Anton Chekhov, playwright, author and pitiless observer of Russian society, awakes from a hundred-year coma and finds himself in twenty-first century London”

That, and the promo photos:

This show at the Circa Theatre, one of the seven professional venues in New Zealand, takes a careful lens to our modern day habits. Illuminating without criticising, it asks the audience to consider how we may be inhibiting our lives by trying to add more to them. Obviously this applies to the technoaddiction many face, but the more interesting discussions were those of gastronomy and fashion.

Chekhov tries to get a bite to eat at a restaurant and is presented with an assortment of molecular gastronomy “delights” and deconstructed food items. The chef seems stunned when the Russian passes on a dish of chicken sashimi. And while this plate of raw chicken is a hyperbole on what’s found in mod restaurants nowadays, it still begs the question of where to draw the line between food that’s an elevated art form, and food that’s simply no longer food.

The show’s playwright shows a bit more teeth during Chekhov’s encounter with the high-class fashion world. A designer invents sexist outfits on the spot for some of his models as Chekhov stands by and wonders aloud how he gets them to adopt such trends. The designer launches into a self-assured monologue about how he can suggest a look, and consumers will lap it up. Further, he suggests that people like being told what to do, making them easily dominable as very few want to take authority over their own lives.

The play itself had some very thoughtful moments and the show does not offer any prescriptions in its prose. Leaving the audience to decide for themselves whether our modern ways are inevitable, worth amending, or simply not up to Chekhov’s standards.

While I left wishing could hear more from Chekhov, this show still makes anachronism undeniably hip.

Image Credit: Circa Theatre

Modern Day Pocahontas

What happens when the fashion world takes hold of the past and gives it its own modern spin? A few glimpses can be found below – a cultural identity pared down to a few key pieces.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Some of the Best Reveal How They Find Creative Inspiration

On Creativity and Finding Inspiration:

(The following excerpts come from this article from The Guardian. I’ve chosen a few of my favorites below.)

Guy Garvey, musician

• Spending time in your own head is important. When I was a boy, I had to go to church every Sunday; the priest had an incomprehensible Irish accent, so I’d tune out for the whole hour, just spending time in my own thoughts. I still do that now; I’m often scribbling down fragments that later act like trigger-points for lyrics.

• Just start scribbling. The first draft is never your last draft. Nothing you write is by accident.

Polly Stenham, playwright

• Doodle. I’m very fidgety, and I seem to work best when my hands are occupied with something other than what I’m thinking about. During rehearsals, I find myself drawing little pictures or symbols that are somehow connected to the play. With Tusk Tusk, it was elephants, clowns and dresses on hangers. I’ll look back at my doodles later, and random snatches of dialogue will occur to me.

• Go for a walk. Every morning I go to Hampstead Heath, and I often also go for a wander in the middle of the day to think through a character or situation. I listen to music as I go. Again, it’s about occupying one part of your brain, so that the other part is clear to be creative.

Tamara Rojo, ballet dancer

An idea never comes to me suddenly; it sits inside me for a while, and then emerges. When I’m preparing for a particular character, I look for ideas about her wherever I can. When I first danced Giselle, I found Lars von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark incredibly inspiring. It was so dark, and it felt just like a modern-day version of Giselle – the story of a young woman taken advantage of by others. It brought the part alive for me. Now when I talk to others who are playing Giselle, they sometimes say they’re worried that it feels like a parody, and not relevant to today. I tell them to watch that film and see how modern it can be.

To be truly inspired, you must learn to trust your instinct, and your creative empathy. Don’t over-rehearse a part, or you’ll find you get bored with it. Hard work is important, but that comes before inspiration: in your years of training, in your ballet class, in the Pilates classes. That work is there just to support your instinct and your ability to empathise. Without those, you can still give a good, technically correct performance – but it will never be magical.

Mark-Anthony Turnage, composer

• If you write something in the evening or at night, look back over it the next morning. I tend to be less self-critical at night; sometimes, I’ve looked back at things I wrote the night before, and realised they were no good at all.

• If you get overexcited by an idea, take a break and come back to it later. It is all about developing a cold eye with which to look over your own work.

Fyfe Dangerfield, musician

I used to think that being inspired was about sitting around waiting for ideas to come to you. That can happen occasionally: sometimes, I’m walking down the street and suddenly hear a fragment of music that I can later work into a song. But generally, it’s not like that at all. I liken the process to seeing ghosts: the ideas are always there, half-formed. It’s about being in the right state of mind to take them and turn them into something that works.

Anthony Neilson, playwright and director

• Don’t forget to have a life. It’s important to look outside the business. There are so many great stories out there that have nothing to do with the theatre, or with other writers.

•Be as collaborative as possible. I do a lot of my thinking once I’m in the rehearsal room – I’m inspired by the actors or designers I’m working with. Other creative people are a resource that needs to be exploited.

• Try to ignore the noise around you: the chatter, the parties, the reviews, the envy, the shame.

Rupert Goold, director

• Once you have an idea, scrutinise the precedent. If no one has explored it before in any form then you’re 99% likely to be making a mistake. But that 1% risk is why we do it.

• Make sure you are asking a question that is addressed both to the world around you and the world within you. It’s the only way to keep going when the doubt sets in.

• Love the effect over its cause.

Lucy Prebble, playwright

• If ever a character asks another character, “What do you mean?”, the scene needs a rewrite.

• Feeling intimidated is a good sign. Writing from a place of safety produces stuff that is at best dull and at worst dishonest.

• Write backwards. Start from the feeling you want the audience to have at the end and then ask “How might that happen?” continually, until you have a beginning.

Ian Rickson, director

• Trust the ingenuity and instinctiveness of actors. Surround them with the right conditions and they’ll teach you so much.

• Embrace new challenges. When we’re reaching for things, we tend to be more creative.

• Try to remove your own ego from the equation. It can get in the way.

Image Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 78, 9

Day in the Life: Venice

Venice appears to be breathtaking no matter how you slice it. The vibrant facades, the quaint laundry lines displaying clothes like multicolored flags, the lack of traditional highways…

But surely the Venice of today is different than that of 500 years ago. While the city is unmistakably steeped in history, it cannot help but to feel the effects of modernization.

On a search to find out how Venice might have looked in the 16th century, stumbled upon this little gem: a trailer for a 2004 movie version of the Bard’s “Merchant of Venice.” Anyone seen this? The cast is top-notch that’s for sure…Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, and…what? Al Pacino? Since when does he do Shakespeare? In any case, I feel like this film flew under a lot of people’s radar.

You can catch a glimpse of commedia at 1:34

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3