ITD at 21: Simon Wainwright on 6 Degrees Below the Horizon
6 Degrees Below the Horizon had a very turbulent birth. It started life as a British Council project called Tales from the Bar of Lost Souls, a collaboration between three countries and three artistic groups: imitating the dog, The National Theatre of Greece and The Cyprus Theatre Organisation. We decamped to Athens for a month to make and open the show with a cast drawn from the three countries with the show then touring to the UK and Cyprus. The show was to be an experimental musical about a sailor who sells his soul. I wrote the music with some of my band Hope & Social and sang the songs live. On paper the show seemed like a winner but production problems, a lack of time and communication and a very problematic set only being delivered the day before the first performance all led to a less than remarkable show. On the whole we had a great time (apart from one less than professional outburst from me on a Greek TV interview), we ate and drank a lot, we tried something new and we started a great relationship with The British Council.
And so to phase two. Despite the problems the show had something in the story and the music but it didn’t have two elements which were becoming more and more a feature of our work: video and Pete Brooks. So we decided to remake it as 6 Degrees Below the Horizon and made the inexplicable decision to make two shows at the same time on a single Arts Council Grant. For some reason we thought that we could utilise a single rehearsal process and set to make two shows which could then both be offered for a tour. The Zero Hour in the morning and 6 Degrees in the afternoon. We’ve made some bad choices in our time but that one takes the biscuit. Insanity.
What followed was a month or two of arguments, false starts and frustration. Pete, Andrew and I had all recently had children and our usual working method of long days and long drunken discussions/arguments around a dinner table just didn’t fit any more. We had to make the work in a 9-5. Sober. We pulled in different directions and it very, very nearly killed the company.
But we kept at it and had a couple of things to pull us through. Firstly the wider company of Morven, Anna, Adam, Ian and Crofty giving their all despite our bickerings. And we’d discovered Isadora. A piece of media software which allowed us, for the first time, to edit and reimagine sound and video in real time. The rehearsal room became a fantastic playground and allowed us to quickly try the ideas in our head. I eventually stopped being pig headed and put my energies into the aesthetics; a mixture of collage, abstraction and optical illusion. We ended up having fun with it, using our favoured techniques of the day: lip syncing and two way projection. The influences of Genet and Jean Paul Gaultier shone through and I think it’s still one of the most beautiful shows we’ve made.
What did we learn? Focus on one thing at a time. Only make work when all three of Pete, Andrew and I are in the room together. And, generally speaking, we need alcohol to make a good show.