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The Long Drift – a LIPA Learning Residency

29th March 2022 by Morven Macbeth

This blog piece written by ITD Learning and Access Officer and Project Director Laurence Young:

‘It’s been a wonderful experience working with the students at LIPA to create The Long Drift, a new cinematic theatre sci-fi epic filled with all of imitating the dog’s usual tricks, and some new ones. We are just about to go into our show week, and for this blog I thought it would be interesting to share some insights into the making process that we’ve been undertaking these past five weeks. This process all started with a conversation with the students framed around one question: what type of story are we interested in telling? In this discussion there were specific, detailed things mentioned, alongside some more broad answers, but one thing we all agreed on is that we were really excited about the possibility of telling a science fiction story. The potentials, specifically cinematically, of sci-fi, felt enticing, and it helped that there hasn’t been a great deal of sci-fi work presented on stage.

So with our genre decided, the next step was research. Myself and the students took to watching, reading, consuming as much different sci-fi material as we could, in order to be informed and have many different inspiration points in the making process. The consequences of this were really interesting. As we started working together, the first things that emerged were not story details, plot points, or characters, but rather cinematic moments. As we began to structure our three stories, the making process began to became centred around what I would call ‘cinematic staging problems’. Conversations would proceed along the lines of: I saw this film and it had this incredible space-walk moment, I’d really like to put a space-walk into our show. So rather than avoiding problems, or running away from them, we actively embraced the challenge of creating these types of events live on stage, and even structured our stories around these moments. This was definitely a different way round than I’d worked before, but it is one that truly embraces the cinematic element of this type of work. 

We also started to more actively pursue the art of imitation. Our story begins with a crew waking up on a ship hundreds of years earlier than planned, lost in the middle of space. If it sounds a bit like the start of Alien that’s because it is, and we embraced that as we dissected the opening shots of that movie and started to imitate and recreate in our stage production. Having these knowing nods to famous sci-fi films has become another key pillar of our making process, and we hope the audience will find plenty of these little Easter eggs throughout the show. 

Finally, I just wanted to share in the wonder of seeing everything start to take shape when you can add all the technical elements in the final weeks of the process. For a long time we were using just a couple of iPhones and an app called Switcher Studio, a type of live vision mixer, in the rehearsal room. Whilst we got a great deal of use switching between the two cameras, playing with perspective, models, and hand-made effects, there was always an element of the unknown, whether these distinct worlds we were working in, of the theatrical and the cinematic, would blend together.

Once we got into the theatre space and using Isadora, a piece of software that allows the live manipulation of images, it all began to sing. Suddenly, by altering the camera footage to have a graphic-novel, stylised slant, everything felt like it belonged in the same universe. Our cardboard hand-made portholes looked hi-spec, our model spaceships looked incredible, and with the added use of projected CGI backgrounds we created a unified world that all fits under the same stylistic umbrella. I think we’ve created something really unique and interesting, and I hope as many people as possible come and watch these brilliant students share this work. They’re awesome, and with some luck I hope all go on to have long and prosperous careers in the arts.’

Laurence Young

March 2022

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