I graduated from the master’s program in theater pedagogy at TeaK (Theatre Academy in Helsinki, Finland) in June 2018.
One of my goals after graduation was to create an original musical about deep sea creatures with my colleagues from TeaK.
This goal might sound a little random to those who don’t know me. But, “Deep – the musical” project has its origin in a short demo performance I did with several other theatre pedagogy colleagues in the spring of 2017 at TeaK. It was for the course titled “Performance and Practice” where we were encouraged to explore various processes and practices for making a performance. So, my group tried quite a few things: Viewpoints, interacting with farm animals, automatic writing exercises, object exploration, etc.
The theme of the marine life emerged almost organically through those. Then, one day one of us wanted to sing something. So I brought a guitar to the rehearsal. And a while later, our piece became a short, weird musical about strange deep sea creatures called “Deep.”
(Demo of “Deep” at Teatterikorkeakoulu in the spring of 2017)
The demo was a surprising hit, and I started to dream about developing it into a full-production.
So, how did my dream turn into a reality?
I first tried to get some funding for the project, but all my grant applications got negative answers. By the time we were supposed to start rehearsing, I had 0€ in the budget. This was obviously frustrating and discouraging. But I did not and could not throw in the towel. I was determined to make it happen somehow.
The lack of financial support taught me one of the most important lessons in making “Deep- the musical.”
– Use everything you’ve got WELL.
I decided not to complain about the lack of money, but to optimize the resource I did have, which was great and priceless. I wanted to make the most of everything I’ve got.
So, let’s count the blessings.
Firstly, on a pragmatic level, I was very lucky to be able to use Vapaan taiteen tila for free. There was some technical stuff already there for us the working group to use freely, such as basic lighting equipment, movable walls, curtains, etc. We had the total of 14 days in the space: 8 days for rehearsal and the rest was for 4 performances and off-days.
The space is truly unique and endlessly inspiring for a creative project like Deep. Once my working group entered it, our imagination exploded; the stories and imageries emerged one after the other as we got to know the space. We even managed to do the set and light designs on our own.
(Vapaan taiteen tila. Before the rehearsal began.)
Second, my artist friend Tikke Tuura lent me a part of her plastic artwork and materials for it. We used them for the set pieces and even for a costume. Tikke’s art really inspired us and helped tremendously to set up the atmosphere of the space. Her plastic artwork also went well with the theme of our project, the deep sea, due to the detrimental impact of our careless usage of plastic on the marine life.
(Tikke Tuura’s plastic artwork)
And last but not least, I was extremely fortunate to have a working group that was willing to work with me even without salary. They were my ex-classmates from the pedagogy program, whom I admire and trust: Tanja, Elina, Goergie and Liisa. Tanja works in a theatre field primarily as an educator for young people and she’s a great visual artist as well. Elina is very experienced in object theatre and puppetry. Georgie and Liisa are from the dance pedagogy. Not only can they move amazingly but also they have so much experience in choreography. And all of them are incredibly open-minded and have a great sense of humor. Collaborating with them felt like the best roller-coaster ride.. fast, smooth, exciting, exhilarating, unstoppable, and full of laughter. They are my dream team.
(Deep-the musical working group. From left, Tanja, Georgie, Elina, Liisa and me.)
This leads me to a few other important lessons I learned in the project as a director and musician.
– Have enough trust in the group to let an overall vision and a story develop in the process.
– Discover more, control less for collective storytelling.
Although I had a general direction where I wanted the production to go artistically, at the beginning of the process, I had very few specific ideas. I was not sure if I could make a dozen songs on my own and play them, too, for different scenes and characters… in 8 days. But once the rehearsal began, all I had to do was take the ideas given by the working group, edit them and let them transform into something wonderful before my eyes. Tanja, Georgie and Liisa kept on giving their all to the process (Elina was absent for the first 6 days due to her pregnancy). Their movements, voices, texts and personalities made my song writing process effortless and fun. (In fact, all the songs got made in 6 days.) The songs helped them develop their characters and stories in return. I even had them sing some of the songs ? As the characters became richer, I started to “see” the overall arch of the piece dramaturgically.
And when Elina finally joined us two days before the premiere, I knew where she could fit in the show; I asked her to manipulate a small fish puppet in one spot, as the anchor of the whole piece. At the same time, she was given freedom to do whatever she likes with the puppet’s movement. It was not exactly what I had planned for Elina originally, but somehow it was “a discovery” made in the process that felt right.
At the final stage of the process, I felt that the piece had its own life and didn’t need my detailed directions or control to do well. Each performer was taking charge of her own character(s). I just played and sang the songs as I listened to and watched how my fellow performers moved and lived the collective story we were telling together. And they listened to me, too.
Here are some photos from the production (Photographer: Teresa Nurmioja):
After the miraculously efficient, inspiring process, the production of “Deep – the musical” turned out to be a miraculous success. We only had four shows, but all of them had made a strong, lasting impact on the audience. I was truly surprised and touched by how they responded to the show. Here are a few excerpts from the audience feedback. *English translations follow the Finnish feedback:
“Deep images, touching different chords of the soul, arising memories. It felt like walking in an art gallery, underwater, with paintings from different authors. Each painting, in its simplicity, was complete and yet open. Also the music and the use of voice and action provided an incredible variety of colors. These art pieces came together through special creatures of the sea, whose special journeys resonated in me and mirrored my fundamental questions of life.”
“Tunnelma oli maaginen. Tuntui kuin tila olisi rakennettu näytelmän ympärille. Tykkäsin, että tunteet heittelivät kromisen ja syvän kosketuksen välillä. Olisin voinut helposti katsella vielä toisenkin tunnin. Piditte minua otteessa koko esityksen ajan. I LOVED IT❤️ (The atmosphere was magical. It was as if the space was built for the show. I liked that feelings fluctuated between the deep and the light. I could have easily watched the show for another hour. You enthrall me the whole time. I loved it!)”
“Äärettömän kaunista tilan käyttöä ja äänimaisemien luomista. Esitys oli kiehtovalla tavalla hauras sekä ainutkertainen. Näyttelijöiden välinen luottamus näkyi. Kiitos kovasti. (The extremely beautiful use of space and the creation of soundscapes. The show was delicate and unique in an enchanting way. The trust among the performers showed. Thank you very much.)”
“Sanoja, joilla kuvaisin esitystä:
Sydäntäsärkevä. Kaunis. Herkkä. Niin koskettava laulua. Kaikki ne kielet. Kaikki se, ajankohtaisuus. Niin hauska! Niin läsnäoleva. Kiitos <3 Ja tilan käyttö!!! (Words to describe the show: Heart-wrenching. Beautiful. Delicate. So touching singing. Those languages. That timeliness. So fun! So present. Thank you <3 And the usage of the space!!!)”
“Esitys oli ilahduttava. Sen rytmi, rehellisyys ja läsnäolo oli koskettavaa. Muistutitte tärkeistä asioista, miten kaikki elämän sävyt on koko ajan läsnä; arvaamattomuus, riemu, unelmat, pelko, antautuminen ja voi vain elää! (The show was delightful. Its rhythm, honesty and presence were touching. You reminded me of important things, which is how all the life’s nuances are all the time present: unpredictability, joy, dreams, fear, surrender and oh just to live!)”
“Katsoin esitystä yhdessä 2-vuotiaan lapsen kanssa. Työskentelen myös lastenkulttuurin parissa ja usein katson esitykset näkökulmasta miten ne toimisi pienelle yleisölle. Deep toimii! Rytmitys, visualisointi, musiikki – pitävät pienen katsojan mielenkiinnon yllä. Jos lasten esitys ei toimi aikuiselle, ei se toimi lapsillekkaan sen syvemmin. Parhaimmillaan esitys on kaikille, kaikissa tasoissa ja jokainen löytää siitä jotain itselleen. KIITOS <3 (I watched the show with a 2-year-old child. I also work in a children’s culture field and often see performances from a viewpoint of how they would work for small audience members. Deep works! Timing, visualization, music– they kept the tiny viewer’s interest. If the children’s show does not work for the adult, it does not affect children any deeper. A show at its best is for everyone, on every level, and everyone finds something for him or herself from the show. Thank you <3)”
“Your performance was such a heart-touching and eye-wetting piece of art! It really took you to the deep end of life and into so many levels of humanity. To the dawn of the womankind! Back to the birthplace of us — to animalcule.
So, that we wouldn’t forget. That we are not the master of nature or universe! It told me how we have lost our innocence, the importance of life itself. We have the ultimate responsibility, cos we got the gift of conscience.
We have to go deep, deep down to realize, what we have done to mother earth. Human being is destroying all the living. We have created an artificial world with plastic people.
What have we done to each other? Nothing is anymore connecting people! Where is all the playfulness, friendship, love and caring of neighbour. We are just seeking the right one in our despair.
Of the ancient myths of life and death there is only destruction left!
And now – in the moment of emergency – we are longing back into the mother earth’s womb.
I am so proud of you girls of what you have achieved!”
“Istuin alas.Odotin hetken. Ajatukset ja tunteet lipuvat. Ehkä saan nyt puettua sanoiksi fiiliksiä.
Ensinnäkin WAU! Mahtavaa nähdä joukko lahjakkaita ihmisiä tekemässä taidetta. Musiikki oli hienoa, upeat laulut, tila oli käytetty loistavasti. Tarina kosketti. Upeaa oli myös käytetyt eri kielet.
Esitys oli yksinkertainen ja samaan aikaan runsas, monia hienoja oivalluksia ja upea ryhmä toteuttamassa sitä.
Ah, niin paljon jää sanomatta, kun on sanaton. Tällä hetkellä: tunsin, inspiroiduin, heräsin, liikutuin ja ennen kaikkea rakastin esitystä. Aivan mahtava!
Kiitos koko ryhmälle ihanasta kokemuksesta. Tällaista olisi upeaa nähdä lisää, useammin.. ja uskaltaiskohan nähdä vielä syvemmälle. (I sat down. I waited for a moment. Thoughts and feelings are floating. Maybe now I can put words to my feelings.
(First of all, WOW! Wonderful to see a group of talented people make art.
The music was fine, great songs, the space was used superbly. The story touched me. It was also great to hear different languages being spoken.
The show was simple, but at the same time rich, many wonderful insights and the great group realizes it.
Oh, so many things are left unsaid when one is speechless. At this moment: I felt, got inspired, awakened and moved. And above all, I loved the show. So magnificent!
Thank you to the working group for the great experience. This kind of performance would be awesome to see more often, and I would dare to see even deeper.)”
The audience feedback leads me to the last lesson I learned.
– A performance is ultimately for the audience.
This is something, of which I’ve been constantly convinced every time I perform. But each time it gets deeper and more profound. It’s not about pleasing the audience or catering to their wishes about what they want to experience. It’s about reaching out to them and sharing the time and space so that they could experience something that is greater than what they could imagine individually. I often see and feel it as a connection between the performer and the audience. Through this connection, theatre becomes a transformative art of time and space.
When the last performance was done on 22.8.2018, every single working group member was talking about how we could continue developing Deep and bring it to more people. I’m, of course, excited about the possibilities and future of Deep. We are ready to move on to the next phase.
So, the journey continues!
“Deep- the musical”
17.-22.8.2018 Vapaan taiteen tila
Ohjaus ja musiikki/ Direction and music: Yuko Takeda
Teksti, äänimaisema ja esiintyminen/ Text, soundscape and performing:
Georgie Goater, Liisa Heikkinen, Tanja Männistö, Elina Sarno and Yuko Takeda
Muovitaide/ Plastic artwork: Tikke Tuura
Valokuvaus/ Photography: Teresa Nurmioja
Kiitokset/ Special thanks: Olga Potapova, Leandro Lefa, Veli-Matti Saarinen