Those of you who have read The Snow Witch novel will be familiar with the name Lissitch. He is a tricky character and plays a central role to the story. It seems though that he has stepped out of the imagination of author Matt Wingett and off the pages of the book into real life.
Walking home late the other evening I stumbled across a curious scene. Now everyone is familiar with the site of urban foxes, they are as common as anything around the streets at night. They show no fear of humans and it is as if you have intruded into their territory. You hear them at night in the back garden terrifying the local cats.
What I saw the other night, though. Was not something I expected to ever see. A man-size fox pasting up street art on a wall around the corner from me. He must have been pretty absorbed with what he was doing as I seemed to startle him. I just about managed to get a quick picture before he was off. Left me a little stunned, I mean, really?
A fox, doing street art?
I went back the next day for a better took a look at the paste-up he was posting. There, clear as the light of day was the name Lissitch plastered down the side. I even looked him up on Instagram and you can find him easy enough @lissitch2019. He is brazenly posting pictures of himself at work and it seems like he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. So far, the only images I have been able to capture seem to be using some kind of occult symbolism. What’s he up to?
A strange game this character is playing but is it really the same person, the same Lissitch as in The Snow Witch? I have messaged the author and he has not responded to my questions. I don’t know quite what to make of it.
Those of you who have read The Snow Witch will be aware that the lead character, Donitiza who also is in our story, plays the violin and comes from the Balkans in Eastern Europe. When we started the research for the project the musical element of the story was one of the first areas we explored and very enjoyable it was too. We went to see a number of traditional Balkan bands and there was a lot of dancing and it was a lot of fun. I hadn’t quite realised that drinking and dancing could be considered proper research but apparently, it is.
We were lucky enough to encounter Gundula Gruen, an extremely talented and versatile expert on Balkan traditional music early on in our travels. We rocked up at a dance she had organised one dark winter night under a church in Borough, London. We didn’t know anyone there and sat down to enjoy the night. What a treat, such fantastic music and great dancing. Everyone made us really welcome and it felt as though we had found some great musicians to work with.
Gundula Gruen is a virtuoso violinist and singer who has travelled extensively, transcribing melodies that she learned first-hand from Romani and folk musicians. Holding a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology, her research focussed on Macedonian music. As a performer, arranger and composer, she works with her group Tatcho Drom touring around the UK. She also runs the Balkan Village Band, a workshop orchestra that gives musicians from all sorts of backgrounds the opportunity to learn and play music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
After bumping into Gundula at Balabam (a world music venue in north London now sadly closed) and sending her numerous emails we finally managed to meet. Sitting in a strange little café somewhere in North Acton we pitched the idea for the story to her and sat back to get her reaction. Needless to say, Gundula was taken by the idea and having read the book we sent her, she was keen to develop the character of Donitza. Since coming on board Gundula has bought a huge amount of expertise and insight to the project. It is safe to say that she has grounded the story with a wonderful take on the way we could fuse music and dance to bring our story to a conclusion. However, if you want to see how all this works out, you are going to need to buy a ticket!
You can watch a very badly filmed clip we shot of The Balkan Village Band playing their first gig of the year at the Brixton Ritzy back in May. It was a great night and we were really impressed at the quality of the music and the passion of the players. We are really looking forward to working with everyone from the band and especially with Gundula.
The Balkan Village Band will be playing as part of the finale for Cursed City – Dark Tide at Groundlings Theatre on 9th November. Gundula is currently rehearsing a specially devised set for them featuring Dontiza, played by Hana Maria (see the previous post). Expect lots of dancing, inspirational music and an exciting end to the story.
When we initially had the idea for the Cursed City – Dark Tide project, over a year ago now, we tested some ideas through social media. We asked people who had read The Snow Witch novel if we brought this story to life what should we include in the telling. A number of people said they wanted to see Dontiza, the protagonist from the novel playing the violin.
And that is just what we have done!
Finding someone to take on the role of Dontitza was always
going to be a challenge as we needed someone who could play the violin to a
very high standard and who would also have the right kind of attitude to take
on the role. After all, this is going to be immersive theatre and the person
taking the part will need to have some real presence to carry it off.
In the end, we found a very talented musician to take on the part. In fact, we ended up kind of stalking her on social media after someone made a recommendation. Our initial approaches didn’t seem to get a response and then she made contact through a completely random channel without even knowing we had been trying to get in touch. Clearly, providence, or perhaps the work of another of the characters from the story, Lissitch our puppet master. But more on him later.
So, we are pleased to say that we have our Donitza, she will be played by an amazing musician from Brighton who not only plays classically but also fronts a number of bands as singer and fiddle player. And not folk bands either! Hana Maria has an extensive social media presence and I am sure you can easily find her work online. From fronting power punk bands as Hana Pirahna to more experimental videos which you can see on her Youtube channel. The video below is just one of many to choose from on the channel and I love the video overlay of her playing all the parts.
Right now, Hana is working with our musical director to learn some tunes for the story. These will all be Balkan traditional music, so we have set her a bit of a challenge. Keep your eyes open for her as Donitza as we will have her busking around Portsmouth very soon. If you spot her and share a photo or video with us on the Facebook page for Cursed City – Dark Tide there will be a couple of free tickets to the finale on 9th November.
The phrase ‘it’s immersive’ has become a bit of a catch all these days and everything it seems is now labelled as ‘immersive’. We have been playing with the idea of immersive experiences for a while now and really wanted to properly dip our toes in the water this time around. It is time, we thought, that we bought some truly immersive events to Portsmouth and offered the experience to the people here.
Clearly though, we needed some upskilling, so we have teamed up with a very experienced and reputable theatre company to deliver a one-day workshop in ‘Acting for Immersive Theatre’. So, we invited the creators of Alice’s Adventures Underground, The Game’s Afoot and Inside Pussy Riot to run an immersive theatre masterclass for actors of any age (18+) or experience. We wanted to offer something for people who might be brand new to immersive theatre, or an experienced immersive actor, the aim being to discover more about the differences for acting for the stage and acting when there is no stage.
Les Enfants Terribles Associate Director Joe Hufton will be leading the workshop and will guide the participants through various different styles and techniques of immersive theatre. All of the cast for the Cursed City – Dark Tides project will be attending and you might even get an invitation to get involved with our story experience. Think of the workshop as a kind of audition if you will. Joe Hufton has a wealth of experience, as you can see from his CV which includes among a long list of work directing the Olivier nominated Alice’s Adventures Underground in London (currently running in Shanghai), and Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future.
You can find out more about Les Enfants Terribles and what immersive theatre is all about by watching this short video.
The workshop fee is just £20 and numbers are limited to just 15 places. It runs at Groundlings Theatre on Saturday 21st September 10am-4pm so you will get plenty of time to really get to grips with the acting techniques you will learn. The details of the workshop and how to book are all on our Facebook event: HERE!
Or you can contact Groundslings Theatre Box Office Directly
and book your place that way.