She Dreams Of Making Something Bigger


This is something I redrafted today. It’s a summary of the project I am working on, Tonseisha – The Man Who Abandoned the World by Erik Patterson. I do this ever so often, to refocus & keep my eye on the ball. I’ve been working on this with a lovely group of artists for a little while now and after a short break, I’m back on the case of getting it to the next step. I believe in the project as being an important and a beautiful one. I believe in the incredible talent of the artists involved. I believe that great art is socially relevant and generative in wonderful, mysterious ways.

What do I want today? I am currently focussing on determining the right partner organisation and venue(s). I am also interested in having some of our process documented and critiqued in order to add some rigour to our process of making performance, and on a wider scale, to add to the questions out there about how we think about and make performance and art as a whole.

Name of project: The Tokyo-Montana Express (working title)

A month-long pop-up art space featuring three performances of the world premiere of Tonseisha – The Man Who Abandoned the World aka “The Brautigan Opera” – a mash-up of theatre, gig and installation.

“The Brautigan Opera”: Tonseisha is a piece of theatre inspired by real-life cult Beat writer, Richard Brautigan, and set in Tokyo and Montana. The Tokyo-Montana Express is a Brautigan book title referring to a dream train journey. It is a collection of one hundred and thirty-one “stations”.

Tonseisha, written by Erik Patterson, was first performed by Theatre of NOTE in LA in 2001. Over the last two years, saltpeter has been using this play as a starting point for investigating performance-making. Our production is being made by a remarkable and accomplished team of international musicians, artists, designers and theatremakers. We’ve been collaborating to transform it into our dream piece i.e. one led by our desire and love of making. Singers, musicians, designers and technicians involved in making it will all be on stage as actors. A radically different version of the original and a radically different theatre experience, this will be a world premiere.

History of the project: In 2012, Tonseisha had successful work-in-progress showings, garnering great audience feedback and reviews. We were invited to:

        The inaugural Dinefwr Literature Festival curated by Literature Wales (where Gruff Rhys, Martin Carr and H.Hawkline wrote and performed some songs for us),

        Arcola’s Grimeborn Festival (Times Critics List), and Rough for Opera

        Most recently, we were awarded development time at the Barbican where our focus was on technicians and designers driving the creative process.

The Times’ Critics Choice

“spellbinding theatre with music acting as an emotionally-charged commentary.” Opera Britannia

“the mix of sound and poetry is evocative” Exeunt

“genuinely moving” Martin Carr (of the Boo Radleys)

Dates: c. January 2014, to include international celebrations of Brautigan’s birthday Jan 30th & 30 years after his death.

Proposed form: Ideally we’d like to make the performance on site for three weeks, with open rehearsals in the lead up to the final performance week.  In the final week, there will be three live shows of Tonseisha interspersed with a programme of related events created in response to the project e.g. moving image, sound and dance. The space will be curated. Looking back at the The Brautigan Book Club events through 2012, I’m really looking forward to this new Brautigan-inspired manifestation of expression.

Brautigan in London/UK and beyond:
Brautigan is a cult figure who represents, amongst other things, creative freedom. Through 2012, I ran the
Brautigan Book Club, a creative society, out of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. Alongside free, monthly, lo-fi events which encouraged creative expression, we produced three large-scale sold out events which included pop musicians Gruff Rhys, Martin Carr, Georgia Ruth and H.Hawkline, spoken word chanteuse, Salena Godden, poet Tim Wells, comedian Thom Tuck, performance artist Aaron Williamson, poet-magician Nathan Penlington and eccentric dancer Barry Grantham. Our volunteer-run blog received 17,000 hits in 11 months and the zine and free music album has travelled the world. We reprinted the first UK version of the cult poetry-and-seed book, Please Plant This Book, which was distributed for free worldwide and locally, and Ianthe Brautigan-Swensen, Brautigan’s daughter, flew to the UK and met fans in England and Wales.

What makes our work special is how the artists have come together and collaborated across time, creating a new network of artists who are creating in a new way, asking questions of their form and testing processes. Additionally, many of us have not come to theatre following a traditional route and we are all exploring the possibilities of how live work can be created beyond labels e.g. theatre, live art, performance, opera, happening, installation and gig. We have a pop composer, classical musicians, a fashion designer, various artists, devisers, actors, filmmakers and a writer. Everyone has been encouraged to “interfere” outside their official realm of expertise and to investigate the established edges of their practice.

Ultimately, what we’re working to hard to create is bigger – longer term and father reaching – than the performance of Tonseisha itself.

Sample work (rough cuts):

This link takes you to a video of R&D rehearsals featuring experiments in meshing pop music and modern opera, movement and space with musicians and singers with actors.

Photos of technology R&D week at the Barbican, Jan 2013

Contact Vera Chok, saltpeter


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