How would you describe your current job and what do you like best about it?
I’m a Composer, Sound Designer, arranger and lecturer. I work with many different people in many different art forms. I love the variety of projects I work on, and the diversity of the people I work with.
What was your first ever job?
Little known to many… My first proper job was as a Customer Development Manager at the Forensic Science Service as it became an Executive Agency of the Home Office. The Home Office was keen for the FSS to take on forensic work from corporate companies and barristers representing the accused. I worked full-time there for 3 years whilst I was studying for my PhD in composition. I had a team of 10 and learnt many skills that have equipped me for life including people management, contact management, marketing, sales and customer liaison. After 3 years I left to move up to Scotland, complete my PhD and become a freelance composer. I haven’t had a salaried job since.
Has there been a particular person or an opportunity that you feel has made the most difference to your career?
In 2001 I was lucky enough to be involved in a creative team who went to Iran for 4 weeks to lead a series of theatre and film workshops with students at Tehran University with the British Council. Together we created 4 pieces, 1 led by design, 1 by music, 1 by text and 1 by movement. It was an intense but unforgettably beautiful experience working alongside 40 incredibly dedicated Iranian students. We had a very strict set of parameters to work within and a list of what we could and couldn’t do creatively. Women are not permitted to sing solo, so I created a scenario that the lead woman was mad and worked with sonic utterances and melodic gobbledygook vocal (song) lines to enable a female musical presence in the show. It passed the censors because it wasn’t ‘musical’.
I’ve never since been part of something so passionate and raw.
What do you like the best about working within the arts?
I love the richness of creating music, theatre, dance and film with others; discussing, distilling, nourishing and bringing something alive to share with others.
What advice would you give emerging female musicians/composers in the arts today?
Be yourself, get to know your peers, be prolific, keep listening, share your thoughts with kindness and work with as many different people as you can.
Who would your Stellar Quine of the month be and why?
Many of my Stellar Quines are already on the list but I’d like to suggest Dana McLeod (now at the British Council) for her dedication to presenting all art forms in many different cultural and geographical landscapes and for her unsung gift of being the wise instigator of many life-long creative partnerships across Scotland and beyond.
For more information on Pippa’s work go to pippamurphy.com
Listen to examples from the score Pippa has composed for The Air That Carries the Weight.
Thanks to family photos loaned by John Campbell The Air That Carries the Weight cast Melody Grove, Alexandra Mathie and Pauline Lockhart get to meet Marion Campbell and Mary Sandeman.
Marion’s book The Dark Twin has been an inspiration for The Air that Carries the Weight by Rebecca Sharp. In the play Marion guides Isobel through memories, signs and stories to reach the truth her friend Yvonne discovered before she died.
You can read more about the extraordinary life of Marion Campbell in her Obituary from The Herald, June 2000 “Argyll has lost its bard and champion.”
Ahead of rehearsals starting for her new work, The Air That Carries the Weight, on 22nd February, we asked Rebecca Sharp about how she made the progression with her script from Rehearsal Room 25 in October 2014 to the final version.
This is the main stage production following on from the Rehearsal Room – how did the feedback from Rehearsal Room help form the final script?
RS: When we had the Rehearsal Room in October 2014, the script was very young and there wasn’t much of it! I’d done a lot of research leading up to that stage, and was almost tentative to really commit to the writing process. I felt a sense of responsibility when writing about a real person (Marion Campbell), and in dealing with such huge, weighty issues – death, fate, friendship, interconnectedness… But what was lovely from that RR experience was the genuine warmth and interest that came from the audience – real interest in these characters; Yvonne’s illness and the weight Isobel carries after she’s gone. I was touched by how openly people connected with the ideas and shared their thoughts on some pretty sensitive subjects. Neal Ascherson was also there at that RR, and that gave me such a boost! He knew Marion well, so it was almost like having her there in the room. I’m a huge admirer of Neal’s work (his book Stone Voices had been hugely influential), and to have his encouragement meant a great deal to say the least. He looked over during one of the ‘Marion’ scenes and gave me a smile and a nod, and it was such a relief – I swear I’ll hold on to that moment forever! I knew I was on the right track and that gave me the confidence to carry on. The experience of working with the actors and with Muriel in that concentrated space of time also really helped to distil a lot of ideas, which gave me clear impetus for what to do next.
Do you feel that The Air That Carries the Weight has moved on from your original idea?
RS: Yes – my initial thought had been to combine an original story with an adaptation of Marion’s novel The Dark Twin. Not only is The Dark Twin an incredibly dark and twisty novel, so that it almost defies adaptation, but I also came to realise that a mere adaptation wouldn’t do justice to the ideas that were at stake. The relationships between characters started to take over – Yvonne/Isobel, Yvonne/Marion, Marion/Mary – and I realised that I could explore the themes of the novel while in fact barely mentioning it. In May 2015 I spent a week staying at Marion’s cottage at Kilberry, and also visited the Castle, invited by Marion’s relatives John and Charmian Campbell. That made everything more personal – and revealed even more connections. I just started to feel everything so much more clearly, and followed those instincts, rather than sticking rigidly to an initial outline. There have been a few surprises along the way – themes that have popped up when I didn’t expect them. I always take that as a good sign – that as a writer, I’m not putting myself in the way of the work becoming what it wants to be.
How have the discussions between yourself and Muriel Romanes who is directing the production influenced changes in the story and the characters?
RS: Massively – Muriel has been so invested in this project since our very first conversations. The play has touched on themes and feelings for us both personally, and I think that has shaped how we’ve worked. We’ve talked a lot about Argyll and the Highlands, experiences of places and the capacity of those landscapes to evoke powerful feelings and memories. A personal anecdote of Muriel’s has actually ended up in the script, with permission! Muriel is also great at cracking the whip when it’s needed – I was struggling to sharpen up the story, with all these huge themes swimming around my head, I was looking for that balance… so having her advice as I edited really helped, always bringing it back to story and audience experience.
How did you feel when you saw the set design by John Byrne and how he had created the world of Yvonne’s cottage in Argyll?
RS: I honestly had to pinch myself – I’m such a huge fan of his, it’s embarrassing. But for the work as well – I’d been carrying this story, these characters, this location around in my head literally for years – and to see it take form not just on the page but as a three dimensional object, was a truly magical moment. I love seeing how other artists work, so to see Yvonne’s cottage from John’s point-of-view, was amazing. He’d picked up on such tiny details in the script, in such clever and subtle ways. It also really helped me to finish writing the final draft, as I could now envisage the stage more clearly and how the actors might move around the set. It also just brought me even closer to the characters and what they’re going through, I wanted to live there with them.
Will you be involved in rehearsals and are you looking forward to hearing your script at the read-through?
RS: I’ll be there for the first full week to start with – it’s so important to be with the actors and hear their voices, especially as this is our first meeting with the final script. I say ‘final’ – I’ll be making changes throughout that first week, according to what we discover as we work through it. I’m not precious in that way – I want the actors (and everyone) to tell me where it flows and where it doesn’t, as they’re the ones up on stage. I say this because I’m aware that this text is quite dense and abstract in places – and we have to make that work for audiences, or there’s no point. I’m excited, and also ready for the challenge. Nothing worth doing comes easy! I also can’t wait to hear Pippa Murphy’s score – sound will play such a huge role in creating the different worlds that the story moves between. Creating those emotional and psychological spaces for the audience is crucial if we’re asking them to join us in the story – so it’s a big job, but that’s why we’re all here.
The Air That Carries the Weight opens at the Traverse Theatre 24 March
Catriona McKay of Strange Rainbow has kindly shared some of her beautiful music with us, in readiness for our up and coming Rehearsal Room 25 with Rebecca Sharp. Catriona will be working with Rebecca and Muriel during the Rehearsal Room process and performing live during the evenings open rehearsals. Her brand new musical scores will create unique ‘voices’ for the worlds of both plays. Book Rehearsal Room 25 tickets.
She’s kindly sent us some exclusive extracts of the work to give a flavour of what to expect – enjoy!
Little Forks extract:
I want to find the Homestead but I want to find it first. I have to lose Hecate. I send her off to look for pinecones, then I dash between the trees and out of sight.
I keep running, lightly, holding my breath, until I think I’ve come to the Clearing. I stop and spin round, then pounce a little way up the slope to look down.
Tha mi a’ faicinn an fhèidh –
I see the deer.
My first thought is my knife, feel it keen in my pocket. I creep towards the body; sweetly still, dead still. I imagine it fell but since then has been got-at.
I look closer, the neck wound is a door ajar and I so badly want in.
I don’t know how much time has passed, but I feel the shift – geometry sawn up and rolled out over pine needles, my knife at home in its purpose. My pulse darts through me and now has somewhere to go. A separation – but it still isn’t telling me.
Carson a tha thu a’ toirt orm seo a dhèanamh?
Carson a dh’innis thu na sgeulachdan dhomh?
I don’t hear Hec until she’s already stopped and staring. Not a house.
The eyes are frozen windows, it can’t give any more of itself away. I know I have to dig in. Is that what I have to do?
A kick and a few incisions, the crunching sound is sadly small.
The Dark Twin extract:
I had fire.
I remember; I did have it.
I met Marion, I moved;
I let something go.
Or something left.
No – I moved, something was left;
I met Marion.
No – something stopped, as in ended;
I had fire.
55 degrees, 52 minutes, 21.65 seconds North,
by 4 degrees, 18 minutes, 10.56 seconds West.
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