NeedMoreInput is the name for the collaboration between Jack Phelan, Erin Hermosa and Dunk Murphy, three artists who have worked across a variety of media in Dublin for the past decade, but for whom Starts with a Circle represents their first project all working together.
Jack Phelan has worked in the tech end of theatre with lighting, projection and visualisation, while also being part of the Playhouse project which lit up Liberty Hall with animations in 2009, before helping to develop Drop, a start-up that developed an app and digital weighing scales project. With his partner Erin, he also ran the Hello Operator creative space on Rutland Place. Erin worked in ceramics and film production before exploring her interest in dance and aerialism, and she was a performer in Object Piggy an aerial dance piece by Emily Aoibheann that won the Judges’ Choice Award at last year’s Fringe. Dunk Murphy, meanwhile, has been creating experimental music as both Sunken Foal and Natural History Museum for a decade.
Start with a Circle is a stripped back performance lasting around 45 minutes that features three elements pushing and pulling at each other in a kinetic play of aerialist performance from Erin, a synth-heavy soundtrack from Dunk and an innovative lighting rig designed by Jack that is the eponymous “circle” at the heart of the show. The counterweight to Erin on the aerialist’s rope is a sphere, about 30cm in diameter, that will be receiving information through wifi and using customised software that will control a variety visual parameters which provide the only light source for the show itself, which Phelan promises will be “incredibly bright.”
Speaking to Phelan ahead of their appearance at Tiger Dublin Fringe, he explains, “I really, really like the idea that people are looking at the light source. It’s not hidden behind them like a magical illumination of the stage and the performers – you can see the light source, it’s very bare bones, and then the fact that it’s hanging from the rope gives the performer some control over the lighting.”
I enquire about the origin of the idea for the show. “[Erin and I] have always been interested in performing arts and theatre. We went to Burning Man twice – once just to check it out, the second time to be involved in a project. It was when we were there really that we got very interested in the idea of building a performance that can travel very easily. I think the idea is this one will pack down into a small flight case and hopefully we can travel, [perform at] decent festivals, things like that.”
That compactness and simplicity are central to the idea of Start with a Circle. “If you’ve worked on a lot of shows over the years you realise that one of the big challenges for new companies is just scale, is maybe not to constrain your ideas but at least set some foundations that will let you explore them as deeply as you can and not get bogged down in the complexity of the real world too much.”
With this minimalist conceptual structure in place, Start with a Circle is three-way composition that has been developed by the interactions of each of the three players in their various mediums. “It’s really liberating to not have a script,” says Phelan. “I’m terrible at reading scripts, so when I go in to see a rehearsal or a first read-through I’m like ‘Ah, so that’s the tone, that’s what that character is like.’ I love that, but it’s also exhausting in a way, or daunting, I suppose. There’s something really nice about the idea of sticking a few people together for a couple of months around a pretty loosely defined concept and just let them have at it and react to what they see.”
When we spoke, the trio were in an initial rehearsal period, using a warehouse space to tease out the movements and responses that will form the core of the performance. “Erin’s been practising with a weight that will be replaced by this ball. It adds a different type of dynamic, so the ball will swing and respond to what Erin’s doing. And then she’s learning to use that to make herself spin around so it’s almost like a basic planetary system. She’s getting her head around the physics and tracing out these interesting patterns and circles and it’s constrained by this point that the rope is attached to.”
The circle, of course, is a figurative inspiration too, as well as the circle – or more correctly, sphere – that lights the work. “There’s this idea of a really simple idea of going around in circles with creative ideas, and going back to the beginning and this idea of repetition,” says Phelan. “A lot of movies I’m drawn to and music I’m drawn to are based around teasing out a single idea, maybe drawing it out to almost the point of it being uncomfortable and then going back to the beginning and building on it. That new Terrence Malick movie, Knight of Cups, it’s that feeling of this one simple, single idea being really explored in great detail.”
“And then the other thing is I do a lot of tutorials for After Effects, PhotoShop, any sort of creative software, and so many of them, right the way from anatomy drawing tutorials to Illustrator tutorials, a lot of them have the line ‘Start with a circle’ and then, you know, ‘grab the vertex on the top and pull it to the right.’ There’s so many things, like industrial design or manga drawing, that start with a circle. And that linked in with that idea really nicely, like, you can go anywhere from there.”
While the piece doesn’t have a script specifically, it does follow a rough structure that the three participants have created in rehearsal. “It’s got a start and an end, it’s a certain duration because we had to tell the Fringe what duration it was. We wanted to be loose and for there to be some room for improve. But then Erin’s got a need for some sort of a structure that she has the confidence to perform live to, so it’s kind of finding that nice balance.”
“I guess that’s it in itself, it’s a ball of possibilities, and the idea is to figure out in that mini-universe of possibilities, what works with Erin and Dunk to make something in 45 minutes that takes people on a journey. I really want people to trip out, let the seats dissolve away from under people and let them project their own fears, thoughts, ideas on to it. The ultimate for me is for people to think about it the next day and see it again, or inspire them to work on their own ideas that they’ve had.”
Performance of Start with a Circle will take place at the Lir Academy, Studio 1 on Wednesday 14th to Friday 16th September at 6.30pm, with a matinee on Saturday 17th September at 2.30pm. Tickets cost €15 or €13 (conc.) from fringefest.com
Words: Ian Lamont