Performance Art, Costumes and Theatrical Structures
Come Pain or Shine
Come Pain or Shine was a live performance and research project featuring acrobatic daredevils from a local circus, as well as a seven metre tall giant called Arthur. Information collected from the public throughout the day was then incorporated into the performances that followed.
Commissioned by Arthritis Research UK for the Manchester Day celebrations of 2016, Sophie was asked to create a pain mannequin capable of being animated by performers from The Circus House. The performance was part of a wider project, Cloudy With a Chance of Pain, created by hospital doctor and University of Manchester scientist Will Dixon. Cloudy with a Chance of Pain seeks to better our understanding of the relationship between the weather and the uncomfortable symptoms of chronic conditions like arthritis.
It’s Manchester Day. The theme this year is ‘Eureka!’ in recognition of Manchester being dubbed the European City of Science. Albert Square is packed, like much of the city, as a parade of marvellous creations bend and swerve through the streets and public squares. Manchester’s most passionate souls come out to celebrate their shared culture, history and community.
Outside the Town Hall a quirky weatherman sits atop a luminous weather station and entertains the crowds through a megaphone. Occasionally he looks up at the sky and asks it not to rain. He invites the public to contribute their own data by posting coloured patches into slots to show where they experience pain. The colour of the patch indicates the severity of the pain.
Behind the weatherman, towering above everything, kneels Arthur. Caged in a steel frame and bearing bold and disjointed features that wouldn’t look out of place in a Picasso, his scale rivals Greek sculpture, and his pose is faintly reminiscent of the famous discus thrower.
When youth and community performers twirl and swing beneath him to weather related hits like It’s Raining Men and Cold as Ice, it looks like a scene from Gulliver’s Travels. Arthur is decorated with clouds, subtly nodding to the wider project. In spite of his size, his exposed musculature and expression make it clear that he is in fact a fragile creature.
The tempo drops. The crowds wait in anticipation. A different kind of aerial performance follows. Using a technique called counterweighting, two female aerialists are lifted slowly into the air around the giant. Contorting and rotating, they move almost as if underwater. Youth performers dressed in bold yellow and black outfits bring the information collected to the two central aerialists, who writhe in pain as they become the carriers of all the suffering. The pace picks up quickly as the two female aerialists are catapulted up into the air, where they kick off the steel frame and punch the data into place on Arthur, who sways after each impact. And through repeating this process, Arthur becomes a staggering and colourful representation of the data collected.
Manchester City Council described Come Pain or Shine as an innovative new performance piece. Feedback from Arthritis Research UK was also overwhelmingly positive. The project was technically ambitious, being the biggest creation of Sophie’s to date, but there’s no telling what’s coming next. The team extends thanks to volunteers from Arthritis Research UK and Manchester University who joined the production team, as well as all riggers, performers, parents and supporters.
Following the success of the original Gigantes, Sophie Tyrrell was commissioned to grow the family of giants for Stockport Old Town’s Folk Festival in 2016.
Folkin’ Farmers was a live performance featuring rural characters infused with circus. Costumes and props were designed and built by Sophie Tyrrell. Performers were provided by The Circus House in Manchester. The ensemble included stilt-walking farmers and their juggling farmhands, a gaggle of unicycling geese and three humongous cows.
The weather was damp, but you can’t stay indoors when you've got a herd of the most ethically sound circus performing animals to show off. And through the streets they paraded, waving to families braving the weather to enjoy the fuss. Morris dancers clacked sticks, live music piped up and people passed hot chocolate and freshly baked treats around in front of the market hall.
The stilt-walking farmers and their trusty apprentices burst onto the square in painted tweed jackets and tomato-red trousers. Their tweed hats were stamped with fabric flowers and a mane of tassels splashed colour across their shoulders.
The farmers paid tribute to Morris dancers, hitting sticks and moving in synchronised patterns. Leading their ensemble and bossing around their farmhands they squabbled between each other as animals sauntered and swerved beneath them.
The noisy unicycling geese squawked through the streets, cascading like ballet dancers and flapping wings constructed from painted white strips of cloth. When it was their time to shine, they ran circles around each other and unicycled (or flew) to The Blue Danube Waltz (a famous classical piece that you might not know you know).
And then there were the three cows. Built from the ground up with details affixed and painted into place. Cumbersome and bulky, they plodded in step with farmhands and farmers, occasionally stopping to get a better sniff of the audience or wandering off and creating their own parade route when they saw fit - much to the entertaining frustration of the Folkin’ Farmers.
The Search for Minerva
The Search for Minerva was conceived and coordinated by Sophie Tyrrell in collaboration with a storyteller and a musician. It was an outdoor family show involving masks, music and mayhem. It was performed by The Strange Train Company in a woodland in Adlington, Cheshire, and at the Seven Miles Out cafe in Stockport. The masks were individually crafted from wooden frames layered with papier mâché, fabric and paint.
Company members joined the audience of families and participants in the search, which involved dressing up in woodland garlands, beautiful masks, and mud. Following a trail of objects and using extraordinary woodland technology to track fragments of song, the resulting chaos and hilarity leads to the discovery of bread and jam by a campfire, and a story. Was that woman in the Owl mask Minerva?
A decadent and magnificent finale involving a puppet and some wild dancing to the beat of a djembe closed the piece. Confused, delighted and full of bread and jam and a shared adventure, everyone went home.
Designed and built for Stockport Old Town, The Gigantes were commissioned for use in Stockport Folk Festival and Stockport Carnival. TheGigantes paraded the streets with musicians, cast into the story of Saint George and the Dragon. The Gigantes live at Seven Miles Out, an art cafe in the heart of Stockport Old Town, and will soon be part of a much larger family of giants on completion of a second commission.
The Gigantes' creation was inspired by the use of giants in world folk culture. Some traditions date back over 400 years and see the same giants wander the streets to mark the same occasions. Giants are also employed in contemporary performances to create spectacles for crowds to marvel at, and it is that, the power to bring people together, that The Gigantes were created to do.
The Gigantes were built to foster a sense of community by reimagining these past cultural practices. Stockport and many other towns have undergone considerable change with the growth of cities and digital culture. The Gigantes were created to see that the town's sense of community and identity were able to survive the changing times.
With the survival of the town's culture in mind, the giants were built to last, as their place in cultural traditions will evolve slowly as Stockport grows to feel a sense of ownership over The Gigantes.
Boxed was a community show by members of The Circus House in Longsight, Manchester. The Circus House offers lessons in circus skills to the public, professionals and schools, and their shows involve remarkable displays of flexibility, agility, coordination and strength.
The story of Boxed begins on a factory floor. A machine made of humans balanced on humans processes box after box, until finally a mysterious white box enters the machine and causes it to malfunction and break down. Boxed is the journey of the delivery driver as he strives to deliver the white box that seems to attract peril.
The show was adapted to be performed in the Albert Square in front of the Town Hall on Manchester Day in 2015. As well as the original costumes developed for Boxed by Sophie Tyrrell, additional set pieces were provided so that the show would be even more visually impressive when performed outside in front of crowds. Additional direction was provided by Patrick Nolan of Legs on the Wall in Australia to help the performance culminate in an additional section of the show that explored what happened once the box was finally delivered.
The set pieces were, of course, gigantic painted boxes, vibrant and spectacular when tossed and juggled and used as props in acrobatic manoeuvres. The costumes painted the circus house members as a unified group of performers covered with transport-inspired symbols and markings suggestive of tyre tread marks.
Outside of the stage area to drum up excitement and wow the crowds, an army of luminous overalled factory workers paraded their way through the square, along with three mad scientists looking like they'd been in some sort of paint explosion. Unicyclists and volunteers sporting backpack mounted structures of surreal twisted road sign-like shapes rounded the crowds into a circle to play a gigantic game of pass the parcel.
The theme for Manchester Day in 2012 was 'The Sky's the Limit', presenting the idea that we can go anywhere as a city. Sophie Tyrrell applied to join the parade with a group of friends and parents that belonged to the same home-schooling community. Created with the support from The Arts Council, the structure that walked the streets during the parade was The Great Elephant.
THE GREAT ELEPHANT OF TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT
Liberated and accompanied by steampunk-styled factory workers, The Great Elephant was a Dickensian reference to the machines that bellowed and groaned inside factories during the industrial revolution.
As the colossal machines afforded their owners power and profit, the liberation of the beast drummed up excitement at the infinite possibilities ahead.
'The Sky's the Limit' was translated into a performance set within an industrial vision of Manchester; the town of tall chimneys with billowing serpents of smoke. The references to Dickens' work marked the bicentenary of his birth.
LIBERATORS, SERPENTINE DANCERS AND A JUNK BAND
The gigantic mechanical elephant was flanked by a junk band, serpentine dancers and the liberators. The liberators were circus performers, having already made their escape some time ago. They assisted the elephant on it's journey through the streets as the music of the junk band matched the melody of the tremendous machine.
At the front of the group was the ringmaster, leading the performance and attempting to contain the surrounding chaos. Onlookers may see madness and anarchy, but this is a misconception, for it is the madness that makes it beautiful.
THE STEAMPUNK MANIFESTO
It was an easy leap from Dickens' descriptions to the steampunk style, but the influence was more than aesthetic. The steampunk manifesto describes steampunk as the misappropriation of technology, reclaimed for radical and inventive purposes. And of course, steampunk is punk, and so warranted the use of coarse creativity. These characters were inventive liberators, enchanted with a vision of the future and animated by the past.
A BEAUTIFUL CACOPHONY
Junk musical instruments were sampled to create a beautiful cacophony of home-made instruments. Band member jackets appeared military at first, but on closer inspection were clearly held together with safety pins. These characters never washed, and were all exquisitely mad.
The band leader was no exception. Somewhat savage and prone to overexciting the band and losing control, the picture was completed by the serpent-like dancers that brought the steam and smoke of Manchester's past into the picture, and a ringmaster sporting an aristocratic demeanour and appearance, juxtaposed against piercings and tattoos.
BUILDING THE ELEPHANT
The design of the elephant evolved to utilise wheels and the guiding hand of a puppeteer. The technical tasks required to complete the vision were extensive. The Great Elephant needed a mechanical walking skeleton.
As the frame came together the characteristic shoulders and head were added, as well as ears that resembled sails. The final beast was able to exhibit a range of elephant expressions and movements.
COSTUMES FROM SILHOUETTES
Concepts of the costumes show the silhouette technique that was used to create visual signatures for the characters. The basic method of the silhouette technique involved placing a cutout figure over a variety of backgrounds and textures to create styles for the costumes.
Outfits were created by layering paint and fabrics to create textures and shapes. Steampunk goggles and monocles were fashioned from masks adorned with cogs and other embellishments. Gauntlets and oil cans were decorated with gauges and dials, subtly setting the scene for The Great Elephant.
Twisted brass bassoons and goggles appeared from clouds of real steam. Parent puppeteers marched alongside their kids who performed their hearts out. Smoke technicians and hair and makeup magicians pulled the finer details into place, and The Great Elephant was liberated and marched triumphantly through the streets of Manchester for all to see.
The Atomic Crab
The Atomic Crab was created for the Manchester Day celebrations of 2013 and was also performed for a second time at Stockport Market. The theme for Manchester Day 2013 was 'Wish you were here', capturing the promise and excitement that Manchester held for the coming years. The application to bring the idea to life was submitted by Sophie Tyrrell and the home education art group HeArt, a collective of dedicated parents and their home-schooled children.
THE SEASIDE TOWN OF MANCHESTER
Sophie's team reimagined Manchester in the year 3000, when rising sea levels have transformed the city into a seaside town. A troupe of pierrots walk through the streets with their star seaside attraction: The Atomic Crab.
The initial vision of the rising coastline welcomed themes of destruction and the opportunities that arise from upheaval. The crowds that would gather for Manchester Day would be recast into crowds from the future, enjoying Deansgate Promenade and the opening of the Hilton Lighthouse.
A concert party of musicians, jugglers and entertainers would perform as they process through the streets in costumes that harked back to an age of Punch and Judy, sandcastles and ice cream.
The leviathan, dredged up from polluted waters, moves to the troupe's rendition of 'I do like to be beside the seaside', and Manchester hopes that for the day of the parade 'The Sun has got his hat on.'
THE SEASIDE PEIRROTS
Costumes included painted wetsuits inspired by seaside traditions dating back to the 1900s, including the outfits of seaside pierrot troupes. Functional and aesthetic features also drew influence from contemporary contemporary and futuristic fashion shows. The result was a display of nautical masks and wetsuit costumes decorated with plastic junk and scuba-style features.
Offsetting the darkness, the harlequin wetsuits added life and charisma to the performance, and the masks that accompanied the suits were embellished with glitter to ensure that the spectacle would entertain rather than horrify.
A sketch design in the gallery on this page describes the texture and finish, as well as the looming presence of the atomic crab. Mechanisms and props were put in place through a series of manoeuvrability tests so that the crab would appear to walk. The resulting parade was a wild performance through the streets of Manchester in sunshine fitting of a real seaside.
The event unfolded in Piccadilly Gardens. The public were invited to decorate lanterns, learn a dance with the assistance of Danny Henry, and then take part in a procession alongside towering mummies and a group of mummified circus performers as the light diminished.
In line with the theme of 'Going Global', performers from the community under the direction of The Circus House dressed up as Intergalactic Travellers to perform select pieces from their show Transformations for Manchester Day in 2014. Commissioned by Manchester City Council and organised by Walk the Plank, Manchester Day sees groups from all corners of Manchester take to the streets to celebrate and show off their talents.
The Intergalactic Travellers landed in Albert Square on the morning of the parade, in misshapen vehicles sprouting umbrellas and metal chimneys. Performers on unicycles were propelled into the square by helmets with propellers and the jetpacks on their backs.
All costumes and accessories were designed and created by Sophie Tyrrell and a team out of the work space at Walk the Plank. As well as the visual appearance of the costumes, their suitability for performing had to be considered. This meant that fittings and designs had to take into account the skills of individual performers, for example, by building elasticated sections into aerialist's costumes to prevent costumes from tearing during acrobatic performances.
The structures formed a makeshift ring in the centre of city in which the circus performed. The costumes were layered with paint to look dirty and worn like the resourceful nomads they belonged to. The vehicles and set pieces were constructed entirely of bamboo canes covered in papier-mâché and paint. They towered above the spectators and cast unusual shadows.