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The Deer of Nine Colours - Lancaster Music Festival 2021

After a pandemic induced break in 2020, Lancaster Music Festival is back with a bang in 2021! This year is the 11th edition of Lancaster Music Festival, and Three Left Feet are thrilled to participate with our original shadow puppetry performance: an adaptation of the traditional Chinese folk-tale The Deer of Nine Colours.

Today, we've got Elspeth and Andrew, the production's lead artists, answering a couple of questions about the performance. Take it away, gang!

Where did the idea for The Deer of Nine Colours come from?

Elspeth - The broader idea to make a Chinese-inspired shadow puppetry show, influenced by the tradition of Chinese shadow plays, came out of the partnership between ourselves and the Confucius Institute. Over at Three Left Feet, we already had a penchant for shadow puppetry, fostered during our production of The Snow Queen in 2020. However, learning to make and perform a traditional Chinese shadow play takes years and years to master.

Additionally, as we don't have Chinese heritage, we wanted to collaborate with students from China to decide which fairytale we should portray. So, we landed on The Deer of Nine Colours after a creative consultation with a lovely group of students who suggested a great selection of stories. Ultimately, we all decided The Deer of Nine of Colours wonderfully embodies the cross-cultural influence and collaboration at the centre of the project because its message transcends cultural boundaries: the importance of keeping your promises.

Have you enjoyed collaborating with Lancaster University Confucius Institute?

Andrew - It has been wonderful collaborating with the Confucius Institute. They have been integral to the organisation of the production. Not only did they collate the Mandarin-speaking narrator and musician, but they also sourced an outstanding translator to create our Mandarin script. Furthermore, the Confucius Institute has provided everyone with a rehearsal space throughout rehearsal week, which has been amazing. If ever we had a problem, they were there to step in and see what they could do.

What have been the joys and challenges of working with a dual language script?

Elspeth - It has been such an enjoyable challenge working in two languages! I actually studied translation and was particularly interested in theatre in translation for my masters, so it was really fun to see it in practice. For example, when we got the piece on its feet with both the English and Mandarin narration, certain passages took far too long for the puppetry, so we had to cut them down. But obviously, it isn't as simple as just slicing a bit out because that might change the implications or flow of the narration in the other language. That was an unexpected complication but a fascinating part of the process.

Thankfully, we're working with some really enthusiastic and helpful performers who are bilingual, as none of the 3LF team speak Mandarin! So the script has been constantly in flux throughout writing, translation and rehearsals. It also feels imperative to have a Chinese tale told in a Chinese language. And, incidentally, we decided to have the narration begin in Mandarin followed by the English language version because we were keen for the Mandarin to feel integral to the piece and not just as though Felix was interpreting for the Chinese-speaking audience.

How does this commission for Lancaster Music Festival differ from Three Left Feet's previous shadow puppetry work?

Elspeth - Our previous work has been almost entirely in black and white, whereas the name of the game with this show is colour, colour, colour. That's something that we've drawn from the Chinese tradition. Our previous work has been created in isolation as a company (with other performers and contributors coming in, of course). However, this piece has been much more collaborative with the partnership with LUCI, the creative consultation at the start of the process, and the fact that it is part of a much larger event.

What has the rehearsal process to prepare for Lancaster Music Festival 2021 been like?

Andrew - This has probably been the quickest show turnaround that I've ever experienced (in a good way). With the show only being 15 minutes long, it only took us a few days to get the whole thing together and running like clockwork, unlike many other shows with 2 hour run times that often take weeks and weeks to pull together. Elspeth and I only took a couple of days to block out each scene before bringing in the narrators, musicians and production assistants. Overall we had just a week of intensive rehearsals, with the plan to give the whole show a few run-throughs on the morning of the production to refresh everyone's memories. That's the beauty of such a short piece; you can run it several times without worrying about how much time that will consume!

How do you feel about performing live again?

Elspeth - On the one hand, performing live again is very exciting! It's been nearly two years since we've had a live performance, and it just isn't the same without that live audience. On the other hand, this is our first live shadow puppetry show which has been surprisingly intimidating. In The Snow Queen, if we got something wrong, or a puppet's arm fell off or something, we could stop, delete the footage and try again. But that's not possible with a live audience! So fingers crossed we can balance the many puppet sticks sufficiently, and I've made the puppets robust enough not to fall apart...

Which other Lancaster Music Festival performance are you excited to see?

Elspeth - There's a live theatre/dance/music performance called ORACLE by LPM dance - perhaps this is cheating as I've seen this show before when I stage-managed the Let's Dance festivals organised by the company…). I know this show is just such a ball with a spot of audience interaction and a chance to get up and boogie yourself, so I hope to catch that on Friday. There's also a very talented Chinese pianist playing at The Priory who it would be lovely to see.

What can people expect from The Deer of Nine Colours?

Andrew - A beautiful cross-cultural collaboration of colour, live music and a Divine deer! The Deer of Nine Colours is a kaleidoscope of colour and intricately made puppets woven into a folk-tale about kindness, honour and keeping your promises. I wholeheartedly believe this show is a breathtaking experience, unlike anything you'll have seen before. The opening musical note alone will send shivers down your spine!

Don’t miss The Deer of Nine Colours, a Chinese-inspired shadow puppetry performance created in partnership with the Lancaster University Confucius Institute and Lancaster Music Festival.

It's on Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th October 2021 (2-2.15pm / 2.45-3pm / 4-4.15pm / 4.45-5pm) at Storey Lecture Theatre.

The show is free to attend; booking is recommended. Get your tickets here!

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