Established in 2005 MSL produces and manages projects under three company brands. MSL celebrates individual creativity, community and place. MSL's recent project Semaphore typifies our organization's agile, ambitious approach: seven choreographed performances were produced by over 30 local artists and performed to almost 500 people on Hastings beach on 17 May 2020 - the first day out of lockdown.
Cultural strategy ambition(s)
Proud to live in Hastings - Culture builds connections between communities to improve the quality of life for local people.
Creative businesses succeed here - The creative economy is thriving, creating opportunities for local people to gain skills and employment.
Open for tourism - Cultural tourism brings people to Hastings - creating opportunities for local people to gain skills and employment.
What did you do/what happened?
MSL created a site-specific blend of sound, light, fire and performance - both live and digital - on Hastings beach. A sequence of seven choreographed performances wove together sound installation, film, spoken word theatre, clowning and fire as the production built towards a spectacular and moving ending. Almost 500 people came in person to enjoy the immersive mix of live performance along with pre-recorded original music and film which was streamed simultaneously to their mobile phones. Several others watched the performance online, commenting in real time via Chat, whilst receiving text messages during the show with further information.
Who was involved?
Close to 100 people were involved in the production, as follows:
- 30+ local artists and performers.
- Kevin Grist created a binaural sound installation to accompany setting sun.
- Christine Harmar-Brown wrote a script detailing the parable of Poseidon's fury at the damage done to his seas by humanity's carelessness.
- Andrew Davies' and Sophie Page Hall's film showing the goddess Gaia in empty Sussex landscapes was projected onto gauze screens on the beach.
- Jane Bruce, Mary Hooper and Rebecca Child (Radiator Arts) created masks and costumes.
- Hastings-based SOS Productions and PRICKIMAGE Video (Margate-based) delivered digital production and effects.
- Charlie Abrahams choreographed semaphore messages with flags and light batons which were performed by 14 young people from the White rock Theatre Drama Group.
- Other professional actors and musicians performed the roles of gods, mortals and satyrs.
- Technology Box, based in Hastings, was commissioned to extend the seafront WiFi to increase the reach to an online audience at home.
- Reece Shepherd (an MA student at the University of Brighton) managed the creation of 'Hastings Calling', an embedded piece in which videoed messages from some of the 27 other Hastings around the world (inc. France, Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone) were shown.
- Christine Harmar-Brown wrote a new piece, 'The Reckoning' performed during Semaphore by actors Ben Watson (Dimitry) and Riz Maslen (Ismene). Filmed by Joe Morgan, the footage was edited into a new film, 'Signals', by Laura Coppin.
- Almost 500 people in person.
- Several hundred more watching and interacting online.
Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?
We wanted to create an event that made innovative use of digital technology. Semaphore did exactly that in reaching two audiences simultaneously: a socially distanced live one spread along the beach and an online audience at home.
Due to lockdown, Semaphore was devised, prepared, rehearsed over Zoom. Only in the last week were performers able to meet to rehearse, and then to perform, in person. Designing and co-ordinating the logistics of working in this way was novel.
Furthermore, the binaural sound piece 'Signals' produced for Semaphore plays with the application of Morse code in a fresh way. The narrative of the piece describes the consequences of the environmental crisis and explores ideas around the lack of human connection through the rise of social media and particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. This is new, topical ground for us, both technologically and thematically.
When did this happen, over what time period?
Work began - February 2021
Performance - 17 May 2021
Signals film completed February 2022 available on YouTube
What was involved in terms of logistics, time or resources? (i.e. how much work did it take?)
- Performance: scriptwriting, auditioning, rehearsing, costume-making, delivering, filming, editing.
- Digital component: designing, organising, implementing, capturing of feedback/data.
Spanning more than a year the project climaxed a complex, multi-stranded investigation, The Sea Beneath, focusing on climate and coastal change. Much of it was done under difficult conditions. The Semaphore chorus drawn from the Young Peoples Theatre Group at the White Rock Theatre rehearsed on Zoom. We did not know until a week before whether the performance on 17 May would go ahead. Films made by other Hastings in France, Canada and Sierra Leone were themselves the result of remote partnerships. Some 120+ people on three continents made creative and practical contributions. One, Chris Wainwright, deceased but inspirational, provided a starting point for Semaphore through his work in the High Arctic, Japan and England 20 years before. The cash project cost of approximately £50,000 was far outweighed by these considerable additional contributions.
Is this a first for Hastings, regionally or even nationally?
This is certainly a first for Hastings and its surrounding region. Weaving together a site-specific performance involving circa 100 people with the use of innovative, digital technology created a highly original experience.
Where did you get inspiration / the idea from for this activity?
Semaphore was inspired initially by the work of the late Chris Wainwright, an internationally-respected Hastings photographer and environmentalist who, along with his partner, Anne Lydiat Wainwright, created a series of powerful light works entitled 'What has to be done?' on the shoreline of Aldeburgh, a few miles from Sizewell B nuclear power station in 2011. These works were, in turn, influenced by the German artist Joseph Beuys' work 'What is to be done?'. Both explore the disastrous consequences of the planet and its inhabitants falling out of harmony: a theme taken up and scrutinized by Semaphore.
What difference has this made to your organisation, the people involved?
Semaphore marked an important shift for the organization. With its creation and performance, we forged new links with both creatives and digital experts in the area and across the world.
What are your plans for the future?
MSL has embarked on an ambitious period of development following the COVID-19 pandemic. We have just produced a new composition, Sun Shall Rise, performed over the Jubilee weekend and at Hastings Festival of Sanctuary part of Refugee Week which trails a new piece, The Wild Horn Fair. We are about to begin a six month programme of organisational development work.
What advice would you give another arts organisation or creative practitioner looking to do something similar / work in Hastings?
Funding is key. As an organization, you need to make sure securing and maintaining your funding stream is given due consideration and time. Equally, we at MSL like to work with compatible creative partners so feel free to get in contact if you'd like to start a conversation.
How can your experience address commonly encountered challenges to help other arts organisation or creative practitioner working or based-in Hastings?
We like to work as collaboratively as possible and believe firmly in a combined approach in the creativity sector. In a 40-year career, MSL's Director Margaret Sheehy has held senior management roles in cultural sector strategic bodies so is well placed to advise other arts organizations and creative practitioners on commonly encountered challenges. Partnership is key both to the creative and pragmatic outcomes of any project.
"With such a radical production developed under such stress there were bound to be hiccups and, particularly, technical difficulties. Many in the audience found it difficult to access technically and creatively; many more were overwhelmed by the experience it offered and the works themselves. We are grateful to them all for trusting us. Those of us who made it are proud of it. As ever, with a bit more time and money we would have done better."
-Margaret Sheehy, Producer/Director
"I thought it was incredible. The weather was insane but the message and the drama of it all was received loud and clear. Thank you thank you thank you."
-Sarah Heenan, audience member
Got a question about arts and culture?
ContentThe content on this page is the responsibility of our Arts and Culture team.