A conversation with Rosie Bergonzi performer in Musical Rumpus

We were delighted to have Rosie join the cast of Musical Rumpus: Fogonogo in spring 2016, taking on the combined role of percussionist and character ‘Silver’. The opportunity arose towards the end of Rosie’s year as a one of our Trainee Music Leaders, an annual programme designed to offer musicians hands-on experience working on our projects in education and community settings alongside our pool of experienced workshop leaders.

The production benefited hugely from Rosie’s enthusiasm and willingness to adapt, learn and apply the skills she’d been developing throughout the year. Each Musical Rumpus show presents a rich range of very specific challenges and rewards for the artists, and this is an important aspect of the project. We’re thrilled that Rosie will be joining again for the autumn 2017 tour when we will take a new imagining of Fogonogo to East London and further afield to Europe.

We spoke to Rosie about how the experience of working on Musical Rumpus has impacted her artistic practice and how she has found working with early years in this way.

What is your musical and performing background?

I started playing percussion aged 14 at the back of my school orchestra. This sparked my love of music and I continued to study, learning to read music and play different percussion instruments. I kept playing in orchestras and ensembles and chose to study music at university, first at Goldsmiths University and then at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

I’ve had some fantastic performance experiences, including playing a UK premier in the Tate Modern and performing a solo set in the Barbican. I love performing and being able to share music with different audiences, I love that it’s a way to communicate with all sorts of people. Seeing joy in people’s eyes when they’re listening to music is what spurs me on to keep practising and working at being a better player.

How would you describe the process of performing in Musical Rumpus for the first time?

As soon as I arrived it felt clear this was an exciting production to be part of. I loved that the first part of the rehearsals focused on singing rounds and working on moving together as a company. Normally as a percussionist you can feel quite separated being hidden behind large instruments, so it was fantastic to begin by feeling so included. This was something that continued, every rehearsal and performance began with us singing together.

What were your expectations coming to the project? Have you worked with early years before?

I’d seen the production in the autumn, so I knew how demanding the role was for the performers. I’d been so impressed with the way they’d interacted with the children and how each show was different. I knew it wouldn’t be a standard performance where the audience is excluded from the stage. I’ve done some work with early years before, but this experience has certainly prompted me to do more. I love how responsive you have to be as a facilitator and the importance of building up no-verbal trust. It’s something I said I wanted to do at the start of my taking part in the Trainee Music Leader scheme, so to have to opportunity to develop my skills, especially beside such an experienced practitioner as Sam Glazer (Fogonogo Musical Director, Composer, cellist and performer of ‘Bronze’ character). He was always so generous with his time and with tips on how to develop my playing, which made the whole process so enjoyable and a great environment in which to learn.

Were there any surprises in the show, your role or the demands of the production?

Parts of the performance were exactly what I’d expected, learning practising and rehearsing some fantastic music as an ensemble. However I’d never memorised a 30 minute piece before, so sometimes I’d forget which sticks or even which instrument I had to be playing next! I solved this by recording us rehearsing it and listening to it on the tube. As we kept rehearsing, I gradually learned the structure of the show until it felt like second nature to me.

I was constantly challenged by the physical nature of the show. My training has all been in music, so working on my dance and movement was a fantastic experience. We were put through physical exercises which prompted us to explore different ways of relating to our bodies. I was able to apply this in a sequence where I left my seat behind the percussion and travelled around the set adding jumps and turns. I was supported to develop this section until I felt confident. This became one of the parts I’d really look forward to every show, because it allowed me a moment to connect personally with the audience.

What was the value of the performances for you?

It was so great to see the children enjoying the show. Every day we would note down our reflections and special moments from the show. It was great to have the chance to think back on the performances and see what everyone else had written. Doing two, or even three shows a day was physically and mentally tiring, but it felt great to be able to affect so many people. Every show was in a different space and the audience played such a huge role so that each show was totally different. I found this really energising as I never knew what to expect. I loved it!

Playing with such fantastic musicians really elevated my playing. I loved working with the singers, and working with Sam as a composer and performer was a great experience. Often composers are quite removed from the process, so having Sam on hand to discuss changes and ideas with was really helpful. He was always receptive to ideas, not just to do with the percussion part but also the music as a whole.

How did this role tie in with your experience on the Trainee Music Leaders programme? Was there any learning or skills you were able to share across the two areas of work?

I think I learned about communication – in workshop leading it’s a key skill. Being able to non-verbally encourage a shy baby to look up from her mother’s arms and throw a rock back to you involves building trust. It’s about knowing the stages where a person will feel safe and gently encouraging them further. Having ways to communicate, not just relying on words, is a fantastic skill to have in my arsenal.

How do you think performing in Fogonogo has impacted on your wider practice as a musician and performer?

I think what I learned about communication is something that applies to music too. Sharing your ideas and expressing them with the audience is what makes music meaningful.

I’ve taken lots of ideas from the rehearsal period which I will carry forward into my practice such as the importance of building a community as an ensemble before diving into complex music. It has made me more appreciative of singing as a tool for bonding, something I’m continuing to explore in a variety of situations.

Looking ahead to the autumn and the fact you’ll be performing in another Fogonogo tour, what are you looking forward to?

I can’t wait to continue the tour! It’s been such a learning experience. Working with a great cast and crew to create a production we’re all so proud of has been fantastic. I think the fact that the children and parents were so responsive means we all know we’re creating something special. It has felt like the best project, the way the performance is structured by starting with an interactive pre-show and ending with free play meant the show was half an hour of fantastic music book-ended by playing with and engaging children. I can’t think of a better way to spend an hour!