Daggers of the Mind: What are you prepared to do for fame?

Film of graduation production Codarts Music Theatre online on 19 June with English subtitles.

The film Daggers of the Mind will have its online premiere on 19 June. This music theatre film, inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, is about the fear of failure.  This group production is part of the graduation process of fourth-year Music Theatre students at Codarts Rotterdam. Initially, the stage production’s premiere was scheduled for 21 April at the Maaspodium in Rotterdam. However, since all theatres are closed, an alternative platform had to be found for this project. For many weeks, students rehearsed from home for a real music theatre film and all recordings are now finished. Director Robin Coops (31) and student Donna-Jo Aarts (23) talk about how this performative film was realised during the Corona crisis.

Text: Maud Tielemans

A creative Solution

Ten fourth-year Music Theatre students at Codarts Rotterdam will present the digital premiere of their graduation production Daggers of the Mind on 19 June 2020. Initially, their big graduation moment was planned for 21 April, but in the middle of the rehearsal process, after they had already been rehearsing, trying out and gathering material for three weeks, an ‘unexpected storm’ arrived. The Corona crisis forced them to change course. This enthusiastic group of graduation students will now not take the stage in a theatre, but can be admired on the screen!

Please note: Daggers of the Mind can be seen online on Friday night 19 June at 7.30 pm, with English subtitles. The film will be introduced and afterwards there will be interviews with the creatives and the students. Free tickets for the screening can be obtained via this link. Everyone who applies will be sent the screening link in due course. Please check the students’ website and the socials of Codarts regularly for information and additional screening dates!

The film Daggers of the Mind

The Music Theatre students present Daggers of the Mind – the movie, a film with original texts, pop music, and material from Verdi’s opera Macbeth. This performative film tells the story of the students themselves who audition for the play Macbeth while fiction and reality gradually begin to merge. The dream of a successful part and a great performance becomes a goal in itself, with disastrous consequences… How much backstabbing will the students resort to in order to reach their goal of fame?

The question we address here is how you deal with this pressure: the fear of failure. The film deals with our achievement-oriented society in which depression is a major public health issue. It’s a recurrent phenomenon in our generation. – Robin Coops, director.

Realising the new format of the graduation project required cast and crew to make many adaptations. Packages were created for building a recording studio at home, scripts had to be circulated and cast members suddenly found themselves building set pieces. Online ZOOM classes, WhatsApp groups for feedback, night shoots and testing camera positions were all part of the deal. By now the recordings are finished and the editing process is in full swing behind the scenes.

Interested? Then reserve Friday night 19 June to enjoy a real music theatre film night and check out www.daggersofthemind.nl.  From the very start the process, students have been feeding this site with updates of the creation process, while sharing their thoughts about these times, and other nice extras. For example, this vlog by Lotte Pierik, in which she converts her bedroom into a film set.

Visual material: Build a set with Lotte:

Throughout the process, the students were professionally coached by director Robin Coops, choreographer Pim Veulings, and musical leader Mony Wouters. The music is provided by Carlo van der Put and David Schwarz. The cast is made up of the students themselves: Donna-jo Aarts, Iris Bakker, Willemijn Böcker, Judith Boesen, Dominique de Bont, Callina Knapmann, Lotte Pierik, Quinten De Smedt, Ayla van Summeren, and Maaike Wijntje. Student Sterre Verschoor did not participate in the Daggers of the Mind project because of her internship at Annie de Musical.

From living room to film set

I met with director Robin Coops (31) and student Donna-Jo Aarts (23) to talk about the realisation of this performative film. Robin is a multidisciplinary artist, interested in the tension between control and letting go. He looks at how we are being steered by politics, technology, and social systems. New technology plays an important role in this. Donna-Jo is an intuitive, energetic performer with a fine sense of timing.

Tell me about the original plan for your graduation performance Daggers of the Mind.

ROBIN: The assignment for the fourth-year Music Theatre students was to make either an existing or a new production together. I was asked to coach the project and I had a proposal for a theme. Our achievement-oriented society in which you constantly have to present yourself to the outside world was my main theme. In the piece we ask the question of how to deal with this pressure: the fear of failure. We then looked for a link with Macbeth and how this fictional world can become a reality.

How did you feel when you heard that the graduation performance was going to be cancelled?

DONNA-JO: I didn’t immediately grasp how serious it was, but I noticed how everyone was getting nervous after a week. The realisation sank in that this was the last performance we would do as a class. And this performance really means a lot to us. My main concern was that there would be no alternative. I was thinking: maybe they’ll just make me write a report [laughs]. It motivated us to work really hard on a new idea.

What gave you the idea to make a film as an alternative for the theatre production?

ROBIN: As a team we presented an alternative because we felt we had to make something that provided a good representation of our work and of the production. These performers are graduating and regardless of the situation, they would have to be given a platform. Deviating from the original assessment plan also took courage from the school. We had to organise and realise everything from a distance.

DONNA-JO: This was so different from what we are originally trained to do: perform live. And at first I didn’t realise how many things were involved. The first two weeks were mainly spent finding out how to organise everything. The entire project suddenly became much more technical. It gave me a whole different outlook. As a performer I sometimes found that quite difficult, having to be so preoccupied with the technical side of things. I was glad that last week, when we recorded the final versions, we finally got to perform.

You had to obtain official permission from the Examination Board for this new format of your project and graduation performance. Which aspects of the project did you highlight?

ROBIN: For starters, the format already suited the theme: a group of young graduates who are all about to enter a harsh, critical world. Having completed three studies myself, I know how important it is to have a platform when you graduate. We really fought for that with the Examination Board and one of the first steps in this was to have our own website, which has been online since the start. It was made by the students themselves, who also provide the content.

All of you also built your own studio at home. How did that go?

DONNA-JO: The school provided most of us with black cloth and we figured out how to hang it. I was lucky that my parents, where I’m staying at the moment, had two hooks, which made it easy. We also used microphones, construction lamps, and tripods provided by the school. We are so grateful to Inge den Adel for this. She does production and went everywhere, even to Amsterdam, to bring all this stuff to all of us.

When will the film premier and where can people see it?

ROBIN: The first online screening will be on Friday night, 19 June. The idea is that you can really have a ‘night out’ from home, with an introduction and interviews afterwards with the makers and students, just like it’s done in theatres. You can already register here to receive this link. We are still very busy preparing all this, and looking at possible other screening possibilities.

Why should people see this film?

ROBIN: ‘How much backstabbing do you have to do?’ It’s a very topical theme. It’s about our achievement-oriented society in which depression is one of the major public health issues. Hopefully, we succeeded in translating and questioning this phenomenon in a playful, musical manner. We also hope it is interesting for other makers, from whatever background, to see this form and work method.

DONNA-JO: I am really nervous about graduating now. It involves emotions such as fear, also of failing. That is literally what this production is about.

What about this project makes you most proud?

ROBIN: The students and the whole team. Whatever comes out!

DONNA-JO: It’s hard to imagine how hard everyone worked on this. You can just feel how much love and time went into it and the film reflects this. That’s something I’m proud of.