Saturday, 27 June 2015

Bart McCarthy: Devilish Dramaturgy @ EdFringe 2015

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Bart McCarthy: Even though it was only a few months ago, I can't remember where this spark came from!

I do know I was looking to do another theater piece (I do primarily screen acting now in LA). I look for issues that are important and personal to most people (as opposed to a particular group, e.g. "coming-of-age" stories.) So, always "idea" is most important – sometimes that comes from an object; or the object may be inspired by the idea.

How did you get involved with Satan?Again, Satan is the "object" described above, for which the origin is dim. But this particular object, wherever it came from, was full of potential. 

I did some quick research, and soon happened upon a fascinating Australian/Welsh documentary entitled, The History of the Devil. It more than confirmed my idea that the devil is created and re-created for man's own purposes. Then the wheels started turning. And what actor doesn't want to play the role of Satan?!

Can we be saved from the horror that you discuss in the show?
I'm not sure I describe "horror" within the show because in it Satan is, ultimately, nonthreatening. I suppose the horror is that if Satan does not exist, we have only ourselves to blame for all the evil and depravity in the world. 

And though it is not part of the show, on a personal level, I feel that we cannot be saved; not because humanity is anymore evil than in the past, but that technology has put the capacity for greater and greater harm into the reach of more and more individuals. 

Eventually, things may end with one crazy finger on one available button.

Are TED talks not a modern version of the old fashioned church sermon anyway?
Not really, in my opinion. Though both forms of presentation seek to inspire, the sermon demands a leap of faith, whereas the TED Talk seeks to establish the concrete reality first and then takes a leap of hope. Also, skeptics are welcome in the latter congregation.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I can't conceive of a performance without trying to entertain. Though I hope the audience will be intellectually stimulated and confronted with some profound questions about their own reality, I want them to laugh and be startled by the unexpected as well.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
The strongest relevance of dramatic structure to my work is that I don't like to follow the outline of a conventional play. I wouldn't be very good at it anyway. I want to keep things a bit open-ended and unexpected. On the micro-level, however, I deeply believe in the age old techniques of making moments. Each moment has a flow to it, should be unique, and worthy of the time it takes from, and gives to, the audiences' lives.

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I'm an old guy. I was around, and to some degree part of, the experimental theater of the 60s (even did workshops with Peter Brook and was invited to Poland by Jerzy Grotowski) after being University trained in traditional theater. The 60s opened up the possibilities – many ideas worked, many did not. 

I've loved the work of Lawrence Olivier, Soupy Sales, Cary Grant, Richard Attenborough, Cirque du Soleil, Sean Connery, Tracey Ullman, Peter Brook, Peter Hall, Peter Sellers and Peter Pan. I WILL STEAL FROM ANYONE. 

There's a wonderful novel by Mary Renault called, The Mask of Apollo about an actor in ancient Greece. He has the same issues about performance, career and writing that we in the theater have today. That's the tradition I like to see myself within: the Eternal Actor.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
Not that it's a particular mystery, it's just that I can't think of all the pieces of the process at any single sitting. Part of it is like surfing (which I don't do): a wave comes along, it looks like a good one, you try to ride it. 

Most of the time it doesn't get you anywhere, but some of the time
it gives you an experience that's worth the wait. It's not that hard to generate ideas, the trick is to find an idea that leads to another, and another, and eventually it, very unexpectedly, adds up to a special whole, living, entity. I usually don't collaborate as a writer, not that I wouldn't want to. 

Directing, however, I love bringing out the collaboration of others (mostly so I can get credit for their brilliant work). I did have a great gig for a few years where I was hired to create touring theater pieces for college audiences. They could be on any subject so long as they resonated with 18 to 21-year-olds. That sort of reversed my usual creative process, but I came up with some good pieces that matched historical events to contemporary issues.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
I would run kicking and screaming away from anyone who said they were just creating their own art and didn't care how an audience responded. I care deeply about my audience. They are a partner in the dance of performance. 

My production company was called Synapse because it represented the electrical charge of communication between performer and audience member. It is my intention to move the audience 100% of the time whether or not I am "feeling it." (I'm old and experienced enough to have developed techniques that can bridge my being-in-the-moment lapses.) 

Unfortunately, this demand for the perfect commune with the audience can be hard to bear. I've gotten standing ovations after which I despaired because a particular moment of a play had been lost, or off the mark, making me feel like a fraud (not that I offered to give them their money back…). 

It may be ironic for an atheist to say, but the theater is a place of true spirituality. A few times I have experienced those rare, stunning moments in which I felt myself, not as an act-tor, but as a conduit for some ethereal energy that transported everyone present into a higher state of being. Wondrous. 

What is interesting is that I have felt similar energies in other places. Once, on a week-long retreat where a cult was attempting to indoctrinate me and others via sleep deprivation, protein deficient meals and singing/preaching 18 hours a day. 

Another time at a funeral in a black, southern church; and again, at a politically charged rally. Each time, the "audience" was brought to that higher plane by the performance before them. The difference was who was taking credit for (what to me was) the organic theater experience: the guru, Jesus, and power-to-the-people. I say the spirit is real; who's getting credit for it, is not.

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