Monday, 22 June 2015

Ben Monks & Will Young: Supporting Wall supports The Dramaturgy Database @ Edfringe 2015

Their shows at this year's fringe include:

- TONIGHT WITH DONNY STIXX by Philip Ridley, 5-31 Aug 2.45pm, Pleasance Courtyard

- JONNY & THE BAPTISTS: THE END IS NIGH, 7-30 Aug 7.50pm, Roundabout @ Summerhall

- YOU LOOK TASTY (A PLAY BY A TIGER) by Aloysius Tiger & Stewart Pringle, 7-31 Aug 11.45am, Pleasance Courtyard

The Fringe
GKV:  What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Ben Monks & Will Young: [we’re answering these about a portfolio, hope that makes sense...]
Philip Ridley's Tonight With
Donny Stixx has been in the works since Dark Vanilla Jungle. We've done a lot with him so one show comes out of another, and he'd always conceived those as a dyptich. 

Of the other shows we're producing, Jonny & the Baptists: The End Is Nigh is our fourth show with them and came out of a desire to do something, while still political, more theatrical and reflective – it should be a treat. 

You Look Tasty! (A Play By A Tiger) is our first children's show in five years, and came from supporting Stewart Pringle (the writer) for some workshops and a scratch showing last year, and we just fell in love with it a bit.

Why bring your work to the Edinburgh Fringe?
It's such an exciting place to be. Word of mouth is so powerful and everyone's there to see shows, so it's a very different environment to present work and feels like such a direct relationship with audiences. It's also of course an industry platform to grow opportunities for future, and to learn from being around so many other creatives at the same time.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
They're very different, Tonight With Donny Stixx is explosive in true Ridley style, with his distinctive perspective on growing debates around modern masculinity. 

Jonny & the Baptists: The End Is Nigh is funny, charming, disarming at best and quietly moving and thoughtful too, as it starts to tap into themes about generational responsibility and the environment. 

You Look Tasty! (A Play By A Tiger) is joyful and scary in equal parts, but again has a bit more too it as we hope to get children and families thinking about how society relates to animals.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
No script is fully formed at first conception, at least in our experience, but they all need different approaches. For Ridley, that's often a case of giving time with an actor and director in advance. 

With Stewart on You Look Tasty!, we had some workshops and a scratch showing, to seek early feedback both from adults / peers and crucially from children. Over the following weeks we and Stewart crystalised what we wanted the show to be, and he went away to redraft. 

With Jonny & the Baptists there's an idea we talk through, then a first draft, then at least a month of touring, gigging bits, trying things out and shaping as we go. They're all different, but also in all cases the dramaturgy doesn't stop with the rehearsal script or even first performance. 

One of the reasons they're all artists we love to work with is that they're constantly looking - and open to ideas - for how to keep improving and draw more out of an idea.

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?

As producers there are incredible companies that have led the way, especially recently from Fuel to Paines Plough, or English Touring Theatre under Rachel Tackley. Our natural tastes - and where we've learned to do most to help artists and reach audiences - is within a writers' tradition, and especially work that draws on bigger political and social themes. 

Playwrights like Caryl Churchill, Arthur Miller, Athol Fugard, Arnold Wesker and many more are all in there somewhere, alongside more recent artists like Mike Bartlett, Rachel Chavkin, Duncan Macmillan, Caroline Horton, Chris Goode. There are so many...

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?
It's so varied as I've said and hopefully our job as producers is to find the best way to facilitate each artist and each project. That includes formal and informal settings - a night at the pub with friends can be as useful as a professional workshop - and always has to come from what helps a writer's process. It's always collaborative, even if there are times when the most collaborative thing to do is get out of the way.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making
the meaning of your work?
Good question. Most of the artists we work with are very audience-driven. We've little time for theatre, no matter how beautiful or important, that isn't centred on how it affects its audience and how meaning is being communicated. 

That's also why hardly anyone we work with would ever step back from a show once it's opened. There's so much to learn and shows can change a huge amount - intentionally on the part of the creative team or subconsciously from the performers - after just a few shows when they're first put in front of an audience.

"Making the meaning" is an intriguing phrase and the response is different depending the stage in a process. 

For example, we developed a new version of the Greek play Ajax with Timberlake Wertenbaker a couple of years ago, updated to contemporary Afghanistan, and the first year or so of that process was workshopping the script with former and current service personnel, psychologists, etc. 

I'd still count those as "audiences", as in a few cases they attended work-in-progress showings or responses to a written text, albeit informally; and they helped to make the meaning of the work (in a very literal sense) as relevant as possible.

At the other end of the process, we produced the first play about social work by a playwright and part-time social worker - Chris Lee's Shallow Slumber - at Soho Theatre in 2012. Through various partnerships and audience development campaigns, around 20% of the audience across a month's run worked in social work or related fields, with that percentage much higher on nights with post-show discussions etc. 

Again the audience "made" the meaning of our work - partly through their own interpretation of it (relating the play to very real / personal experiences), and also through their contributions / responses to things like post-show events that expanded the meaning for a broader audience.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
One of the things that's interesting here is how producers might approach dramaturgy – there aren’t many who describe themselves as "a producer and dramaturg", whereas self-described "director- / writer-dramaturgs" are more common; but perhaps the dramaturgical role performed by all three is broadly similar. 

Perhaps that's because there's a perception that producers don't want to / aren't as good at engaging in that process, although I'd argue that's changed heavily in the last 10-15 years with the rise of artistically and commercially successful producing companies (see above) and the emergence of the "creative" producer. 

And certainly at a basic level, if we're defining dramaturgy as contributing to the development of a script to embellish artistic quality and audience relevance, then it's something we'd see as fundamentally part of our role as producers.

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