Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Brown Dramaturgy: Winsome Brown @ Edfringe 2015

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

Winsome Brown: It was January, 2014. Brad Rouse, the director, and I were working in my apartment in New York City on another project. He turned to me and: “I think you have a more immediate story to tell. One that will touch many people.” 

“What’s that?” I asked. 

“The story of your mother,” he said. It was like a veil fell from my eyes. 

“I’ll call it This is Mary Brown,” I said. I had the title before a single word of the show was written. Brad had heard me tell stories about Mum and found her both hilarious and very human.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?I hope that the themes of This is Mary Brown will resonate with the Edinburgh audience. It is about an Irish woman, an emigrant, a woman of great humor and pathos, who raises her family far away from home, in Canada. As she ages, she turns to alcohol to soothe herself. Her family use various tactics to try to persuade her to give up drinking. 

Then, when she has succeeded in kicking the drink, she is sidewinded by lung failure. It’s a cruel turn. But it brings out an incredible amount of love and tenderness—emotional honesty – in all the characters. Everybody goes through the painful death of a loved one. It is a universal theme.

Also, practically, This is Mary Brown is a very simple play. I am the sole performer, there are just a few pieces of furniture and some lights. It travels easily and so is a great play to show in Edinburgh, and hopefully to tour with afterwards. The whole magic of This is Mary Brown is in the air between the stage and the audience.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The show is simple and honest. Audiences in New York both laughed and cried when they saw it. The New York Times called it, “Lovely… honest… touching…. poignant.” I think audiences naturally think of loved ones in their own life – my play takes them inside their own heart.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
While the show is on the surface, simple – a personal tale – structurally it is modern and challenging. I worked hard to find a kind of elastic tension between scenes, so that each scene propels the next. The play jumps through time, place, and character. Some scenes are simple audience address. Some scenes have three or more characters on stage, in dialogue with each other. And I’m playing all of them. It is a fairly complex dramaturgy.

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?
Yes. I have been inspired by other artists who dare to find that just a simple story about real people is enough. Some of these are: Terence Davies in The Long Day Closes, Chekhov in his willingness to write about mundane things like family finances and the stultification of habit, Spalding Gray, who sat before an audience with just a desk and a glass of water and brought us into a world.

Also, I have been inspired and instructed by the gentle and long-form rehearsal process of André Gregory and Wallace Shawn. I was lucky enough to perform in The Master Builder, and see that incredible work up close. Their process of stripping away artifice – even within the confines of art – is something I aspire to in my own work on This is Mary Brown.

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?
I developed this play in a rehearsal space in my own home. Brad Rouse, the director, and I, invited small groups of eight or ten people at a time to come in and see the play. We were all in a small room together, with all the lights on all of us. I could feel how the play worked in the space between me and the audience. 

After each performance, I would talk with the audience – find out if there were moments where they were confused by anything. As I said, the play is structurally complex, but I worked hard to make it feel simple. So my collaborators have been, from day one, the director, and the audience.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The most daunting challenge of making a one-person play is loneliness. There’s no other actor to share the ride with on stage. So my partner in the performance is the audience. I have developed this show over the course of a year and a half, showing it to a few people at a time. 

Through this process, I have come to trust the material, trust the audience, and be inspired and moved by the communion that happens between us. It’s a very vulnerable piece. I am putting it all out there – surrendering, if you will. The audience is my partner in that. And the faith that grows between us brings its own reward.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
No, but here’s one more answer! I feel This is Mary Brown takes some of its structure from cinema. In cinema, we now know that we can make jump cuts, sharp turns, show flashbacks, and have it be clear to the viewer what is happening. 

I directed and edited a film called The Violinist, and my work on that project has helped me to trust that even a bold structure can be the foundation for a simple, profound play.

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29)
Aug 8-15, 20-21, 24-30
1 hour
Suitability: 16+ (Guideline)
Country: United States
Group: Winsome Brown
Warnings: Adult themes - alcoholism, death.

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