Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Cailin Harrison Waits For Dramaturgy

With Trent’s incessant travels and not a
Ted Lange
 decent jalapeno martini to be found, Shelly finds herself waiting for him, her work visa, and their new life together to start. Out of desperation, Shelly finds purpose in training for the London Marathon, meets someone new and Waitless leaves us where most romances begin – with one woman, two potential men and no idea which path is best!

Humour, poignancy and passion combine in this, a semi-autobiographical “dramedy” account of the writer Cailin Harrison’s own highs and lows as an Irish-American expatriate finding identity in London society. 

Says Cailin about her new play; ‘I wanted to bring attention to the challenges facing expats who need to carve a new life for themselves - the choices between career and love, the excitement and the adventure – but also the loneliness - of a new life. I could see huge potential for drama in a rediscovering of identity - and for comedy in clashes of culture and language. It’s something rarely addressed by theatre.’

Waitless features Edinburgh Fringe veteran & Teapot Award for Outstanding Theatre Performance winner Jessica Moreno as Shelly and Hollywood Fringe Producer’s Pick winner Andrew Boyle as Trent. The show takes place at the Jade Studio, Greenside at 3pm between 9 - 15 and 17 – 22 August. 

The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Cailin Harrison: I spent quite some time as an expatriate, living overseas with my British spouse. Waitless began not as a play idea, but rather as a series of experiences and observations that I lived through and saw in other expat wives’ lives when I first moved overseas on a dual EU/US passport. 

I discovered that immigration and being an expatriate are two very different things, especially when a company sponsors a couple to live and work overseas. That company atmosphere creates an almost forced community of people and their families who are housed, but are never really completely at home in the places they live because they can uprooted often and unexpectedly by the very company that brought them in the first place.

At that time in my life it seemed like all my friends were always running, to work, to a party, to the gym to get on the treadmill where they would be multitasking reading work documents or calling a friend on a headset. My husband and I were no different, being on our own treadmills for our careers side-by-side in marriage. 

 That all changed when his job sent him to London. I did not follow immediately but when in time I did, I discovered that my plane may have landed smoothly in London but finding my footing in a new county a clumsy process. Somewhere in the learning curve of expat life I found the characters of Shelly and Trent and put their story on paper.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Jessica Moreno
I came to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time several years ago to participate in the film/television side of the event. I came away from it with many new colleagues and an exciting opportunity to develop a screenplay with a production company, which led to a short film based on my and others’ experiences living and working overseas. 

 Years later, I turned that short film into a play in Los Angeles for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Waitless’ success – the Producer’s Pick Award that it won and the overwhelmingly positive audience response –turned my mind to Edinburgh. Although Los Angeles is arguably the most international city on the West Coast of the United States, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival draws an international audience unlike anywhere else in the world: it is utterly unique in the mixture of cultures, races, and experiences living and working abroad that it draws together through a love of theatre. 

Waitless is one of a surprisingly tiny number of scripts that addresses the expat experience, and in doing so it opens up an entirely new way to talk about relationships between spouses, and between Americans and U.K. residents. What better place to use theatre as a dialogue to talk to people of all cultures about the delights and difficulties of expatriatism (and make a few “uncultured American” jokes at our own expense?)?

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The audience should expect a “backwards love story”: drama, comedy, one woman with two men, a male actor playing female characters, Southern American accents, jalapeño martinis, hot wings, vindaloo, and a treadmill onstage (the actors will be in amazing shape by the time we open!).

Audiences will live through the ups and downs – both funny and frustrating – of a modern couple dealing wit unpredictable modern life over which they have little control. Waitless is a ‘dramedy’ set in modern London. It’s a sort of internal monologue of a woman's account of an exciting, but ultimately volatile, period of her life. 

Andrew Boyle
They will get to know Shelly, Trent, and a number of different characters who come in and out of the action to both help and hinder Shelly on her journey through expatriatism in the U.K.

While I don’t claim to address any of the “forbidden questions” so popular in modern theatre, Waitless nevertheless probes an evergreen topic: love. It is an old-fashioned love story, but with the twist that the often perceived “glamour” of life abroad without a job is not a permanent holiday. The challenge is to understand that people who, from the outside perspective, might appear to have everything could be longing for the basics of a grounded life and home which are a large part of what make most people happy. 

 It’s not easy meeting people as an expat since the locals all view you as “here today, gone tomorrow” and it’s all too easy to fall back on an expat community and never really engage with the community in which you live.

Ultimately, I want the audience to have felt engaged in Shelly and Trent’s journey, to debate the ending and what they think happens next and what they would have done in the same situation; to question what keeps couples together when relationships change or become unbalanced because of internal and external forces in life; to ask, “Is life truly what happens while you are planning your life?”

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Veronica Mullins

My career began in broadcast journalism followed by documentary style TV transitioning into film and finally theater. Each form of writing has it's own kind of process of exploring and developing a project. 

 I have found that dramaturgy in theater is something like having a doctor exam you or your baby. They have diagnoses and insights and suggestions that often help me discover things I did not see being too close to the piece. 

 But, like medicine, dramaturgy is not an exact science. For me the most import part of the process is open dialogue and full understanding of notes in order to get the most out of the process.

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?
Perhaps because I started out in journalism with a need to explore the world in general, my taste and influences are catholic: from Beckett to Miller, and from Coward to Churchill. I find each story needs to be explored in a number of different genres and styles in order to discover the direction that will give it the clear and engaging impact that I always aspire to achieve. 

If there is one overall theme to my work I feel that it is character-driven. I am interested in people and what drives them to do the sometimes astonishing, unpredictable, and downright bizarre things that we see every day in real life.

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?
If I am working on a completely speculative project my process is very random. I can have an idea from something I read or saw or heard for ages before I am inspired to start developing it. 

When it is an internal inspiration that I can emotionally visualize and hear, I can often write quickly and have rough material to develop. In any case, speculative or not, I always turn to others early on for feedback that I find helpful in guiding me to a polished project, ready for work-shopping.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?

The audience’s response is always the acid test to whether or not a playwright has succeeded in telling her story. If the audience is interested and engaged, regardless of their feeling about the material, I feel I have done my job as a writer. 

If it creates a memory and something they leave the theatre discussing or, even better, arguing about, the writer has hit her mark. That having been said, sometimes as a writer you have to stick to what you believe in and what the audience thinks that they want is not always what they will ultimately get!

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?

Why re-write and whose opinion matters in how you re-write?
These are questions my friends and family who are not writers often ask me. I tell them that in the same way you cannot see yourself in the mirror exactly the way others see you, you often don't communicate in writing what you really mean to say in the first, second, or sometimes one hundredth go around (if it gets to a hundred you probably don't really know what it is you want to say).  
It may be tedious, frustrating and time consuming but in the end it is invaluable to listen to others, to filter their comments, and to try to hear your voice from the ‘outside in’ – even though it may be counter-intuitive to the ‘inside-out’ of a writer’s everyday life in front of a keyboard.

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