Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Gavin Robertson on Dramaturgy: CRUSOE @ Edfringe 2015

Following 2014’s pastiche of all-things 007, ‘Bond – An Unauthorised Parody’ this year’s show is a gritty, urban world where a Hit-man, a ‘single white male’ and an Alzheimer’s sufferer share their stories and thoughts on being alone - interwoven with the classic ‘Crusoe’ motif AND an exploration of ‘Big Bang Theory’.

This unique cinematic blend of precise movement, physical comedy, text, and bold images, is supported by an original atmospheric soundtrack by composer Danny Bright.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
I began with an idea, a theme. Alongside an artistic challenge which was, simply, to perform on-stage alone. I wanted to push myself in that sense, to face a very real fear of carrying the full weight of a performance without other actors. To discover what style that would take in its presentation.

Having simply accepted that I was going to achieve this, I needed a vehicle. I wanted to find an idea that suited one man alone on stage, a natural subject… and of course ‘Robinson Crusoe’ leapt out at me. However, I didn't want to make a children’s show. I wanted it to be philosophical, thought-provoking, so I enhanced that story by adding three characters and expanding the theme to that of ‘isolation’ both as individual human beings and –ultimately – as a species on a celestial body which is itself, alone in supporting life.
Once those ideas were in place, the ‘Crusoe’ element became a motif, a thematic reference, and that’s all, which freed me to tell the stories of my other characters instead.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
The Edinburgh Fringe is as we all know, the biggest Arts festival in the world. I’m writing this from Washington DC where I’m in their Fringe and it feels tiny and even amateur by comparison. Edinburgh is a trade fair for us to display our wares and hope someone sees value in the work. Yes, I want to emotionally touch audiences and even more so in places I might not usually get to. I’m IN Washington DC because of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe! 

As an artist I get to show a style of work not everyone is used to seeing, and as a person I have experiences and create memories from those travels. They continually feed who I become. Plus I get to be in contact with my peers and colleagues and that sense of being in a community is just lovely – perhaps more so if one is alone on-stage professionally.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I ask a lot of my audiences. It’s not TV and I don’t spoon-feed them. I present information in the form of scenes and ask big questions such as ‘where do we come from?’ I talk about Big Bang Theory and quantum physics, trying to reduce them to human terms in the process. Audiences tell me it makes them ‘thoughtful’ by and large. It’s actually got a lot of humour, some quite dark, in the show, but ultimately I want to transport them away from the seat they’re sitting on, via their concentration and simple visual sense. There’s a lot of physicality in the way I set scenes etc. 

One scene , for example, is seven minutes long where I simply set up a city full of inhabitants, each alone of course – using only movement and original music, so I want to transport them. Someone once told me after a performance it made them feel grateful for the people in their life, which I think is a great comment on the show itself.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I don’t know how to quantify ‘relevence’. All my shows tell a story and to that end I’m deciding on timeline, order of scenes in order to create dramatic flow, highs and lows, and all leading to a resolution ultimately. I think I’m a dramaturge by default. It’s not something I ‘apply’, it simply resonates in the way I think about the production as a whole.

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?
That’s an interesting question. I think now I definitely have my own way of working, processes within that, and a certain style in the way I present the information to the audience. So – specific artists, at least in the beginning, would be ‘Moving Picture Mime Show’ from Lecoq (‘Warhorse’s’ Toby Sedgewick was an original member) although their style of slightly shambolic presentation wasn’t an influence. I’ve always liked precise, chic presentation in my own work. Complicite probably owe MPMS a little something too. David Glass also, in his guise as solo performer, who tackled intriguing subject matter and, as a former dancer, had that movement precision.

The biggest single influence has been film, and the language of film; underscores of sounds and music, edits, long shots, close ups, dissolves, jump cuts, flashbacks. Without doubt that’s where I’d say most of my way of thinking stems from. I always talk ‘film language’ in the rehearsal room and through the devising process.

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 really does vary but in general I’d say I get the whole story first, then it’s a case of ‘feeling’ which scene should come in what order- partly so the audience can join the dots in the way I’m leading them to, and partly so dramatic rhythm exists within the show as a whole. It’s often collaborative; simply fleshing out a plot can be useful in having someone else to bounce ideas with, and certainly in the devising I need an outside eye that can tell me how it’s looking. I use the cut-up idea often too... naming scenes on paper then moving the paper around to see how that affects time-line and/or information that the audience will need to follow the narrative.
I always write the words myself too. I relish the control… words, design and images. I see everything as a kind of artistic salad, and I enjoy fooling around with the ingredients!

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
I like them to be active, not passive. I deliberately don’t give every nub of information to them all the time like a TV show. I want them to focus, to engage and to think- to interpret what they’re being given. Obviously I hope I’m drawing them to a conclusion we all share but there’s room along the way sometimes for different opinions even within the narrative. 

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

I’d only say that for me, I can’t simply separate dramaturgy from the other elements of the creative process. I’ll be working on a scene say, and simultaneously have the lighting design in my mind, along with some idea of the words a character is saying OR- and this is pertinent- often the dramaturgy is actually purely movement. I don’t use movement like a dancer, it’s not abstract, it’s mime and rhythm, and perhaps even moving objects around, so it’s not a distinct ‘thing’, it’s a part of the whole that’s in my head at any given moment…

Robertson's past self-penned Fringe successes include ‘Thunderbirds F.A.B.', (which has now had six West End seasons) ‘Spittoon’, ‘Fantastical Voyage’, ‘Space Panorama’, ‘The Six-Sided Man’, and official sell-out ‘2011: A Space Oddity’. Other Fringe appearances include the all-star comics’ version of ’12 Angry Men’ with Bill Bailey, and the incident-driven ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ with Christian Slater, both at Assembly, prior to its two West End runs.

“This is essentially a dark work with touches of black humour. Robertson’s virtuosity as a performer makes this piece a delight to watch.”
Fringe Journal

Robertson has so far performed CRUSOE in Eire, the USA, Australia and the UK… and, aptly, on a cruise ship in Italian waters!

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