Monday, 15 June 2015

A Dramaturgical Diva: Fine Mess @ Edfringe 2015

Divas puts the spotlight on class in relationships, highlighting the choices Damien makes in order to fit into Adam’s middle class and affluent world. Similarly, the play examines Adam’s narcissism in responding so positively to Damien’s attempts to ingratiate himself. 

Divas pairs a pathological liar with a narcissist and examines the, by turns, chaotic, melodramatic and sweetly touching way that their relationship pans out.

Interview with Joel Samuels the playwright of
Fine Mess Theatre’s production of Divas, winner of the Les Enfants Terribles Award 2015.

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

I was inspired at the Fringe last year. I had just seen Confirmation by Chris Thorpe and, strangely, for all the brilliant ideas and politics in that show, it was the use of the microphone that sent me back to our flat and scurrying for my laptop.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
For a company like ours this is the opportunity to be seen and to generate future life for our work. It is an artistic playground that also acts as a complete leveler. 

A venue manager, tour booker or normal punter could see a production at the Traverse, with their massive budgets, space and tech teams. They could then walk straight out of that show into Divas, where the opposite of all those aspects rings true. What is nice – and unique – about Edinburgh is that these two productions are seen as having the same artistic value.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Frustrated, annoyed, divided, moved, baffled, excited and pissed off. If we do it right.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
We haven’t worked with a named dramaturg on Divas. However, many people have helped to take my initial idea – there are two microphones onstage, one person starts at the end of the narrative, the other starts at the beginning, they meet in the middle and there is a chorus – they have taken that idea and made it work theatrically. 

The workshop director, the scratch director, the production director, the musical director and the performers (three of whom have lived with the development of this piece for almost a year) have all served as dramaturgs for the work. They had to really when the only stage direction in the script is “the Band sing.”

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?

Divas is new writing, and a part of that tradition in the sense that it exists as a play-text that has been staged; but the actual influences are varied. As I mentioned, Chris Thorpe served as a weird influence. 

So too did the likes of Daniel Kitson and Duncan MacMillan, particularly in the way that they tell stories. The films The Last Five Years, Sliding Doors and Gone Girl have all contributed to the narrative structure and the music of The Supremes, The Ronettes, The Marvellettes, Dusty Springfield, Dolly Parton and Cher was vital in creating the characters and the chorus. So lots going on really.

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 start with a first draft and get some mates round with cups of tea and cake and we read that. Then I redraft. Sometimes twice. Then we scratch a bit of it. Then redraft. Then R&D. Then redraft. Then rehearse, preview, redraft, preview and, finally, premiere!

It takes a while and there are a lot of collaborators along the way. With Divas different directors worked on the scratch, the R&D and then the performance and that has given the production a sense of depth as a result of many minds working together toward the final production.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Without the audience there is no play. And when it comes to meaning, it is the audience that tells you what the play means. Whatever they take away is the meaning, regardless of what my initial intentions were in the writing. This is probably even truer when dealing with direct address (which 90% of Divas is).  Direct address implies a conversation between the characters and the audience. What we are trying to do with this play, however, is fracture that audience-character relationship through the revelations that you hear as the piece goes on…

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Not really. I would say though, from my perspective, that it would have been really reductive for us to have one person, even if they happened to be an expert in 60s and 70s pop music, gay theatre, complex narrative structures, the use of microphones in theatre etc, for that person to have been the conduit between my writing and the director. Instead, it has taken a lot of different brains, knowledge, ideas and influences to get to this stage. And that is much, much more satisfying and exciting.

“They’ve earned a spot right at the top of my list of my personal list of must-sees.” Richard Stamp, Fringe Guru, on Fine Mess Theatre’s2014 debut The Common Land
“A genuinely thrilling and affecting piece of theatre that we're excited to be housing at the fringe this year.” Matthew Dwyer, Pleasance Theatre Programmer and part of the Judging Panel for the Les Enfants Terribles Award 2015
Divas was nominated for the Charlie Hartill Theatre Fund Award 2015 and is the winner of the Les Enfants Terribles Award 2015, awarded to one Edinburgh-bound play that has shown great artistic potential.

Fine Mess Theatre are presenting two world premières at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. Divas sister play, Islands, runs at the Iron Belly, Underbelly, 6th August to 30th August at 12.10pm.

Ice buckets, Tough Mudders and Fifty Shades violently collide in this sharply funny and unblinking examination of a modern relationship. Islands takes on the new generation of wealthy elite demanding to have it all, and unwilling to admit defeat.

Islands will preview in London

Where: Pleasance Theatre Islington

When: 21st & 22nd July, 7.30pm

Tickets: £5

020 7609 1800

Islands will go on to premiere at Edinburgh Fringe in August:

Where: Underbelly, Iron Belly

Previews: 6th August to 30th August at 12.10pm (Previews 6th and 7th, no show on the 18th)
Tickets: £6-10.50

08445 458252

About Fine Mess Theatre
Fine Mess Theatre are a new writing and adaptation company formed in 2013 by Kyle Ross and Joel Samuels. Kyle and Joel met in Brighton whilst studying at the University of Sussex where they worked together as actors, directors, producers and writers on over fifteen productions. 

They formed the company in 2013 and as co-Artistic Directors went on to write and/or act in both the company's first two shows: The Common Land and God's Own Country in 2014. After working with them on both the above shows, the company has expanded to include Associate Producer Rosie Clark and Associate Director Anthony Lau. Other recent collaborators include designer James Turner, lighting designer Matthew Leventhall, sound designers Adam Janota-Bzowski and Angus Macrae and the band The Melodic. 

They have also worked extensively with photographer and videographer Emil Charlaff. The company also run a new writing night in London - Bites and Scratches.

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