Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Half-Formed Dramaturgy- Annie Ryan @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Annie Ryan: This project began with reading the extraordinary novel, A Girl is A Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. I was sitting bolt upright at four in the morning, breathless. In shock basically. I thought: My God , it's performable.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
My company, The Corn Exchange, has performed at the Fringe on and off for the last fifteen years of so. We played Michael West's A Play on Two Chairs in 1998 in the Assembly Rooms. And since then, have played in Traverse with Michael West's Foley, Dublin By Lamplight, Freefall and Man of Valour. Delighted to be back.

We have always had a brilliant run in Edinburgh, and it's been an excellent platform to send the work further afield.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
This piece is based on an incredibly moving, even harrowing, novel. It is not an easy experience for the audience. There is a good deal of trauma in the story, but it utterly electrifying, both in the deeply original language of the prose and dialogue and in the incredible performance by Aoife Duffin. The production holds her and the story with great care.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I'm a director, and in this case the adapter too, so the dramaturgical role is rolled up between the two other roles. I guess I would see a dramaturgy as having something to do with the context within which a play might happen. 

This is a novel about a particularly Irish place and time and, at the same time, tells a universal story about growing up, surviving abuse, trying to make sense of a deprived and messed up world. I feel as Artistic Director of The Corn Exchange, my job to programme the work involves many dramaturgical questions about why this piece, what relevance it may have, etc. 

My own artistic intention as a director has a rather strong dramaturgical element in that I want the work to have a deep connection to people's lives. At the moment, my main audience is in Ireland, so I am looking to make work – through both found material and original work – that will resonate with them first, and hopefully, to a wider international audience.

Adapting this novel was a fascinating challenge partly because in the experience of reading the novel, the reader is the girl. You are inside of her head, so you experience her world very viscerally. We witness the play though an actor – very good actor – and also, crucially, as a group. I would see the dramaturgy in this case very close to both the adaptor and the directorial roles, where, ideally, the content and style of the writing is somehow matched with the feeling and style of the production.

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?
Many different artists and writers have influenced this piece – Beckett in particular. I knew at the outset that the setting should be a sparse, empty and rather abstract world. The piece is reminiscent of Beckett's Not I and also Marina Carr's Portia Coughlan. Eimear McBride herself was hugely influenced by Joyce's Ulysses. Other artists that influenced the production in different ways include PJ Harvey and Marina Abramovic.

The company's work is largely influenced by a cocktail of physical theatre techniques and styles including the work of Ariane Mnouchkine, Anne Bogart, Ivo Van Hove, Peter Brook, Christian Schiaretti, Simon McBurney, Michael Keegan-Dolan, Joyce Piven, among others. The heart of the work is about full embodiment of the moment. And for that reason, various practices from the yoga traditions have embedded themselves in the company's 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?
Each project has begun in different ways. This one landed on the kitchen table. Other projects were instigated by actors in the company. 

I hope the common denominator is something to do with either responding to something happening in the world or an endeavour to instigate something in the world. Each project has stretched the boundaries of the form in different ways too – either by discovering new ways to transform space or blending particular techniques.

These days I always start the work with a gentle yoga practice, followed by voice work and then I teach ensemble improvisation games and techniques that become the physical vocabulary for the staging. 

This is a one person show, so we adapted a few techniques that
became useful as a foundation for the framing and embodiment. I work very collaboratively with the cast and the team of designers. Usually the text is the last element to get nailed down, but this time we needed to solidify it as early as possible, as it was such a difficult thing to learn and remember. The process for A Girl was as much about taking great care of Aoife as it was about taking care of the piece, i.e. finding the right cuts and designing the production.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The whole point is that the work is for the audience. All the work is carefully designed to create an experience for them, a moment-to-moment unfolding of action. Of course, each person may hold the work or react to it differently, but the intention is for the whole production to be like an empty channel for energy to move from the heart of the material into them.

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