Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Boxing up Dramaturgy: Noel Byrne @ Edfringe 2015

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object? 
Noel Byrne: As with all of our productions we began with a story that interested and excited us. We read a wide variety of authors and when we came across Manalive! there was something about it that immediately grabbed our attention. We were looking for something that would have a different feel to our previous shows. So we began with the text of the novel and started writing our adaptation from there.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
I first came to the Edinburgh Fringe when I was sixteen, and I've visited and performed every year since then. From an artistic standpoint it's an incredible melting pot, a fantastic opportunity to see all kinds of work from all over the world, broadening your horizons and providing a huge amount of energy and inspiration. 

For our company it provides a platform to get our work seen by people who might not otherwise have the chance, both professional and public. Reviewers, promoters, bookers, new audience, like-minded companies and artists – for a small company like us, despite the vast scale and competition of the Fringe these days, it's still a great chance to connect with these people and have them notice our work.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
When we started work on Manalive! we had a very clear objective in terms of audience response – we wanted to leave them with a big smile on their faces, a life-affirming, uplifting, feel good movie glow. 

We wanted them to experience the same slow realisation throughout the story as we had when reading the novel, and to walk out with a positive spring in their step. Judging by audience responses so far, I'd like to think we've been reasonably successful on that front. 

On a more cerebral level Manalive! is a very interesting story, very open to allegorical interpretation and absolutely as relevant today as it would originally have been, so hopefully it provides a little food for thought. 

Technically, there are only two performers in the show and everything is hand-made, so I hope audiences will enjoy the beautiful props and puppets, and be impressed by the puppetry and ingenuity of the work.

The Dramaturgy Questions

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

That's a tricky question, partly because the definition of dramaturgy
seems to depend on who you ask and where you are. Also, as I'm sure is the case with many small companies like us, our roles are necessarily very broad and take in a lot of different aspects of production. 

We write the adaptations, we build the puppets, we design the show and create the performance, and I guess there are elements of dramaturgy in every one of those jobs, even if we don't consciously separate them. 

If you're an artist working for yourself in a small company then you just make sure that what needs to be done gets done. We worked with a director and a composer on both of the shows we have at the Fringe this year, but otherwise we fill all roles. 

So, is dramaturgy relevant to our work? Of course, just as design or quality of performance is, but it's work that just gets done as part and parcel of our process, without someone specifically assigned to the role of dramaturg.

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?
The source material – play, novel, short story – obviously has a defining impact on each of our shows, and we try to maintain some sense of the authorial voice and style in the performance. 

As a street performer, I can also say that the inventiveness and practicality of that world has been a big influence. I don't think you can do the sort of work we do without mentioning Jim Henson, whose contribution to puppetry and the mainstream perception of it was immense. 

Antonia's dad is Harry Christophers, founder and conductor of The Sixteen choir and orchestra, and he is an inspiration and a great source of advice as someone who has built an internationally recognised and respected company from scratch. 

Otherwise, we love to watch all kinds of work. Being at the Fringe always provides a fresh wave of inspiration, with an incredible variety to choose from.

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?
Currently the work we've made for the theatre includes one Shakepeare play and four adaptations of classic British novels or short stories. So we read a lot. 

We start with the story we want to tell, and we try to identify what it is that we like about it, why it appeals to us, what makes it effective. Then we discuss how we can communicate that to the audience, what we want them to experience. 

In those initial stages we try not to let ourselves be limited by reality – what we can afford, what is physically possible – we just let our imaginations run wild. Then we start work on the adaptation, writing the script, while also having discussions about the look and design of the show, and talking to the composer about our initial ideas for the music. 

Once we're relatively happy with all that, we start the build – creating all the puppets, props, costumes and set items that we think we'll need. 

Finally, we go into rehearsals. Throughout our process we try to make sure we're not married to anything though, no matter how long it may have taken to build or invent – if it doesn't work, if it doesn't make the show better for having it, there's nothing we won't lose or change, even at the latest stages. 

Our work is collaborative every step of the way and in every area. Although we've grown to recognise our individual strengths and weaknesses, we still place a huge value on each others feedback and input.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Live performance, at least for us, involves a unique experience. In my experience every performance really is different, even if only slightly, for both audience and performer. That exact experience and interaction only exists for the duration of that performance, and is only shared by the people in that room. 

Different audiences can react very differently to the same show, and sometimes that can even lead the performer to discover something entirely new in the work. Ultimately as the creator of a piece of work you can never really know what someone else will take away from it or how it will affect them, and that response can even change how you see it yourself. 

All of our shows are constantly evolving and developing, but I don't think we'd even consider a show to be 'completed' until it has been performed in front of a real audience at least a few times. Whatever our intentions, I don't think we can begin to fully understand the meaning of a piece of work until we've shared it with an audience.

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