Saturday, 20 June 2015

Opera Mouse Talks Dramaturgy (Melanie Gall @ Edfringe 2015)

The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Actually, it began with a puppet. 

Melanie Gall: I was performing a show about the early life of Edith Piaf in Vancouver, Canada. Next door to the theatre was a store selling puppets. And I declared to the other artists that if my show sold out, I was going to walk right into that puppet store and purchase a puppet. Because sometimes a girl just needs a puppet.

The show sold out. I got my puppet. Two years later: Opera Mouse!

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Over the past few years, I've performed Opera Mouse in Canada, the USA, in Europe, Algeria and Morocco. And I've realized that opera music has a universality that isn't seen in many musical genres. Even children in a Moroccan orphanage who had never before seen a woman sing or heard classical music became involved with the dialogue and the action. 

I feel this show will translate very well to a UK audience, and presenting it in Edinburgh seemed the logical choice.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?

The audience can expect to see a mouse singing puppet singing opera. They can also expect to get up and have their own chance to sing (if they'd like). They will feel all the many varied emotional states one goes through, getting to watch a mouse puppet realize her dream of becoming an opera star. On stage.

But seriously, it's a sweet, friendly show, with enough classical music to keep the parents happy, and enough participation and puppets to keep the children engaged.

The Dramaturgy Questions

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

Dramaturgy was very relevant throughout the development of this piece. Although I am a seasoned performer, I had not presented a show for a young audience before, and I was surprised to learn that it is quite different. 

 Erik DeWaal, a veteran children's performer, dramaturged my original script, suggesting changes that would make it more relevant and more relatable for children. With theatre for young audience, a lot of the script development is about repetition , and reinforcing ideas. 

 Also, kids react in unexpected ways, and the narrative needs to be somewhat fluid, so that the performer won't be thrown off by interruptions.

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?

This is an opera-themed show, and so definitely the operatic

tradition is a major influence. Beverly Sills was always a particularly accessible opera performer - her appearances even included The Muppet Show - and she brought opera to people who were less familiar with the genre. 

I am hoping to do the same thing, and I do see myself as carrying on the tradition of making opera something that people from all backgrounds can love and understand.

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?

This was partially answered in question #1. But to expand on the response: The script began with the story I wanted to tell. Then I added opera arias that fit with the story. 

 Then I worked through the script with the dramaturg, to ensure it would resonate for an audience of children. There was very close collaboration with Erik DeWaal, and we worked together both long-distance (he is based in South Africa and I'm in Canada), as well as in person, prior to the opening of the show.

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

The target audience for this show consists of children. And their role is, simply, to be kids. For example, I don't expect them to sit silently for the duration of the show. Kids have questions, and sometimes those questions can't wait. It's all right for them to be silly, or to sit on the floor instead of a proper seat. 

 In Opera Mouse there is a lot of audience participation, and it's always a delight when the kids are eager to get up and participate. When the audience is energetic and enthusiastic, the meaning of the work is a lot easier to communicate.

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