Monday, 29 June 2015

Pride and Dramaturgy: Penny Ashton @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Penny Ashton: I am in an improv troupe, back in 2008 we were invited to an Improv festival and I had always been drawn to Jane Austen. Especially in parody. 

So we devised an Improvised Musical in the style of Austen (Austen Found) and it went incredibly well. We toured it to the Adelaide Fringe in 2010 and it sold out. BUT touring 5 people is $$ so I decided to take all the ideas we had improvised over 50 or so shows and write a solo play. 

 I wanted to include numerous Austen quotes throughout for authenticity and I knew I wanted to bring in aspects of Austen’s life herself and make it feminist. I didn’t want to just adapt one of her stories as I had seen the new stories we made every night in the improv show were satisfying to her fans who also want to be surprised and see new ideas in an Austen sense. Also it didn't require you to know her stories for the numerous (often male) partners who came to see the show and were still entertained. 

I knew I wanted it to be a musical with well known classical pieces with words added and then I knew the title before anything else. I then had a workshop to nut out the characters and the story. Then I wrote it.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?This show has gone incredibly well in Canada, NZ and Australia. I applied to numerous London theatres last year when I did the Jane Austen Festival in Bath and found people really focus on Edinburgh critical response to decide if something is good to programme. A bit frustrating to be honest. 
This show has gone really well in Canada, NZ and Australia. I applied to numerous London theatres last year when I did the Jane Austen Festival in Bath to try and get some spots but found people really focus on Edinburgh critical response to decide if something is good to programme.
I got offered a 9.30 slot at the Leicester Square Theatre which was marvellous, but I thought it maybe a bit late so decided to hit Edinburgh, hopefully get a good response there (HOPEFULLY!) then maybe try to tour it further.
People seem to love this show (happily, YAY thank god) so I want to take it to as many of them as possible. North America also loves Austen so I hope to get some North American producers who are in town to come and see it.
Also despite it being the hardest work I ever did ten and eleven years ago, and it being a money pit, and it being a shit fight, and it making me cry quite a lot, there really is nothing like it anywhere in the world. Adelaide Fringe is close, but there’s really nothing like Edinburgh in August. And I will be in a house with numerous very good friends and my best friend/fiance who is performing at his first Edinburgh. As life experiences go, it’s not too shabby. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?They will see an extremely silly musical that has a strong feminist thread throughout. They will see nine characters portrayed by a forty one year old Kiwi chick. They generally love to hate two characters in particular, identify with one significantly and care about three quite deeply. 

They can expect to leave feeling happy, my best review ever I think is from an audience member last year; “Show’s like yours add spice to life.” Mic drop, my work here is done. They will think on how far woman have come, and how far they haven’t come and the ridiculous bullshit women had to put up with. They will hear a LOT of balls jokes. There’s also a lot of pop culture references for those people who don’t know anything about Austen to enjoy. And if a fan they can delight in spotting all the references from her life and books, of which there are loads.

The Dramaturgy Questions

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

For this show I would say I owe the structure, style and narrative etc. To Jane Austen. I see dramaturgy as the shaping of the story and for this I had a strong template in Austen. 

Character establishment, hopes dreams established, usually including seemingly perfect men, problems arise and in dealing with them true characters shine through and happy ending. The narrative is linear, things are explained through letters that happen elsewhere and the world is actually very small. 

The music is both embellishment and also story advancement. Songs come at those heightened moments, love, loss, happiness to emphasise the key moments further.

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?
Uhhhhh Ms Jane Austen ;) And parody. Historical fiction/period comedy.

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 don’t think I could ever just sit down and write a play. I am an improviser AND an actor and Comedienne, and playing with the characters first to make the story is the only way I can work. I contemplated the story then just thought, I have no fucking idea and booked my always director Ben Crowder. 

 He’s a fabulous deviser, John Bolton (Lecoq) type. We brainstormed each of the characters and the story line. I got another of my Austen improv cast in to discuss story and Austen’s type of developments. We did HUGE amounts of research with the improv show. 

 You have to be fully immersed in the world to be able to pluck any aspect of it from the air in improv, so I knew about the coaches, the food, the dress etc. already which was a huge advantage. After the week of workshops I went away for a number of months and wrote the show. Then came back to rehearse it and presented it.

So the dramaturgy for me was the story arc plotting and making it satisfying. Ensuring the stakes were raised at this point to make this action justifiable at this point. It’s a musical so verisimilitude aren’t paramount, but just as with Jurassic park you don't want people going “WAIT a minute that would never happen.” Despite the fact it’s dinosaurs so it will never bloody happen, you suspend disbelief due to being convinced through the character and the premises. Obviously theatre is entirely possible without that, but I wanted believable characters like Ms Austen.

Also something I can keep working on is the concept of not telegraphing everything from the beginning, having some surprises and reveals. I have improvised hundreds of shows and in those you have to telegraph everything from the outset so everyone else on stage knows what the hell you’re on about. 

 This was my first play so realising I can drip feed some stuff was cool. Also realsing that in knowing the basic tenets of improv, I know how to write a story. We do an exercise when you tell a full story in 4 lines of dialogue. Stuff like that was very useful though I didn’t know it at the time I suspect.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
As a comedienne the audience is everything to me. I make works that entertain people, hopefully making them think as well, but also entertaining them and hopefully emotionally affecting them. People have cried in this show which is AWESOME. 

 I also break the fourth wall quite a bit and get an audience member onstage so they are very important as a love interest for one of the characters :) Again that “add spice to life” comment is what I aim for. People talk to me on the way out and the smiles and laughter I see in them is very cool. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?In a nutshell, I come up with a concept, I workshop the characters and the story arc and then I write. A narrative that jumps about in time would be a challenge for my next piece.

No comments :

Post a Comment