Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Rebecca Monks gives Dramaturgy a good scouring

From Peacetime Productions comes this new one man play about the true value of life, and the lengths we go to when protecting the ones we love. It is an exciting piece of new writing from author and journalist, Rebecca Monks, performed by actor Joshua Considine.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
It began with an idea, or more specifically a memory, and the need for catharsis. The play follows the story of an individual’s reaction to the news that both he and his girlfriend are HIV positive. Her reaction is to live life as well as she can; his is to shut himself away and ensure that he never gets sick again. 

This is loosely based on my own experience. When I was 20, I
Joshua, yesterday
found myself in a situation where there was a strong possibility I had contracted HIV. For an accurate result, you have to wait three months, and my reaction during that time was to close myself off from the world. I kept myself in a bubble, and it wasn’t healthy. In the end, the result was negative, but the experience marked me. 

It left me so much more cautious, anxious and afraid of new experiences. The way the protagonist encounters the disease in the play is entirely different to the way I did, but in every other way our experiences were similar. I found that plotting his development and exploring those feelings again through my writing was necessary, useful and, to some extent, therapeutic.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?I have been a part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in one way or another for the past seven years, and during that time I have taken on a variety of roles, from my early days holding the spotlight in the Pleasance Grand, to my current job as a writer and reviewer. 

It’s been a long-running ambition of mine to see my own play put on at the festival, because there’s nowhere else quite like the Fringe: it’s a place to experiment with new work, to be as creative as you can and to immerse yourself in a world of like-minded performers, audience members and critics. 

Josh (the sole performer in our one-man show) and I both felt like this was the right time to take this play to the festival, as we had a story to tell and a message to share, and Edinburgh is the place to do that in August. It’s full of people who are there to listen.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
This is a difficult question, as I can only say how I hope the audience would react. In my opinion, you can never really state how an audience can expect to react to a piece of theatre - it’s the immediacy and intimacy of the moments on stage that creates honest audience reactions. 

Rebecca, today
Any anticipation of that would, to my mind, render it less effective.

That being said, I would hope that the audience would feel appreciative, empathetic and at times, uncomfortable. There are moments in there designed to shock, but that’s because life too can be shocking.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Being a one-man show, it would have been very easy for this work to have become a reading of an experience - more storytelling than theatre. It was my job as a writer, and Josh’s job as the performer to ensure that this work developed into a structured performance, rather than a series of short stories and monologues.

Dramaturgy was relevant to this piece as it shaped the written work into a dramatic composition, and connected the performer physically to the words I had written. Our motto is ‘show, don’t tell’, and we found ourselves remembering that as we were working on the way we expressed the language - always trying to ensure it was suited for the stage.

As a result, throughout the process of the show’s creation, we were constantly aware of a need to represent dramatic elements, be it through Josh’s physicality, through my own adaptation of the words, or by using further theatrical elements, such as lighting and sound to bring meaning to the play.

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?
I am going to focus here on a playwright that has inspired me: Mark Ravenhill. His play, Pool No Water, removed the ‘he said, she said’ tradition of script writing: the prose was free-flowing and unhindered by inter-character dialogue. He presented simple words, assigned to no characters or ultra-specific situations, and left the rest to be interpreted.

Josh and I performed Pool No Water together several years ago, and the concept stuck with me ever since: plays don’t have to be linear. They can be works of prose that the performer brings to life through theatricality. 

As I mentioned earlier, I presented Josh with a free-flowing length of writing that we adapted for the stage as a company. Ravenhill’s play worked because it allowed the performers to bring out of the prose what they saw in it, and to adapt it how they felt fit - in many ways, that’s how this play works for us.

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?
For this play, it began with me writing the opening monologue, and Josh and I discussing our immediate reactions to it. Without thinking about it in depth, we asked ourselves: how do we imagine this being performed, and why? 

It’s an interesting method, as it explores our instinctive reaction to a play's themes. As a point of reference, we said we can imagine the opening monologue being performed in a bath tub. That’s not the direction we went in, but we did draw on those themes of vulnerability and cleanliness, and they were included in our final staging of the play.

Josh and I collaborated in a loose sense throughout the process - I kept him up to speed on the writing, he discussed staging ideas with me. But we kept our boundaries, meaning that neither of us could suggest changes to the others’ area (mine being writing, his being performing) until we both had fully-formed ideas of the directions we wanted to take. 

It’s important to get an initial sense of where you want to go alone before you take advice or suggestions from somebody else.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
My meaning and the audience’s meaning are two different things. My meaning is to get across a message, a story, a sentiment. Theirs is to appreciate that message, story or sentiment (or, just as likely, to not appreciate it).

As I touched on before, an audience’s reaction is also singular, intimate and immediate - so two people sitting next to each other may find different meaning in the same work - but as a performer the meaning is the same: to get across your message.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
What would the role of dramaturgy be if you were staging a play about the role of dramaturgy? (That one’s for you, Gareth)

Thanks for the cheeky suggestion, Monks. 

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