Monday, 15 June 2015

Rhum and Clay Get Dramaturgical! Chris Harrisson @ Edfringe 2015

Chris Harrisson of Rhum and Clay discusses his attitude towards dramaturgy...

The Fringe

GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Chris Harrisson: It’s an adaptation of a novella by Stefan Zweig called The Royal Game (or sometimes Chess), and also contains elements of his autobiography, The World of Yesterday. The show actually started life as being about child prodigies, the research of which led us to chess, which led us to the book. There’s a whole lot of ideas swirling around, extensions of the initial inspiration, as well as the narrative and themes of the story itself. 

We kept coming back to the text as a base for everything, but in many ways it’s a jumping off point for quite a loose adaptation. This approach is not totally dissimilar from what we’ve used for devising other shows (such as photographs); it feels more an adaptation of the ‘feel’ of the book than the literal story (though that is recognisably in there too!)

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?

The festival still remains the best platform to show our work. We tour for much of the rest of the year and a huge part of getting our shows into regional theatres is for them to see and trust what we make. 

As most of the programmers for those venues are in Edinburgh for the Fringe, it makes sense for us to be here too. Being at the Fringe also opens us up to meeting other companies and artists who we might collaborate with in the future and, on a personal level, it’s a good opportunity to ‘recharge’ and see some brilliant, inspiring stuff.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The company’s ethos is rooted in being accessible. That is, although we might explore complicated themes, or present things in ways that are unusual, the purpose is always, first and foremost, to be engaging to a broad audience. 

The show’s physically and visually playful, and we have a fantastic live score from a drummer. It’s also quite moving, with the central character looking back and trying to make sense of his life from his tattered, fractured memories. 

He’s split into four (three actors and a drummer), which makes things interesting, for both performers and audience. There’s something so profoundly moving about Zweig’s story and his life that we’d love for audiences to leave with an idea of him and the grief of losing a part of oneself, a grief that he experienced and articulated with such force.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Dramaturgy is not something we’ve used in any official way as a company- we’ve never employed a dramaturg- but it strikes me that most devising companies fulfill that function themselves. 

It’s in a similar way to how we are frequently the writer, director, designer etc. on a project, as well as performers. That said, we do sometimes bring people in to fulfill those roles, or take on a sole responsibility, such as director. We are constantly trying to marry form and content and contextualise the research we’ve done, the source material and the story. 

One thing we’ve frequently done is show our work to audiences while it’s still being created. This fulfills a few basic dramaturgical functions, chief among which: does it make sense?

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 training we had at Lecoq has heavily influenced the way we make work. A large part of that is a sense of play, a ludic quality to creating and exploring themes that can result in unexpected stagings and narratives. 

Photo Credit: ©Richard Lecoq
We are also quite influenced by cinema- one of the great things abut making work that is very ‘theatrical’, or ‘physical’ (read into those terms what you will), is that you are not constrained by naturalistic settings and can explore action that takes place on a broader scale, in multiple locations.

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?
There’s no set method that we use to go about things. Our work is entirely collaborative; anyone that is in the room, be they producer, designer, performer, director etc. has a say in the creation of the piece. 

As that mixture varies from project to project, the techniques and methods we use inevitably change as well. However, we always begin physically in the space, with improvisation. 

This can sometimes be a naturalistic scene between two characters, or a more abstract exploration of movement. In fact, it’s safest for us not to have a defined system in place for how to do things. Once that breaks down, it can be quite hard to find inspiration again. 

The process in general though is quite simple: create as much material as possible, throw away the stuff that doesn’t work, refine what you have and create more material, throw away what doesn’t work and repeat. Within this remit, we allow the voices and personalities in the room to guide the creation.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
As I mentioned earlier, we frequently show our work in progress to small audiences. In many ways, the feedback they give doesn’t matter; you know as soon as you do something for an audience whether they get it or not and what really doesn’t work. This extends past the research and development period too. 

Our work is continually evolving and we have an understanding that once in front of an audience, new things will be discovered, by performers and spectators alike. We make our shows for an audience, which seems obvious, but one can feel watching some theatre that it is fantastically inward-looking, with no interest in the people who have come to see it. They are fundamental.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Perhaps a more detailed question about the relationship between form and content? The idea comes first and from that, the form. So we might want to make a show about children and then we have to pick a style of performance to represent them. 

For a previous show when we did this, the performance style was very influenced by non-verbal clown and slapstick. In a process of devising work that is visually based, the form can then start to shape the narrative. For example, in 64 SQUARES, we began with telling the story from the novella. 

This brought us into ensemble and chorus-style storytelling, with all the performers playing the protagonist. We then moved away from the text and began to explore memory and identity, broadening the narrative to encompass a lot more than is in the original text. This is completely as a result of a stylistic choice.

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