Monday, 13 July 2015

Confessing to Dramaturgy: Tramp @ Edfringe 2015

 Tennessee Williams
C Venues (C cubed - venue 50) 6/31 Aug (not 17) at 17.05

Wonder what the result would have been if Tennessee Williams had written the best episode ever of East Enders….wonder no more
Share a drink with a group of shameless lowlifes and watch their lives implode. 

This innovative, immersive production reimagines Tennessee Williams's play in a British seaside bar, frequented by life's flotsam and jetsam. Join the regulars over the course of a furious and fun evening, as a pair of strangers enters their world and all hell breaks loose. Written in 1970, Confessional features Williams's first openly gay character and arguably his most sympathetic female character: needy beautician, Leona. This is a rare opportunity to experience the writing of a literary giant in a raw, immersive state.

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Jack Silver, director and actor (Tramps Company): Confessional was a script I had come across at drama school when studying American playwrights. I absolutely fell in love with Tennessee Williams and I started using one of Monk's monologues in auditions, initially with an American accent, but then when I switched it to cockney it really seemed to work. That's where I got the idea the play might work really well restaged in contemporary Britain, and making it immersive added and extra dimension.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Ah, to Fringe or not to Fringe….It's the biggest performance festival in the world. It's a chance to get our work seen by people from all over the world and by the cream of our industry. Also, I lived in Scotland for 4 years so Edinburgh has a personal meaning to me too.

It's a brilliant play and we want the world to see it.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Confessional is like getting to sit in the middle of an episode of EastEnders, except it's the best one ever written as Tennessee Williams is the playwright.

They can expect to be on edge, to laugh, cry, to be uncomfortable, shocked, and possibly drunk.

The audience will get to sit among some beautiful, but broken misfits as their lives collapse around them.

The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Obviously, with a pre-existing play, we're limited in that we can't make changes to the text. However, we are really exploring the symbolism of the play, there are a lot of beautiful religious and ocean metaphors within the text and we've been exploring those. It's more of a metaphorical and visual dramaturgy than a traditional literal one.

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?
My major influence as a director is always the text. The writer gives you everything you need to know. The clues are all there.

Other than that, the three biggest influences on me are Mamet, Meisner, and .. especially when it comes to immersive shows .. video games.

Mamet's simplicity of thinking and his no bullshit approach really appeals to me. His view on the supremacy of the audience is spot on.

I'm very lucky to have trained in Meinser with Scott Williams of The Impulse Company. Scott trained with Sandford Meisner in the 60s, and, even more excitingly, he actually worked with Tennessee, as his Assistant Director in the 70s.

As actors we can't cure diseases or build spacecraft. But we can give the audience an amazing experience that brings them into the moment and allows then to forget the pain of yesterday and the anxiety about what tomorrow brings. Meisner and Mamet both feed into that vision. It's the gift we can give as actors, to bring people into the moment. A moment of calm in the storm.

Modern video games are incredibly successful at bringing people into the moment, and at mixing narrative and interaction. If you're playing Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty you can spend hours in that world, and forget how crappy or dull your real life might be. That's the appeal and that's something I think we as theatre makers can learn 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?
I want to create an instinctive reaction in the audience.

You know when you're on a tube or in a dark alley and there's some dodgy guy you can't quite keep your eyes off because you're not quite sure if he's going to stab you? That's what I want people to feel in Confessional.

It's a pub where things feel a bit unsafe... so your instinct should kick in and you have to stay engaged. It's about the behaviour, not the intonation of the words. As Meisner said, an ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words.

It depends in the piece. With Confessional, we've been exploring space and character through Meisner, Michael Chekhov, and physical theatre work. To me, the exploration process is about freeing actors from setting their performance, and ensuring that they're listening and that they are truly in the moment. If the actors don't know what to expect the audience can't possibly. And that keeps things edgy.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The audience is the judge. If they get something out of the experience, we're happy. That can be enlightenment, entertainment, or anything else. If they're happy.

Also, with a semi-immersive play, we have no fourth wall so the audience in the bar with the characters .. drinking. That brings a whole other level to the audience interaction. Some night, they might sit and respectfully watch a Tennessee Williams, the following night they may come in, get drunk and rowdy. As actors it means the cast can't "set" their performance as it's bound to be very different every night.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Does the piece make sense to a contemporary audience, and does the dialogue make sense in a modern British tongue?

One of the things I love with this play is that the language really works in modern Britain. I don't think that'd be true of every Tennessee play. Plays like A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie have the landscape as a character. Streetcar in Manchester simply wouldn't work - New Orleans is implicit in the cast list. But Confessional somehow really, really works. The themes are modern and universal, the language sounds effortless in a modern British tongue. 

I think that's partly down to the influence of American TV like Friends. I suspect in 1970 when Tennessee write it, the words wouldn't have sounded right here but today it really works. The themes are so universal, live, loss, death, failure, and homophobia. The play features Williams' first openly gay character, which in itself makes it really noteworthy.

At first, Confessional seems like a well-written bar room drama and that's why it works so well in the UK in the modern day. But actually it's so much more than that. The symbolism and use of metaphor is brilliant and poignant, and I actually think it's a hugely underrated

About Tramp
Tramp is a new production company that aims to put actors at the forefront of the creative process in film and theatre, and to build quirky, interesting worlds which invite the audience into the moment.
Confessional is Tramp’s fourth production. The company has previously produced a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe, [BEAT], which received great reviews.  “(BEAT) is what a show at the Fringe should be. 9/10 – Dark Chat.”  Tramp has two films in post-production, Hipsters, Gangsters, and Effed-up A-listers (feature pilot), and Two Lifetimes (short).  

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