Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Dramaturgy Beared: Kitty Myers and Glenn Tillin @ Edfringe 2015

Universal Arts Festival and Quarter Too Ensemble present
Wojtek: The Happy Warrior
New Town Theatre
96 George Street, Venue 7, EH2 3DH
6 – 30 August
12.45 (13.45)

The Happy Warrior has been inspired by the true yet unbelievable story of an Artillery supply unit of the Polish Army Corps who had a very unusual member in their ranks: Private Wojtek (which means 'he who smiles at war' or 'Happy Warrior' in Polish), an orphaned Syrian Brown Bear cub who was adopted by the Polish soldiers whilst stationed in Persia (now Palestine).

Before he ends his days in Edinburgh Zoo, watch Wojtek wrestle, ride in army trucks, set sail for war and aid the fight in the largest land battle in the war, as the company bring a ragtag selection of army issue objects to life. 

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Kitty: Five years ago I read a brief article in the paper about Wojtek and I was inspired to investigate further, I did a quick search and found Aileen Orr’s book, which I bought and read. I absolutely fell in love with Wojtek and told Glenn that we had to make a show telling his story. Sadly the idea gathered dust for a few years and it wasn’t until this spring that Glenn was able to dust it of and use it for the ‘Theatre for Young Audiences’ module he was teaching at Rose Bruford College. As a research and development project it sung promise and we knew that its journey could not end there.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Kitty: A perfect alignment of chance has seen our swift journey to Edinburgh this year, it goes without saying that the festival is the perfect arena to showcase new and developing work but our story was somewhat fatalistic too. The New Town Theatre were seeking shows to perform in this years festival and Glenn saw this advertised and wrote to them on a whim a couple of days before the research project’s only showing…they turned up, not only that but the Artistic director of New Town turned out to be from Poland and had been campaigning for a Statue of Wojtek to be placed in ‘The Prince’s Gardens’ in Edinburgh; needless to say they were very interested in the show. 

This was exciting, the chance to perform for a month in Edinburgh with a show so poignant to the city itself. We would be fools not to go.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Kitty: The audience will witness an ensemble of actors and actor-musicians genuinely enjoying what they do, people who are proud of the work they have created and have a desire to share it with whomever wishes to watch. Wojtek and his comrades’ story has affected every member of the ensemble and we feel it our duty to offer this tantalizing and epic tale of chaos and empathy to all. I would be very surprised if someone who comes to see the show does not have their heart strings tugged!

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Glenn: Because the story we are telling is true, dramaturgy and dramaturlogical thinking has played an essential part in insuring that the arch of the story adheres to the factual events we discovered in research. I felt that because of the subject matter it was important that our work honour the fact as well as the experiences of those involved. But I was also aware that my particular process has  a comic lightness that can be unpredictable in its discoveries. One of the first structural tasks was to layout a factual event line that we could improvise within. 

Then within each of those events it was important to know key actions that took place, which we could then speculate on. This way we hoped to keep the ability to play imaginatively but be confident we had a factual origin for our invention. Then it was a case of probing for what can be heightened or embellished without damaging the integrity of the facts. In order to highlight this we deliver all objective facts 'outside' of the action to allow an imaginary space for the scenes to take place.

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?
Glenn: Peter Brook says the greatest tool in creating theatre is the actor’s imagination and this is something that runs deep in my thinking, couple that with his approach of searching for what objects aesthetically are 'essential' for opening the spectators imagination and these are strong foundations for me. The work of ‘Complicite’ with the ideal of enlisting the spectator to become 'complicite' in your endeavour is influential in my approach and my training as an actor musician and physical performer with a background in Grotowski influences how I require my actors to approach our work. Most importantly my experience in creating work to travel into community spaces - school, community halls, parks, has influenced the kind of theatrical experience I enjoy providing: I love the surprise in an audience that theatre was an act that they took part in rather than something they were subjected to.

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?
Glenn: The most important thing in the process is the commitment of the actors. This should be a total collaboration: I trust them to show me a truthful response to whatever the stimulus, be it story, script or theme and they in turn trust me to give honest observation and, where necessary, channel these responses so they may be perceived by a spectator. They endeavor to be interested and alert to the physical task of rehearsal and in return I promise to do my best to keep our discoveries interesting, surprising, relevant and alive to potential observers. Once this is established, quite often through training together we approach material with an equal responsibility for research and discovery. 

I think it is important that the creating performer experience first hand the stimulus. Together we experiment with 'texture' and 'materials' that seem in some way relevant. We work using structured games; sometimes invented by suggestions we find in the material but avoid 'writing down' results in a permanent way. Gradually we settle on things and the actors are encouraged to create their own 'crib sheet' for their role in the developing piece. That way the work remains flexible and can be recorded in a way that best serves the individual artists involved.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Glenn: I enjoy unconditioned audience members: those who have not 'learnt' the 'correct' way to behave or read theatre. If your work is vibrant interesting and relevant enough it will draw them in and their imaginative investment can be overwhelming.

Kitty: We also strive to ensure that a more experienced theatre-goer can find a fresh experience in our work. I would love to know that audiences walk away from our show feeling like they have been part of the experience; commenting on Wojtek’s journey rather than the actors techniques/ability. We are in essence storytellers and if the story we share remains embedded in our audiences minds to the extent that they pass the story on to someone else, well then I believe we have succeeded.

 Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?

Kitty: I can’t answer that but please come and see the show and we would be more than happy to answer any questions it raises for you.

Through ensemble storytelling, live music and playful physicality they conjure an imagining of events that highlight the nature of friendship and empathy amidst the chaos of war.

Wojtek in his time in Edinburgh Zoo became famous amongst Poles living in Britain. Like his Polish friends, he was a refugee who would never return to his homeland and thus became a symbol to all those who experienced wartime displacement.

This family show is presented by a large storytelling ensemble with live integrated music.

The Quarter Too Ensemble grew from an informal actors’ group sharing practice and training together. Small commissions in fairytale storytelling for Bromley Churchill Theatre’s Creative Learning Department has developed into small-scale touring of work for young people and a growing reputation for theatrical experiences that are immediate, flexible and provocative. One cast member played the role of 'Preacher' in the Medal of Honor the console game.

Wojtek: The Happy Warrior is part of the Universal Arts (Edinburgh) programme of international theatre, music and dance at Fringe 2015. Universal Arts has been programming and producing award-winning Fringe productions for 26 years – HERALD ARCHANGEL AWARD WINNERS 2009 for 20-year track record of top international theatre at the Fringe; “dedicated to quality” Daily Telegraph; “a long record of welcoming quality international work” The List

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