Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Dramaturgy from Nowhere: Whitney Mosery @ Edfinge 2015

Girl from Nowhere
Texas, 1969, is bursting with vibes of peace, love and rock 'n' roll, but disgraced hell-raising rock singer Jeannie Hogan is dragged back to the home she thought she’d outgrown.  Where does a sweet Southern girl go if she doesn't want to be a sweet Southern girl? 

 Jeannie fights for her right to be recognised
by the rock musicians who accept her body but reject her voice. Girl from Nowhere stares straight at the collateral damage of a life led in search of a legacy. This breath-taking new play is directed by Whitney Mosery (King Charles III and American Psycho (Associate director, Almeida), The Bonapartes (ANT Fest 2015, NYC)).  

Pleasance Courtyard (That) from 5th August at 12.45pm.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
It all began with Jeannie – the central character and narrator of our story.  She is so vibrant, so electric, so unlike any character, male or female, I have ever encountered.  Funny and sharp and petulant and insightful and vulnerable and mean and brave.  Every choice I’ve made for this production has been inspired by this powerhouse of a woman.  What would Jeannie do?  Certainly not what’s expected of her.  So why should we?

Then there’s the music of Jeannie’s world – blues, soul, rock.  All of life captured in a wail and a riff.  That rhythm and way of engaging an audience heavily influenced the performance style of the piece.  Direct, honest, uncensored, uninhibited.  

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Despite the sensory overload, Edinburgh has always been the perfect home for small productions that want to make big statements.  The potential scope of Girl From Nowhere is enormous: it’s a deeply personal story set against a seismic shift in society and culture, engaging with socio-political issues that are as present and problematic now as they were in the 1960s. 

As an audience member, I want to feel like I can fall into the world of a play, and then fall back out into my own world, with a new found way of looking at it.  At Edinburgh, you can do this hundreds of times in the span of just a few days.  Why wouldn’t you bring a show into that kind of environment?

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I hope each person sees a part of themselves in Jeannie.  Her struggle is ours: to find meaning in randomness; to craft some sort of linear narrative out of life’s ecstatic and painful journey; and finally, to leave behind something of our best selves.  

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Hugely relevant, especially when I’m working with a writer to develop a new play.  It’s thrilling, like exploring a newly discovered continent.  What are its rules, and when can we break them?  Who populates this brave new world, and when and how do we meet them?  Does a guide lead us, or are we on our own?  Are we following a trail, or blazing a new one? 

And then, on a textual level: How is the story constructed?  How does content inspire form and function? What’s the social, political, historical, and artistic context of the piece, and how is the text bringing that out?  In what ways are we fitting into a tradition, and in what ways do we want to break free from convention?  

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?
One way or another, I’m always drawing on my fascination with myth and storytelling.  Girl From Nowhere’s interplay of past and present owes so much to Hesiod and Homer.  Jeannie’s intense need to leave behind a record of her life has a perfect mate in the Viking war songs.  She stands on the shoulders of Gilgamesh and the many “hero(es) with a thousand faces”, sharing with them the single-minded pursuit of a lasting legacy even at the expense of relationships and responsibilities.  

There’s also a brilliant contemporary tradition of one-person shows that use the immediacy and “liveness” of theatre to play with narrative and memory, time and place, reality and illusion. Krapp’s Last Tape, I Am My Own Wife, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch – three remarkably different examples – have each has taught me something invaluable about storytelling and dramatic tension: how to contend with the physical and emotional impact of the past while holding onto the reins of the narrative in the present. 

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?
It’s hard to say, as I like to allow the idiosyncrasies of each project to inspire process. But there are definitely two constants: collaboration and healthy debate.  I thrive off disagreement.  I want to know how and why you see things differently than I do.  To me, that’s the whole point of making and seeing theatre.  To gain insight into someone else’s experience of the world and compare it to your own.  

What I found most fruitful in this process was a rigorous investigation into the relationship between the fiction Victoria has created and the real people and events that inspired it.  Before rehearsals started, Victoria and I travelled to Austin to feel the air, meet the people, hear their stories (and their accents).  We saw incredible live performances of as-yet-undiscovered artists, onstage in the same historic venues where the great musicians of the 60s made their names.  In the rehearsal room, we shared what it’s been like for us as female artists, how our gender does or does not effect our work or its reception, how we react if and when we hit that glass ceiling.   All of that real-life material then got filtered through the lens of the play and its characters, adding a crucial foundation of truth to Jeannie’s experience of the world.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
Crucial.  “Making the meaning” is a great way to put it.  By telling this particular story in this particular way, we’re saying something about how we view the world.  We’re saying, “Something was happening in this time and place that you, right now, might relate to.”  But what we as creators find moving or significant may not be what the audience takes away from the play.  It’s up to them to decide what meaning, if any, they might derive from what they’ve experienced.  How exciting is that?! 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Collaborating with a writer on the development of a new play also means helping to decide when to stop “developing” – and that can be incredibly difficult.  How do you know when a fix is textual, structural, dramaturgical, or performative?  How do you know when it’s one fix too many?  How do you know when to let go?

I guess the answer is that you never really know… you just have to trust the material, and trust your collaborators.  That’s pretty wonderful, when you think about it. 

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