Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Dramaturgy Hitches A Ride: Ben Norris @ Edfringe 2015


                                                     The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Ben Norris: It began firmly with an idea (my lack of connection with my dad) and an impulse (to explore that (lack of) connection by going on a hitchhike through his past). I wrote 20-ish minutes worth of material prior to going on the hitchhike, which was largely introductory context to my relationship with my dad. So between the initial idea/impulse and this 'opening' 20 minutes, if you will, the full project took flight: I went on the hitchhike, wrote a full draft (incorporating that initial bit of text), rehearsed it and scratched it.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
On a personal and professional level, this show is immensely important to me; it's hugely autobiographical and explores ideas that I was thinking about long before I was able to articulate and explore them as an artist, and creatively it's a great validation to be able to combine the various strands of my practice - writer, actor, and spoken-word artist. Given how much it means to me, and - I hope - its thematic universality, naturally I want to perform it to as many people as possible. Edinburgh is the biggest arts festival on earth. It's also the right size and scale for the fringe, so I hope it'll be a good fit!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
They'll see a young man flinging himself around a stage in desperate search of his dad, and himself. Literally spilling the debris/memorabilia of their relationship all over the floor.
They'll feel, I hope, amused, and moved, and inspired to question.
I want them to examine their own relationships with their parents, other family members, friends...anyone who they are, or have been, or may one day be, close to...anyone they feel the should be closer to.

I want them to think about masculinity, and the men especially to examine themselves and their relationship to their own feelings, and articulating those feelings.

I want them to leave wanting to ring somebody and (re)make a contact that may have been lost, or weakened over time.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
 I think, in the synthesis of genre that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Family embodies, dramaturgy plays a fairly vital role. Or, perhaps more accurately, given that genre is something we often artificially impose on work after the event - which isn't necessarily helpful during the creative process - dramaturgy serves to untangle anything that might become tangled by looking at the piece as one simple coherent whole, consisting of many strands, rather than a clusterfuck of different and conflicting ideas or approaches. 

I think, generically, we're looking to create something new and different without that being the principal thing towards which we're striving (simply telling the story in the most appropriate way, whatever that needs), so dramaturgy helps to situate us within a dramatic/theatrical tradition without bogging us down in any kind of obligation to that tradition.

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 principal components of this work are theatre and spoken-word. It is long-form narrative performance poetry with interactive projections and physical theatre and acting elements (although that's not going on the flyer!). So I suppose I'd consider Kate Tempest and Polarbear to be loose generic influences in the tradition of narrative spoken-word; story-telling that flows in and out of poetry and prose. 

Many other poets, storytellers, and even some songwriters, have had a more direct influence on my style and content, but Tempest and Polarbear are useful generic precedents. 

My principal physical theatre influences are probably DV8 and Frantic Assembly, although Hitchhiker's contains only modest nods towards their work. DV8's verbatim gay rights play, To Be Straight With You, also contained some phenomenal interaction with projection; I've seen too great a wealth of fantastic digital theatre shows to mention all of them here, but this one sprung to mind.
I don't really see myself in one particular tradition, however. 

I think I quite deliberately want to straddle numerous traditions. Really, as we always ought to, I'm just making a collage of things I like that becomes, I hope, something new and interesting.

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 is no set process. Certainly not at the moment, so early in my career, but I don't imagine there ever will be. I rather hope there won't actually, otherwise I think the work, like the process, might start to seem a little formulaic if produced with sausage-factory-esque parameters. It has usually started with a script of some kind, written by me in isolation, but that's changing now, especially since I trained as an actor and explored more non-verbal work and improvisation.

There's certainly an enormous amount of collaboration involved. I think good collaboration is fantastically fruitful, and all the collaborators bettered from practising it, not only the work itself. It's no accident that TV drama is in such a purple patch, because so much of it is collaboratively written, intricately plotted, rarely flawed, and the voices distinctive. Having so many elements in my piece means that collaboration is particularly essential, and particularly fruitful, working as I am with film (edited/animated by Paul McHale), text and movement (directed by Polly Tisdall, who also works in a dramaturgical capacity), and lights (designed by Joe Price).

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
They are everything. Why else do we make work if not to perform it for people? The question is not so much 'if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?' but 'if a tree falls in a forest, and no ones is there to hear or be in some way affected by the fall of that tree, does it MATTER?'. And the answer is no. If I perform a play on my own in a room, it might have the makings of a great play, might still make a sound, but it doesn't mean anything at all because no one's heard it. It never is truly a great play until it's heard.

I don't think one should think too precisely or prescriptively about who their audience might be (unless working on a very specific commission) - this is particularly true for Edinburgh when it's anyone and everyone wandering in to your show - but one should think about an audience. Why are you telling them this story? How do you want them to change? What do you want them to learn, or ask, or doubt? et c., ad infinitum! These are questions I ask myself at the beginning of a process, and consistently throughout.

No comments :

Post a Comment