Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Dramaturgy, Please: Sue MacLaine @ Edfringe

Sue MacLaine Company present
Can I Start Again Please 
Summerhall, Red Lecture Theatre, 
5 – 30 Aug 2.50 – 3.45pm

A duet and duel between spoken language and sign language; blurring the boundary between narrator and interpreter, Can I Start Again Please combines and collides two languages in an attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible – child abuse. 

The poetic script, performed simultaneously in spoken English and sign language, is heightened by the choreographic eye of Olivier nominated choreographer Jonathan Burrows and asks audiences to consider how such painful experiences are understood, communicated and translated. 

Made as a hymn to resilience and in response to the current landscape of revelation and disclosure that has muted the lived experience of survivors, this personal and political piece spars across the heard and the unheard, the spoken and the unspoken and asks what the act of trying to tell really entails.

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

Sue MacLaine: Can I Start Again Please began with an idea.  I was contemplating the idea of what it is possible to overcome within a lifetime.  I was looking at my teeth and wishing I had taken more care of them and the phrase 'can I start again please' came into my mind.  The piece was born from there

Why bring your work to Edinburgh? 
I think of Edinburgh as a trade fair.  It allows me, and my company, to build performance muscle by performing day in and day out and it allows me to showcase the work nationally and internationally. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The visual aesthetic of the work is very 'painterly'.  There are two of us performing the work and even though it is a theatre performance, I describe it as a 'duet'.  We remain seated through the majority of the 55 minutes but there is incredible movement happening because the script is delivered in British Sign Language as well as English and the presentation of these two languages is choreographic.  Audiences feel utter absorption and engagement.  

They are almost hypnotised in by these contrasting languages..the piece is constantly asking the audience 'what is being described here?'.  Audiences have to work hard as the show uses the metaphor of language cognition and processing as the way in to the subject of child abuse.  

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I use the definition of dramaturgy as given my Andre Lepecki in his paper “Rethinking dramaturgy: Errancy and Transformation”.  He says '...dramaturgy is the name one gives to a work's overall aesthetic consistency, solidity and coherence (even if the desired coherence is to be incoherent'.  He also proposes that dramaturgy is more aligned with 'errancy, erring and error' than it is with knowledge and knowing.  I find relevance in this because my own process is one of exacting and relentless dramaturgical investigation and I work right to the wire in terms of having the script ready, because I cannot write until I understand the internal logic of the work..until I have all my ducks in a row, be that an unruly row.  I have to find the form, the necessary and vital form to tell the story and because of that each of my works are different in form, because it is about what the piece needs rather than what I need.

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?
I have a friendship and an informal collaborative relationship with Tim Crouch (he is always on hand to read or look, advise and champion) and he has been influential in my, and many artists, thinking about (my term) 'theatrical artifice' and how does an investigation of what that means or what that contains, assist in elaborating the themes of a work.

I come from a tradition, born in the 1980s of making political theatre and that has stayed with me.  I believe theatre should take audiences emotionally,  psychologically, politically, to places they would not have considered going.  Theatre has to do more than re-represent reality back..theatre should not be a moving version of an anthropological research project.  The writer, choreographer, maker has to meet the material and do something to it, bring a whole new way of looking. 

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 has always begun with a personal psychic disturbance; the pea under the mattress that won't let me be comfortable.  I then want to see if that idea or feeling has resonance beyond my self.  I follow a quite traditional academic approach in the early stages of reading above the subject, reading around the subject and then reading specifically to the subject.  

I look particularly to philosophy (Wittgenstein became central to Can I Start Again Please because of his perspectives on language...I like to find an under-pinning philosophical approach to the subject.  Then I talk to people; people who I think may be potential collaborators and I see what chimes and then I read and think and talk and I wait.  

Waiting is very important, I wait to see what reveals itself from all the reading and thinking and talking. I usually then write a first draft quote quickly and, more often than not, much of that first draft stays because I know where the piece is located: in a traditional theatre space or site-specifically and then I begin to elaborate all of that...writign more, thinking about the visual aesthetic and so on.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
There is a line in Can I Start Again Please which is - “We are co-constructing meaning here tonight” and that is what I absolutely believe is happening and is absolutely vital to be happening. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I worked with choreographer Jonathan Burrows on this piece and he has written a wonderful book called The Choreographers Handbook all about the process of making a work.  It is as relevant to theatre-makers and writers as it is to dancers and he says 'Collaboration is about choosing the right people to work with, and then trusting them'.  

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