Monday, 20 July 2015

Electing for Dramaturgy: Jeffrey Puukka @ Edfringe 2015

Credit: Charles King

Written by David Adjmi
Performed by Helena de Crespo
Directed by Jeffrey Puukka

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object? 
Jeffrey Puukka: My participation began because of the actor.  

Helena de Crespo approached me during spring of 2014.  She told me about Elective Affinities, explained her ambitions for Edinburgh, and asked if I would be her director.  

Is directing a solo show especially tough?
Parts are actually easier, in my opinion.  There’s only one actor, so automatically potential questions about actor-to-actor rapport are eliminated.  There’s only one actor moving around the acting space, so staging is comparatively easy.  On the other hand, a single actor means only one voice.  So, keeping the pace alive, changing, and re-charging has probably been the most unique evolving challenge.  And, I suppose the requirement is that the director be interested in acting, or what actors do while they’re acting.  So much is focused on the performer.  

What can the audience expect to see and feel – or even think – of your production?
The audience is an active, participating presence.  They become the second character; they’re Alice’s guests, they’re in Alice’s house, they’re served tea.  David Adjmi’s script begins with a kind of gossip flavor.  Alice is telling a story about a sculpture she’s commissioned.  

Helena and I worked from the premise that this gathering was intended as an unveiling of that sculpture.  At some point, the audience would presumably get up and follow Alice to where the sculpture is.  That is never fulfilled because the conversation goes astray.  Adjmi’s play is very sly that way.  What starts as a chatty little gathering over tea turns into ranting advocacy of torture—the Post 9/11 ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ sort of torture. 

There’s something surprising and disorienting about that.  What individual playgoers respond to or take away with them is unknowable, but something like surprise or baffled amusement is always part of my experience watching it.

The Dramaturgy Questions

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?
The play begs to be performed in a house.  So, our rehearsal structure was to run through the text once a week at my home.  The whole process of the project has been very relaxed, for me.  There weren’t endless details to consider like there can be for large productions with many components.  

My part of the collaboration was really just to be a support figure for Helena, to help her sharpen what she’s trying to do.  That has been a joy.  She has a very acute sense for timing.  From day one, she was able to open up this very intricate, very sly play so it felt conversational.  That was a wonderful place to begin.  Additionally, we’ve had four site-specific performances at private homes so far.  Each home and homeowner has collaborated in unique and surprising ways.   

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
This question is tricky because of the word ‘meaning’.     

This production of Elective Affinities is offered in support of SAVE WORLD ART, a charity that empowers artists.  SWA’s largest project at the moment is in Cambodia; helping build a performance and residential campus for a Bassac Opera troupe whose lives were scarred by the Khmer Rouge.  The pairing of Elective Affinities and the work of SAVE WORLD ART is like a game of contrasts:    

In Elective Affinities, we see the character Alice Hauptman; very glamorous, charming, and rather funny.  Still, she is perhaps too wealthy for her own good.  She lives in a kind of isolation.  She is not confronted by ordinary people or any real kind of suffering; that makes her out of touch.  Alice is also rather frightening; casually spouting hateful intolerance with a sweet face.

In gearing up for The Fringe, I’ve initiated discussions after each performance to gather feedback.  “Do you know anyone like Alice?” I always ask; the answer is always ‘yes’, and that ‘yes’ always slips out with a tone of concern.

The role of the audience is to watch the play and enjoy it however much they do.  The work will have ‘meaning’ if the audience can watch the play with a mind for the context that brought it to Edinburgh.  There is a cyclical, ‘history repeating itself’ characteristic about the world.  For instance, after the Holocaust, people said “Never again”.  

Then recently at the 20 year observance of the Srebrenica massacre, people said “Never again” again.  These sorts of conflicts repeat, and they gain momentum from mindsets like that of Alice, the character in the play.  The audience is the middle ground between the contrasting extremes of Alice’s intolerance, and SAVE WORLD ART’S humanitarian work.  

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