Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Gross Dramaturgy: Matty Gray @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe

What inspired Grossed Out Game Show: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

Matty Gray: The inspiration for Grossed Out Game Show came from a number of places but ultimately it came from a desire to create a theatre show for kids that they could really participate in and become invested in. 

Rather than just a few audience members being chosen to be lucky volunteers we wanted to create a show where every single person had a role to play in the show they were watching. Everything else grew from that single aim.

Why bring it to Edinburgh? This is our second year coming to Edinburgh. When we came last year it was partly curiosity to see how I would compare in such a massive field of talented performers and partly just to fulfil a life goal of taking part in the Edinburgh Fringe one day. This year my aims are a little more specific. 

I’m very proud of the format that my wife and I have created in Grossed Out Game Show. I think it is a format that has potential to be taken further, possibly in terms of further tours or maybe in the direction of television development. Unfortunately the opportunities for further developing a project like this for kids is very limited in Australia. The market at home is much smaller, largely because the population it serves is so much smaller and spread out. 

Edinburgh Fringe is where I think this show has the best chance to be seen by a wider industry, whether that leads to anything or not, we will have to wait and see. I will say that the UK has an amazing reputation for developing some incredibly well made programming for young viewers so if I could pick anywhere in the world to work more it would be there. Regardless of those aims, I had the time of my life last year with the Scottish audiences and I am genuinely excited about performing this show for them this year.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
To borrow some words from a 6 year old who reviewed the show for a parenting website, I hope most audiences think the show is “weird, cool and awesome!” (Jagger Leith for KidSize Living). The show is chaotic and crazy. The stage is full of colour and movement from start to finish, with a slight emphasis on the colour green. 

From the minute the audience enters they are given a sense that anything could happen as two character wordlessly interact with the audience as they sit and wait for the main event to start. From there the show evolves using the entire theatre with action regularly coming out into the seating and happening quite literally in the kids’ faces at times. 

The audience are encouraged to cheer, boo and throw things, behaviours that they are generally stopped from doing in most traditional theatre shows. I hope our audiences find it uplifting and liberating to be able to indulge in this strange game show. What I particularly like about this show is watching as parents seem to experience these same emotions and it becomes an event that parents and kids can truly enjoy together.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
In this particular production it would be hard to identify any specific area where dramaturgy consciously shapes the show. As the show is a game show there isn’t really a political, social, historical context to be aware of (other than the present) nor are there themes that need to be highlighted. 

While the show does have characters, as my wife and I largely work together in developing our productions we generally argue on behalf of our own characters as ideas are bandied back and forth. That said, in some of our other shows dramaturgy does play its role.

In Game On, a solo show which will also be at Edinburgh this year (at the Free Sisters), I do incorporate more dramaturgy. When writing the show I spent a large amount of time researching video games, their history and the industry around them. As I primarily work on shows that I write for myself to produce and perform then dramaturgy really filters itself throughout the development process. 

Decisions based on the historical and theme contexts are more conscious during the writing process but are still present when making the transition from script to stage.

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’m mostly influenced by comedians. I see what I do as largely stand-up comedy for children with elements of clowning. I’m often drawn to performers who have come from the Philippe Gaulier school of clowning, the blending of character clowning and audience interaction. My early influences where definitely British comedies. My mother moved from England to Australia when she was quite young and so at a young age I was introduced to the work of Rik Mayall, Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, Lenny Henry, Dawn French, the Monty Python boys and other great comedians who made it to Australian screens in the 80s. 

This probably started that love for a strong sense of character that is larger than life. Their ability to say anything, to seem to exist outside the rules of social politeness. As much as anything my motivation behind my work is to foster an early love for live performance, like I had as a child. I like to think that if I’ve done my job then my audiences will one day grow up to be the punters at local comedy rooms and stage shows watching the performers that I love as an adult.

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?Most of my shows begin with a single concept. Usually it starts with either my wife or I saying “what if…” and waiting to see what the reaction is. If the idea catches us the project grows. Once we have an idea we both like it generally gets talked over until a core sketch, or idea, or structure is built around it. At that point the idea is usually shelved and left to simmer in our brains. At any time we usually have four or five ideas on the waiting list. Those ideas stay there while we slowly collect bits and pieces of inspiration, a bit like a bowerbird slowly finding pretty things to dress its nest. 

Then at some point Kat and I will be driving together (usually on tour) and we will talk and drive and write. A good eight hour drive between states will generally get 90% of a first draft written. Once we have a first draft we try to book a run of test performances, usually three or four. The script will get tweaked in the lead up to the test shows and then performed in that format. We generally then leave the show for at least a month, again tweaking and working ideas while focusing on other work. 

We often find that this break is important, a bit of distance from the initial burst of inspiration and adrenalin of first performances, that is often where we find the clarity to refine our concepts.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?When writing for my stage shows the relationship I have with my audience is everything. When performing for children you MUST engage them. Technology has evolved to the point where people have the ability to access and interact with their entertainment in more ways than ever in history and children have a unique perspective where this has always been their reality. We can access information and entertainment anywhere and play games that are increasingly sophisticated. 

But for all that advancement the one area that these technologies can’t approach is the theatre’s ability to create an experience. I strive to create shows where a show isn’t just watched and heard but it’s felt, smelt and (on rare occasions) even tasted. My audience is always kept aware that they are here with me and this story is being told for them. 

Another aspect of the audience relationship is in the nature of
comedy. The very talented Tim Ferguson (of Doug Anthony All Stars fame) has a theory that the human instinct to laugh is tied to our fear reactions. When the brain encounters something it doesn’t easily understand straight away it prepares to fight or flight and tenses ready for action. When understanding registers that tension can be released in the form of laughter. 

This is an idea I like and largely agree with. It’s why word play is funny, why people acting outside social conformities makes us laugh and why there is nothing more universally hilarious than a public fart. The trick with children is walking that fine line between funny and scary while staying within the realms of their world experience. With all that in mind, creating a relationship with my audience where they know that the story could literally touch them at any moment is invaluable.

If you can engage a child, have them invest in your performance and make them laugh with you, you know they are listening to everything you say.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Talking about dramaturgy in connection to comedy, particularly stand-up comedy, is an interesting conundrum. I do ultimately view what I do as a form of stand-up comedy, just for a slightly different audience. Dramaturgy looks to maintain truth in a performance, either as a factual truth or consistency in a fictional truth. 

Stand-up comedy, or at least good stand-up comedy, should look to find truth too… however it seems to do it in a way that shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. What’s more, stand-up comedy is a largely solitary pursuit, or in my case the limited scope of two minds as I write with Kat, which can create a myopic view of what truth is. 

But then we take our work out to the world and allow our interactions with various audiences to shape and evolve the content of our work, making it possible to lose sight of our original truth but potentially finding a broader, larger truth. Not sure if this is at all relevant or just the ramblings of a tired clown up way past his bed time but the idea is intriguing.

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