Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Invisible Dramaturgy: Lowri Jenkins and Jennifer Fletcher @ Edfringe 2015

The Fringe

Invisible City/La Ciudad Invisible
Lowri Jenkins 
Jennifer Fletcher (choreography)
and Mat Martin (music)
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object
Lowri: In the very very very beginning this project began with a piece of writing about big cities and the sense of longing and anonymity you get, especially that particular kind of loneliness that comes after you've brought a huge amount of expectation and excitement to a new place and new people. 

I'd been living in London for a few years but I'd also recently been to New York and Madrid for work/training and I remember noticing the same thing: how strange it is that millions and millions of people can live so close together and ignore each other at the same time. And how that can make you both lonely and a little hallucinatory. 
You're new to a place, you want to make friends, to access these people you see all around you, but when you're in the city, or in the tube everyone seems to avoid each you start imagining or inventing things instead. I started to write from that point and it turned into the initial script.

Jen: I came on-board initially to integrate some movement into the piece and ended up directing the show and collaborating more thoroughly with Lowri and Mat Martin (composer). Personally I was inspired by the character central to this story of loneliness and longing, and how common it is to be lonely in a city. I was also inspired by the opportunity to collaborate across disciplines with people from a different background to myself. The surreal encounters with lemons has been a lot of fun, and continues to inspire me as the show develops.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Jen: After 2 years of sporadic development we've finally got the show into it's most concrete state to date. It's feels like the right time to go all out, get it seen by as many people as possible, see how it can develop over a long run, work towards booking a national tour next year at a place where lots of potential programmers can see it. Edinburgh Fringe is a great place to be. The fact that almost everyone there has worked their arse off to get their work to the fringe is an inspiring environment to soak up. Nothing is taken for granted and it reminds me to jump in and go after the things you want.

Lowri: Yep, what Jen said!! We've put a lot of time and effort and heart and soul into this production and we think that Edinburgh is a great chance to share it with a lot of people, in a relatively short space of time. On an artistic level I'm also really excited to be able to do the show 20-odd times in a row, which will allow us to really figure out what this thing is - they say that you only really know what kind of piece you have once you have done it 20 times. Being up in Edinburgh, in such an intense and lively environment is going to help us discover the essence of Invisible City. It's a show where the audience is really important and this is going to really let us explore that element of the show. Also I'm going to find out just how fit I am!!!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of
your production?Jen: I think they can expect to identify with a lot of the emotions that come up in the show. The experience is like finally sharing those embarrassing moments that usually take place when on your own, and there's no one there to laugh with you. There's something really enjoyable about sharing moments of embarrassment, it's stressful but also a relief. 

Although it involves humour, it's also sad, dark and quite uncomfortable in parts. Marie (our central character) goes to places you don't really want her to. It's a tale of surreal encounters and coping mechanisms. 

The movement, score and set come together in a way I hope provokes empathy and reflection.

Lowri: Because I'm performing the piece, and its quite an emotional for me too on stage, I'm not sure if I can say....I agree with Jen, the show is very comical and so at first it brings a sense of relief, a kind of release because Marie goes through lots of silly, common moments of awkwardness, and they're funny and a bit weird and cute. 

But then she keeps going, and it's here that the show takes a turn I think the audience won't necessarily I also think the show can provoke a sense of discomfort and even concern, when you realise that Marie isn't stopping at the 'normal' edges of awkwardness and putting yourself out there.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Jen: I would say dramaturgy is key to our process with Invisible City. A lot of the content comes back to human observation so we have to get it right if we want people to identify. I'd describe dramaturgy as a layer that usually comes in a bit later in the creation period, but when it does it takes priority, and pulls everything else together.

Lo: I'm a writer as well as a performer and whenever I've worked as a dramaturg or writer for other companies, the real dramaturgical work has taken place when the show is on its feet and already has an existence physically, in the studio. 

It's been the same with Invisible City - the first draft was very instinctive, and in many ways not so different from what we have now - but since then I would say that a lot of Jen and my collaboration has been finding a dramaturgical voice and logic for the piece, which has taken this almost episodic raw material, with text bits and movement bits and sound bits, and found a way to present them as one integrated whole.

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?
Jen: I trained as a dancer and work mainly as a Choreographer/Movement director so my knowledge on theatre traditions and influential methods is limited. However I feel my approach to theatre is much more free because of this in some ways, with dance I'm held back slightly by comparisons etc. I'm inspired a lot by artists who have managed to take their art/ideas into other arenas in performance, for example the New Art Club have managed to take their work to theatres that have probably never housed dance before because it doesn't look like what you'd expect from dance. 

But you can see the link in the way they create, it's all made from a dance perspective but also a human perspective. Giving people a way in. 

As a dancer myself, I rarely enjoy watching it (I think I've seen too much bad stuff), however people like Vincent Dance Theatre and H2 dance have influenced my practice a lot. I'm much more likely to go and see theatre or music for inspiration. I find it quite hard to see where the work I make fits in to any tradition but maybe that's because I'm still working out what it is!

Lo: Jen is from a dance background but is more inspired by theatre, and I'm from a theatre background but I often find more inspiration or room to imagine in dance! 

I mean, seeing Pina Bausch made me change the way I thought about theatre and dance. So we meet somewhere in the middle! A lot of my training has been in world theatre or contemporary theatre practice that places the body and the work of the actor at the heart of the process. My college Theatre Arts teacher Dave was actually the first person who really opened my eyes to what theatre can be, introducing us to Grotowski, Barba, LeCoq, kabuki. 

One of the biggest influences in my career as a maker was when I
discovered SITI Company and began training in Suzuki and Viewpoints with them. through this training I've realised just how deep, and untapped, the potential is for the actor to create from inside themselves - and the diverse people I met through sharing and working on those techniques has put me in touch with people who have shown me that theatre never starts and ends with text, something I think we still suffer from in the UK. 

I was really galvanised by Hofesh Shechter the first time I saw his work, because I think it was both very theatrical and extremely sensual - a kind of dramaturgy of feelings - and a dramaturgy of feelings is kind of how I try to write and perform. I don't believe much in psychology or interiority, I prefer actions and a sense of intimacy and togetherness with the audience.

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?
Jen: I work constantly with impossible tasks. When a performer has something practical to achieve it takes their mind away from performance and delivers a more honest picture - in my opinion. That will usually allow the perfomer to develop a character or physicality that is most natural to them, therefore more convincing.

However I also like to challenge myself and others to go against their instincts - impossible. There's a lot of collaboration involved in everything I do, it always seems crucial in my experience. I enjoy responding to others and I'm not sure how good I'd be on my own - I'd get board!! Luckily I have Lowri Jenkins to keep me on my toes!

Lo: I believe that all communication - and all theatre - is about trying to take something sensual and intangible inside of you - a feeling, an idea, intuition - and send it to someone else, in the hope that some of that feeling, or intuition might magically be passed from you into them through the words or the actions or the sound or images. So my work always begins from there: whats the sensation inside me and what's my relationship with the audience: how do I communicate with them and also with myself?

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Jen: I feel like we're sharing something, so I don't like pretending they're not there. I watch people's reactions constantly during a show to see if I can gauge how it's making them feel - bit weird. It's very important to me to try and learn how close my understanding of what's going on is compared to theirs. 

I like people to feel their going through a journey with the show rather than watching through a window. Which I think we've managed to achieve with Invisible City.

Lo: For me, there's no theatre without an audience. Theatre is precious because it can only happen with real human presence, with a live sharing of time and space. Our show is made every night, in collaboration with the audience. I think people still need, and crave, this kind of communion, this particular kind of conversation that's held between a performer and an audience. 

What's more, Invisible City is all about loneliness and craving company, and I love the fact that we're making a show about isolation in an art form which is incredibly social and sociable. In a way, the kind of young loneliness we're talking about is a social issue - it's something we all have in common but go through alone. So I love that in Invisible City we get to go through some of it together! Also as an actor there are few greater pleasures than actually being able to look your audience in the eye...

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Jen: For me I'm still learning all the time and my approach changes and evolves regularly, so it's a subject I could talk about for days! But there's nothing specific.

Lo: Nothing off the top of my head, but I'd say that these questions have provoked me into really considering my own feelings and I've learned a lot about myself and Jen, so thank you! I'll keep thinking and let you know if there's anything that comes into my mind.

Next performances:

22nd & 23 July 2015 Camden People's Theatre
29th July 2015 Venue 13, Bute Theatre, Cardiff

8th - 29th August 2015, Venue 13

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