Monday, 13 July 2015

Joan, Babs & Dramaturgy too: Gemski @ Edfringe 2015

Joan, Babs & Shelagh too
By and with


​Zoo Southside (venue 82) 7/31 August (not 19) 14.55
​Joan Littlewood: brilliant, maverick, rude, a revolutionary and a visionary. Agree? 

Or did you just say ‘who’? 

Talk to the UK theatrical intelligentsia and they will harp on about her. 

Talk to the average theatre goer and I’ll bet you a pint s/he won’t know her name. 

Would you walk 130 miles trying to get to Liverpool to sail to the States because you absolutely hate the upper-class accent taught at RADA? 

Could you cram in the same life being married to Ewan McColl, occasionally sleeping in hedgerows and being banned by BBC for being a communist? 

What do you know of the Edinburgh Festival fringe of the very early years? 

‘In her heyday, she helped to change the face of British theatre’ said her obituary in The Guardian 

What now? 

In JOAN, BABS and SHELAGH too Barbara Windsor dives back into Joan's turbulent relationships within Theatre Workshop, from Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey to Oh! What a Lovely War. A one-woman show by the very talented Gemskii! on a glorious and ground- breaking period in the history of British Theatre. ​

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

Seven years ago Ken Campbell said of Gemskii 'You are the reincarnation of Joan Littlewood, utterly brilliant and no-one likes you!' It took her a further seven years to begin because she went away to work on her likeability. This is Joan's centenary year and so now being likeable and the reincarnation of Joan the timing is perfect to mount a Joan show.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh? Edinburgh is a theatre showcase and the perfect deadline for debuting work. The centenary year of Joan is important and also that she is an unsung hero of theatre. I would say she has contributed as much as Shakespeare and even though alive recently she is largely unknown by the audience she so greatly influences.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?They will know her life story, and gain an insight into her theatrical legacy. It's a one woman show and I use the stage fully as well as keeping Joan's style alive by the addition of a few episodic vignettes. I think the audience will be surprised at how vast her influence on theatre is.
The Dramaturgy QuestionsHow would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
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?
This is a Joan show done Joan's way. The project started in October with research and the beginnings of searching for an angle and a story to tell. Research is continuous because the story has changed several times.
In January several months of Laban training took place and a group was formed to impro scenarios. 8 weeks ago I started working alone and started doing lots of creative writing. 

I have done some lengthy impros - I was Barbara Windsor in London's Pride procession and stayed in role for several hours. I spent several hours in Joan’s old flat in Blackheath and a photographer was present.

The look of the production has only just begun. It started with 5 weeks left until Edinburgh and, as Joan advocated, it starts with a knowledge of the story and by creating a pattern on the stage.
This pattern was learned.

After several sessions of breathing in the pattern and walking it through, ideas for the text were suggested, bullet points-like 'here there will be a circle of players and each person will have one sentence said about them’ or ‘on the table will be 5 food items that were commonly rationed’

Gently the structure has been fleshed out.

Around this fluid narrative structure, there are three vignettes: a shadow performance of Joan and Jimmy Millers meeting, a soldier drilling to Joan's stage advice and I am hoping to use some animation at the end of a part to show how Joan was disappointed by theatre and left it. These 'acts' are in keeping with Joan's desire for episodic work that has pace, gags and doffs its cap at music hall. The performance contains songs, folk and original as well.

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.
This has been the most frightening experience of my life. I started working on this in October because I wanted to be truly ready for the fringe festival. Little did I know that Joan was determined for me to do it her way.

I have had support from East 15 acting school, the school formed by one of Joan's original ensemble to carry on her training methods. With 6 actors and a director we initially explored the relationships between the various characters and improvised several scenes. Sara Henderson conducted several Laban sessions. Sarah was Joan's Laban woman (Jean Newlove's protégée).

In the latter stage, Andrew St John has helped with the floor pattern setting and skeletoning the structure. He will also serve as an outside eye to check the piece's progress during the remaining time till the show goes up.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I want the audience to understand and remember Joan Littlewood. This desire for their comprehension has formed the narrative structure and the content. Joan was keen on direct address and there is plenty of that in Joan, Babs & Shelagh too. The audience also form parts of scenes; they are chickens in one and rally members in another. The show is entirely about the audience and their understanding and enjoyment is the most crucial thing.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I'm still learning good dramaturgy practice and I feel with this production that I will come out the other end a much better artist.

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