Monday, 20 July 2015

Little Shop of Dramaturgy: EUSOG @ Edfringe 2015

Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group


Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken
Based on the film by Roger Corman, Screenplay by Charles Griffith Originally produced by the WPA Theatre (Kyle Renick, Producing Director)

Following last year's sell-out, five-star Fringe production of Avenue Q, EUSOG (the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group), an Edinburgh favourite, returns for the group’s 21st year at the Fringe with the deliciously dark, cult comedy Little Shop of Horrors.

Nerdy florist Seymour encounters a strange and interesting plant, which brings him fame, fortune and romance. However, it’s not long before he’s bitten off more than he can chew, as the plant unveils its insatiable thirst for blood. Can he beat the odds, rescue the love of his life and save the world?

Leaving the audience with a newfound fear of plants, this quirky, witty visual feast is a must-see at this year’s Fringe!

The Student (Avenue Q – Fringe 2014)

The EUSOG team deliver a vibrant, triumph of a show - ★★★★ All Edinburgh Theatre (Avenue Q – Fringe 2014)

Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group (EUSOG)
Paradise in Augustine’s (Venue 152), 41 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EL
Dates: August 17-30 at 21:15 (not 23)| £12.00 (£10.00)

R: Rae Glasman – Director
E: Ewan McAdam – Assistant Director
Z: Zoe Mason – Producer

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
R: Well, with a stand-up show for example the piece would be entirely original, whereas ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is a piece that was already written. 

E: This piece began as a B-movie, and then became a musical film,
which then was transformed into a stage play. I really wanted to put this on at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe because it is without a doubt the best place for it – a funny cult classic seems to go down well at the Fringe. Every time I listen to the soundtrack I’m wowed by it, and when I listen to the cast even more so.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh? 
R: We were/are students in the city of Edinburgh – we’re lucky as theatrical students here as the Edinburgh Fringe is an excellent platform to get new ideas out there, and because we’re from here we’re familiar with the layout of the Fringe. It’s a great opportunity for us as an amateur group to get the type of audience that we might not otherwise get in other parts of the country. Also at Fringe anything goes – you can be as experimental as you want at the Fringe – there’s so much choice that sometimes its better to be daring because then you’ll stand out more!

E: EUSOG [Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group] puts on fantastic shows throughout the entire year, and therefore it seems so natural for us to show off the great talent we have within the company in August, when the world comes to Edinburgh. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel – or even think – of your production? 
R: Hopefully, awesome! It’s a very fast paced, funny, also dark show that’s sole purpose is to entertain. The audience will also go away with, not so much of a message but more of an emotional impact that goes beyond that of other comedy musicals. Every production of an existing piece of work is different, so fans of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ will come to our show and expect to see something different. Whenever you have a different cast and director you’re going to get a different slant on the work. ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is one of those musicals that because it’s so rich, and there’s so much going on, there’s so many different ways to portray the plot so you’re always going to get something new out of it. 

E: There rarely is a dull moment: it’s quite short for a musical [90 minutes] so it’s really action packed. The audience can prepare to be excited, nervous, maybe a little sympathetic towards the characters; they all have a complicated past, and a tragic future! It’s not exactly the ‘after-school special’ – although they do perform it in schools, which is really weird. We’ve shaken up casting a little – some characters have been shook up a little from what you might normally expect. This does not depreciate the value of the comedy whatsoever. 

R: One of the biggest artistic decisions we made was choosing not to rent a plant [Audrey II] for the set of our production. Our costume and design team have created a puppet, which is operated by our actors.

E: In some productions of the show, the plant can look impressive, but static or rigid in its movement and operation. We had a vision for our plant to be more mobile, in a ‘chinese-dragon’ style. Our creative team have used our ideas to create a model we are more than happy with, and allows us to go forward with our vision, and do a lot more with the plant.  

Z: EUSOG’s aim is to find the best talent both on stage and behind the scenes throughout the year, and with such a strong creative team working with tech and costume, we wanted to make use of their talent by creating our actor-orientated plant in Edinburgh instead of hiring an existing model. 

How would you explain the relevance – or otherwise – of dramaturgy within your work?

R: When you are directing any play, you have to interpret it in your own way. We’ve been influenced by a number of sources, but none of these are previous stage productions of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. 

E: Throughout the script of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, the original writers of the stage musical have left in all the stage directions – but we are not using any of these. This show has a huge opportunity for interpretation, so we didn’t want to use existing ideas.

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? 

E: The origins of the show, rather than the stage musical, influenced our decision to give the production darker tone than you might normally experience at a performance of the show. As I mentioned before, the concept started off as a B-movie, and when we started branding the show, we took more influence from this than the light-hearted stage musical. Our inspiration for the publicity came from pop-art genre, in particular Roy Liechenstein,

R: B-movies were supposed to be scary, but also funny. We watched the original B-movie recently, and it is funny but laced with murder, death and other dark themes. However, this piece is still a musical, quite a ‘Disney-eqsue’ musical [composer Alan Menken also composed the score for many Disney films, including The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Hercules] because the show is supposed to be suitable for children. It’s fast-moving all the way through, and it’s colourful and exciting, so we are trying to channel that as well. Our actors are encouraged to be as energetic as possible [the cast participate in fitness sessions three times a week] and to build stamina. 

Z: Because the script alone is so funny, it doesn’t need to be overemphasised, so the directors can focus more on the dark themes of the piece. However, the three girls [Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon make up the ‘Street Urchins’ trio] are flamboyant, energetic and enthusiastic which gives a complex feel for the audience when in juxtaposition with the dark themes surrounding the other characters. 

R: We have also decided to perform the piece with minimal set and props. The set has to be limited because of the space. As someone who’s done their fair bit of student theatre, I’m used to working with limited resources due to cost and availability, and coming up with the most effective ways to use them. A minimal set can often be more effective as it allows the audience to have a more active imagination, and also requires more from our performers. 

E: The show and set is centred on the plant, so in this show a minimal set is favoured to emphasise the alien-looking Audrey II. Our previous experience in shows has influenced our decisions on this. It also makes the production look more real. 

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe – where is begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process? 

R: It starts with an idea in your head, and the end product never looks like that first vision when you get an actor to do it. I use the initial idea, but make sure I’m open to deviation from the idea, then when the actor interprets it, you tweak it, they tweak it – its very much a collaboration between your brain and theirs. That’s what makes the casting process so important – as well as being talented and creative, the actors have to be on the same wavelength as you so ideas can flow and develop. 

This cast very much understand the show in the same way that the creative team do, and this can be further enhanced through exercises, group games et c. Because this show is primarily a comedy, we needed performers with a fast and witty sense of humour that can also physically improvise well. They are uninhibited, and physically exciting to watch. In particular, in casting the three Street Urchins: we saw a lot of talented girls for those parts but the three that we chose had the same type of movement as each other and moved well as a group. The same occurred when we cast the performers for the plant – they all have a similar movement. 

When I have an idea, I tend to write it down. With my previous work with Shakespeare, and some of the more challenging scenes in this piece, I type out the script and then put my notes as comments along the side. I always keep a record of any changes we make, and then Ewan and I are present during the blocking so we can alert the cast of these. 

E: I read the script and imagine in my head the set and the actors. In this work, I allow Rae to take the creative lead with initial blocking, and I view the scene from a wider, more objective perspective. If I notice smaller details, I will interject and discuss them with Rae so that the blocking is as clean as possible. Once the initial blocking is done, we essentially have the same job – looking at the piece and discussing what works and what doesn’t, and adjusting certain elements to improve the scene. 

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 

R: Because we have a two-week run, the audience response to the show is going to be really helpful. Their feedback is actually going to make a difference to the remaining performances that follow. With any piece I’ve directed, the audience is my main focus so we will tailor the production to what the audience react to. 

E: This is my first directing experience. However, in my experience as a performer I always gauge the audience response during the show. If something gets a big laugh one night, you emphasise this even more the following performance. If something isn’t broken, don’t fix it! As a director watching every performance, I can make notes of what works and what doesn’t. 

R: If you get a light titter from a certain line, you know that there is comedy potential there and you work on it. 

E: We also wanted the plant to be more imposing and close to the audience than it may have been in other productions of the show, to make our performances more interactive. 

R: We don’t expect the audience to leave with any huge revelations about their lives, but I do hope to have touched people emotionally. Some of our casting decisions [e.g. casting Alice Anning as Audrey, who has already made someone cry in rehearsal] give the piece a more naïve feel. All the characters are a little stupid, but we are trying to add more complexity to the plot. 

E: The complexity is all there, but with everything else going on it’s easy to overlook. The show has been performed on all platforms, from Broadway to primary schools – it would be so easy to overlook the emotional depths of the piece. There’s some serious issues covered, for example the physically abusive relationship between Audrey and Orin Scrivello. While this is an entertaining show, as a creative team we do want to highlight these subtler issues.

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