Thursday, 9 July 2015

Meditative Dramaturgy: Josh Gardner @ Edfringe 2015

the Free Meditation Class
A Critical Look At Contemporary Spirituality. 
A new one-man show from young performance maker Josh Gardner. Following his first sell out success at the Edinburgh Fringe with It’s All About George (Highly Recommended’’ Fringe Review, ‘Enthralling’  The Scotsman), Josh has turned his attention to contemporary spiritual trends in a show that seeks to consider how they may, or may not, contribute to narcissism and political apathy in the Western world. 

This performance draws heavily on archival material based on the life of Jan Palach - a young Czech who, inspired by the Buddhist monks of Vietnam, burnt himself to death as an act of political protest in 1969. A similar story is told throughout the performance, but as the line between reality and fiction blurs, it is unclear exactly what and who this narrative is about. Past and present merge as the performer plays the banjo, listens to meditation tapes and discusses Buddhist philosophy and ethics. Why are all these things connected? And how did the the buddhism we are familiar with inspire such a radical act? 

Venue:  Laughing Horse at Moriarty’s Bar (the cellar)
Dates/times: August 10-24 at 12.30 p.m. 
theatremoyenne is a new theatre company established by young performance maker Josh Gardner. The company aims to produce performance work which engages with contemporary issues in ways that are both accessible and challenging. 
Josh Gardner completed an Undergraduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and is currently studying an MA in theatre and performance at Queen Mary’s University of London. 
The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
It began with an argument. Me and a few friends were sat about discussing meditation. I've read a lot of critical theory on the subject and practiced mindfulness meditation myself. Along with various thinkers/writers, I have been suspicious of the overwhelmingly positive reception that practices of this kind have received (proliferation of yoga etc.) and concerned by the of pseudo-scientific, new age type rhetoric that is used to defend them. 

Through numerous discussions with friends and strangers I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of interest/inquiry into how these practices have developed within a Western context and what affect they might have on our socio-political outlook/activity. After one heated discussion, in which I was unjustifiably rude to a friend of mine, I decided I needed to stop arguing with people and make a piece of work about it. 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is (at least within the FreeFringe) a good opportunity to develop work and ideas in front of a forgiving audience. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Ha, difficult question. The show is a lot about detachment (a central tenet of buddhist practice), so I spend a lot of time playing with the idea of feeling and whether or not it's a good thing. I do this with dramaturgical tricks, like playing emotive music and then interrupting it so people can't get too involved. 

So hopefully they can expect to see and feel a piece of work that encourages them to think critically about a certain topic - like  feeling, what it means to feel, as well as a load of other stuff like - do contemporary spiritual trend contribute to political apathy? 

I don't like saying too much though. I've found the most interesting responses arise in the space between the intention of the work, and what people take from it... so someone will always come back with something completely unexpected that might drive the show in a different direction. 

The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I'm doing an MA in Theatre and Performance and I still don't know what this word means.  As a practitioner, I guess it's the gap between writing and doing. I perform and write one man shows so dramaturgy and writing are very much the same thing for me. I'm not thinking - 'I can write this and give it so someone to make into a play' (if that's how someone might think?) - I'm thinking - 'Shit, I have to say this and perform it, how is that going to work?!'. 

I write a lot and then get up and start doing it. Then I delete loads of stuff and write different stuff until it starts to work/ makes sense in front of an audience. So dramaturgy, writing and performing are all part of the same thing - Wramaperformitingy? 

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?
Um, that's difficult as I started making theatre before I'd studied it, or seen much of it. I read a lot about theatre and certain plays etc. will often come to influence how I work. I've had a very academic education so I tend to mix academic style writing/lecturing with story telling and weird stuff to make it more interesting. Any live art, stand up, theatre or anything else I see will influence something I'm working on. 

The first person who got me thinking seriously about making work was probably Tim Crouch. I was in a show with him when I was about 13 and followed his work after that. 

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?
I think I explain this a bit above. I begin with an idea, an issue I want to address. Then I find stories and things that might help me tell it. Or sometimes the other way round. I've only written two shows so I'm still discovering how all this works. I write and perform alone but the process is completely collaborative. 

Anyone I know who works in, or is interested in theatre will have to listen to me talking about/asking questions about the work I'm doing. Then I'll drag them into a room and perform or read something and grill them for feedback. Through these discussions/interactions something starts to come together. Then I perform it, rework it and perform it again. Ask more questions, get more help and feedback. That process continues as long as the show is running. 

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
Everything. There's a big difference between doing something to a wall in your bedroom and working in front of people. You don't know how something works until there's a live audience. It can be really frustrating. 

Sometimes, for example, people laugh at bits that are 'meant' to be serious and vice versa. This changes the shape of the work as you begin to realise how it is being received. Which bits can be played up and down etc. Then, like I said before, it's wonderful talking to people after a performance and listening to what they made of it. It's always completely unexpected stuff/moments that become important for people and there are massively different responses to the work which extend the possibilities of what it could mean. 

What's funny is that people usually think their entire response has been controlled by you. As if you willed the work to affect them in a certain way. But you have very little control over how a piece of work is received. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
You could included something about how economic constraints/pressures etc. influence the way in which a work develops? 

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