Monday, 6 July 2015

Scripting Dramaturgy: Paul Lucas @ Edfringe 2015

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Transgender rights is the human rights issue of our generation in Western culture. I began my research four years ago because I sensed that this was an issue that deserved deep exploration.

Although my research and writing is ongoing, I sensed that this might be the year to do this piece. Since making that decision, I have come to know that it is.

The material gathered during my interviews is what inspired the script.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is the largest and most important performing arts event in the world. Promoters and producers from all over the world come to find new, exciting and relevant work. I have been extremely fortunate in the past with my productions and promoters have come to expect new and challenging work from me.

Trans Scripts
is an honest look into the real lives of trans people.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
They can expect to be entertained, informed, surprised, amused, touched and ultimately feel connected to the transgender experience.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Intelligent, inventive, supportive, creative and unifying dramaturgy is a huge part of what made this piece possible. My extraordinary dramaturg, Morgan Jenness, who just received a Doris Duke Impact Award for Dramaturgy was able to suggest a basic thematic structure on which to hang excerpts from the hundreds of hundreds of interviews I conducted. After I selected my major characters and the stories on which I wanted to focus, we came together again for intense meetings and work sessions that centred on structure, narrative arcs, balance, tone, etc.

Throughout the rehearsal and editing process, Morgan continued to check in and help me further shape and structure the material. It has been an extraordinary collaboration.

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?
Certainly plays like The Exonerated, The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues, as well as What I Heard About Iraq, which I co-produced in 2006, have influenced Trans Scripts. Eve Ensler, who wrote The Vagina Monologues, is also an activist, or artivist, combining her art with both a political message and a mission of change. Her work, onstage and off, continues to inspire me.

In terms of structural influences, I followed Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, but following several characters instead of just one hero.

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?
With this piece, I began by listening. I could have done a lot of research into academic writing on the subject of gender identity, but I chose not to. Rather, I spoke to many, many people (over 75 and counting in six countries) and I just let them tell me their stories.

I feel a tremendous responsibility to my interview subjects to honor them and their stories. They were so open and honest with me and I want to honour their trust.

I began to sew the stories together, trying to include as wide a variety as possible, and then I realized that it was impossible to capture all of the wonderful stories, so I cut the piece back and focused on six transgender women. I hope to focus on the transgender men in a sequel.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
People will come to my show with very different levels of experience with transgender people. I have to assume that they are at least open-minded and curious enough to want to buy a ticket, but they may come with a blank slate.

I therefore need to make certain that I am not speaking at too high a level that I lose them, but I don’t want to spoon feed them either. There will also be people who will criticize me because I am not including specific transgender voices in this piece. But there is only so much that can be included in one play. I could write six very different plays about different subsets of the trans community.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I feel as though imposing a structure on the material better enabled me to decide what to keep and what not to keep, ad where to put the things that I decided were important enough to make it into the play.

Trans Scripts is a verbatim play that centres on the lives of six trans women. Their true stories, told in their own words, are honest, funny, moving, insightful and inspiring. But most of all, they are human, shedding light not on our differences, but on what all people share, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or physical sex.
In the past several years, transgender visibility around the world has exploded.  Actresses like Laverne Cox (Orange Is The New Black), models like Andreja Pejic, celebrities like Chaz Bono, directors like Lana Wachowski (The Matrix), and Olympians like Bruce Jenner are entering the public consciousness, popping up in film, on television and even mainstream comic books.

But what does the average person actually know about the true, lived experience of transgender women? Not the life of someone in the public eye, but the day-to-day reality of being trans in Western culture. As transgender actress and activist, Laverne Cox, said in her interview for the cover of Time Magazine last year:

A lot of it is just about listening to transgender people and taking the lead from trans folk… I don’t represent the entirety of the trans community. There’s multiple experiences and multiple relationships to one’s identity, and so it’s really about listening to individuals in terms of how they define themselves and describe themselves and taking people at their word – being willing to let go of what preconceptions we may might have about people who are different form us and taking people on their own terms.
Two time Fringe First-winner Linda Ames Key directs a powerhouse cast of transgender and cisgender* actors from three continents, including transgender icon, actress and activist Calpernia Addams; Broadway veteran, Starla Benford; highly-respected Australian actress and festival director, Catherine Fitzgerald; actress and celebrity stylist Jay Knowles; New York performing legend, Bianca Leigh; star of the forthcoming BBC Two comedy Boy Meets Girl, Rebecca Root; and original cast member of the Fringe First Award-winning What I Heard About Iraq, Gail Winar.

Author Paul Lucas is best known in Edinburgh as the award-winning producer of What I Heard About Iraq (Fringe First Award), The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac (Herald Angel Award), Woody Sez (Helen Hayes Awards), and Dai (Lucille Lortel Award). Trans Scripts is the culmination of four years of research, travelling around the world to interview over 75 people who identify as transgender, and weaving their stories into a work of documentary theatre. Trans Scripts, Part II, The Men, focussing on the trans male experience, is planned for 2016.

Trans Scripts will be performed daily @ 15.00 (90 minutes) from 5 – 31 August (not 18) in the Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh. Ticket prices: Previews (5 & 6 Aug) all tickets £6; Early Week £7.50/(£6.5 concs), Mid Week, £9/(£8 concs); Weekends £10/£9 (concs).

* A person who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.

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