Monday 20 July 2015

Someone Else's Dramaturgy: Paula Varjack @ Edfringe 2015

Can creating a new you have the potential to bring you closer to yourself?

‘A consummate performer with charismatic stage presence…powerful and hilarious.’

Touching, funny. Loaded with personality and truth. Captivating’
Leah Larwood, Author

‘Kooky, quirky and all round charming’
Bristol Intermission

Paula Varjack's How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else) is about finding freedom through reinvention, and gaining the power to tell your own story.

A multi-media solo performance, it combines confessional monologue, video interview, spoken word and archive footage. It tells the true story of change: sexual identity, a new city, a new career and finally, a new name. Initially developed as a work in progress at Chelsea Theatre, this production has been directed by Kellie Tori. 

Saturday August 8th – Sunday August 30th (Excluding Tuesday 18th and Friday 28th)

Cowgatehead (Venue 32)
12:30pm (45 mins)
Tickets: Free

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Paula Varjack: This production started with an idea, but the very beginning of the idea was an experiment, an experiment that became my entry into becoming a performer. 

I never realised how far it would go, or that performing would become my life, or that the journey would eventually lead to making a show. Having lived the story over a number of years it seemed too good not to tell. It was the best story I had, but I couldn't tell it without first establishing myself as a performer. I needed to write myself into the story to to be able to do that. I appreciate this sounds abstract or perhaps makes no sense, Its hard to explain without giving away the whole show. 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
I have been to the fringe four times before. First just a week of guest spots, then with a friend for a couple days of a cabaret show, then with a full run, again with guest spots, and now my first full run. 

For the last few years I have deliberated every year over whether it is worth it or not. This year I decided to come because I have been developing this show for two years and it is now tour ready. I have tried to book a tour by contacting theatres, but it's very difficult to get someone to book your show if they have not seen it. 

And even being based in London you are competing with very busy schedules. So the hope is that by being where everyone is, specifically there to see work, is a better way of getting your work seen. So this year I hope to get booked by some theatres and get some decent press. I also hope it will help build my profile as a performer.  

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I think the audience will feel as if I already have an intimate connection to them. I generally relate to audiences as if they are my closest friends. I have never been great at small talk, I like to go straight to the personal, and I like to confess with warmth and humour. 

I am figuring it all out as I am speaking to them. I think the story I tell in the show is very unique and personal to me, but from the previews I have had, it seems to make people go away and reflect on their own relationship with their name, and on the impact on their life of key life changes (such as changing career or relocating)

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I have masters in performance making and yet I still find dramaturgy to be a slippery word.  It seems to mean different things to different people, companies and even cultures. I sometimes think of it as connected to narrative structure, but then that's not quite right as it also applies to non narrative work. This is probably a question I should have left blank. 

But I like the fact that its not always the clearest of words. Having a dramaturg credit in the U.K. for example is not always something people seem to comprehend. The role in Germany from my understanding, is thought to be essential. 

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?
I think my earliest influences are monologists and text based performance artists from the 80s and 90s like Johnny Leguizamo, Spaulding Gray, Eric Bogosian, Karen Finlay and Eve Ensler. I also remember listening to the spoken word albums of Henry Rollins. 

I have a very vivid memory of seeing an early production of The Vagina Monologues as a solo show with Eve Ensler playing all of the woman she had interviewed, and loving both the verbatim element and the way this one woman embodied all these characters. At the time my interest was as an audience member only, but it definitely made an impact. 

It was much later before I started making work myself. I then became drawn into the world of contemporary performance, particularly work that played with multi-media and cabaret. I think the artist who made the greatest impact on me (in terms of making me want to make performance myself) is the artist Stacy Makishi. The way she warmly related to the audience, and cleverly crafted stories, while making playful pop culture references with video projection really captivated me. She continues to inspire me. 

If I fit in anywhere, I guess its somewhere between that tradition of multi-media theatre , the playfullness of cabaret and storytelling. I am always drawn to work that is either autobiographical or documentary in its focus, and this is as true of my own work as the work I like to see. 

There are too many artists making performance that I am excited about to mention, but in terms of recent work I have seen, I am really excited about Ross Sutherland, Scottee, Greg Wohead and Bryony Kimmings. I also can't wait to see the newest show by Ursula Martinez.  

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 am still figuring out my process as a theatre maker. it is an evolution from having started creatively as a filmmaker, much later establishing myself as a spoken word artist, and  finally stepping away from that to focus on creating work that combines my filmmaking with devised performance. 

How I Became Myself (the show I am taking this year to the fringe) is the second of what I see as "documentary performances" and for now that seems to be my preferred format and process. The next project I make is also looking like it will follow this format. For me this process works something like this:

 I start with an idea I am interested in investigating and I read and talk about it to friends obsessively. I maybe keep a blog of everything I read that looks relevant and interesting.  I draw up a list of people I think would be interesting to interview on the subject. I interview them on camera. I keep a diary about my thoughts on the subject during this interview process and free associate and exaggerate ideas and images. 

I spend time in a rehearsal room  devising ideas that relate to this and filming everything. I record a video diary. I make a paper edit of the interview material and these devised actions. I decide what of the video I want to use in entirety, or just the voice-over, or the idea. I spend more time with a camera in a rehearsal room. I make a playlist of tracks that could be relevant. I bring costumes and props that seem useful. 

I do a lot of playing. I always feel guilty about this part. It never seems like real work. But it always leads to finally making sense of the thing on its feet as a show. When I watch the video back things start to come together. I edit the structure this way, and before I know it I have something I can invite peers in to be an outside eye for. this is always really scary, but it forces me to make things concrete. 

How collaborators work varies from show to show. For How I Became Myself, the video material had a big impact on the structure of the show, and the video material itself very much took shape from a group of collaborators: videographer Tom Lyle Severn, video editor Olivia Vergnon and sound designer Ania Pryzgoda. Then much later in the process when I had devised something full length with their input and support, I worked with director Kellie Tori. Our relationship was very collaborative, and her work significantly tightened and improved the show. So though it was my story, and made very personal, it came together very much through the support and involvement of all these very talented people. 

How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else) Trailer from paula varjack on Vimeo.
This video is about hibm trailer

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
As a performer there is no work without an audience. And as a solo performer you are in dialogue with the audience. You feel this especially with comedy, and though I am not a comedian, a lot of my work relies on humour and lightness. it needs a reaction. I make work to engage with people I've never met about themes that I have lived through personally but have some kind of universal quality. 

I make it to connect with people, to entertain while making them think. I am never interested in just being entertaining, or just in provoking thought. I am happiest with my work when I feel I am doing both.  I need the audience to be able to do that, and as a performer I need to feel that resonance in the room. That makes it an exchange. I open myself and give my stories, and in exchange I hope to feel that somehow I have connected and engaged. 

Paula Varjack is a writer, filmmaker and performance maker. She has performed at numerous arts festivals and cultural spaces including: Battersea Arts Centre, The Southbank Centre, Roundhouse, Tate Modern, The Victoria & Albert Museum, Richmix, Wilton's Music Hall, Círculo de Bellas Artes, Musicbox Lisbon, Es Balluard Museum of Contemporary Art, The Photographer's Gallery.
Glastonbury Festival and Berlin International Literature Festival.