Thursday, 9 July 2015

Spatial Dramaturgy: Joanna Derkaczew @ Edfringe 2015

Joanna Derkaczew: I'm a producer, translator and correspondent for Gazeta Wyborcza, I've worked as a dramaturg in Poland, Germany and Ireland. 

I'm taking two shows to Edinburgh this year: Leper + Chip (which I didn't originally produce, I'm just organizing their trip to Edi) and To SPACE which I've co-created. 
 photo Naoise Culhan
So it's probably better if I talk about To SPACE

Summerhall Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Aug 10 – 30. 5pm

A middle-aged woman who wanted to be an astronaut as a little girl is on a mission to turn her dream into reality – and she’s on course to achieve it.
After fantasising about space travel since she was eight, Niamh Shaw decided – aged 45 - to spend the whole of 2014 trying to get into space, by interviewing astronauts, astrophysicists, space industry experts and potential colonists of Mars.
Now she’s bringing a multi-media one-woman show, called To Space, to Edinburgh Fringe documenting her struggle. Part comedy memoir and part fascinating space lecture, Shaw’s captivating performance buzzes with difficult questions.
She said: “It’s a show about impossible dreams – what do you do with your childhood dreams when you get to a certain age? I’m in my 40s - do you let them go? And why do you let them go?
“It also gives a good background to space itself, so the audiences leave with a nice appreciation of space and interesting facts about it.”

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
To SPACE is a brain child of scientist and performer, Dr Niamh Shaw, and it's totally based on her life story. At the age of 45 she discovered herself again unhappy with her life choices. After abandoning her scientific career in food industry and after being disillusioned by the theatre industry she tried to be a part of, she decided to rediscover her childhood idea of becoming an astronaut. She devoted an entire year to talking to the space industry people, astronauts, astrophysicists and potential future colonists of Mars. 

After gathering all this material she approached me. And we've decided to create a show which is not exactly an instruction manual "how to become an astronaut when you are to old for the training" but a show that asks bigger questions. How many times can we start anew? As a species and as individuals? Why can't we cherish the place we're in? Why do we have to go further - discard old exploited planes and look for a new one, discard an old life a and look for new challenges? 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?We want to introduce the audience to the new developments in the space industry. Dr Niamh Shaw is also a science communicator. She wants to present To SPACE in a context of other science shows in Summerhall and become a part of a bigger network of artists tackling vital scientific issues. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
They will be definitely compiled to confront their own dreams and ask themselves: are my dreams destructive or do they keep me going? They will feel that sometimes it's ok to let do unrealistic dreams - not all the ideas must be pursued, some are just blocks from which our personality is built. They will be also surpassed to learn how advanced is the stage of preparation for establishing the first human colony on Mars. 

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Coming from a Polish background I perceive theater not as a text-centred form, but as a discipline in which all elements speak to each other. Therefore, working as a production dramaturg I always insist of tracing the meanings created through the collision of theatrical means. How does the music support the dialogue? Can the objects on stage be used as something more than a set? Could the projection be actors partners, should the dancers act agains the music? Can we tell the story only though light? It's all dramaturg's role to understand it. 

I'm not interested in staging plays in a traditional sense. I prefer projects created in a more holistic, organic way, with the awareness of all that will go into the mix. Dramaturgy for me is being in charge of the entire communication with the audience. Is to know exactly why are we making certain choices on every level of creation.

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?

From my students years I was fascinated with creators of the post dramatic and innovative German theatre - Rene Pollesh, Heiner Goebbels, Frank Castorf, Frank Richter and Anouk van Dijk, both Shaubuhne and Volksbuhne style of staging. I'm a huge fan of the work of Flemish Needcompany. Their shows are for me the quintessence of theatre I love. 

Instead of mimicking reality they create alternative words with their own rules. They convey emotional landscapes not through declarations but through dance, music and poetic sets/installations.

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?
If I'm writing a new text I start cumulating as much material as possible. Songs, videos, plays, quotes. I check where is the "in" to the story that agrees with our intuitions. I'm in constant communication with the director, composer and designers. In the end I give myself an one-line objective. 

Recently writing a new adaptation of Orpheus and Eurydice I've tried various approaches "story about one partner following the other into depression", "story about people uniting for wrong reasons", "story about a man going to take his wife back from the other man". In the end we have a story about revenge. 

Working as a dramaturg with an existing text I usually provide the director with visual inspirations for staging, to enforce certain aspects, meanings and plot lines in the text or to show it in a new context. I don't mind cannibalizing plays cutting out characters, getting rid of scenes, introducing new elements and texts (that's probably my German background speaking). 

In Poland dramaturgs often write cannon texts anew placing them in the context of current political and social issues. This approach is very close to my thinking about dramaturgy.

Shaw has had a diverse career so far. A professional scientist, she is also a well-known actress on Irish TV, a comedy improviser, and Artist in Residence at Blackrock Castle Observatory. But though she has a master’s degree in engineering and a PhD in science, neither of these were enough her to get into space.
Despite that, she’s making positive advances towards her dream. Prior to her Fringe run, she's going to Ohio for two months to take part in an intense NASA Space Studies programme.

“My relations with the European Space Agency are continuing to get stronger all the time as well, so I’m very confident that I’m going to do it in the next 10 years,” she said.

To Space, which is directed by Ronan Phelan and Sarah Baxter, had a highly successful run at Tiger Dublin Fringe last year and Shaw says that she was approached after the performances by the public, desperate to know if she was really going to become an astronaut.
“Audience members really want to help me get to space,” she said. “I share a lot about my dream to go to space with them and because of that I think they really understand how much I want to go.
"Even people who don’t want to go to space understand the cost of a dream, so they encourage me to continue."

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I know that many artists say "every spectator is creating their own show in their imagination", but for me this is a side-effect, not something you should rely on. Creating the meaning of the show should not be entirely the spectators' role. I always try to provide the audience with a very strong message. Something they can bounce their imagination off.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?There are many detailed questions you might ask (like "are you a production dramaturg or a script dramaturg"?, "who do you communicate - director, writer? - with and how?", "is your practice limited by the legal issues around the text - copyright, demands of the estates"?) but in general the questionnaire is open enough to allow expression of everything important.

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