Thursday, 16 July 2015

The Climate of Dramaturgy: Baba Brinkman @ Edfringe 2015

Global warming, how bad can it really be? That depends on who’s asking. Some species will do pretty well (algae, cockroaches, jellyfish), others face certain extinction. Likewise, some people are in a better position to capitalize on climate chaos than others. Fringe First winner Baba Brinkman (Rap Guide to Evolution) explores the science of climate chaos, whether it’s avoidable, and how we can expect primates such as ourselves to behave as it all goes down.

The Fringe 

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object? 
Baba Brinkman: The production was inspired by persistent nudges. Several people, including climate scientists, approached me after my previous shows: Rap Guide to Evolution and Rap Guide to Religion and suggested I do global warming next. 

At first I shrugged the idea off, but over time I grew more and more intrigued by the polarization and intractability of the topic, which is far more heated and controversial than either religion or evolution, surprisingly. Exploring both the crux of the controversy and the psychology of action vs inaction became the meat of the show. 

Why bring your work to Edinburgh? 
Edinburgh for me is a lab that takes a rough-hewn concept and helps it find a groove. My shows tend to change and evolve a lot over the course of the festival in response to audience feedback, but by the end I usually feel like I have something that’s ready for the world. Also, without Edinburgh I would take far longer to devise each show. Speaking of global warming, nothing heats up one's creativity like an impending run at the Edinburgh Fringe. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production? 
They will probably initially think: “Isn’t it a bit odd for a white Canadian in his thirties to be rapping about science?” Beyond that, once they settle in, they will be taken on a whiplash tour of climate science, the history, the challenge currently facing humanity, and the set of proposals on the table to set things right. 

They will hear the voices of the Pope, climate deniers, scientists, activists, and gangster rappers, each of whom have a very different take on the subject. I hope in the end that people will have a clearer sense of what’s going on and what can be done, and especially what is and isn’t worth losing sleep over, all while having a laugh and having their minds stimulated. 

The Dramaturgy Questions 

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work? 
It’s one thing to write a collection of rap songs and stories and rhyming dramatic monologues about a subject, but staging it and shaping it into an experience and an emotionally resonant narrative arc is another matter. Dramaturgy is the entire reason I’m performing at the Fringe instead of at music venues, it’s every aspect of the storytelling besides the script. 

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 don’t have theatre training, so I can’t acknowledge theatrical influences or dramaturgical philosophies without spouting bollocks. I was a rapper first, and over the past ten years I’ve trained myself to be a hip-hop theatre performer. I’ve absorbed techniques from various directors I’ve worked with, and also just learnt to instinctively read my audience and adjust my performance to enhance their experience where possible. 

I see myself within a convergence of three traditions: hip-hop concerts, stand-up comedy, and public intellectuals who present information accessibly like Richard Dawkins, Jane Goodall and David Attenborough. I take those three elements and add characters and voices and weave them into theatre. 

I did a show for a group of sixth form drama students once and afterwards the teacher said to the students: “Did you note the Brechtian elements in his performance?” I was like: “Oh yeah? Fill me in…" 

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? 
My process begins as if I were writing a rap album. I write a one-page outline of the show, with chapters/songs bulleted, and from there I work with instrumental loops, which eventually become the soundtrack to the show. I select a sequence of musical pieces that capture the tone and emotional valence of each scene and write the lyrics/script to fit the vibe of the beat. Right from the beginning there is collaboration with musicians and producers. I go back and forth with them to craft the sound, asking for revisions to the tracks. Then once there’s a script the collaboration with the director begins, to craft the delivery, intonation, blocking, lighting, etc. 

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I’m old school hip-hop, like Rakim says: “No mistakes allowed / ‘Cause for me, ‘MC' means ‘move the crowd.’” The audience is integral to the meaning of the work, and I try to involve them throughout via call and response and by getting inputs from them that can be worked into the show, as much as possible without derailing it. 

I’ve always respected hip-hop music as a genre because it’s audience-oriented, rather than performer oriented. It’s not about “expressing yourself” or “having something to say”; it’s about having an impact on people and giving them an experience.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Dozens, but at a certain point I would probably just start making stuff up, so this seems like a good place to finish.

Rap Guide to Climate Chaos
Wine Bar: Gilded Balloon 19.00-20.00
5-31 Aug
Previews 5-7 Aug
8, 9, 12, 13, 17, 19, 20, 24-27, 31 Aug
£10.00 /£8.00
10, 11 Aug
£12.00/£10.00 (2-4-1)
14-16, 21-23, 28-30 Aug
No Show 18 Aug

Baba Brinkman and Heather Berlin: Off The Top
Canon’s Gait (Venue 78)
12.10 (13.05)
8-30 Aug

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