Monday, 3 August 2015

Crowing about Dramaturgy: Daniel Tobias @ Edfringe 2015

Fresh from critical success as part of the The Coopers Malthouse resident artist initiative, Salvador Dinosaur Presents the The Orchid and the Crow – a tragi-comedy about faith, sex, identity and ritual, created and performed by Daniel Tobias and directed by Christian Leavesley.

Reflecting on Daniel’s real life (and almost death) experiences, The Orchid and the Crow is a solo performance that features original songs from the award-winning writers of Die Roten Punkte – the lipstick-smeared, tantrum-loving, sonic collision that has gone down a storm at various international Festivals.

At eight days old Daniel’s secular Jewish parents chose to have him circumcised. Having not read the fine print in the Old Testament, this unknowingly triggered God’s ongoing contract with the Hebrews. In return for following his rules, God promised to look after the Israelites.

At 29, Daniel is an atheist, single and living
the life of a bohemian artist in Melbourne. And lo, God was not pleased! Appalled with Daniel’s lifestyle choices, God makes an example of him and appears on earth to smite him with stage four testicular cancer. Stage five is death.

As Dan prepares for his upcoming treatment he is left in a spiritual vacuum. He is reaching for faith in something, but he’s certainly not going to find it in a deity who has already stolen one of his balls. Instead, Daniel finds salvation in an unlikely modern messiah, seven-time winner of the Tour de France and testicular cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Now of course, Armstrong is a fallen angel and after Daniel’s full recovery, he wonders – how many times will he be cheated by a God?

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
In 2004, I was diagnosed with stage four testicular cancer and had to go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When you experience something like that – it’s natural to panic which can lead to pessimism, which is a really bad place to be. The thing that instantly changed my outlook was hearing other people’s stories; knowing that others had been through this journey before and had come out the other side - better for it - was completely transformative. I promised myself at the time that one day I would talk about my own experience and I guess if I was a novelist, I would have written a book. If I was a visual artist I might have painted something, but I make theatre. So I did that.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
I want to perform the show in as many places around the world as I possibly can and Edinburgh is the best place for presenters to come and see it.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The feedback that I’m getting from a lot of people is that it’s thinky, feely and funny. I hope that’s what the audience is experiencing. That’s my favourite kind of theatre. There are seven original songs in there too; quite an eclectic mix of rock, musical theatre and even some contemporary opera. It’s a lot of fun to perform.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I am very much a collaborator by nature. I can’t just go into a room by myself and pull out finished work. I have a bunch of ideas. Some of them need polish. Some of them are just bad ideas. What I like to do is surround myself with talented people who can be very honest and call bullshit on the ideas that are not working and help me contextualise the ones that are. 

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 saw three shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2013 that gave me the inspiration to start writing my own show. Mike Birbiglia, Hannah Gadsby and David Quirk were all stand ups that were doing shows that were vulnerable personal stories. They were raw and funny. Then the following year, I saw Bryony Kimmings and Tim Key’s shows. I just loved they way they both (in their own ways) would shift theatrical modes in an instant. I set myself the task to tell each chapter of my own story in the most engaging way possible. Sometimes, Orchid feels like cabaret, storytelling or stand up. But then at other times it’s more like theatre. Which is a good job since it’s in the theatre section.

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 started by having a friend of mine interview me. I transcribed hours of me talking and tried to cut it down to an hour of storytelling. I did a small reading about a year ago for family and friends. This small audience had very useful questions. They told me what they wanted to hear more about. 

Then I assembled my team of collaborators; director – Christian Leavesley, dramaturg – Casey Bennetto and script consultant – David Quirk and I began to develop the script. Once the basic story felt like it was in place I started writing songs with Clare Bartholomew, later on getting song writing input from John Thorn, Casey Bennetto and Jherek Bischoff.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
I don’t know that the audience should really have to consciously do anything. Once they buy their ticket, they sit down, the lights go down and then hopefully they get lost in experience of the show.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
I’d love to know more specifically what dramaturgy means to you. It means so many things to different people. I’d love to know what you think.

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