Saturday, 1 August 2015

Magdalen Dramaturgy: Erin Layton @ Edfringe 2015

The little known stories of the women and girls who were sent to wash away their sins in commercial laundries run by orders of nuns in mid twentieth-century Ireland are revealed in a singular, compelling, multi-character performance. Erin Layton swiftly transitions in and out of time periods, voices and images that ‘breed anger, compassion, sorrow and mistrust’ (, ‘embodying with ease all of these many disparate characters and making them all flesh and blood people. The performance of the festival’ ( Magdalen was the recipient of the Best Documentary Script at the United Solo Festival in 2013.

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29) ​  
Aug 7-15, 17-22, 24-30 
Uncompromising Artistry Productions 

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Erin Layton: The inspiration behind my production started with American singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell’s Magdalene Laundries. I heard the song ages ago and was haunted by Joni’s lyrics about the ‘prostitutes and destitutes and temptresses like me. Fallen women sentenced into dreamless drudgery’. 

Years later, after I knew who and what Joni’s song was about,  I felt inspired to create a play about the women and girls of the Magdalene Laundries and, like Joni, I wanted to perform the piece by myself.

2.Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
The Edinburgh Festival provides artists from all over the world access to international audiences, opportunities to witness the work of artistic peers from all disciplines - dance, music, theatre. I’m looking forward to drawing inspiration from many experiences while in Edinburgh. It’s not often, if ever, that I have the opportunity to be an artist 24 hours a day. Edinburgh is fulfilling a dream. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
My hope is that audiences won’t expect to experience a dark and somber afternoon of theatre. Certainly the history of the play and its story are awful and tragic but my hope is that audiences are able to engage with the moments of humor, light and hope that I’ve deliberately built into the performance. I hope the piece will educate, entertain and enlighten the Edinburgh audiences. 

The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
With a historical drama like MAGDALEN, the dramaturgical research is paramount. It must be prioritised above the writing. I was able to create and devise the world of my play only after I combed through every inch of material about the Laundries. 

It was more than about just wanting to sound smart. I felt morally responsible. There are people out there, survivors, who experienced the Laundries first hand and their truth, the truth of what really happened behind closed doors, must be honored above all.

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’m inspired by many different genres and modes of artistic expression, lately in the world of dance and music. I’ve recently been following a group of street dancers from East New York. There is something refreshing and pure about their passion for dance that lacks pretension. 

To them, dance is a necessity - it’s about surviving in a rough, dangerous, urban environment. It isn’t about fame or audience recognition - at least not exclusively. I often feel limited in the world of New York City theatre because so much of what I experience and see often seems tightly prescribed. 

If your work doesn’t fit into a particular model, you aren’t considered ‘relevant’ or ‘unique’ - or worse, ‘produce-able’. And yet, the most ‘relevant’ work that I see is being performed on the concrete slabs of street blocks in Brooklyn, NY. Like these dancers, I’m interested in the freedom to express and celebrate my truth as an artist - not in following the crowd.

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 work begins with imagery. I see the characters and their environment(s) very clearly. Then they speak. It’s when I’m ready to start piecing together their individual voices and how they interact with one another that I bring in the collaborative element. 

My director, Julie Kline was pivotal in the stringing together of the many disparate monologues from my eight (and more) characters in MAGDALEN. With solo performance, I believe that it’s vital to have someone assisting you with narrative structure all along the way because you, as the actor, are literally living inside of the characters and their world.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
I don’t think you can fully realize the impact of your work without the audience. It’s because of the audience and their response - anger, sadness, shock - that I’ve come to understand the true message of my play and its relevance as a work of theatre and of my voice as an artist choosing to write about this little known and controversial period of Irish history. So much of play development is done in a vacuum, hours alone or with a collaborator in a studio. The outside eye is paramount for the work and its purpose in the world. 

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