Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Smooth Faced Dramaturgy: @ Edfringe 2015

Smooth Faced Gentlemen and the Greenwich Theatre present
an all-female production

The award-winning Smooth Faced Gentlemen, an all-female ensemble, return to Edinburgh with Othello, Shakespeare’s tragedy of misdirection, manipulation and intense sexual jealousy.

Othello is Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s second fringe show and is a stylish retelling of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Set in the blistering heat of 1950’s Venice and Cyprus, inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis, Othello is performed with the backdrop of the cold war, a time of deception and fighting between empires and small states.

Underbelly Topside
6th – 31st Aug (not 13th, 20th)

12:20 (13:30)Smooth Faced Gentlemen and Greenwich Theatre present
Titus Andronicus:
an all-female production

Smooth Faced Gentlemen, the award-winning all-female ensemble bring their vibrant and vicious retelling of Titus Andronicus back to Edinburgh. Three families intertwine in a brutally farcical tale of revenge, told with style, wit and gallons of bright red paint.

Funny, ferocious, creative, brilliantly performed The Skinny

Shakespeare’s bloodiest and most brutally misunderstood work, Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s Titus Andronicus explores politics and power in the dying days of the Roman empire, in a stylish re-interpretation, shown through the eyes of a soldier returning from battle to a post-war society. Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy is infamous for its testosterone-fuelled violence; the story encompasses war, murder, rape, social unrest, dismemberment and even cannibalism.

Pleasance (King Dome)
5th – 31st Aug (not 13th, 20th)
17:00 (18:15)

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

In both cases, we start with a script, but the immediate first step is to search for a starting point to approach it. For us, gender is always a theme in our work (which informs the cut of the script). But the 'concept' of each show comes from spending weeks analysing the text, and researching the play and its history.

In Titus, we started by asking ourselves how we would approach the violence and gore. It seemed that historically people had taken one of two choices - something realistic, or something abstract, and we were looking for something in between the two. I think we came up with something pretty good...

For Othello, the themes of dark and light, shadow and impaired vision were interesting to us, plus finding a parallel to the political tensions of the time that we could recognise today. Researching different eras of the 20th Century led us to the 1950s, and oddly that led straight to the Venetian blinds that dominate our aesthetic.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
It's great to get it in front of a whole bunch of like-minded people. The opportunities to build networks are unparalleled. Plus, it's a great place to get reviewers and national press in, and tour bookers and so on.

But mostly, we just love it. There's nowhere else in the world with the same buzz.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
In Titus, the absurdity and horror of war and violence. They'll see the blood and gore replaced with paintbrushes and bright red paint, and the play treated with the sense of humour that should be reserved for the darkest acts of humanity.

In Othello, it's less stark, but more dark. While Titus is a constant struggle between the tragic and comic, Othello begins as a comic colourful noire, but the darkness slowly, almost imperceptibly, invades the space.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
We have two dramaturgs who both work on both plays. They come with very different aims and ideas, but ultimately both exist to make sure the stories and messages of our work are consistent and clear, and the actors have all the tools they need to present those things.

We couldn't create our work without them.

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?

We have three distinct areas of influence, and we believe our work exists in the tension between the three. One is traditional classic Shakespeare practice - verse work, aggressive attention to the language, lots of research into the body of work created. Much of our rehearsal process involves training in these very classical ways.
The second is contemporary theatre, where several of our team have a background. 

Visual, interactive, non-verbal, and physical theatre elements all pervade our work, and we believe applying the ideas and unbridled creativity that comes with that to Shakespeare is the best way to keep it relevant and exciting. And the third is the simple but strangely unfashionable art of comedy theatre. The traditions of farce, slapstick, double-takes and general silliness. The more you can make an audience laugh, the more engaged they are, and the more it'll hurt when you hit them with something serious.

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?
We start by gathering casts of actresses to do readings of each of the scripts on our short-list for each project, followed by discussions on the themes of the play and its suitability for our company.

From there we choose a play, and then cast it.

For the first week of rehearsals, we don't give the cast their roles. Instead, we explore the themes of the play, and do a lot of R&D on the characters and their relationships. We unlock a lot of gold during this group development period.

Then it's on to the 'normal' rehearsal process. We try and bring in a designer very early, plus our two favourite areas of 'lighting' and 'fighting'. We always try and integrate these elements that are traditionally only applied at the end very early.

Our rehearsals involve a lot of games and experimentation. Partly to explore how we're approaching the acts of playing the gender in this particular production, and partly as method to unlock the text.

The other thing that typifies our work is we try and have a lot of previews. Since we're never gonna be eligible for a Fringe First (the plays were written quite a bit ago!), we're not constrained to the 3-4 most fringe shows do, and we feel we can only really develop the work whilst showing it in front of a live audience.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
I think all theatre companies say that their work is all about the audience, but in practice many forget that. By sharing our work regularly at every stage of the process, we try hard to keep it audience-centric.

When working on contemporary Shakespeare, to do it justice, you have to be aware that your audience is always going to be divided, in some proportion between a) people who aren't familiar or necessary comfortable with Shakespeare or that play, and b) people who've seen the play many times before. The proportion varies depending on the venue, your marketing, your following, et c, and I think you have to make a call if you're trying to appeal to one or both groups. Both groups come with preconceptions that can be problematic if ignored, but can be incredible fun to manipulate!

For us, this is why previews are so important. They're vital to discover how an audience responds and what they understand: which jokes land and which bomb; when they shuffle and when you can hear a pin drop.

Since our first sharing, we've had three major re-edits of our script,
all of which have made cuts but also have brought in material from the full text, and two of which comprises a radical restructuring or rethinking of characters.

So I think listening to an audience is critical to making successful work. I don't think you should often take all the direct feedback as gospel, but extrapolating the underlying issues or inconsistencies that lead to people's responses is key.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
"What is a dramaturg?"! I'm joking of course. Every project we get asked that, and I basically spent three years studying that at drama school, and I still can't answer it.

I just know that I believe all productions should have one. Allows you to be unconstrained and uncensored in your creativity, knowing there'll be a separate person and time to challenge your choices. They keep you on the straight and narrow!

Alongside Othello, Smooth Faced Gentlemen are also returning their wonderfully modern Titus Andronicus to the Festival Fringe at the Pleasance Theatre. The same ensemble of eight actors will perform Shakespeare’s earliest tragedy at the Pleasance Dome.

Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s dynamic ensemble use paint and artists’ brushes in place of weapons and fake gore. The result is a vibrant, visceral re-imagining that is fast, fresh, furious, faithful and funny.

Slick and farcically funny Exeunt 

Smooth Faced Gentlemen was formed in 2012 after being inspired by gender-swapping in the RSC’s King John, and all male companies such as Propeller. Othello is their third show, following from the box office hit Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. Winners of the John Beecher Award for Innovative Theatre (2013).

One of the most stunning Shakespeare tragedies I’ve ever seen Babel

Titus Andronicus is directed by Yaz Al-Shaater (Boris: World King, Not the Messiah), and stars Henri Merriam (F.A.N.Y – Anonymous is a Woman, Man is Man – Theatre Paradisum) as Titus and Emily Bairstow (Shoot I Didn’t Mean That – Sphinx Theatre Company, The Merry Wives of Windsor – Principal Theatre Company) as Tamora.

Alongside Titus Andronicus, Smooth Faced Gentlemen are also presenting their brand new all-female production of Othello at Underbelly.

Othello, newly married to Desdemona is dispatched to war. Iago, overpassed for promotion by Cassio plots revenge on Othello and misguides Othello into believing Cassio is having an affair with Desdemona. Smooth Faced Gentlemen bring wit and humour to Othello, Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of revenge, jealousy and conspiracy, playing each character to their original gender.

Visually striking and comically ludicrous Exeunt

Smooth Faced Gentlemen was formed in 2012 after being inspired by gender-swapping in the RSC’s King John, and all male companies such as Propeller. Othello is their third show, following from the box office hit Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet. Winners of the John Beecher Award for Innovative Theatre (2013).

Othello is directed by Yaz Al-Shaater (Boris: World King, Not the Messiah), and stars Anita-Joy Uwejah (Gone Too Far – Royal Court, A Day at the Racists - Rogue State Theatre, the Finborough Theatre) as Othello and Ashlea Kaye (In The Dark – National Arts Service, The World’s Greatest Walking Tour of Edinburgh, Pleasance, 2012), Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Smooth Faced Gentlemen as Iago.

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