Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Ghost of Dramaturgy: Anna Blainey @ Edfringe 2015

Duncan Holmes Photography 
Butterfly with a Bomb Productions
Giving up the Ghost

Venue: theSpace @ Jury's Inn
Dates and times: 24th-29th August @ 13.20 

Up and coming Glasgow theatre company Butterfly with a Bomb are making our first Fringe journey with Giving up the Ghost – a darkly comic exploration of life and death, seen through the eyes of a psychic medium, an evangelical exorcist, a rock star zombie and the teenage girl caught between them.

Giving up the Ghost was first performed as a work in progress in Glasgow in September 2014. Since then, we have redeveloped the piece based on audience feedback to create a compact, intimate production which touches on issues including mental illness and religion within a strong narrative packed with dark deadpan humour.

Created by writer/ director/ performer team Anna Blainey, Mary-Jo Hastie and Claudette
Baker-Park, in our third outing as Butterfly with a Bomb, the production places an emphasis on the quintessentially human stories of its four characters. The 'ghost' at the centre of the piece is Dean, a musician who committed suicide seventeen years previously, and whose sudden unexplained return to the land of the living is the catalyst for the other three characters' journeys. 

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Anna Blainey: I work in a Glasgow arts venue which sees a lot of 'psychic mediums' taking to its stage. The piece was conceived during a show by a particularly famous and unconvincing medium, when I wondered what would happen if she genuinely raised a spirit onstage. Initially my attraction to the idea was all in its comic potential.
Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Last year, everyone kept asking why we weren't doing a show in Edinburgh, so we thought it was about time we experienced the Fringe as artists. It's definitely not a financially sensible thing to do, but we're looking forward to immersing ourselves in the festival and showing our work to some audiences not made up primarily of our families and friends.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
The audience will see an minimalist set in an intimate setting, where they will join four characters on their four intertwined but distinct personal journeys. They will share reincarnated Dean's struggle with his mental health, and question their views on faith and belief through psychic Carrie and strictly Christian exorcist Mary. Hopefully they will also laugh a lot and leave with a sense of well-being.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?I don't at any point in my process acknowledge to myself that what I am doing is dramaturgy, but if I had to pin it down, it would be as the part between writing the play and beginning to rehearse it. If I wasn't aware of the term 'dramaturgy' however, I think I'd see this instead as switching from writer to director mode. It's the time where I look at the script as a whole and determine the shape I want the final piece to have, and the ways in which I might achieve this.

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?
As co-directors, Mary Jo and I have contrasting sets of influences. My theatrical education was mainly through attending repertory theatre productions of classic texts and occasional new writing, and I therefore tend to write detailed, dialogue-heavy scripts. The final version of Giving up the Ghost was definitely influenced in part by Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, although it owes equal parts to the songs of The Verve, Richard Ashcroft and the Stereophonics, some of which feature in the production. Mary Jo is influenced by more post-modern experimental work, and substitutes my naturalistic instincts for symbolism, minimalism and suggestion, meaning that our work tends to sit between genres and traditions - however we're still very much developing our joint style, so this may not remain the case.

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 begin with a script, which we then discuss over plenty of wine to determine the angle we wish to take and any experimental tangents we might want to go on. Next, we bring in actors and explain our vision before work-shopping the script and asking for their input. So far, we have worked with largely the same group of performers, who are keen to collaborate and contribute to our vision. The finished piece tends to contain elements and ideas contributed by everyone involved.

Duncan Holmes Photography 

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
With this particular piece, each audience can determine whether the play lands on the dark or the comic side of dark comedy. In our three preview performances so far, we have received drastically different responses in terms of laughs. One audience in particular caused us to feel as if we had performed a serious drama discussing suicide and religion, whereas another has laughed throughout and treated the production as a comedy with a serious edge. We'll be interested to explore this further when we get to Edinburgh ...

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
No, though I'd say that the word 'dramaturgy' does tend to panic me and make my mind go blank, despite the fact that I have an M.Litt. in dramaturgy. I still find it a really hard word to pin down and, although I find it really interesting and enlightening to talk about in terms of my work, it's easier to do so when the questions are phrased to not include the word.

He has been reincarnated seemingly by Carrie Clairvoyant, a charlatan psychic who has never raised a genuine spirit. Desperate to be rid of Dean, Carrie calls on her exorcist sister Mary, who she hasn't seen since they were separated by a family tragedy years earlier. As Carrie and Mary begin to face up to their personal ghosts, Mary's daughter Jess finds herself falling in love for the first time – with a man whose very existence defies all her Christian beliefs.

The play began its journey with a workshop at Stage to Page in Glasgow in March 2014. From here, an initial storyline was developed into a full length heavily text-based play. Having received positive responses to the more experimental elements of September's developmental production, we were keen to take these further when reworking the piece for our Fringe run.

To begin, we have stripped away as much unnecessary 'clutter' as possible, opting to create a minimal set which can be manipulated to indicate changes in mood and location. In addition we are working to build up further layers of meaning beyond the text using music and movement.

Giving up the Ghost is a story, and a comedy, so we hope our audiences are engaged by it and find it funny - but we also hope to raise awareness. The rate of male suicide in the UK is currently at its highest since 2001, and three and a half times that of women. For this reason, we think it is tremendously important that we begin to see more stories which acknowledge men experiencing and dealing with severe depression and suicide. Issues of religious harmony are also a common feature in our news, and one of our constant aims therefore has been to ensure that we present the various religions and beliefs of our characters without bias.

As we continue our journey to Edinburgh, we will be posting regular updates on:

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