Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Brutal Dramaturgy: Izzy Tennyson @ Edfringe

Being 14 is an awful age you know… You’re not a very nice person at 14. No one knows this better than new girl Poppy who's just started at an all-girls state school in a provincial English town. There are rules with no logic, sadistic jokes that aren’t actually funny and the most sinister games played out of boredom. And, you better not be fat or clever or you’re f*cked. Brute is an exciting piece of new writing based on the true events of a rather twisted, horrible schoolgirl.

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

Izzy TennysonLike all my work, Brute is heavily autobiographical, and it relates to a particularly difficult time in my life and a particularly difficult time with my relationship with my mother too. 

My mum died of cancer 18 months ago, and I guess this was a sort of catharsis, This play is basically about when I came close to a breakdown at school. I kind of had to shut what was happening out of my mind to keep going and like my poem ‘Person’ this is kind of a response to how dealing with this,

This time in school was really traumatic and twisted I really wanted to explain it. I also didn’t think that they was any accurate portrayals of what it is like to be a  14 or 15 year old girl out there. It is a really fucked up age, especially for women. I really don’t think there are enough accurate depictions of how it is out there, from a feminine perspective. 

As I say it was an awful age, and I think I became an awful person. I really felt I needed to explain that to people. Weird shit happened to me, and I think it happens to everyone…

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?

Where else is there to bring it?

This is my fifth summer in Edinburgh.  Five years ago I was flyering for free accommodation….now I've got my own one-woman show….what else can I say?

I work mainly in London now especially with the Roundhouse, where I’m a Resident Artist for my spoken word work, and the Soho where I’ve been on there Young Writer’s programme, but Edinburgh is still Edinburgh.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?

Wow big question! Well just so there’s no disappointment all you get to see is me! It’s a one-woman show so you’re stuck looking at me for an hour!

This play is about a roller-coaster of emotions. In fact getting this play on stage has been another real ‘roller-coaster’ of emotions. Believe it really has!

If I take the audience on the same journey the play has worked. And that isn’t just the dramatic stuff….there’s a lot to laugh about in this play, because in life there is. We’ve all been to school and lots and lots of people have come up to me after and say how they relate to it, but all seem to relate to a different bit. 

Girls that throw tampons dipped in Ribena, male teachers that join in a girls football game and try and score all the goals, you’ve got to love real life, you can’t make this stuff up can you?

In terms of thinking, I really like to layer my work. Some people tell me to slow down when I speak, but this play is how I speak, and I actually think it works. Because you have to sort out the story from this jumble of words and I actually think that’s a good thing, because it makes you think before, during and after the show. I hope it sticks in your head and you have to keep thinking and re-thinking it. 

Poppy isn’t a reliable witness. Actually 95% of this play true events, but Poppy keeps you guessing what bits are. And that’s important to how this play works I think….

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?

I started writing Brute itself when I was selected to join the Soho Young Writers course, and Jules Haworth, the dramaturg at the Soho has been a huge help in developing the script. When I wrote the first draft of Brute, it was almost more a short story than a play. I talked to Jules a lot about the script, and went to the theatre that night and thought –no! 

I’m writing a play not a book and completely rewrote and restructured it. It was only on the third draft I thought ‘wow’ now I’ve really got a play! Jules has given me great input.

My director Ellie Browning came with lots and lots of great ideas on how to stage it. She came up with the idea of using voice-overs, as we’d been thinking of using live actors to do the short pieces of dialogues. She organised some great voice talent and commissioned a great sound-scape. We’ve come up with some great lighting effects and staging, which I still haven’t seen work all together.

But in the end you have to take control over your own work. Jules gave me some great suggestions on how I could streamline it further dramatically but this is autobiographical and sometimes life is a bit messy. Same with the staging. A performer trying to give a naturalistic performance can make it very, very hard for a director trying to get all the elements of light sound, movement to work together, but it is only me up there on stage and it has to work for me.

One thing I’ve learnt from talking to other artists at the Roundhouse is that it takes a long time, much more than the 10 weeks or so we’ve had to stage this, to get the performance right. I’m still developing this performance and might for a long time yet. That’s where dramaturgy is important, refining and refining each bit. 

I’ve been very, very lucky indeed to have so much help in developing this piece, from the Roundhouse, especially Penny Woolcock, from winning the Ideastap Award and the huge help and enthusiasm I got from everyone competing for the Award and afterwards. So many people have helped out, with mentoring me, directing me, staging, voice talent, producing a sound-scape, lighting and producing it really feels that I can’ call it a one-woman show, but at the end of the day I wrote it, it’s about my life and I perform it. 

It takes a lot of work to refine and make that work, and I’m still working on it, and may be for a time yet.

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?

If there is any one single play that has influenced a lot of my writing it is seeing the production of Jack Thorne’s Stacey at the 2012 Fringe. A lot of what I write is influenced by that play. I’m often associated a lot with comedy, but there always has to be a dark side for me. Stacey really sucks you in. You start off in the theatre with this likeable guy, and slowly you get sucked into his story and you realise he’s talking about how he raped his best friend Stacey. The sheer physicality of Nick McQuillan’s performance was terrifying. The unflinching honest, too, was what I want to put in my work.

I was studying theatre of trauma at the time on my degree course, and this really made the whole subject come alive. I absolutely love Sarah Kane’s work. One day I hope to get a stage direction into one of my plays as good as ‘Man eats baby’. Lol! 

I also absolutely love the verbatim theatre of Alecky Blythe, who mentored my director Ellie Browning with the ‘Love Project’. Could mention lots and lots of other stuff too…

The other really big influence is the one-woman monologue’s that I saw at the Soho last year. ‘Fleabag’, ‘Spine’ and ‘Bitch Boxer’. ‘Fleabag’ has sat on my mantelpiece all through this, and I met Charlie (Bitch Boxer’s Charlotte Josephine) in June and she has been an absolute rock in getting me through this process.

Finally I can’t leave out the support I have received from the cabaret, live art, spoken word and comedy scene I have received in the last year. 

The cabaret artist Scottee has been so, so important in getting me to perform. Without him I would never have got up and performed at all. He got me on stage in front of an audience, he got me performing spoken word at the Roundhouse, his Fraff night, Bestival and the rest. Like me he is dyslexic and I’ve learnt from him to get up on stage and tell a story and not be afraid to put your vulnerabilities out there.

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?

This has been a new experience for me in terms of doing a one-woman show, but I am a writer so I always start with the script.

I’m I guess a writer first, and a performer second. So it’s all about, getting my writing out there to a wider audience. I write all the time, writing down conversations that I’ve heard and remembered. It all then gets written, re-written, reshaped and reused. 

One scene I actually wrote way back on my scriptwriting course at uni (the tutor hated it as it happens but it was the same one I won the Ideastap’ award with, so there!).

This has been my first big project of this size. I’ve performed on stage a lot in the last 18 months, but there’s a big difference between standing on stage for 10 minutes doing stand-up or spoken word, and doing a whole full on one-hour show. I couldn’t have done this without the help of lots and lots of people, in fact I don’t know where to start in terms of talking about everyone who has helped and collaborated on this, Penny Woolcock, Scottee, Jules, Ellie, not to mention courses I took at the Lyric Hammersmith and the Almeida. The list goes on and on….

4. What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 

It couldn’t have actually got up on stage and performed this if I hadn’t got up in front of an audience 18 months ago at the Soho Comedy Lab. I came out of uni deciding I wanted to be a writer not an actress. I love writing and it is so much easier to write and hand it over to actors to perform. I didn’t plan on doing stand-up, or spoken word, or even performing. 

But the really supportive crowd of people I met at the Soho Comedy Lab persuaded me that what I think is funny is funny, and I can be weird and people still love it. Even a bigger shock was writing two poems for the Roundhouse Poetry Slam, getting on stage and winning third prize. I was so nervous, and to hear so many people say they loved my

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?

All I can say is come and see the play and ask me after 25 performances!

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