Sunday, 31 January 2016

Is Objectivity a Myth? Part one: the meaning of myth

When I was a child, I had a book called Myths and Legends of
Greece. I somehow got the idea that a legend was a story based on historical fact, but that was probably exaggerated in the telling, while a myth was just a big load of bunkum.

I considered Herakles a legend, because it seemed plausible to me that some hunky bloke had stomped about Greece, knacking lion and cleaning up horse shit. But Pegasus was a myth because a horse with wings feels pretty unlikely.

There's something in this, in common usage. Calling Hulk Hogan a legendary figure in wrestling reads well, but calling him a mythical figure... like he doesn't really exist. But he does, and he's even got a sex tape which I'd rather give a miss.

What I didn't consider is how the mythical and the legendary are weaved together: parts of The Twelve Labours of Herakles feed on the bunkum: that business with his dad being Zeus? The snakes in his cradle? 

When I studied Religious Education as part of my teacher training, I came across a new definition of myth. Myth was 'a story with meaning'. For the first time, I claimed I had a methodology, and that was to use an idea until it breaks, then build a new idea with the left-overs and bits of the idea that broke it.

This version of myth makes no claims about the 'truth' of a story,
merely that it has meaning, and that meaning might be found in its use. A myth is a narrative, and so has structure, and it also structures experience.

Hulk Hogan is still a legend, but now there is a myth of Hulk Hogan. It's probably got a moral of some sort - maybe that it's not a good idea to say racist stuff if you are a celebrity.

The difference between my two definition of myth isn't necessarily commonly recognised, and the idea of myth as a bogus story is often how it is used by people who aren't trying to be smart-ass post-modernists. I prefer another word for that kind of story: bullshit. 

But when I say 'myth', don't be insulted. I am saying that it has meaning, but I am making no value judgement about whether it is 'true' or 'false'. Or whether it means anything to me. 

This'll give you a headache, while I think about why I have this definition of myth, and why it matters...

Friday, 29 January 2016

Scottish Children’s Theatre Artist wins £10,000 in major UK Award

I am trying not to blog churnalism, but I like this lad, so here we go!

Greg Sinclair was named the winner of the Arts Foundation Award for Children’s theatre last night at a ceremony in London. 

The £10,000 award, sponsored by the Lionel Bart foundation, encouraged nominations from established practitioners, producers and directors. The shortlist, selected by critic Lyn Gardner, Fevered Sleep’s David Harradine, and Southbank’s Jude Kelly CBE, looked at a wide spectrum of UK based talent working in Children’s Theatre from writers, adapters, designers and/or devisors. The Award is not a commission but gives the chosen artist some breathing space in order to nurture their own development. Children’s Theatre was chosen by the Arts Foundation to give recognition to the art form and to those artists committed to making work for young audiences.

Winner of the 2016 award, Greg Sinclair said:

“I'm really delighted to have been announced as the winner of the Children's Theatre Fellowship from The Arts Foundation. I was already pleased to have been nominated by Imaginate and then to be shortlisted amongst three other brilliant artists.

The financial reward is really significant meaning it will provide me with some breathing space to nurture new projects and invest in items that will be beneficial for my career. But I am sure the real impact of the win will be new opportunities and recognition. I can't wait to see what happens next.”

Paul Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of Imaginate said:

“We are thrilled and delighted for Greg.  He is such a deserved winner. His work is high quality, distinctive, thought provoking and, importantly, always highly respectful of his young audience. Personally I admire his bravery and integrity. He defies conventions of genre which makes his work difficult to define and that is what is so exciting.  The award will make a considerable difference to Greg, and is also great recognition for all of those artists committed to pushing boundaries in theatre and dance for children and young people to ensure that even more children experience high quality, innovative and relevant work.”

·Greg Sinclair was artist in residence at Imaginate in 2010-2011. See more details about his residency here:

·Imaginate is the national organisation in Scotland, which promotes, develops and celebrates theatre and dance for children and young people. As well as supporting artists making high quality work for children with a year-round programme of creative development, Imaginate produces the Imaginate Festival which showcases the best of children’s theatre and dance from around the world.

·Imaginate Festival, Edinburgh’s international children’s festival takes places from 28 May to 5 June 2016.

The Pulse of Dramaturgy: Mairi Campbell on a one woman musical theatre (without jazz hands)

The award-winning musician Mairi Campbell presents her new solo theatre show Pulse. Mairi steps out on a quest to heal ancient wounds and to “come home”.

In Pulse, Mairi sings, acts, plays and dances the story of her musical homecoming and journey of the heart. Mairi weaves live viola, voice, animation, movement and storytelling with tracks from her latest groundbreaking album Pulse.

The show, which is directed by Kath Burlinson, begins with Mairi feeling creatively stultified by her classical training at the Guildhall School of Music in London.

She then travels to Mexico and Cape Breton before returning to Scotland to take up her bow in the traditional music scene.

In the background is her love story with her husband and musical collaborator Dave Francis, who teaches her to play her first tune by ear.

Pulse is deeply touching, funny and potent. The show is a significant development in Mairi’s artistry and is performed with an incredible power, commitment and energy.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Seeing a pal who is an orchestral clarinetist doing an amazing one-woman show – bringing so much more to the table. My story was wanting to emerge and seemed to be calling a broader frame than just a gig. She inspired me. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Pulse was funded by Creative Scotland so that meant I could pay a director and producer, which is the bedrock of the team. I asked Kath Burlinson to direct the show – we’ve worked together for a few years now and I love her work. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been interested in the exchange between audience and
performer. I’ve been a musician for 30 years and played concerts across the globe, engaging with audiences in music. 

Kath is deeply engaged with pedagogy and process in theatre and this has made me more aware of what can happen and to ‘showing up’ on stage for the sake of the work. Being vulnerable but with a strong craft is a powerful combination.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
No. Normally, I work on a bunch of songs and then play a concert with ad hoc chat between them. A lot’s changed in the last few years though – live improvisations are a big thing for me these days.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?  
Deep emotional connection to the story, both my personal one and the wider story about Scotland. Hope that’s not too much to ask! 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Using the various elements that I can bring to performance, and blending them in a realist/abstract fashion. The audience gets enough of the story to know what’s going on, but experience an abstraction of events through sound and movement, which I think gives more room for personal interpretation. I’ve also been inspired by a method called InterPlay which combines movement, sound and story. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Maybe it’s closest to music theatre without the jazz hands…

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?
Kath Burlinson is a dramaturgist and pioneer in this work today. Her ability to extracting authentic expression is quite extraordinary and helping me, a completely untrained actress, to bring that to a show is impressive. It’s not an easy path, that’s for sure, but her approach is a good fit for me and my voice. 

Mairi Campbell: Pulse premiers at Celtic Connections at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow on 27th and 28th January

Five Rules Towards A Manifesto for Criticism

While you enjoy that contradiction, let me elaborate. To say 'should' is not just to suggest that there is an ideal, platonic reality, in which the object under consideration exists in a pure, perfected form. It is to insist that this reality is appreciable by the critical eye.

This reality is imaginary. It is a film in the mind of the beholder and, as such, not subject to the friction of existing. 'There is no hair in the lens of the mind's camera. 

The role of the critic is to observe, and comment on the observation, not to speculate on a possible, better performance and offer advice. 

Nor is there an 'audience'. The critic may comment on an audience's response, but cannot explain why that response happened. 

For example: 'the audience laughed' is acceptable. 'The audience found it witty' is not. 

The critic writes of their own experience, not on behalf of anyone else. There are those who agree with my assessments, those who do not. While I like the first group, both opinions are valid and there is no reason to assume that anyone is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with an artist commenting on another artist's work. However, this opinion is not the same as a critical opinion: artists and critics have different subjectivities. 

The artist observes a work and thinks: if I had the same budget and the same intention and the same resources... I would create the work that exists in my head. Refer to rule one for the problems inherent within this approach.

It can be fun to hear what artists think of each other, especially if that opinion is preceded by the words 'this is off the record, right?'

It just happens that their medium is critique, which roves across forms and disguises itself as journalism or reportage. 

See rule three for a dialectic tension.

But, like shit, they have to be done. However, the individual who spends time talking about either subject is unwelcome in polite society, and they are both unlikely to provide an answer in matters of purpose or value.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Read and Weep

Editta Braun (Vile thinking... so avoid, eh?)

Previously at Manipulate...

Editta Braun Company presented the first two shows in their trilogy (Luvos and Planet Luvos). Braun's signature choreography stretches the human body into apparently impossible shapes, inverting the expected limitations of movement and conjuring other-worldly creatures and stories.

Meanwhile at The Vile Arts...

I have become obsessed with epistemology. I now think I know what it means: the theory of knowledge. And I think I know what that means too...

I'm imagining a pair of teachers. One of them cannot move, the other cannot speak. They both have a single piece of information to pass onto their student. Because of their limitations, however, they have to find different ways to communicate.

This isn't the whole story, but it suggests one aspect of epistemology. The silent teacher will most likely use some form of physical process to communicate. The immobile teacher will use words. 

Both of methods will communicate the same information, but filter it in different ways. 

Braun's choreography operates in a disruptive manner. The contortions of her dancers don't just challenge the every-day possibilities of movement: they challenge the standard physical presentation of the human body. The climax of Planet Luvos saw the arrival of what one of my students described as penis bum monsters. That really ought to attract an audience.

But this description does not quite grapple with the emotional experience of seeing Luvos. Okay, the trickery and acrobatics are cool, but something else happens. I think it is to do with muscle memory.

There is an epistemology of dance - as Fleur Darkin off Scottish Dance Theatre said in an interview with The List, dance can express feelings in a unique manner. It gets inside the body. Watching dance causes a different reaction to watching a play.

get connected with own feelings, own memories, own phantasies, own ideas - triggered by our performance.

Just let yourself go 

Big F'in Puppets

The uber-marionette is a descendant of the
stone images of the old temples... a rather degenerate form of a god... the last echo of some noble and beautiful art... it will not compete with life - it will go beyond it.

Craig sounds rather pompous and melodramatic here - but everyone was writing like that in 1907. His rejection of the 'emotionalism' of actors suggests that, unlike Wordsworth, who said something about art being the recollection of emotion in tranquility, Craig was not interested in art that reflected on the human, but a spiritual art that transcends the physical.

Unsurprisingly, he dedicated his collection of writings to Blake. He was a romantic, but one who flew on the wings of imagination to invent metaphysical entities. 

Craig would claim that he wasn't literally trying to replace actors with bits of wood, and that he was describing a method of performance - a return to an abstract theatre that refuses to get bogged down in the reality of the actors' experiences on stage, but rejects the trappings of ornamentation for a theatre that pointed to deeper truths.

Yeah, then Brecht said the same sort of thing - all that 'fourth wall' and revealing the mechanics of performance. He used to do puppet shows when he was a kid, too. 

Craig and puppets and stripping gorillas

I'm not that interested in a cull of actors, or emotions, in theatre: Craig only recognises the passionate qualities of the human, and forgets about the ability to, like, contemplate... or that emotion can communicate, too. But his idea that there used to be this amazing marionette somewhere in India, and some women ripped off its routine, and invented theatre as a commercial proposition, does offer something intriguing.

There is something special about a puppet or a doll. I always compare it to that time Johnny Woo did a striptease while dressed up as a gorilla. As he dropped his clothes, Woo did a little dance that usually involved him slipping on a banana skin, and looking up at the audience, as if hurt by their reaction.

Despite the complete lack of change in the gorilla mask expression, each time Woo looked at the crowd, the expression seemed to be saying something different. 

It's the same with puppets - well, the ones with faces. I was watching a very long video about bunraku - the fashionable Japanese form that controls the puppet with sticks. The expression on the face never changes - everything is done with the arms and the legs and the torso - but the emotional range is huge.

Is it the absence of emotion on the face that allows the audience to impose meaning onto the blank face? Craig hoped that 'acting' would be rejected by future generations, and replaced with 'symbolic movements'. Lecoq came along and developed that kind of approach. Kantor based his theatre of death manifesto on Craig's thoughts. 

Edward Gordon Craig: drop the emotion, buddy...

So Craig says, in his Uber-marionette, that actors are a degenerate version of really impressive ancient automated statues. I'm not sure about that, or his criticism that humans, being all emotional, make 'useless' material for art, but I like his idea that massive puppets are the next step in performance.

Craig was writing around a century ago, so he gets to look cool in sepia prints and mutton-chops, and, since he was before Dada, performance art and Beckett, his meditations on theatre are focused on the naturalism of the late Victorian period. 

He's against emotional outbursts ('art is the exact antithesis of pandemonium'), has essentialist views on human nature that I wouldn't dare ('the whole nature of man tends towards freedom'), but he influenced that Polish fellow Kantor and suggests an escape route from the romantic ideal of art. 

So I am listening...

Flighty Dramaturgy: Sita Pieraccini on Bird @ Edfringe 2016

Sita Pieraccini in association with Feral presents
Inventive physical theatre and mime are enriched by a subtle live soundscape in this nature inspired, timeless tale of friendship, courage, magic and madness
Directed and Performed by Sita Pieraccini 
Dancebase, Studio 1, 5 - 28 August (Mondays off) 16:30 (17:10) 12+

Set in a post-apocalyptic world and within an imaginary wilderness, this tender one-woman show mixes a delicate, live soundscape and a highly physical performance to look at hunger, loss and man-kind’s catastrophic and misguided interference with nature. This imaginative and compelling performance charts the epic journey of a lone human figure in a hostile landscape who forms a touching relationship with a little passing songbird. 

A post-apocalyptic world. One lone, feral
creature, starved of both food and friendship. With only a patch of soil to call her own, she must be ready to seize every small opportunity that might fly by…

Created through inventive clowning, mime and visceral physicality, and enriched by a detailed and subtle soundscape which is performed live, Bird is a timeless tale of friendship, courage, magic and madness, set in a vast and desolate world.

Sita Pieraccini is an actor and theatre maker with a background in visual art and music. After completing her degree in Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art, Sita went on to study acting and physical theatre at the Physical Theatre Practice Course in Glasgow. 

Bird is performed with live foley collaborator and musician David Pollock.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
During rehearsals for the graduation show for the physical theatre course at The Arches in 2009, we were looking for incidental performance pieces to occur in between each persons showcase piece. Al Seed, our tutor at the time, asked if any of us had any 'tricks' we could share. 

I originally learned how to do an uncanny bird tweet impression from my dad. His ability to do this always captured my imagination as a child, and naturally, I wanted to be able to do it too - I finally figured it out. I hesitantly shared my bird impression with the group. The act was directed so as I mimed a bird sitting on my finger whilst I did the sound effect. It was quite sweet and charming but also completely ridiculous. 

It never got used in the showcase but I was inspired then by the potential for a whole story to develop about a character and her relationship with this tiny, flightish creature. I was inspired to explore this character more and what things might be revealed in her attempts at befriending a bird.

When an opportunity through Conflux came up to develop a piece of solo work under mentorship from director, Hilary Westlake, I revisited this image and created a short, three minute sketch with musician and sound artist, David Pollock. 

I was inspired to use live sound effects for Bird because it gave more focus to the subtle actions and reactions of the character. It was also a playful and light way of enhancing the world of Bird. My experience developing my skit with Hilary helped inform a more down to earth and more realistic way of performing the material. In short, she helped me take the work a bit more seriously, allowing the implications of situation along with the subtle emotional complexities of the character to shine through a bit more.

It was clear to me, after this initial outing, that I'd tapped into something which was entertaining but also posed questions about the complexities, or indeed, simplicities, of human behaviour somehow. 

Every time I went back to work on it, the world and story of Bird became more defined. I never applied too much pressure to find a finishing point as such, deciding to focus mainly on the development of the central character and her world. The search for a story or narrative arc did come in to the process later on however.

David and I share a similar sense of humour and we enjoyed putting the character through certain situations to see how she would react. We seemed to both be enthusiastic about the piece in similar ways and in this way it was really easy to keep working together. I'm a keen Studio Ghibli fan and admire their attention to detail when it comes to their quirky characters and fantastical narratives. I feel influenced by them and other animations in the creation of Bird and I often try to channel Stitch from 'Lilo and Stitch' a bit in my performance.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I asked people who are close to me to help with the development and the performance of Bird. It was my first solo performance project and I deliberately worked with those I could trust and have fun with. David and I worked together at the CCA for a few years before we started working together creatively on Bird for the first presentation at Pitch

We'd been friends for a long time before then and working on Bird would be the first time we would have collaborated on a theatre piece together. I had seen David and his band perform as part of a theatre show called Bluey at The Arches a few years before this, and had always been inspired to use local artists and musicians in live performance.

It was great working with David because we have a similar sense of humour and enjoyed talking about the story of Bird, empathising with the character and what her story brings up on different levels and chatting in depth and how it could also be made into a film. We kept exploring the world of Bird further in each period of development. This led to a natural development in our technique as performer/author and foley artist respectively.

As the show started to grow in length we enlisted the help of David's best friend, Ronnie Phipps who was a lighting technician at The Arches. Ronnie became an integral part of the team for the two Arches presentations we did for Arches Live 2011 and then for Surge in 2012.

How did you become interested in making performance.
I became interested in making performance whilst studying on the Physical Theatre Course. I had been inspired throughout the course by how artists from different disciplines would combine their skills and outlooks to create really original and exciting work. 

I realised that this collaborative, performance focus was something I'd really missed at Art School. I was inspired by other people's work in the group and gradually by more companies such as Theatre Ad Infinitum, Kneehigh Theatre, The Wrong Crowd, Told by an Idiot, Vox Motus, Vanishing Point - most of whom have a speciality for physical storytelling and some of whom are graduates from The Jacques le Coq school in Paris. 

After graduating I had no class ensemble to work with any more
and after a year or so, I decided to focus on what I could create as a solo performer. I continued to train by way of master classes and residencies but craved to be cast by others in their feeling as though this was the best place for me to strengthen my abilities, whilst working on projects. 

Since 2011, I've assisted Angela De Castro on her annual, two week intensive Clown Workshop – How to be A Stupid, as part of London International Mime Festival. Through this role, I have been exposed to rare and advanced training in clown including Clown in Tragic Theatre and Advanced Clown Technique. This experience has also made me more interested in both the performance and creation of theatre.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Bird developed intuitively and in line with my own development as a performer and as I learned more about clown and physical comedy. My process in creating Bird was informed by my training in physical theatre as well as the urge to create a piece of performance which allows for a close up look at one character for an extended period of time.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will enjoy their experience of seeing Bird in that I hope they are entertained but also feel touched and perhaps a little tortured by the central characters journey in some way. The main character in Bird is not asking to be liked, hated or empathised with as such. 

I'm interested in presenting quite a neutral, mundane being whilst also inviting audiences to maybe get caught up a bit in her predicament so as to feel as though their own thoughts or thinking towards the piece might actually influence the outcome of her situation. I'd like the piece to function in a way so as to almost make the audience aware of their own involvement in this strange yet familiar world of Bird.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The piece is performed in relation to or in recognition of the audience on some level. In this way it is quite clown-like, but I don't reference or address the audience directly at any point. Since the girl in the piece is supposed to be the only living creature left in her world, when she looks out, there is an openness to her state which audiences can read into or reflect on or see themselves in. Very deliberately, she is void of any back story. I aimed to create a character and setting where she is concerned only with her current situation.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I see Bird as a piece of contemporary clown in some ways. The story and ideas behind Bird have informed the style in which it is performed as opposed to m setting out to make a clown show. It's physical storytelling and mime with a tiny bit of puppetry and it is detailed with a subtle sound scape which is performed live.

As well as creating her own work, Sita’s recent credits include A Bench on the Road (Charioteer Theatre) and Skewered Snails (Iron-Oxide). 

Sita is also a singer and bassist as part of Glasgow band, Teencanteen.

Lighting Design Consultation by Alberto Santos Bellido and Ronnie Phipps

Produced by FERAL (Jill Smith & Kathryn Boyle – formerly of The Arches Arts Team)

Development support from CONFLUX and The Actors Space (Barcelona)

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dramaturgy Without Words: Philippos Philippou and Vangelis Makriyannakis on Macbeth

credit: Sandra Franco
Life…is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing…

A stark and stylised performance of this most familiar of tales, of boundless ambition and greed and the destruction it ultimately wreaks.

Visual technologies – video-mapping projections and animation – accompanied by a dynamic DJ set and darkly brooding sound world, transform Shakespeare’s words and narrative into a visual language of potent and symbolic movement and imagery. 

This dramatic canvas of images also draws upon the theories of Bertolt Brecht and silent era film aesthetics, creating an intriguingly alternative interpretation of Macbeth’s rapid rise to power and even more precipitous fall.

Ludens Ensemble is an Edinburgh-based theatre group which works with live music, masks, puppets, projections and animation, creating performances that ebb and flow between the aesthetics of critical distance and immersive experience. In 2017 Macbeth: Without Words will be performed in Cyprus as part of Pafos’ European Capital of Culture 2017 celebrations.

What was the inspiration for this
The initial plan was to create a performance using only movements and gestures inspired by the silent movies. Macbeth is funded by the European Capital of Culture Pafos 2017 along with our forthcoming performance of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, to be followed by a project called Forbidden Stories where we will be staging stories relating to the divide of Cyprus in non linear fashion. 

The first project we decided to do was Ubu Roi but that was for 2016 so we were then looking for a play that would precede it but also be connected to it. Ubu Roi uses many of Shakespeare’s plays as a source for parody and especially Macbeth. Both plays are treatments of the element of power, the one is part of the European canon and the other a precursor of the historical avant garde. 

One is a tragedy, the other an absurd comedy. So you can say that our work along with thinking about the nature of a performance is also an attempt to speak about the workings of power from different angles. Our take on Macbeth is influenced by Ubu’s ludic qualities but obviously the atmosphere is much more brooding.     

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
We followed the usual procedure. We announced an audition. 

Actually it was a workshop. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
Philippos: The real story was that I was fascinated about theatre since I was 10 years old when we did a performance at the school and I had the lead role. 

It was the Hippolytus by Euripides. I got obsessed with theatre and finally when I became 20 years old I decided to get into a drama school in Athens. Before I finished the drama school I won a directing competition at the National Theatre of Greece. From that point I believed that I belong to the backstage of the theatre. Since then I am directing.

Vangelis: My background is film theory yet due to the nature of my PhD research on the filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos who has a strong theatrical style, I came to study theater and especially Brecht. 

But as many people from my generation I had a strong interest in theater from quite early on. In relation to this particular performance Philippos wanted it to be accompanied by a DJ set. And basically this is what I do with silent films. I happen to be a DJ and I also curate and perform DJ soundtracks.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Philippos: No. Usually I am starting by reading the play with the team. This time we started working from movements that could evoke particular concepts and sensations. Then we divided the play into different parts and we worked with the visuals and the music. It was a long process because we had a lot of work to do after and before the rehearsals. 

We were videotaping each rehearsal and then we had to sit down and examine and take of closer look of the whole process. What was common with previous performances is that I give space to the actors for improvisation. 

Also working with Vangelis was a new experience for me. We were discussing things at great lengths and this dialogical process benefited the performance. For Vangelis it was his first step at directing. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
We are open to any interpretation. During the performances at the Hidden Door Festival we gave some feedback forms to the audience. The forms were full of compliments and excellent reviews about the play. We were slightly worried if the audience will be able to follow the plot all the way through but everybody seemed to get a clear sense of the story. 

By answering this question we risk leading the audience towards particular reactions. Nevertheless we could say that we want to evoke the sensation of a dream or a nightmare and to show that dreams and therefore a performance is part of shaping our reality not merely representing it.  

We decided that we wanted to focus on a nightmarish quality for Macbeth. Our intention was to evoke the sensation of a dream on stage using minimal resources. Pierrot faces, video projections instead of real sets, expressionist lighting, morgue like cellophanes and a haunting soundtrack became an accompaniment to Macbeth’s murder of sleep.

We believe that in a dream the image acquires a more primary importance in relation to speech. Removing the spoken dialogue has allowed us to bring the actor’s body and gestures to the foreground and to deliver an acting style that has receded with the advent of naturalism. We basically love the acting in silent films. It is a different language. Gestures without words can acquire a strong sense of ambiguity.

Our three actors come to impersonate all the characters in the play yet it is somehow as if the witches are constantly there. Who are they? Are they in Macbeth’s head or are they external agents orchestrating his downfall and why? We want to raise questions without giving particular answers. Having an actor playing different characters while also commenting on them creates an ambiguity concerning their identity. 

Expressionism seems best to deliver this sensation while evoking a dream state. Bodies incorporate the movement of the puppet. Their status is suspended between the mechanical and the animate. We believe that this ambiguity retains its unsettledness today like it did over a hundred years ago.  

These are themes that are evoked in a quite subtle way. The attitude of the play is immersive yet there are breaks and this is where Brecht comes in. The actors then comment on their characters. For example we are commenting on the domesticity of women at the time when the play was written. Lady Macbeth seems to be breaking away from this state of affairs. So you see that the dream is not a means to escape a social reality but rather to comment on it more freely

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We think that the answer lies in what we have already discussed
above. Combining expressionism with Brecht. Creating intensity through an ensemble of bodies, lighting, animation and music on stage and then breaking the flow.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
We do not see ourselves working strictly within a particular tradition yet our performances carry layers from the theater’s past and present. Although we rely on the use of technologies on stage we avoid at being overwhelmed by it. We always bear in mind that an actor with just one chair one a bare stage is enough to evoke an image of a stage-coach in motion.

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?
To be or not to be, that is the question (laughter).

CLOSE UP Dramaturgy: editta braun company

The virtuoso concert pianist AyseDeniz performs hers and Thierry Zaboitzeffs compositions at the grand piano in in her peculiar, idiosyncratic way, inspired by Chopin and Rachmaninoff. 

Four dancers - bodies in concert - enter the stage, creating a physical dialogue with AyseDeniz's performance, thus embodying and externalising the interior sounds and texture of the music. 

Lemur-like creatures, distorted, constricted and oppressed, invade the concert pianist’s perfectly harmonic world. As if even the artificially encapsulated high culture, where the pursuit of perfection often doesn’t leave any room for doubts, could not escape from human thoughts and every day’s worries. 

Nightmarish realities and fears, but also a foreshadow of the desire for free moving appear as incarnated thoughts and feelings. 

Fantastical lemur-like creatures - distorted, constricted and oppressed - invade the concert pianist’s perfect harmonic world, so that even the artificially encapsulated world of high culture, where the pursuit of perfection doesn’t leave any room for doubts, cannot escape from the tension of everyday cares and worries. Nightmarish realities and fears, but also a shadow of the desire for freedom, appear as incarnated thoughts and feelings. 

The five dancers’ moving bodies - sometimes individually, sometimes in pairs, sometimes a seemingly inextricable agglomeration of extremities - constitute and articulate the physicality and motivations of strange, otherworldly creatures. Are they the pianist’s alter egos or dark suppressed aspects of her soul? While she is playing, these beings become her fellow antagonists and collaborators. They are suffused by the dense, mighty live music and then are driven or tortured, hunted or released, by the sounds around them. They resist – and they react. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Very simple: I heard the pianist in the frame of a music-festival in Portugal and had images of a dance-piece happing around a grand piano, representing somehow the inner world of the pianist. Creatures enter her bubble, her closed world of classical music and cause some disorder ...

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I work with the composer Thierry Zaboitzeff and the dancers since many years - so I had just to convince AyseDeniz. And she was curious enough to dare the adventure.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I guess, something pushes me since I can stand on my legs, means, since my childhood.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes. I always work with improvisation as starting point. But for CLOSE UP we had a special magic experience: After three days only we did an improvisation of 45 minutes, guided by me from outside, and not only the dancers improvised, but also AyseDeniz on themes of Thierry Zaboitzeff. This is very rare for a classical pianist.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
To get connected with own feelings, own memories, own phantasies, own ideas - triggered by our performance.

Are there any other questions that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?
Just let yourself go 

A Pint of Dramaturgy: Victoria Bianchi walks the CauseWay

CauseWay is based on a true story of Frances Parker and Ethel Moorhead, two suffragettes who, in 1914, cycled to the Robert Burns’ cottage armed with a mission and pipe bombs. 

From their first meeting to Ethel’s eventual
incarceration, it explores the story of two women, and of one cause that divided a nation. Weaving the songs of Burns together with the politics of the suffragettes, CauseWay invites us to join with Frances and Ethel in their journey towards a fairer world and asks whether, over 100 years later, we’ve arrived at our destination.

Victoria Bianchi, who trained at RCSSD, is a playwright and performer based in Glasgow. Her works have been performed at, amongst others, Summerhall (Edinburgh), The Arches (Glasgow), Buzzcut (Glasgow) and Camden People’s Theatre (London). She is currently the writer-in-residence for South Ayrshire, creating performance works for heritage sites. CauseWay is her first full-length work for Òran Mór.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
It was originally developed as a site-specific piece for the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway in 2014. The outreach team at the museum wanted to present something as part of the WWI centenary that was a little different, and, as the attempted bombing had happened just before the war began, it seemed like the perfect story to tell. 

When I started working on the piece, I found the story really interesting, but I think my real inspiration came from this gap of 100 years. The main thing I wanted to ask with the play was how far we have come, in terms of equality, in that time.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I talked with Susie (Armitage) a fair bit about developing a new version of the work for A Play, A Pie and A Pint. We talked about how this performance, where site had been so crucial, could work in a space like Òran Mór. After the play was programmed, we discussed potential directors and decided to bring Debbie Hannan on board. 

This all happened very close to Christmas time, so there was definitely a sense that it had to be cast quickly given that we were going into rehearsal on 11th of January. Debbie is based in London, so we were emailing constantly about different casting options. We decided on Stephanie McGregor and Beth Marshall, who are both fantastic actors but also so incredibly engaged and enthusiastic about the issues in the piece. 

Working with a really passionate team is fantastic because as a writer you invest so much in the story, so it’s brilliant for the entire team to be so invested too.

How did you become interested in making performance.
I think I was about 6 when I went to my first drama class and after that there was never really anything else I wanted to do. At first I wanted to be an actor but as I went through university I became more drawn to devising contemporary performance. 

I think that, like most people in their late teens/early twenties, I was engaging more with  political ideologies and current affairs; I had left my little childhood bubble. The more I learned about the world, the more I wanted to say and the more I wanted to create. I wasn’t inspired by performing other people’s words any more; I wanted to put my own words out there.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
My process has developed a fair bit in the past four years. After I finished my MA I created a few solo performance works, before starting to focus more on playwriting in recent years. I suppose, though, the way I create work is still similar; it always starts with words.

I’m never sure of what will happen in any performance, so I just sit down at my computer and just start to type. I begin with what feels most important in that moment, with the scene that is the most fully-formed in my head, and the narrative grows from there.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
While the work is not a promenade piece, I hope that the audience feel a sense of the journey of these characters. I mean this in a metaphorical and literal sense, because they did cycle for almost 40 miles to try to blow up Burns Cottage. 

Sometimes we find ourselves so far from where we began that we’re not sure how we got there, and that’s a really important element of this play. As Ethel and Frances make their way towards their destination, I want the audience to understand how they got there, and to think about how far we are now from where they were then.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I’m a great believer in drawing the audience in with humour before finding a way to break their hearts a little; make them laugh until they cry. This story is not particularly funny, but I thought it was important to find the humour in it, and to find an accessible side to the characters.

I think A Play, A Pie and A Pint is such a special space for performance, it’s intimate and friendly, and I wanted to bring a sense of that into my script. The audience are addressed directly as attendees at different rallies and , in the final scene, jurors in a courtroom. In this way, they are implicated in the story and will hopefully be able to relate more easily to the characters.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I think CauseWay has a real folk element to it; it uses music and poetry to tell the story, and it’s a very Scottish play. I suppose I want to bring this cosy, traditional style of performance together with much more radical, polemic work. 

I love contemporary performance, I love the anger and the urgency, and I want to bring that to my work within a more traditional model of playwriting. I wouldn’t say that I always try to have a message in the work that I make, but it’s always a response to something I’m dissatisfied with. After all, doesn’t all the best artistic work come from some form of anger?

Monday, 25 January 2016

Dramaturgy's Cock: Andy Arnold Long and Uncut

Looking ahead to the next season at the Tron, it strikes me that there is something new spreading across the programme: is it fair to say that you are taking the disappearance of The Arches seriously and providing opportunities for artists who might previously have been there to come across to the Tron? And what made you decide on this?

A strong part of my ethos when I started working at the Tron was to provide a platform and support for young and emergent artists – much in the same way as I had done at the Arches.  So, a lot of the programme we are now developing is in the context of that commitment - particularly under our new banner of Tron Creatives.  
It’s something I believe in very strongly – a theatre building can be enriched immeasurably by the energy and risk that emergent artists will deliver.  The demise of the Arches – a tragedy which should never have happened – means that there is a whole community of artists – many doing amazing work - who now finding themselves homeless.  

We are trying to accommodate and support as many as we can but we have a relatively small building and a packed programme.  I’d love to find additional space because we could fill it all the year  with new people producing new work and Glasgow needs it.

I know that you have a special enthusiasm for theatre that deals with existential matters - is this something reflected in your programming?

I like to think that we present an eclectic programme that suites a wide range of tastes.  You’ll only be reaching a small part of the Glasgow theatre audience if you don’t.   

However, I personally prefer the surreal and off kilter to the mundane and naturalistic, and the Tron programme does veer towards the existential and absurd whenever possible.  It’s the type of work that suites the medium of live theatre more than anything else in my view.  

Last year included the revival of Ulysses for our trip to China followed by Happy Days at Mayfesto and this year we have a rich programme of such work leading towards a season of the absurd in the autumn. 

What made you decide on Cock for the New Year?

Ever since Cock opened at the Royal Court in London six years ago I have been trying to acquire the rights.  They simply haven’t been available for any theatre company in the UK since that premiere.  

I’m delighted that Mike Bartlett has now given Tron Theatre the go ahead – I finally wore him down.   It’s a brilliant play about relationships, sexual identity and confusion and has an eye-catching title – which always helps. The dialogue is so sharp and witty and the narrative is very clever.  

The best plays are ones where you leave the theatre wondering what might happen next.  Cock is that play. Why the New Year?  It feels right.  It’s a spring play….for now any way.

Was your approach to Bartlett's script typical of your usual approach - or did it present any new challenges?
I’ve never approached a play that doesn’t present new challenges – that’s the beauty and privilege of directing theatre.  With Cock Mike Bartlett stipulates that there should be no set, no furniture or props and no miming.  It should all focus on the words.  

That’s brilliant and I look forward to rehearsing on that basis.  Given the fact that the play contains action – cooking, eating, having sex, and so on, it will indeed present challenges – but ones which we’ll enjoy resolving in the rehearsal room.   

It’s quite similar to Beckett in some ways – except that the characters in Cock won’t be buried up to their necks in mud or have their heads protruding out of Greek urns.  The principle is the same though.

As far as the casting goes - how did you get the team together?
Casting a play like this is key.  You have to get it right.  I’d like to say there is a particular method I employ but that would be lying.  Some parts you have one actor in mind as your first choice, others you may think of three or four actors who would be right for it, and other parts where you have a very open mind and want to audition and meet new people.  

I audition more and more these days as I want to know who’s out there.  The most important thing is being mindful of the chemistry between them all.  I think we’ve got a great cast for Cock!

Does 'dramaturgy' as a concept or word mean much to you in your work?
To be honest, it only developed for me in a meaningful sense about ten years ago.  That’s when an Irish dramaturg, Pamela McQueen, came to work with me at the Arches and started to make really useful contributions to the rehearsal room – a full analysis of the play, it’s context and historical background, the relationships between characters, and much more.  

Pamela would bring plays to me I might otherwise not have come across and when she joined me in my early years at the Tron , she played a pivotal role in working on new scripts with young writers.  
Dramaturgy on a new script is vital in my view and all theatre making companies should have the resources to employ a dramaturg – whether they are presenting new work or classic plays.

Is theatre still a good place for the discussion of public ideas?
Of course – where better?  Theatre is all about ideas and good theatre will always provoke discussion at the end of a performance

Is the script still at the heart of your work as a director and artistic director of the Tron?
I have always said in any mission statement for the Tron that the core of our work is the spoken word.  Text is the essential currency of theatre – whether a naturalistic play, a minimalist visual and movement piece or a multimedia experience.   

There are many brilliant theatre companies who devise work from a blank canvass and that’s a totally legitimate approach.  For me, I have to start with the script – whether a new play, a Chekhov, a poem, or a Heiner Muller two hour visual epic with only one page of dialogue…’s still the script.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

A Woman's Dramaturgy: Amy Conway on 30:60:80

Amy Conway in association with Platform, Glasgow presents
As the strive for equality continues, the experiences of three generations of women are explored in this new verbatim performance, staged as we approach International Women’s Day.

Scottish Tour: 12th February – 11th March 2015

This new autobiographical performance compares and contrasts the lives and experiences of three generations of women as they reach their milestone birthdays – Sheffield born and Glasgow based artist Amy, her mother and her Grandmother. 

When Amy’s Grandma turned 30, she had three children and was thankful to finally live in a house with an indoor toilet. When her Mum turned 30, she was an NHS professional, had a mortgage and was pregnant with her first child. 

Amy has just turned 30. She is a single, freelancing chancer and worries about almost everything. An autobiographical piece of theatre that uses verbatim techniques to compare and contrast the lives of three generations of women - Amy, her Mum and Grandma- as they reached landmark birthdays this year.
Amy Conway said: “At a time when women are still finding their place in contemporary society, and in theatre, women's voices still have a tendency to fade into the background, I decided to create a show that put three generations of women centre stage and where better, than from my own family? 

The biggest revelation was to hear the most important women in my life talk about themselves. I had known them as care-givers, love-givers and sometimes, to my shame, live-in maids and now they were real and whole. I was inspired to create a piece of theatre that listened to and documented these female relationships to put daughters and mothers and grandmothers in the foreground. I wanted to make a show not just about the women in my family, but in everyone else's as well. 

By delivering the verbatim wisdom of my elders, along with my own neuroses and ramblings about life, I was able to share not only an exploration of my personal heritage but a universal celebration of maternal relationships.”

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Amy Conway: I was turning 30 and I felt lost – a feeling I suspect is utterly normal when exiting your carefree 20s. Coincidentally my mum had also just turned 60 and my grandma, 80, within a few months of each other. I'd been interested in making a verbatim show for a while and I was in need of some maternal wisdom so I decided to interview my mother and grandmother respectively and record their words. 

I wanted to know what 30 had been like for them, what were their hopes, what kept them awake at night, and how had they changed over the years. I found vast generational differences between us and was comforted by a wealth of shared experience. But the biggest revelation was to hear the most important women in my life talk about themselves. I had known them as care-givers, love-givers and sometimes, to my shame, live-in maids and now they were real and whole. 

I was inspired to create a piece of theatre that listened to these female voices and documented these maternal relationships -that put daughters and mothers and grandmothers in the foreground.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
30:60:80 has a pretty small team, it being a one woman show. But I invited Victoria Beesley to direct the piece when it was first selected for Arches Live in 2014 since she had made verbatim shows in the past, mainly with the testimony of refugees, and we had a good working relationship from collaborating on other projects. 

Vickie has a wonderful knack of knowing what seemingly insignificant details to include and can find the throwaway comment that reveals the heart of a person. 

Michael O'Neill came on board once funding was in place in his capacity as attachment producer at the Tron, a brilliant scheme that has given emerging artists like myself support that I might not have found elsewhere. He'd seen the show at Arches Live and totally got what I wanted to achieve.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I did the MA in Classical and Contemporary Text at the RCS in 2009 as an actor and wasn't expecting to become a theatre maker. I'd tried directing and writing whilst I was in STaG (Glasgow Uni theatre society) but never felt that was my forte. It's only been through total immersion in Scottish theatre since then, particularly in observing the swaths of emerging artists making performance in Glasgow, that I've started to make my own work. 

It's partly due to how unsatisfying I found the life of an actor. I've done the gruelling slog of theatre in education tours a number of times, for shit money and often pretty poor material - kids deserve so much better (these were all English companies by the way)! And then not having the control over the parts you played because you were just happy to be working. 

But for the most part, I began to make performance because I was inspired by the work I was seeing from my contemporaries and some foolhardy folk at the Arches were willing to take a chance. The Arches gave me a way in and I've been making performance ever since. Thinking about last year's closure still makes me sad.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I have to say, I don't really have a process. I was never trained to have a process for making theatre. So I just start with the idea, do some research, give it some time to gestate, and get in a room with some people I trust creatively. In the beginning I made a few pieces entirely by myself, but those experiences were stressful and lonely and I've since come to my senses. I tend to start from what I know. 

So my one-to-one show, I-HAPPY-I-GOOD, came from the 3 years I had spent working for Sense Scotland as a support worker for 2 women with deaf-blindness. And my next show, Super Awesome World, is an interactive live video game quest for good mental health, and came from my own struggle with depression and my obsession with Nintendo growing up. I'd like to make work that is less personal at some point, but for now this feels like the most natural way to create in a connected way.

What do you hope the audience will experience?
30:60:80 is a gentle show. I'm not expecting it to rock the theatre world. But it will be striking in it's intimacy and authenticity. The show is autobiographical but there are so many universal themes that I think the audience will find it easy to see themselves and their own families in the performance. At Arches Live we had mothers and daughters come up to us afterwards and say, 'That's us!'.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The show's USP is the use of recorded delivery. During the show, I listen to an edited recording of my mum, my grandma and my own words through headphones and speak it back to an audience as accurately as possible. 

This removes the much of the inevitable falseness of performance – the disconnect from the original moment when the words were spoken that happens when a performer interprets the lines. The testimony is unadulterated, and uttered in all it's imperfect glory, with 'ah's and 'um's and nervous laughter. It's more human that way.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Not really. I want to make work that gives voice to the under-represented – people that are rarely in the limelight. I think their stories are often more interesting than the sensational ones we hear all the time. What tradition is that within?

Amy Conway is dedicated to creating new work that speaks for the voiceless and under-represented; women, minorities and the vulnerable. Her immersive promenade performance I-HAPPY-I-GOOD was performed at On The Verge Festival in October 2015 at Hope Street, Liverpool as a co-production with Conflux.

Victoria Beesley is Artistic Director of Terra Incognita Arts, an organisation that specialises in using theatre and the arts to share the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. She is recently toured My Friend Selma, a solo storytelling performance created by Terra Incognita to schools, museums and theatres across Scotland.

Platform, run by Glasgow East Arts Company (GEAC), is the arts centre at the heart of The Bridge complex in Easterhouse. Launched in 2006, the award winning leisure, learning and arts facility has become ‘an important magnet for the community’ Rab Bennets, RIBA Jury Chair.

GEAC’s aim is to provide high quality, accessible arts programming and cultural events to local residents. They aim to work with and support inspiring and engaging artists to develop work in direct conversation with those around us and have worked with notable artists including Karla Black, Alex Frost and Katy Dove.

Company Information

Devised and performed by Amy Conway Devised and directed by Victoria Beesley

Lighting Design & Production Manager Laura Hawkins Producer Michael O’Neill

Supported by Creative Scotland and developed with the support of The Arches/Arches LIVE Festival 2014

Touring dates
12 - 13 February Platform
The Bridge, 1000 Westerhouse Road, Glasgow, G34 9JW
7pm & matinees at 2pm | £8 (£4.50/£3.50 conc)
Box office: 0141 276 9696 (opt 1)

18 February The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
5 West North Street, Aberdeen, AB24 5AT
7pm | £12 (£10 / £5 conc)
Box office: 01224 641122

23 February Eden Court, Inverness
Bishops Road, Inverness, IV3
8pm | £10 (£8 conc)
Box office: 01463 234234

26 February Beacon Theatre, Greenock
Custom House Quay, Greenock PA15 1HJ
7.30pm | £10 (£8 conc)
Box office: 01475 723723

2 – 5 March Tron Theatre
63 Trongate, Glasgow, G1 5HB
8pm | £10 (£7.50 conc)
Box office: 0141 552 4267

8 March Paisley Arts Centre
Witherspoon Street, Paisley, PA1 1UR
7.30pm | £10 (£6 conc)
Box office: 0300 300 1210

10 March Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh
43 – 45 High Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1SR
8pm | £10 (£8 conc)
Box office: 0131 556 9579

11 March Cumbernauld Theatre
Kildrum, Cumbernauld, G67 2BN
7.30pm | £10 (£8 conc)
Box office: 01236 732887