Tuesday, 26 January 2016

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?

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