Monday, 1 February 2016

Dramaturgy from egg to flight: Julian Crouch and Saskia Lane on Birdheart

An egg cracks open. A restless spirit emerges.
What will it become?

An intimate and stunning chamber piece of animated theatre created with a sheet of brown paper, found objects, shadows and a box of sand.

A show about transformation, loneliness, and the urge to fly, Birdheart holds a mirror up to humanity. Through a series of animated images built in front of the audiences’ eyes Birdheart creates something achingly beautiful from the humblest of beginnings.

Birdheart was commissioned by VisionIntoArt and National Sawdust’s Curator in Residence programme – part of the New Victory Labworks Artist Residency and Watermill Artist Residency, with additional support from the St Anne’s Warehouse Puppet Lab and the Henson Foundation.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
How did you go about gathering the team for it?

We had been working together in London on another devised show
at the Barbican, The Devil and Mister Punch, and decided we wanted to create a piece that was light on its feet, something that could grow organically and have the ability to perform in both conventional and unconventional spaces, including places that didn't have easy access to theater. 

In thinking about what this show might be, we were drawn to the extraordinary photographs of Chris Jordan which document the tragedy of the Albatross birds of the Midway Atoll. His images show the remains of young birds, who've starved to death while being fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean. 

Looking at these images is like looking into a macabre mirror that reflects both ourselves, and our impact on the world.

From this initial springboard, our piece has grown gently over a long period of time, finding its own themes from within, principally identity and solitude and the urge to fly.

How did you become interested in making performance - in particular with puppetry?
The onstage creation of something from nothing is at the very heart of the piece. We wanted the show to be magical but to simultaneously declare the magic by the utilization of ordinary recognizable materials. Puppetry seemed like the ultimate art form to achieve this. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
No. Each show tends to tell you how it needs to be made. This is how this one wanted to be made.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Obviously we want the audience to be entertained and to be effected emotionally by what they see and the story we tell.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

By predominantly using paper as opposed to pre-made puppets, we are inviting the audience to become an active part in the creative act. In asking them to help us complete something, our hope is that the story will leave with them at the end of the night. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
We see Birdheart as live animation rather than a puppet show per se. We use a variety of techniques, but it’s not consciously drawn from any one tradition. 

Currently represented on Broadway with his Tony-nominated scenic design for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the world-renowned theatre designer, director and puppet-maker Julian Crouch has also wowed audiences with Satyagraha (2008 – Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA) the devilishly delightful Shockheaded Peter (1999 – London and internationally) and Wolves in the Walls (2007 – New Victory Theatre, New York, USA).

With her band The Lascivious Biddies the multi-talented Saskia Lane has appeared with artists as diverse as Jay-Z and Beyonce, Marc Ribot and the Kronos Quartet. Together, Julian and Saskia, who have collaborated on several international productions, team up to create their first project as duo puppeteers and performers.

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