Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Giant Dramaurgy: Elliot Roberts @ Leylines

“In a restaurant, a Greek man proposes to a Czech woman after only knowing her three days - what language should he speak?”

In a kitchen, the Giant and her Daughter pack boxes for their new life.
In the present moment, Vasso is talking to you – are you listening?

I am blessed by my mother’s misery, and she by her mother. Sometimes, I am the Giant and she is the Daughter.

The Giant and Her Daughter follows the journeys of the women in Vasso’s family. Reaching across time and borders, they must find out how much they can overcome.

22nd of June – 19:30 at the Pipe Factory  - Performance of ‘The Giant and her Daughter’ with post-show discussion
23rd of June – 10:00 – 15:00 Workshop ‘Telling the Untold, Sharing Your Story’
24th of June – 18:00  - Leynight: Calling a New Land Home, an evening of informal sharings.

Contributions are welcome email leylinestheatre@gmail.com 
to discuss in advance. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The show emerged from Vasso’s own life experiences and takes the form of an adapted biography. In particular the show became formed when Vasso shared her story with Helene of growing up as a child of two cultures, two languages, and two countries neither of which could entirely be considered as ‘home’. With Helene being Danish herself and fluent in multiple languages, I think that Vasso’s story connected with her on an intimate level, as well as appealing to her academic interest in states of cultural belonging, home, and homelessness.

Formally, at this point Helene set about turning the story into material for the stage, a process which I will defer to her to explain in more detail, as it wasn’t until slightly after this that I became attached to the project and later the company.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

Helene had invited me to attend a staged reading of the script in which she herself played a part, alongside Vasso. At this stage the idea of a live musical accompaniment had already been suggested and tentatively integrated into the piece, as was much of what has come to be stripped-back style of the production.

At the time I had been unable to give the piece the focus that I would have liked, but I recall distinctly that it didn’t conform to the traditional model or dynamics of a play and that it featured a near novelistic sense of detail, elements that in themselves don’t preclude performance, but certainly require definite dramaturgical choices.

It was sometime after the work in progress that Helene asked if I was interested in coming on board as a dramaturg, as they were planning on mounting the show in the winter of 2015 at the Govanhill Baths. This happened at the same time as they approached Caroline to recruit her as a performer based on a combination of her professional experience for the stage and her openness towards the project. 

Helene and I had both worked as dramaturgs for Caroline on her musical adaptation of Bill Forsyth’s ‘Local Hero’ back in 2013. It was also not far from that time that we had begun discussing her work as a writer in a way that I hoped was dramaturgically rewarding for her, but also formative for me as a practicing dramaturg. I suspect that Helene was thinking that as a writer and director, it would be useful to have an extra set of eyes in the rehearsal room to question things that both herself and Vasso may be too familiar with to approach afresh. I also wonder if our past collaborations had contributed to Helene inviting myself to be the dramaturg for this particular project.   

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

As a company, this is our first show so it is difficult to say if this will be a typical making process, but I think it would be fair to say that the processes I took part in were fairly typical of small size theatrical productions. At the point when I entered the project, the text had been fully formed, as had many of Helene’s concepts for the staging. This is not to say that nothing changed as the process wore on, but rather that it was more an act of gradually stripping back pieces of text and devices that had lent structure to the written text but which could better be conveyed through theatrical rendering.

As a dramaturg, I would broadly define three different spheres of dramaturgy: the stage germinal, the stage techne, and the stage of cultural production. To flesh this out just briefly, the first two relate to temporal points in the journey of a piece from an idea or concept stage (hence germinal) to it’s realisation in theatrical or performative devices (the stage defined as techne, a term derived from the Ancient Greek for a term approximating technique of art/craft). 

The third sphere, I include here for the sake of neatness, for it hasn’t yet had an impact on my work with Leylines, but I perhaps rather dryly describe as ‘the stage of cultural production’, with my intention being to address the longstanding (particularly European) tradition of dramaturgy that is practiced on an institutional level to curate the identity of a particular theatre, culture, or form. It is on third sphere that comparisons between Dramaturgy and architecture find themselves most prescient, for it is at this level that we can observe and perhaps influence the wider formations in theatrical culture.

In returning to ‘The Giant and her Daughter’, it is fair to say that the majority of my input as a dramaturg occurred within the stage techne, which as to say that I began my attendance as the show entered its rehearsal process. In some processes it would be considered normal for the conversation between dramaturg and director to not include the cast, but considering that the condensed nature of the roles meant that we often only numbered four in total, it often made more sense to include everyone, so as to benefit from enough opinions on the matter at hand.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

For my part, I hope that the audience are able to appreciate the evocative observations of mental states in a way that allows them to plug themselves into the myriad themes of the piece. Throughout the piece, there are many moments of light and shade, that as a non-native to Glasgow myself always draw me into my thoughts of home, homelessness and what it means to feel torn between different parts of our own personal universe. 

I would also hope that a piece that has literally come from an act of one person sharing their story with another would encourage audiences to consider sharing their own stories with us or with the world in general for that matter.  

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Again I think it was important to Helene in her role as writer and director to have someone in the room that could observe and respond to the storytelling in a way that she, as an authoring force might not be able to.  

One thing that I was particularly aware of throughout the process was the danger of losing the audience’s attention amongst the details of the story. As a piece that traverses three different generations, shifts between multiple countries, and alternates between interior and exterior speech there is much in the piece that rests on a foundation of definite dramaturgical choices. 

It was important therefore, to ensure that the storytelling means at our disposal are being used in a way that is both definite and consistent without losing any of its expressive quality. From the most basic questions about the constituency of gesture, to wider questions of pacing and tempo, this for me was all a process of trying critique the material for clarity to an audience unfamiliar with the material.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I think that ‘The Giant and her Daughter’ sits within a storytelling tradition that utilizes elements of theatre and theatrical devices to realise a mental landscape and other details of the story the teller is bringing to share. The use of live music from Dave Frazer too signifies a tuning to a culture of word and music that relishes in the post-visual elements of theatre. 

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