Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Paper Dramaturgy: Heloise Thual @ Southside Fringe

The Paper Bag

Héloïse is a young playwright, writing both in French, her native language, and in English. She is particularly interested in tackling the issues regarding bisexuality, trans-sexuality and investigating the transgressive space between the archetypal notion of masculinity and femininity.

Her female characters are defined by what are seen as masculine attributes, their profession, their social and sexual behaviours. This aims to provoke the audience and engage them to rethink the relation between the natural dispositions of an individual and the cultural expectations attributed to him/her. 

Heloise started theatre as a performer in the semi-professional collaborative group ATRE connected to the Opera of Lyon. Having to edit a range of texts for the stage, she fell in love with playwriting and decided to come to Glasgow in order to follow a Masters in Playwriting.

As a young playwright, she is looking for a professional perspective on her work and detailed feedback to help her in her creative process. Having recently graduated from a Masters in Dramaturgy and Playwriting; she had the opportunity to meet different playwrights such as Sylvia Dow and Douglas Maxwell.

Héloïse is a recipient of Playwrights' Studio, Scotland's New Playwrights Awards 2015. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I researched during my Playwriting and Dramaturgy Masters adaptations and appropriations of Greek myths by female playwrights. During this research, I became fascinated by the staging of rituals, which most of the time are expressions of a trauma, on stage, two texts which particularly intrigued me were The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood and A Mouthful Of Birds by Caryl Churchill and David Lane.  

I wanted to create a play staging a ritual and turned to my scrap yard, I found a diary reflecting my experience as an artistic leader in a workshop with teenagers from a rural high school about poetry and rural landscape and several pages were actually dedicated to Antigone, a myth I always affectionate. Those pages were under the clumsy title of “Antigone or the art of digging”.

The aim of my artistic workshops was for the teenagers to create books from organic material and carve the poetry into them, as the landscape was pretty muddy, we ended up making books from mud and carved their texts into it. This image printed deeply inside me and was my starting image crafting the play.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I have worked with Lesley Eadie the director, Despina Isaia the designer and Jen Martin the sound designer on small projects with no budget before. I knew they were all aware of my theatrical aesthetic and that they could do wonders with a limited budget.

Lesley is a theatre educator as well as a director and this project being my first production, I knew I needed someone with this pedagogical mind to help me find my marks. Lesley was patient and reassuring at the times I needed it the most and went head on into this challenge. 

Coming back to the “digging metaphor”, I think there was a lot to dig in and in the restricted time and with the limited production budget we had, I was genuinely impressed to see her working it all. I learned a lot coming into the rehearsal room and in order to improve as a writer I knew that was the thing I needed, being with the director and the actors, experiencing the production process from start to finish.

How did you become interested in making performance?

During my two years of Mentoring at the Playwright Studio, I had two rehearsed readings organised in order to present my work and get the audience feedback. Both were really valuable and help me develop my writing, only the script is still physically on the stage and that’s something which makes me nervous. The script is too present. 

I suppose this nervousness was the realisation that if the audience didn’t like the rehearsed reading, it was pretty much my fault as the aim of the process is for the writer to hear is work and evolves a lot around the writer. 

You can feel a bit lonely there… I was eager to see my work performed, see the writing take flesh and which physicality will arise from it. The collaborative process of the performance was really enjoyable, losing the ownership of my text gave me great satisfaction as director, actors and technicians were putting their own interpretations in the performance.

I felt more part of a whole which was nice.

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

This is a first for me so it is quite difficult to answer this question.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope this is ok but I would like to quote the words of Mary Brennan who reviewed the show “First names would confer a degree of normalcy: nothing about this hour-long lurch into troubled psyches is normal. If, that is, A and E are telling the truth.” 

This distrust towards the two narrators was one of my aims writing it, I wanted to create a contrast between the physical conditions of the narrators, grounded in the mud and their voices which never settle. I have a strong interest in unreliable narrators in literature like in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Narrators who are unbiased, unbalanced and misinterpret the events.

A feeling of defiance towards what’s being told was something I hoped for.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience

I like theatre for its sensuality, there was a moment before reading the health and safety conditions when we were thinking of having the audience feet in the mud, emphasising this sensation of being stuck as the characters are stuck in a moment but also physically stuck to their performing environment.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I am fascinated by the literary and performative work referring to the concept of ecriture feminine.  This idea of a fragmented and poetic style which allows some void to come in particularly influenced me, especially for this project.

After I am frequently asked the question if I consider myself as a French writer lost in Scotland or a Scottish writer with a terrific French accent, I think the answer is…neither of them. I am affectionate towards the Surrealist movement, writers like Robert Desnos and the Easter European Surrealist wave with authors like Bohumil Hrabal and Laslo Kraszahorkai.

How did the composition of the music come about - was it part of the scripting or production process?

The prologue and Epilogue of the play entitled “Storm of Voices” pushed us to develop a soundscape, I didn’t put clear indications in the text, and for the rest of the text but Lesley and Jen worked together on creating a soundscape which would be present for the whole performance.

Why Antigone, why now?

Antigone is my favourite Greek myth, I am still doing my own secret research and reading a lot of adaptations/ appropriations by various artists in various art fields.

As I was thinking of staging a ritual, Antigone’s tireless and irreverent digging which in most of the theatrical production happen off stage offered I thought a lot of performative possibilities. The play drifted progressively from the myth and got corrupted by my experience working with teenagers from difficult social background and their response to the artistic workshop I was leading. 

It was worrying to see how many of them have already this idea of “unbreakable social fate”, the myth of Antigone explores that idea of free will struggling against fate. The act of digging is an act of defiance against her condition and introducing those teenagers who strongly thought “art was not for them” to poetry was to a certain extent one as well.

I find it quite soul breaking to be honest it seems like one.

A new play by award winning playwright Heloise Thual. A and E are playing in the garden that A changed into a graveyard for books. Unable to find her other brother’s (J’s) body, A is burying his books. A and E are playing games, taking on different roles: life and death, Greek tragedies, poetry. With a paper bag.  In a house controlled by the despotic and violent Auntie who has forbidden them to imagine, remember and read, A teaches her brother to resist. But the last book, J’s favourite, will change her beliefs, opening a world where a pragmatic mind struggles and where the limits between stories and memories collapse.  Directed by Lesley Eadie.

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