Monday, 30 May 2016

Unconditional Dramaturgy: Elyssa Vulpes @ Edfringe 2016

Be a Soldier of Love!

A one-woman musical play premiering at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Front Line tells the story of Sophia, a refugee from the Bosnian war who has made a new life for herself in Scotland as an offbeat sex education high school counsellor. 

She discovers her inner wisdom as she faces issues of romance, sexuality and self-doubt while reconciling her troubled past. The play explores the power of ‘agape’ (universal unconditional love) as a means of transcending personal and universal challenges towards a more positive future.

Elyssa Vulpes writes and stars in an an original life affirming play in which self-effacing comedy, audience interaction and her light hearted songs uplift the spirit. The marriage of song and situation create a playful character who invites you into her quirky world – together you will expand your perspective on the deeper meaning of love.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The current refugee crisis is a point of inspiration for this play,
where the refugee is seen in a different light, years after the fact, as an integrated member of society who although struggles with her past is also eventually able to heal and positively move on from it.

I wanted to use this as an example of how even a displacement that creates a deep personal trauma can be- albeit not easily -  transcended with the power of of “agape” (universal unconditional love for all beings) and of how agape can be an agent of positive transformation in a world full of personal and universal challenges where suffering is often seen as a negative and inherent factor of the human condition.

I wanted to allow for this idea of love - which goes beyond romantic attachment and too often is misunderstood as being confined to the religious sphere -  to have the fuller expression it deserves.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I first met Mahayana Landowne ( who later became the director of this performance) at the Fringe 2014 while queuing for a show in the street. We hit it off immediately and after repeatedly bumping into her at shows and people’s houses I invited her to see my show. After seeing  my performance she became keen to collaborate with me; we started skyping regularly (she lives in New York) and after a while she asked me to write a play for her. While doing that it became clear to me that I first had to re-write an older performance that I needed a new direction for and she gladly agreed to get on board. 

While writing Front Line I also enlisted the help of script doctor Chris Gilman whom I had met while living in New Zealand and who has worked for TVNZ as a comedy TV writer. Other people involved in the show included a fellow Improv actor who I met while involved with the Edinburgh Improv Community ( who became the Light technician )  and others introduced to me by EPAD.   

How did you become interested in making performance?

The performance in question (Front Line) is a mixture of drama and songs. The songs were written at different stages of my life as a singer song writer and were drawn from my own life experience of love, loss and displacement. After finding that they seemed to have a common thread I started presenting them as a chapters of a story which I would tell in between each song at my music gigs. I would normally construct a different story every time I performed the songs and improvised it according to the order of the songs but soon it became evident that I wanted to create a story that was more permanent and relevant to my own journey while at the same time being universal and applicable to anyone. 

I attempted to do that at first at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 with my then band “The betes noires” but soon found that the structure didn’t quite work and my band members, not being trained actors, failed to deliver performances that satisfied my standards. The story also seemed to lack depth and I temporarily decided to park it. It was only later when I found a director willing to help me write a better play that the current performance began to take a completely new shape and it developed into what it is today.

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

No. In this instance I came from the songs being already written and tried to weave them together into a coherent whole. Once I wrote the script I improvised on the text to improve it. I then re-wrote the play 12 times before I was completely satisfied with it.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Ideally the play would have a transformative effect where the
audience would reinterpret their own experience of suffering and transcend its negative connotations into something enriching and ultimately life affirming. I would like them to identify with the main character and go through the same process she has to go through: from a feeling of being wounded and full of doubt to hope, a new understanding and courage.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I use comedy as a means to lighten a message that could otherwise appear too heady to be entertaining. I also use audience interaction to allow for involvement in the action and to break the 4th wall. 

Tragedy and Comedy interweave as they often do in real life to make us more resilient and allow for reframing, uplifting us from even the most dire of situations and giving us back the power to create the reality we want.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Not really. My aim is neither to conform or rebel against any genre but rather use whatever medium is most appropriate to convey the message I want to give, regardless of genre. Because of that it is difficult to pinpoint where this performance belongs except to say it is theatre with songs, a touch of improvisation and some comedy.

Elyssa is a singer songwriter, recording artist, writer, Improv performer and therapist who is herself an immigrant, having left her native Italian shores behind to live in New Zealand, London and Ireland, finally finding a home in Scotland.

‘[Elyssa] has a strong and beautiful voice, echoing Loreena McKennit or PJ Harvey… charming, beguiling, and slightly teary… it's rich, folk story-telling with a gothic edge.’
Ania Glowacz, NZ Music Magazine

Directed by New York City based theatre director, Mahayana Landowne.

First Two Weeks Only !
Dates: 4 – 14 August                         
Time: 20:15 (55 min)
Where: Venue 27, Just the Tonic at The Community Project, 
The Little Kirk 86 Candlemaker Row, Edinburgh, EH1 2QA
Tickets: Buy a ticket in advance to guarantee entry or Pay What You Want at the venue. £8.50 (£6.50) (£20.00F)

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