Thursday, 23 June 2016

A Remarkable Dramaturgy: Pernille Dahl Johnsen @ Edfringe 2016

Ines Wurth Presents with Johnsen & Johnsen produksjoner:
A Remarkable Person
Written by Norwegian playwright Pernille Dahl Johnsen
5 – 27 August I Pleasance, Queen’s Dome I 13.05 – 14.15

Identity and self-realisation are modern day obsessions, with many people staging their lives for the benefit of others. A Remarkable Person explores one woman’s self-obsession as she writes the most important book of her career and discovers the whole project is one big staging of her life. 

This new play by award-winning Norwegian playwright Pernille Dahl Johnsen asks the question does identity illusion prevent people from figuring out what they want from their lives. Starring Pernille Dahj Johnsen, Kristine Myhre Tunheim and Espen Oestman

She was utterly remarkable. As a person. And as an author. Everybody knew that. But did she know?

In this thought provoking, inventive, cut-throat-self-revealing and humourous look at our contemporary psyche, an author gets caught in the very trap she’s spent her life warning other people from falling into: the identity-trap. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
My own realization that I wasn’t the free spirit I always thought of myself as, both as a human being and an artist, but rather someone who feared her critics on a deep and potentially detrimental level. There was nothing I longed for more than to free myself from that prison of the soul.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

A hard as nails, all-women-production – until we hired a man for a woman’s part. And voilà; a baby!

When it comes to the script consulent, the National Centre for New Playwriting in Norway assigned a dramaturg to the project who turned out to be an absolute perfect match for me as a playwright: Hard as nails, super-demanding, but able to think outside the box and be highly respectful of the inner logic of the play – even though, as she laconically said: “You start the script off by breaking all the rules. However, I wanna go with it, since you do it so well.” After that I pretty much trusted her, and we had a very fruitful two years together.

When it comes to the actors and the director, we – my colleague in
our production company Johnsen & Johnsen produksjoner, Maja, and I – chose people whose work we knew from other productions we had seen, and they all said yes. 

But then I got pregnant and we had to postpone the production almost two years. 

By the time we were ready to start again, the director had gotten the job as Artistic Director for the State Theatre in the region, and both actors had other assignments. Then I decided to direct it myself, a terrifying and exhilarating prospect. But one I am truly happy and relieved about in retrospect. As for the actors, we went hunting once more for the best we could think of – and actually hired a man for a woman’s part! It turned out beautifully! 

How did you become interested in making performance?
My script was presented by actors from the Norwegian National Theatre at an evening specially devoted to that purpose at the National Centre for New Playwriting in Norway.  
I was there that night and witnessed the enthusiasm from both the audience and the actors, and also experienced the play “from outside” for the first time. This made me realize I wanted to produce it myself in the company I already had established some years before that, Johnsen & Johnsen produksjoner. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
No. The writing took 6 years. That’s how long it took before I realized I not only had to write about myself; I also had to go all in, with no-mercy-self-revelation.

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 
As my character in A Remarkable Person answers when confronted by a critic in a culture TV-show: 

“I want people to be so shaken by what I show them that they collapse! On the spot! And take stock of themselves and their lives.” 

Well… grandiose, but it’s the truth. (What can I say?)

People have actually stopped me on the street, and said that they saw their life in a new light after having seen A Remarkable Person, and kept pondering on it for a long time afterwards. I’ve been approached this way all kinds of places; in shops, at someone’s 40th birthday, at someone else's name-giving-day for their child, at a festival, etc. 

The last time this happened, was three months ago when I was hired as an actress by the State Theatre. In the canteen one day, an actress in another production there told me something similar ¬– 2 years after she saw A Remarkable Person. She had felt that everything she did in public as a mother was only for shows and not for the benefit of her children. Such episodes make me feel it’s all worthwhile, in spite of all the “upstream work” implied in running one’s own theatre company.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
To sign “a realism contract” with the audience in the beginning, only to break the contract again and again, until we take off in absurdum, thus enticing them to join us on a wild journey into someone’s psyche.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
No. I feel that every production is a world of its own, and functions in accordance with its own inner logic and motive power as these reveals themselves to us during the working process.

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