Monday, 20 June 2016

Daffodils and Dramaturgy: Kitan Petkovski and Rochelle Bright @ Edfinge 2016

[A Play with Songs]
by Rochelle Bright 
Remixes by LIPS and Abraham Kunin
Directed by Dena Kennedy & Kitan Petkovski

Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED (Traverse 1)
4-28 August 2016

DAFFODILS (A Play with Songs) is a charming, riotous and quintessentially New Zealand love story inspired by true events and small-town family secrets. This is real life romance Kiwi style.

Daffodils captures the bittersweet nuances of farm girl Rose and teddy boy Eric as they fall in love in Hamilton in the 60s: their first meeting at the lake by the daffodils, their marriage and the New Zealand pop-rock soundtrack that shapes their lives – from Crowded House to Bic Runga, played onstage by a three-piece band. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Rochelle: My Nan used to tell me when I was a kid the story of the daffodils (two generations meeting at the exact same place by the daffodils by the lake). There was something magical and romantic about the idea - that maybe one day I’d go to the daffodils and meet my future love. 

But as I grew up and watched these two generations, the idea of romance soured in my mind. We all have stories told through our families. The daffodils was one of mine. I’d been thinking about their story for years, trying to find a way to tell it, when finally while at a residency at the Robert Lord writers cottage, I found the right song and the right idea came along. 

Daffodils was inspired by my parents' lives together, their complicated love and the songs that I grew up listening to on the radio - the best of NZ music. There’s a reason why I won’t go down to the daffodils. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

Kitan: Daffodils would not be possible without our incredible team. We have been very lucky that at each step, we met the right collaborator at the right time. Rochelle and I met back in 2011, where we both worked for another company. We enjoyed each other’s company and decided to work together on something of our own. Rochelle wrote Daffodils with actors Todd and Colleen in mind, so the parts of Eric and Rose were cast from the beginning - no auditions! Rochelle and Steph (one half of the band LIPS) met while both living and working in NYC. 

They talked about wanting to collaborate on a show together one day, Steph on music and Rochelle on script. Daffodils was the perfect opportunity. Steph suggested we contact Abraham Kunin, a super talented musician and producer, to join the team, as well as her partner (and the other half of the band LIPS) Fen Ikner. 

We wanted to work with a director who could shape and detail the performances, Dena Kennedy, a very well respected actor and director, was the perfect fit. We had known and worked with lighting designer, Jane Hakaraia, on previous shows for other companies, and Jane actually came to us after seeing our public reading of Daffodils, offering to design the lighting. 

We met Emily Hakaraia and Nils Melchert (our sound engineers) through Jane - you see, Emily is Jane’s younger sister, and Nils is Emily’s partner. Imagemaker Garth Badger and editor Erin Geurts joined the Daffodils family before rehearsals even began, they shot all the contemporary footage in the show, and are also the team behind all imagery for Bullet Heart Club. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

Kitan: I grew up in Macedonia up to the age of 7, and my grandma worked at a theatre at the time - so I got to see a lot of shows from a very young age. I remember feeling so excited about going to see anything that was showing, and as I progressed through school (in New Zealand) I ended up wanted to make and take part in shows myself - whether that was theatre or dance (I wasn’t a very good singer). 

After graduating from university, completing a bachelor of arts degree in media and business, I discovered that I enjoyed producing and directing more than being on stage. Meeting Rochelle in 2011 was perfectly timed, as we were both looking to create something new - Daffodils and the launch of our company Bullet Heart Club are the result. 

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

Rochelle: Daffodils is Bullet Heart Club’s debut work. The best thing about a debut work, is that there are no expectations, nothing set in stone, no real right or wrongs, you go with your gut. We created the process as we went along, and to the requirements of the work itself. We started with the script. During rehearsals the musical arrangements and the performance style slowly shaped together. 

We learnt that our process involves a very finely detailed breakdown for the actors that is beat by beat matched by the band. Then in live performance, there is this balancing act between everyone, making small shifts, to keep each moment feeling authentic and real. I think this style of performance for music theatre is unique, and now that we’re working on new projects, our aim is to continue this balancing act. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Kitan: Daffodils is a kiwi story from our own backyard, with some very iconic kiwi songs. We want the audience to experience a piece of our New Zealand culture, with the hope that they see something they can relate to - whether it’s something to do with their own family, a secret or a tragedy. If you’re a music lover - this show has plenty for you! Daffodils is a deeply personal love story, that we want audiences to be swept up by and believe everything is true. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Kitan & Rochelle: We use multiple devices to shape the audience experience including: family archival imagery to show you the real family behind the story, verbatim love letters from the real Eric and Rose, we choose songs that have a real emotional truth to them and everything is performed via direct address so that the characters can completely open up to the audience. Every moment was carefully considered, leading up to the key dramatic turning point at the end of the show. We hope by doing this, the payoff is worth it. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Daffodils pulls on a number of theatrical traditions, while at the same time, we hope it stands on it’s own with a signature style of music theatre created by our team. We bring all our own styles together - be it the mix of musical arrangements by the band, the lighting and film work, the sound and the special style of performance. Everyone brings their own thing to the work, which is then remixed in with the others. Our aim is to have the music and storytelling stand equal to each other. Daffodils is one part play, one part gig, heavily influenced by cabaret’s use of sourced songs and the storytelling language/imagery of music videos.  

Daffodils was “inspired by” the story of playwright Rochelle Bright’s own parents. Using private letters, interviews and family myths, trotted out at parties, the production unfolds against a backdrop of Kodak stills, Super8 home movies and fashion photography created by one of New Zealand's leading image makers, Garth Badger (Lorde, Nike).

Eric is played by Todd Emerson (Stage credits include The Brave, Lungs, The Pitchfork Disney and The History Boys. Films include ‘The World’s Fastest India’n and ‘My Wedding and other Secrets’) and Rose by Colleen Davis (Cabaret, Chicago and Little Shop of Horrors for Auckland Theatre Company & Dusty Springfield in Dust to Daisy for the Auckland International Festival).

Onstage music is performed by Stephanie Brown (2012 winner of New Zealand’s most prestigious songwriting award, the Silver Scroll) (LIPS) and multi-instrumentalist Fen Ikner , who together are the band LIPS, and instrumentalist, songwriter and music director Abraham Kunin.

Writer Rochelle Bright (Auckland) and creative director Kitan Petkovski (Melbourne) formed Bullet Heart Club in 2014 for their breakthrough hit Daffodils. The company's debut work has toured across 12 cities in New Zealand, including six international arts festivals. The show has returned and sold-out three times in Auckland and is touring Australia in May 2016.

Lighting design is by Jane Hakaraia, sound design by Nils Melchert, original direction by Dena Kennedy, film and photography by Garth Badger and film edit by Erin Geurts.

Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED (Traverse 1)

4-28 August 2016

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