Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dark Dramaturgy: Paul Andrew Perez and Jessica Avellino @ Edfringe 2016

Fun, cool, chilling. In her debut musical, writer/composer Jessica Avellino delivers an all new musical with a brash score. Emma, suffering from the accidental death of her sister, is locked in Westlake Mental Hospital.

She is trapped in her mind, as she struggles for her sanity and her life. This must-see new musical thriller is filled with twists and turns that features a fresh soundtrack. Sometimes letting go is the hardest thing to do.

Paul Andrew Perez - Director & Dramaturge of Infinity Rep’s DARK HEART
Jessica Avellino - Playwright/Composer of Infinity Rep’s DARK HEART

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I think my focus was to try and take what Jessica was writing and thinking and then shaping it to her vision.  I was constantly coming back to “What is the story?” and not letting her go sideways but striving to get at the heart of the story.  With any musical, the heart of the piece is in the music.  Jess’s music is different, soulful.  I often tease her on the “emo” nature of the piece, but the music suits the content of the piece.

As a writer, I wanted to bring out a topic that I felt deserved more awareness; teen depression and suicide. Being a teenager myself, I unfortunately have seen and gone through a lot of the hardships that coincide with this piece. This allowed me to create a piece that would hopefully impact people struggling through these same issues. The inspiration was to find a way to prevent these issues from expanding.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
It was pretty simple for me.  I have worked with the same group of designers and music director for over 10 years.  We have a tremendous comfort level and can communicate honestly about each others work.

I have been apart of the Infinity Repertory Theatre Company for five years now and was able to have the show performed by the other members in the company. This was an amazing opportunity because the bond that I have with all of these kids allowed me to really trust them in shaping my work.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I love telling stories.  It began with my father who would always tell me stories, both fictional and fact based.  He would become the characters.  This stayed with me my entire life.  I became and actor and later a Producer, Director and Playwright.  I enjoy making stories come to life.

I have always loved writing. When I was 12 years old, I started writing songs and it turned into a hobby of mine. Writing, whether it was through music, poetry, or just storytelling, allowed me to express my emotions in a way I simply couldn’t without paper. Only about a year ago, was I asked to write a musical for the Infinity Repertory Theatre Company to perform and I took it on as a huge challenge. It was a completely different animal this time because I wasn’t just writing for fun, I was writing for a purpose. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I read the script. I allow my imagination to fully sink in to it. If I love it. I will be driven to tell it and produce it. I then begin breaking down the story and seeing where the strengths and weakness lie. If I am fortunate enough to be working with the playwright.

We begin to talk and work on the piece. I am always careful to maintain the vision of the playwright. Once we have honed the piece. I bring in the design team and let them read it. Once they have all read it we sit down as a collective and we talk about it. The exciting bits as well as the challenges.

Once we are of the same mind the next step is casting. Once again I sit down with the playwright and casting director as we see actors. I am always looking for actors who are talented but fit the vision of the role and the piece. Once I am cast we begin shaping the show with the actors. I stay true to the vision but allow room for growth and changes. As you bring more people in to your group, they bring their talent to bear and it allows your vision to grow. Please keep in mind that this is a very abbreviated version of this process that I have streamlined for the sake of brevity.

This process was something that I had never done before. I went into it not truly knowing what the result was going to be. I knew that I wanted a piece that would help make a change, so I shaped a story based on the topic of teen depression and suicide. It was difficult because each part of the musical had to allow the story to progress and had to interlock with the main purpose of the piece. It is hours and hours of hard work that allows for one of the most satisfying outcomes: to bring purpose to art.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Ideally what I felt when I first read the piece.  I want them to feel. To have a genuine experience.  In DARK HEART, everything is about letting our audience feel the journey our lead actress is on.
We are peeking into a shattered mind that is on the cusp of complete breakdown and suicide.

I hope, no matter how small, that this show makes some kind of a impact on someone’s life. The purpose of this piece is to raise awareness of these issues to teens and parents and help them all learn ways to prevent these horrible situations. We are not alone, we can prevent it together. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Everything!  I love to begin the audience experience from the very moment they enter into the theater.  Everything should point them to where you want them to look and feel.  I love immersive theater because it puts the audience firmly in the piece and they are on the journey with you.  In effect, they are part of the story.  I am using some Brechtian staging as well as multi-media to tell this story.

The main strategy I used was personal experience. I’ve always believed that writing based on your own experience allows for the audience to connect with the story more because it is real. I chose to write as much as I could about something I’ve been through, rather something I’ve only witnessed. This is something that allows us, as the writers, to become more passionate about our own piece and enables more value and quality in the result. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I am following my father’s path.  I am a storyteller.  I will do anything to tell the story. Through any method and beyond any convention.  At my heart, I am that child wanting to share my love of storytelling.

I don’t know. When writing, I didn’t follow any tradition, I wrote how it flowed out. I believe that any writer can form their own traditions because we are all different. I had my own vision that I formed for this piece, not any one else’s. 

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