Monday, 20 June 2016

Dramaturgy and Me: Sam Rowe@ Edfringe 2016

MADE IN SCOTLAND Showcase, Edinburgh 2016
Sam Rowe Theatre Ltd and Macrobert Arts Centre, in association with Showroom, present:

By Sam Rowe, based on the journals of Denton Welch

‘When you long with all your heart for someone to love you, a madness grows which shakes all sense from the trees and the water and the Earth. And nothing lives for you, except the deep, bitter want.

Aug 3, 4 Previews - 15:05 (75mins) | £8
Aug 5-14, 16-21, 23-28 - 15:05 (75mins) | £12/£10 conc.
Summerhall (Venue 26)

1944: Fastidious diarist Denton Welch writes with astonishing honesty about his obsession for reckless land-boy Eric. 

2011: A young writer is given the diaries by a family friend and discovers echoes of his own life within them.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration is the life and work of writer and artist Denton Welch. I was given his Journals in 2011 by a family friend and, having never heard of him before, was blown away by the quality of his writing and tragic story. I knew very quickly I wanted to adapt them somehow. The contemporary element of the production, based on my own experiences around that time, was create to underline the continuing relevance of his emotional and psychological insights today.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I just approached people whose work I admired, and who I felt I could work well with. I remember in my first conversation with director Nick Bone thinking that we were almost immediately on the same page with what I was thinking. He’s a brilliant organic and encouraging director. 

I love designer Colin O’Hara’s approach, and his knowledge of unusual and obscure art and design means he’ll always come up with something very original. I had worked with composer Scott Twynholm on If These Spasms Could Speak. His work very understated, but that’s what allows it build an enormous emotional power. I was thinking a lot about the Andrei Tarkovsky film Mirror for this project, and was delighted that both Colin and Scott took it as a big source of inspiration too.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve always been involved in theatre, and I think I had wanted to state my artistic intentions for a long time with a one man show. The problem is I had no idea what I wanted to say until I came across Denton. Alan Bennett wrote about his experiences of reading the Journals that he felt he had found “sympathetic voice [who] seemed to be speaking particularly to me.” I think shared that experience, so I was very excited to bring him to a whole new audience in the hope that others would find that too.

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

Yes. I think my process is quite self-searching. It was not an easy piece to write, and meant asking some big questions about myself and going back to some quite dark times. Once someone asked me if I could do community workshops on my writing process, and I declined as I really wouldn’t inflict it on anyone! 

One of the really nice things was having very regular workshops with different practitioners every few weeks. It’s great to get lots of different perspectives and it made it a lot more sociable. I love getting feedback, the more brutal the better!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I’ve found writing the work very therapeutic, and what I have found heartening is that people have connected with the experiences in the production. Our society doesn’t find it very easy to talk about vulnerability; there is a lot of pressure to put on a high-gloss out front, keeping fears and anxieties backstage. I hope this show manages to discuss these issues in a manner that is poignant, humorous and avoids self-indulgence, and that it might encourage anyone who is or ever has struggled with this dichotomy.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I think I was concerned that the show shouldn’t just be a crusty presentation of some dead author, and that it should feel as alive and relevant to contemporary audiences as Denton’s work deserved to be. The blending of the 1940’s and modern day plot helped with that, and Colin and Scott have done a great job of integrating the two worlds in their designs; but to describe how would ruin the surprise.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Not really. I suppose storytelling is central to my work, so the story comes first with the set and sound design created to pick up motifs within it. That’s the approach, but I don’t really know where it came from! My main inspirations, other than Denton Welch, are Andrei Tarkovsky and George Orwell so I want to do what they do but in theatre.

Denton And Me is the debut solo show from Sam Rowe, director of Robert Softley’s critically acclaimed Fringe hit If These Spasms Could Speak, and runs in Edinburgh following a short, successful run at The Arches, Glasgow in 2015.

This multi-layered, stunningly designed show weaves together writer/performer Sam Rowe’s autobiography with the journals of Denton Welch (1915-1948) - a fascinating figure in queer and literary history, and a favourite of Alan Bennett, William S. Burroughs and John Waters.

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