Sunday, 5 June 2016

Happy Dramaturgy: Oli Forsyth @ Edfringe 2016

Happy Dave
Pleasance Courtyard (Beneath), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ Wednesday 3rd – Monday 29th August 2016 (not 16th), 16:15

Following on from Smoke & Oakum’s 2015 hit show Cornermen comes Happy Dave, also by Oli Forsyth – a show questioning what youth culture today really means and the ethos of Generation Y.

David Blessed spent the 90s DJ-ing in fields during the rave era, dropping beats for thousands of young revelers. But now, aged 45, he’s working a dead-end job in an advertising firm selling things he hates. 

However, old habits die hard and soon Dave leads a group of disenchanted young millennials back into the fray.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I think one of the major issues Generation Y is facing is the lack of a clear identity, a youth culture that is specific to us and sets our generation apart from what came before. If you look at the post-1945 era, from the birth of modern jazz through to rock'n'roll, disco, punk and post-punk almost every generation has created a soundtrack to their coming of age that has both united and defined their generation, while at the same time scaring and alienating everyone else. 

My theory as to why we're lacking this, and the inspiration of the show, is that the destruction of rave culture in the mid to late 90s was the last incarnation of this kind of youth culture. Since then what have we had? Boy bands, britpop, cool brittania and eventually hip-hop. 

All these movements are important and individual in their own right but are not representative of a generation. In 1994, 50,000 people marched through London to hold an illegal rave outside Parliament in protest at the new Criminal Justice Act that was destroying rave culture. 

They lost and slowly the outdoor raves where replaced with Festivals charging £250 a ticket and the warehouse free-parties turned into expensive clubs. The voice of that youth culture died away and, in my opinion, Generation Y didn't take up the mantle. Happy Dave looks at what could happen if we did. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I wrote the show in January this year and my first call was to Sam Carrack, the show's director. Sam had worked with me on my first show Tinderbox and done an incredible job; one of his many talents is working with new writing and so it seemed like a logical fit. Once Sam was on board we went about casting the show and put together a team of actors who are all unbelievably exciting.  

Each one of them brings such energy to the stage which I think is so important in a Fringe environment. However, with a show as musical as Happy Dave, casting actors was only half the work. 

Once casting was complete we began putting together our sound design team. Diarmaid Browne and Tom Clarke are now working together to create a soundscape that can take the audience from the early, riff-heavy sounds of the 90s through to the dirtier, more bass-filled music of today. In terms of musical content we've been consulting with musicians and DJs from both the 90s and modern day scenes, chief amongst them DJ Flashback of the Flashback Project and DJ Firefly. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I initially trained as an actor at East 15, once graduating I spent a few weeks looking for work and then decided I should probably make my own. I was lucky enough to be given rights to do The Cow Play by Ed Harris and spent the next year desperately trying to put it on and making many errors along the way . The thrill of getting the play on gave me the producing bug and working so closely with Ed over that year got me interested in the idea of writing.  

A few months later I produced my first play Tinderbox, followed by Cornermen in 2015 and now Happy Dave. For me, the process of spending months alone with a script and then giving it to a room of people who take it to a level you hadn't even considered is such a massive rush.

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

Happy Dave is a marked departure from the kind of work we've made before, the main difference being its scale. Smoke & Oakum has been producing work for 3 years now and each show, whilst always exceeding my expectations, has been placed in the confines of fringe theatre. Our budgets were small, as were the venues and, as a result, the staging and ambition of our work was limited. 

Happy Dave is a large show, spanning two different eras with a custom-made soundtrack in a 102 seat theatre, which makes it a different kettle of fish.  In terms of process, however, it is similar to all my work. Namely that I write the piece, refine it down with the help of the director and then, on the first day of the rehearsals, give it to the collective group to do with as we see fit. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I really hope that they will gain some sort of fondness or appreciation for the 1990s rave scene or at least see it in a new light. It's so often portrayed as a bunch of pill heads running around in tie-dye when in reality it was a large, national movement that was shut down by a very socially conservative government. 

Hopefully this, in turn, will lead to a bigger discussion about how this recent history has effected Generation Y. Why would a generation that has had more opportunity and potential than any in recent history be so thoroughly plagued with apathy, listlessness, anxiety and depression, to name but a few? 

On a more positive note, I sincerely hope that when the music flies and the lights start going that the audience experience something of what it's like to be surrounded by thousands of people all moving to the same beat in a field in the middle of nowhere. That'd be good.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

From a writer’s point of view, it's the structure of the play and the pace of the dialogue leading into key moments that shapes how an audience responds. My last play Cornermen was inspired by my experiences as a boxer and it was a great lesson in how to use these key 'set piece' scenes. If we'd had a fight every other minute, or attempted to stage every flick and jab we'd have been wasting our time and boring the audience - the same goes for these immense raves in Happy Dave

I find that the most effective theatrical moments are ones where the audience have to work a little. The joy of Happy Dave is that we're able to compliment these changes in the writing with an incredible soundtrack that will add immensely to the experience. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Not especially. I would say my work is naturalistic and very story driven, but then again that could be said of 90% of all theatre. I have a hunch that the most engaging stories come from being able to watch something you would normally find unpleasant or uncomfortable in the flesh, from the safety of your seat. 

I think this is why the menacing nature of Pinter or Philip Ridley, to name a couple, has such an enduring hold on audiences. Even in Shakespeare, we see characters like Macbeth, Iago, Richard III and Tamora enjoy a fascination from the audience; there's something thrilling about seeing these dangerous people prowl around the stage. My work to date has dealt with terrorism, boxing and now illegal raves. A long way from bloody revenge tragedies I'll admit, but what they all have in common is the depiction of a part of society that lives on the fringes, and that the vast majority of people would never willingly seek out. 

In 1992, nearly 50,000 people gathered for an illegal rave at Castlemorton that lasted a week. Two years later, the new Criminal Justice Act brought that entire movement, one that had marched on Parliament and occupied Hyde Park, to a close. 

Out of the ashes came the ‘millennials’ – a generation characterised by its uncertainty.

The rave scene has now changed – today youth culture is centred around expensive festivals, headlined by aging rockers with tickets costing hundreds of pounds. It seems the millennials are a generation that is constantly recycling things rather than forming their own identity. As David Blessed says in the play, It’s ’cos they’re lost. Whole lot of ’em. I see an entire nation, full of young people who have no idea what’s happening to them. They feel no sense of unity or belonging... They’re just lost.

Writer Oli Forsyth comments, Happy Dave came from the experiences I’ve had growing up into what would later be labelled ‘Generation Y’. It struck me that from the birth of modern jazz to rock’n’roll, punk and eventually rave there was a familiar pattern of each generation bringing to the fore its own genre of music and expression which was at once exciting for them, and unnerving to older generations. 

Generation Y are marked by uncertainty, by a materialistic drive and by a culture of overwork. I think we need a shake-up.

Notes Ages 14+
Writer Oli Forsyth Director Sam Carrack Producer Oli Forsyth
Dave Andy Mcleod Jess/ Molly Helen Coles Steph Lucy Hagan-Walker Alex Kiell Smith-Bynoe Danny/ Young Dave Oli Forsyth

Oli Forsyth
Oli trained at East 15 Acting School having graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Political Science. Two weeks after graduating he set up Smoke & Oakum Theatre, a new writing company based in London. His first show, The Cow Play, by Ed Harris, ran at the 2013 Brighton and Edinburgh Festivals, as well as having a brief run at Theatre503. 

In 2014 Smoke & Oakum returned to Theatre503 and The Edinburgh Fringe with Oli’s first play Tinderbox. The show was well received, selling out many shows, being nominated for an Amnesty International Award before transferring back to London in the winter. In 2015 Oli’s second show Cornermen, based on his experiences as a boxer, opened at The Old Red Lion before heading up to the  Pleasance Courtyard. The show was an enormous success, receiving great critical acclaim across the board. 

Oli produces, writes and acts in nearly all Smoke & Oakum’s shows as well as overseeing the day to day running of the company.

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