Sunday, 19 June 2016

Label it Dramaturgy: Joe Sellman-Leava @ Edfringe 2016

Worklight Theatre Presents

by Joe Sellman-Leava | directed by Katharina Reinthaller
designed by Charlotte Anderson | lighting & sound by Phill Hewit produced by Michael Woodman

Worklight Theatre’s multi-award winning show is a funny, moving and honest story about mixed heritage and immigration. Charting a childhood in 90s' Devon, shifting political landscapes and global refugee crisis, the show uses comedy, storytelling and spoken word. Expect paper planes, racist romances and lots of sticky labels! 

Using humour and honesty, Labels offers a human story from multicultural Britain, and is touring the UK after an award-winning Australian tour and London run.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Initially it was a workshop on racism, which Emma Thompson led. The first draft came from there. Then in 2015, (after several short performances of the initial idea, and years of thinking about), I felt that the voices of the far-right had become so loud I wanted to redevelop the show entirely, so it could go to Edinburgh and tour the UK.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
It was a result of talking (sometimes non-stop) to friends and colleagues. I was introduced to Katharina Reinthaller by a mutual friend (director Jessica Beck), who worked as director and dramaturg for Labels; us collaborating together was what really transformed the show into what it is now. Katharina brought lighting and sound designer Phil Hewitt on board. 

Michael Woodman, who runs Worklight Theatre with me, started working on Labels as a producer. And Charlotte Anderson, who we'd worked with on many projects years before, worked as set & costume designer, and stage manager. Having a close team, who were so close to the project, made a huge difference.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I had some incredible teachers (in and out of school) who encouraged and challenged me in equal measure. There was a real buzz in working through the challenges and pitfalls of performance-making and coming out the other side with something you're proud of. That, and the camaraderie within the teams you work with on these projects is also what kept me coming back for more!

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
For Labels I spent a lot more time writing independently than I previously had, since Worklight's previous shows were both devised. However, the process of workshopping and text at every stage - as we had before - remained at the heart of it. 

And we've always done a lot of scratches, sharing, and work-in-progress shows as part of process, which in this case were really invaluable, as so much of the show relies on the relationship between audience and performer.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
We want them to laugh, cry and think! Although the show's content is highly personal, we hope it's much more outward looking than it seems. The idea is by retelling my own experiences of racism, and framing them within imagery and questions around labelling, people reflect on their own views and experiences. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The show is interactive a few specific ways: namely, me sticking labels onto both myself and the audience, and a section where an audience member reads racist messages someone sent me on Tinder! 

We also wanted everyone to feel included in the story throughout: eye contact with as many audience members as possible is essential from our perspective, and we developed the show to suit a thrust space with the audience on three sides, so that a strong connection was made from the word go.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

It might be too early to say that, since Labels is my first full length play and Worklight's third full-length show. But storytelling a really vital part of the show and work I/we have made before, and obviously that's a fairly ancient tradition! 

But to be a little more specific, I'm personally a huge fan of artists like Bobby Baker and Spalding Gray, where the relationship between personal and political is at the centre of their work. 

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