Saturday, 18 June 2016

Please Excuse My Dramaturgy: Ianthe Demos @ Edfringe 2016

The European Premiere of
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally
By Kevin Armento

Pleasance Beyond, Pleasance Courtyard
Wed 3 – Sun 28 August (not Mon 15 or 22)
12.50pm (70mins)

An illicit affair between a high school maths teacher and her fifteen year-old student is told through the eyes of the student's mobile phone. 

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally offers an intimate view as small choices pile up into indiscretion, and the student’s closest companion struggles to understand the complex human equation that emerges.  The story of an illicit affair between a student and his teacher is told from the viewpoint of his mobile phone in a breakneck journey from pockets to purses… 

One Year Lease Theater Company brings Festival audiences a daring, sexy, suspenseful and utterly unique coming-of-age story.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Nick and I were interested in exploring the, admittedly broad, topic of infidelity as a company. Concurrently we had been reading work by Kevin and were in conversations with him about a new commission.  As a company we are interested in unconventional forms of story-telling which originate from texts diving into stories through unique frameworks. 

We invited Kevin to come and watch us workshop the theme of infidelity through improv and movement exercises as well as short discussions with the company for a week.  The idea was that Kevin would not write during this time and just take it all in.  Following the workshop Kevin went away and wrote, delivering the first draft of Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to us two months later. 

Of course there was a lot more that went into the inspiration for it from Kevin’s perspective and below is some more from him!

“There were a few strands of inspiration that came together at a sad time for me. I had just finished writing a screenplay with Rik Mayall, and had this commission from One Year Lease to write a play, any play I wanted. I knew I wanted to write about a teacher/student affair, because when I was in high school, a teacher I'd gotten really close to professed feelings for me. Nothing happened, but it was right in front of us. It had a profound impact on me, and how I view the prevalence of these stories in the news.

Anyway, so I had the story, but I was really stuck, because I didn't just want it to be a piece about how teachers and students shouldn't fuck. I wanted to unpack it, and look at it in an unexpected way, to better understand how it happens. And I just couldn't find an interesting way in.

Well then I landed in LA, and got a call that Rik had just died. It was so sudden, and such a shock. We had literally just finished this script a few months earlier. My partner and I in New York had made three long trips out there to work with Rik at his house, and we'd gotten so close. On one of the trips, his family made us an American Thanksgiving meal, and we stayed up all night together.

It was now the last thing he would ever write. A modern adaptation of Oliver Twist, in which Rik was to play Fagin as an unruly iPhone app who teaches kids how to steal. Now we had no idea what, if anything, we could do with it.

We still don't know what will come of that script, but it was what gave me my way in for PEMDAS. I wrote the play a couple weeks later, realizing that looking at that same story from the point of view of the boy's cell phone suddenly opened it up to become a whole new play. A more honest one, a funnier one, and I hope, a more compelling one.”

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

OYL is an ensemble company and Kevin was writing for the company’s actors so the team preceded the piece.  Something that was unique to this process was that different actors in OYL worked on different parts of the development of the piece.  This was a factor of artists’ availability over the two year process.  It also strengthened the work.  

One of the joys of having an ensemble is how well performers get to know each other and how they can deepen each other’s work.  As way of example three out of five of the actors who worked on a two week process of delineating the lines (the piece is written as one long sentence with no character delineations) were not in the final performance.  Their work ended up being a rich layer for the actors who picked up the roles.  Lastly since OYL has been interested in shows of a choral nature this environment created a complex choral voice that you hear throughout the production.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have always been interested in making performance. OYL has evolved over the years as a reflection of that interest.  In 2008 we re-formed the company as an ensemble rather than merely a producing entity.   It was in 2012 while working on a production of Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water) that we began to coalesce as an ensemble around an aesthetic in pursuit of both a heightened physicality as well as what is slowly becoming an intricate idea of reinventing the chorus through modern performance.

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

Yes, the process for Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally was typical of how we build performances.  The production is constantly working on different levels and it was a process of creating all these different layers while keeping our eye on the simplicity of the story and the emotional journey.  We are very interested in creating multiple performance layers with very few but striking elements and I think we achieve that with this production.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that the audience will be drawn into a coming-of-age story.  I see the production as almost being sucked into the world of your phone. Imagine entering through an app and then seeing the world from your phone.  Ultimately however the phone cannot keep up with the human element of the story and I hope the audience, similarly to our protagonist, feels the emotional conflict at the core of this love story as technology falls away.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The entire stage is the shape of an i-phone with a giant void in the center and the ability for actors to pop in and out and on to the stage.  The effect is that of images appearing and disappearing on a screen.  The lighting with LED strips around the stage and a light box hovering above the void adds to the idea that you are inside a phone.  And the soundtrack for the entire piece is played live on a mandolin by the composer adding an “acoustic”-ish sound to counterpoint the electronic phone in the show.

It was important to us in building this piece – both with the staging and in how we delineated the lines that as the show progresses the human element begins to take over.  One example is how the void functions in a practical way at the beginning with objects appearing and disappearing into it as well as performers.  As the show continues however the student begins to bounce in and out of the void, the teacher and student consummate their affair in the void and by the end of the show it becomes a place of danger. 

The show is written in six sections following the order of operations of PEMDAS (an order of operations children learn in the USA to solve math equations – Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction).  Each section then has the undercurrent of its mathematical equivalent.  By the time you reach subtraction it is clear that the human problem on stage is too large for any piece of technology or mathematical order of operations to solve.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I try to take inspiration from many places.  I suppose time and audiences will let us know what tradition the work falls within.

One Year Lease Theater Company presents
Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally by Kevin Armento
Pleasance Beyond, Pleasance Courtyard
Wed 3 – Sun 28 August (not Mon 15 or 22)
12.50pm (70mins)

Artistic Director Ianthe Demos & Associate Artistic Director Nick Flint

One Year Lease Theater Company (OYL) premieres bold international works of theater. OYL advocates physically powerful, ensemble-based theater while creating worlds that are raw, poetic, and visceral.

Since 2012 OYL has premiered five productions in NYC – Kevin Armento’s Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, Bryony Lavery’s Stockholm, Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water), Gary Henderson’s Skin Tight and Pamela Carter’s What We Know.

OYL’s work has been critically acclaimed as “first rate young actors” (Charles Isherwood, The New York Times) “theatrical witchcraft” (Scott Brown, New York Magazine), “riveting theater” (Ed Siegel, Boston’s NPR), “fiery and fantastical” (Eric Sundermann, Village Voice), “screams of novelty” (Alexandra Villarreal, Huffington Post), “playfully poisonous” (Terry Byrne, Boston Globe) and “a gleaming portrait of our collective contemporary existence” (Andy Propst, American Theater Web).

In addition to its work in the USA, OYL runs a summer education program annually in northern Greece for university students. The summer of 2016 marks the tenth year of the program. Since 2007 95 students have participated from Atlantic Acting School, Arizona State, Bard, Boston University, CalArts, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Columbia, Connecticut College, Harvard, Ithaca, Mcgill, Middlebury, Muhlenberg, Northwestern, NYU, Syracuse, Oberlin, Princeton, Reed, Rice, Southern Methodist University, Universidad de Chile, University of Michigan, USC and Vassar, Wesleyan and Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts. 

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