Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Road to Dramaturgy: Stephanie Ridings @ Edfringe 2016

The Road to Huntsville
‘I’m trying to understand why British women fall in love with men on death row. I’m corresponding with Jonny, incarcerated in Texas. I’m trying to understand how the death penalty fits into our world. I’m trying not to be judgmental.’ 

This is an exploration into unconventional love, state homicide and challenging preconceptions. Stephanie Ridings is a writer/performer. 

Her most recent work, Unknown Male, opened at Birmingham Repertory Theatre to critical acclaim and was awarded the 2014 Peter Brook/Mark Marvin Award. In March 2016, she created Dylan’s Parents for Live Lunch at the Royal Court. 

Stephanie Ridings – (Writer and Performer)  

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I watched a documentary about death row, which also touched upon women who are pen pals with the men waiting to be executed. The women can become romantically involved even though in some cases they are in a different country and never actually meet. 
credit Rachel Bunce

I couldn’t understand what motivated them and wanted to find out more. Topics I struggle to grasp are usually the ones I want to research and write about.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I’d worked previously with Pippa, the producer, and having briefly talked about my interest in this subject we both felt it would be good to work together again. I always feel it is important to collaborate with other creatives to help strengthen an idea. I knew Jonathan McGrath, the director, from when I lived in Manchester and had always hoped we could work together. 

Rachel, the filmmaker, came as a recommendation via China Plate, one of the commissioning partners and Janet, set designer and Duncan, sound designer were local artists who we knew and felt like the perfect fit for the project. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
From a young age I have always performed, initially as a dancer. After sometime I edged towards acting and by happy accident ended up on a Contemporary Performing arts degree, which taught devising as well as performance and live art. My degree opened me up to a world, which questioned and challenged what theatre could be and I really enjoyed this. Although this has changed over the years I still feel what I learnt whilst studying still shapes the work I make.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Generally yes. I usually spend quite a lot of time on research and knowing far too much about a subject before I start writing.  I like to go into the rehearsal room with a pretty robust script, which can then be played around with and tested. This is also when I like to make significant edits and changes. 

Getting the text on its feet is, for me, the best way to see what works and what doesn’t. I’d never want to be without a director as I feel that is crucial to the process. The first week of rehearsals the two of us get to grips with the script and “Talk about it behind its back,” as Jonathan the director likes to say. Tentative ideas round the other elements such as AV, sound, light and overall design can then be firmed up.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
The audience can expect to see information surrounding the death penalty, those charged with it and the women who get romantically involved with them and how this effects everybody involved. There are film and images of the trip I took to Texas in 2015 and my one eyed cat makes an appearance on screen. 

This is the experience of a woman who tries to understand a subject and gets swept away with it. I would hope by the end the audience would feel like they have been through something and perhaps want to challenge some of the ideas or at least start a conversation about them. It’s quite a difficult subject at times, but there are lots of light relief moments.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I would like the audience to be able to come with me into this difficult yet interesting world of pen-pals. Having moments where we can all come up for breath felt important and also having an experience where all elements come together to heighten the story being told. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I enjoy theatre, which tells stories in interesting ways. I would say my work sits in a contemporary theatre/performance.

Summerhall, Red Lecture Theatre, 5 – 28 Aug 2016 (not 15 & 22), 8.45pm (9.45pm)  

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