Thursday, 14 July 2016

Hyena Dramaturgy: Romana Soutus @ Edfringe 2016

Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29)
 Aug 22-28 9.40 pm

A daringly intimate and visceral show about the beast within

Straight from its world premiere at La MaMa in NYC, Hyena is an uncompromising examination of intimacy, vulnerability, and sexuality. Provocative and devilish, writer and performer Romana Soutus flirts dangerously with the dichotomy of the public and private self. This solo performance dares to reveal Soutus’ raw impulses, anxieties and desires, as she throws two fingers up to society's rigid framework of femininity.

Director Rachel Levens weaves the lush language of Hyena through a variety of performance styles, all underscored with an original sound design by composer/sound designer Gareth Hobbs. Soutus challenges her audience to figuratively and literally unlock the beast, and reimagines the role of the audience in interactive theatre. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
While I was doing a workshop with Belarus Free Theatre they challenged us to write one page that could never be performed on a stage in our home country. I’m from Ukraine originally and I thought: “Ooh, I’ve got tons of things I couldn’t say!” So I sat down and started writing and nothing really scary came out. None of it scared me to say. So I took a second and genuinely asked myself: “What are you really, genuinely, shaking-in-your-boots scared to tell people?” and Hyena was born.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The theatre, like most spaces, is predominately occupied by men. It was a surprising difficult journey to find female designers and production staff in the original iteration of this project. For this production in the Fringe, every single member of our team on the ground in Edinburgh self identifies as a woman. This is a one-woman show that deals with issues of femininity and it felt essential to create an environment where women’s voices were actively being presented.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I fell in love with theatre and live performance because it is active vulnerability. You are taking your body and opening it up for the people in the space around you. You’re taking on and becoming a medium for fears and dreams. It’s a terrifying prospect, when you think about it. I’ve always wanted to walk into that terrifying space and Hyena is a manifestation of that personal journey.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Hyena is the first piece I have written and my first solo performance. I’ve been working on it for 2 years now and no part of the process has been typical because I’ve never gone down this path before. Some points in the journey felt right and, if given the chance, I would go back and do some things differently. If you start your journey from the unknown, your journey can never be typical because it is always new. I challenge myself to write and perform from the unknown.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
Contemporary theatre has this unfortunate tendency to disregard the audience. Either the fourth wall becomes a security blanket or artists burst through the audience’s space without any consideration for the people who have come to engage with the art.
A reviewer from New York put the audience experience of Hyena best: “Although Hyena is described as an interactive piece, this is a bit of a misnomer. Not interactive in a traditional sense, Soutus mostly interacts with the audience by placing her vulnerability in their hands.” (Rachel Kerry, New York Theatre Review)
I hope the audience feels cared for. I hope they feel essential to the piece. I hope they feel that I value their presence and I want to connect with them.
As an audience member, you’re the reason I’m here. I owe it all to you.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I put my fate in the audience’s hands, quite literally.
I start the show locked in a dog cage.
I don’t have a key to unlock the cage.
Neither does my stage manager, nor any other member of my team.
The key will sit on top of the cage, far enough so that I can’t reach it, and I need to convince someone in the audience to come up and unlock me.
I am asking for the audience’s consent to go to dark places with them.
This isn’t just my journey, it's ours.
By giving them all of the power from the very first moment of the show, I’m giving them my trust.
If I can trust my audience, I hope they can trust me too.
I’m asking them to go through a lot with me.
Hyena isn’t an easy play, by any means.
It is emotionally draining and difficult. I am asking a lot from them.
By unlocking me, we get to hold hands and know we have each other’s back from the get go.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
My work seems less rooted in a particular tradition and more rooted in experience.
I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by my artistic family at La MaMa.
I started writing Hyena at their summer writing workshop in Umbria.
I did my workshops and rehearsals at La MaMa’s Great Jones rehearsal studios.
I performed in the Club at La MaMa.
I have gotten feedback and support from La MaMa staff and family since day one.
La MaMa is an institution not only because it was the bastion of avant-garde experimental theatre in New York, but because its founder Ellen Stewart created a home.
I am rooted in that experience of artistic home.
I am rooted in the experience of being supported by those who have come before me and engaging with those that are working alongside me.

Playwright and Performer ROMANA SOUTUS is a New York based actress, playwright, and producer. For the last four years, Romana has performed and produced at the experimental theatre institution La MaMa ETC, serving as a Steering Member of the Junior Committee. She has also worked with Belarus Free Theatre, Theatre MOTUS, Dijana Milošević of DAH Theatre, and playwright Catherine Filloux.

Director RACHEL LEVENS is a director and deviser of new plays, a dramaturg, and a teaching artist. Her New York credits include Hyena (La MaMa), The Expulsion by Mary DeCarlo (Thespis Theater Festival), and Madigan and the Magic Box written and performed by Lindsey Leonard (Dixon Place). She served as an assistant director on various premiere productions including Selma ’65  by Catherine Filloux (La MaMa) and 16 Words or less by Peggy Stafford (Clubbed Thumb).

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