Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Just let the wind untie my perfumed Dramaturgy: Delia Olam @ Edfringe 2016

Joanne Hartstone presents 

August 4th-29th (not 16th)
12:30 (75 mins)
Assembly George Square Studios (Venue 17)

After a successful premiere season in the 2015 Adelaide Fringe, being nominated for a Peace Foundation Award, and a successful return season in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe, 

“Just let the wind untie my perfumed hair...” or WHO IS TAHÍRÍH? 

makes its international debut at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

An intimate, immersive and poetic experience – a solo bio-
play about Tahíríh, the 19th C. Persian poet who removed her veil, championed equality for all, and became the world’s first female suffrage martyr.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The amazing true story of a highly educated and revolutionary Persian woman known as Ṭáhirih, who lived in the mid 1800s and who - arguably - set in motion the politics of the global gender (and human) equality movement when she removed her veil before a large group of men, stepped into an exclusively male domain, and declared that the power of the old Laws had finished. She was imprisoned multiple times for her beliefs in an attempt to silence her, but her clear, intelligent and passionate eloquence always found an audience. The effort having failed, she was eventually executed, at age 36, by strangulation. Her legacy also includes beautiful Rumi-esque poetry,  which are mostly written in the ghazal tradition of 'love letters' to the divine - which have very strong and  

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

In a very organic fashion. The premiere season of the work in the Adelaide fringe 2015 was a bit of an experiment, which I undertook with a very "poor man's" aesthetic (and budget), and with a team of non-theatre volunteers - who equipped themselves admirably during a surprisingly successful run! 

From that season, an opportunity arose to do a development of the work at the State's premiere theatre space, The Festival Centre, to which Geoff Cobham of bluebottle lighting, brought his considerable experience and expertise - and a beautiful new lighting and set design grew from that. 

Joanne Hartstone had seen one of the performances during that season and we stayed in touch. The collaboration grew from some hearty conversations mid last year (and the revelation that I am up for taking Edinburgh-like risks!), and she soon came on board officially as producer, with Edinburgh now in mind. We put on a return season during the Adelaide fringe 2016, which also did very well. In the run up to this Edinburgh fringe season, Joanne has also stepped very naturally into the role of director, which has proven to be an exciting and fruitful development for the work.

How did you become interested in making this performance?

I was first prompted towards the material when I was commissioned to create a short piece on Táhirih's life - in preparation for a celebration of the 100th Anniversaty of the UN International Women's Day that we had a few years ago. The research that I did revealed a complex woman with surprising agency given the time and place she lived. This was at odds with the brief version of her story I had been told years before, which I felt painted her as a beautiful, self-sacrificing victim of a cruel world. 

In fact, it turns out, hers is a story of almost unexplainable power, and certainly great courage; like an Epic Poem where the heroine becomes self-aware and steps out of the page and flips the script! The questions her life raised, about what we've achieved in gender equity since the infamous moment of her 'unveiling' - and what we've yet to achieve (not to mention the question of what inspired her to do it!) just wouldn't give me peace. 

So I found another writer/dramaturg, and we got going on the new piece, researching both the historical aspects of this story and time as well as the different voices at play in the modern equality discourse...

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

No. I have tended to be quite impulsive and impatient and explosive in my creative processes up until now; All and then nothing. Whereas this piece has been slow, steady and organic in the making, at every stage. From the conceptual stage one year, to the research and writing (which took a year) to the play reading, songwriting and development stage (another year) through these two seasons (a year and a half) and even this period of preparation for Edinburgh - in which intensive rehearsals have revealed still more fresh insights in the work! 

Perhaps it's because we are "collaborating" with this historical figure of Táhirih, but somehow there has been a different quality to the whole thing, which has engendered in me a trust and patience - that the thing is unfolding as it should. Maybe *this* will become my "typical way to make a performance" now??

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Entertainment, and good story-telling; a sense of intimacy and of sharing something fragile and wonderful: that surprised, frustrated and uplifted -lingering in the memory... 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

By taking the time during the research and writing stage to learn about many stories as possible so that there would be a number of nuanced voices that might be at once historically satisfying and also politically interesting to the modern viewer, with some of the characters holding difficult positions; and others holding unfavourable ones but inspiring affection nonetheless etc. 

Another strategy was setting her poetry to music so that the ear would have that regular 'cleansing' and 'reset' throughout the piece, that they might be ready for the next 'character' to take the stage. The other was exploring and cultivating numerous different ways to break the fourth wall convincingly, so that the storytelling could be as intimate and immediate as possible. 

Also by keeping the set and design simple and un-cluttered so that the few things used (for example, the one lilac scarf worn in different ways, depending on the character, and finally standing in for the strangled Táhirih) gain a poetic versatility and becoming increasingly symbolic. By placing a poem/song full of hope at the end, after the tragic death scene, suggesting empowerment and action. And hopefully, by giving a strong performance. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

I've used the word already a few times, so I suppose I must see it within the "storytelling" tradition - but it probably more comes under the banner of straight Drama, with heightened theatricality, since the "people" telling are very much not me. The breaking of the fourth wall would also seem to draw the work into the modern definition of 'cabaret', and i have also snuck in there, a few subtle elements of Clown - for a bit of light relief.  

Prepare to be thrown back in time to some of the history-making and heart-breaking moments that
defined the short life of the unprecedented woman that Tahíríh was. She was no one thing; neither all
damsel nor all warrior. Instead, she was: a keen scholar, skilled teacher, religious leader, poetess of
genius, young wife, loving yet sacrificing mother, “rebel”, “lawbreaker”, “troublemaker”, eloquent public
speaker, relentless truth seeker, unflinchingly courageous and tragically – a happy martyr. 

Live original music with cello and Appalachian dulcimer, set to Tahirih’s beautiful translated poetry.

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