Monday, 11 July 2016

Skin Of The Dramaturgy: Fat Content @ Edfringe 2016

Thriller meets fairy tale. Nineteen-year-old
Nicholas finds a fistful of teeth and is propelled into a perilous world of manipulation, ritual and dangerous men.

Fat Content return to the Fringe with award-winning poet and playwright Anna Beecher's searing retelling of The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn to Shudder. Inventive and surreal, this boldly physical one-man show explores fear, fearlessness and the manipulation of young men. An ancient story with a modern heartbeat.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Skin Of The Teeth is a reimagining of the Grimm's fairytale, The Boy Who Went Fourth To Learn To Shudder. It's a story about a boy who cannot feel fear and sets out on a quest to try and feel it. We found the notion of not feeling fear very compelling, and were also struck by characters in the story who offered to help the boy in his quest. What was motivating them?

 A narrative started to emerge for us about feeling different and how difference can be manipulated by others for their own ends. The idea of a young man being manipulated and being drawn into a dangerous world, in the hope of feeling new exciting feelings, felt very contemporary for us. It spoke to radicalisation and gang culture, which both became inspirations and areas of research. 

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Our company, FAT CONTENT (director Racel Lincoln, writer Anna Beecher and performer Daniel Holme) have been creating work together since 2007. 

We bring different skills into the process. Having trained at Lecoq, Rachel Lincoln brings a very physical and visual sensibility to directing, whereas, as a poet and storyteller, writer Anna Beecher's work is rooted in text. 

These approaches compliment and challenge each other. Daniel trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York, a training rooted in naturalism, which really grounds the hightened physicality and heightened language we often work with.

Anna met our sound designer Max Perryment when he composed original music and created sound for her play The Surplus, commissioned by and performed at Young Vic last year. 

How did you become interested in making performance?
We were all interested in theatre from a young age, and met each other as teenagers whilst studying theatre at the BRIT School for the Performing Arts. 

We were all there because we felt theatre could offer us a unique way to explore the world, to empathise with others and express our own ideas and were very lucky to be in an environment where we could focus on thatt at such a young age. People have a perception that the school is a sort of pop music factory but our experience couldn't be further from that. 

We were encouraged to make political theatre, performance art, to write, direct and devise our own work. For us, it was a wildly creaive environment. We formed the company FAT CONTENT in our final term, as three 18 year olds. As individuals we've been inspired by our subsequent training and collaborations, but as a company BRIT was our starting point. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
No! The first three FAT CONTENT shows were devised and we all performed alongside each other. This is our first time working with a script and a writer, director, actor dynamic. Since creating our last show Roasting:The Creature Cabaret, we've all developed our own practices. 

Rachel has directed and assisted widely since leaving Lecoq and has brought not only a more developed aesthetic sense to the work but a very structured approached to rehearsal; something we possibly lacked when we started out! 

Anna has worked extensively with Grimm's tales, creating three storytelling pieces based on them and also performs widely as a poet so this piece has a distinct voice, though our devising background means the text has been created with lots of discussion, workshopping, trial and error and returning to the drawing board. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
We hope our audience will feel the tension of a thriller and the sense of possibility and magic of a fairytale. There's a unique connection between a solo-performer and an audience, and we want them to feel that they have been on a journey with our protagonist, Nick and have an intimate connection with him. Nick is a very unusual person - he cannot feel fear-and we want to offer the audience a way to understand and empathise with that. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We explored the structure and tropes used in thrillers to work out how to inject a little of that feeling into our piece. Working with fairytales is a delicate process, as you want to retain the magic but avoid creating something that feels twee. For us this is about investing in the psychological reality of the story, even when the events were surreal. 

Setting was also important as we wanted to create a world for this story to unfold in that felt real but with a core of strangeness, magic. We explored an invented historical setting - a sort of fairytale era but grittier world - but found that this just didn't quite ring true. After a lot of workshopping, Anna then redeveloped the text in a contempory setting but with strange, magical touches. The thriller-meets-fairytale atmosphere is also supported by Max's work with sound. 

In terms of developing Nicholas' relationship with the audience, we've found scratch performances very useful. Our Edinburgh venue The Pleasance gave us several opportunities to put this work in front of an audience and we also scratched at the Cockpit Theatre and Pulse Festival. 

On a very basic level, you use a scratch to feel the atmosphere in the room as a story unfolds, when the audience lean in and when they are less engaged. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Yes, it's a fairytale! It draws upon the tradition of not simply retelling, but reinterpreting fairytales which is centuries old. 

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