Monday, 11 July 2016

Warrior Dramaturgy: Mara Menzies @ Edfringe 2016


·       Feminine Rule in a Time of Patriarchy
·       Spirituality & Sibling Rivalry
·       Surmounting Impossible Odds
·       Thin Line Between Right and Wrong
·       Storytelling
·       Dance and Poetry
In a world where women over the age of 50 are considered past their best, and where political apathy reigns supreme, storyteller Mara Menzies explores the life of one of the world's most intriguing yet little known female rulers, exemplifying the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016’s core
message to Defy the Norm.

NZINGA Born in ancient Angola, into a patriarchal society, Nzinga defied tradition to become a 17th-century queen at the age of 50, fearlessly and cleverly fighting for the freedom and stature of her people against the technologically superior Portuguese and the marauding Imbangala slave traders.  

Despite over 350 years having passed since Nzinga's death, this true story of unrivalled determination is relevant to women in all societies today, as we explore her incredible wit, intelligence and resilience, examining the challenges she faced as a woman, questioning femininity, spirituality and the thin line between right and wrong.

What was the inspiration for this performance?Quite simply there are not enough female role models out there, especially African role models, and when I discovered Nzinga's story, I was fascinated by the sheer strength of character she must have had to endure what would have been a difficult and extraordinary life. 

As a woman, she had incredible strengths and equally tremendous flaws and the show explores all elements of her character, the decisions she made, the key people in her life, her attitude to overcoming obstacles. It's not about placing her on a pedestal, but exploring the unique role she played in history and discovering how we might be inspired by her story to live our lives better.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
For the performance, I had seen Yamil perform in a number of shows and knew that he would make a great addition to this production. He possesses great grace and strength and is the perfect balance to Nzinga's fire. 

Flavia is someone who I have known for many years ad there has been a willingness to work together but there was never the right time and then suddenly the opportunity presented itself. For everything else, costumes, set, graphics, the staff of the Storytelling Centre, they have simply manifested in ways that I can't explain, giving far more than I expected and surprising me at every turn.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I fell into performing accidentally when I started telling stories to children to try and promote a childrens book I had written for my daughter. The light in their eyes encouraged me to create a puppet, then sew a backdrop and things moved from there. It hasn't changed much from those early days as the thing that still encourages me to keep creating is seeing that light in the eyes of the audience.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
I don't have a typical process that I follow. Each show is unique and will be created differently. Because my background is more storytelling than theatre, the most important element to consider is
the audience and how I interact with them. Everything stems from that. 

I'm an organic creator, with shows and stories emerging in various ways. I admire people who know exactly what they want and then can work towards it, but I'm not made that way. Things always work out and often far better than expected.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will leave feeling that the show was performed specifically for them. That they will be pleased that we spent that hour together and it was an hour well spent. That they will take away something from the story- whether that is something that inspires them, angers them, satisfies them or raises questions that they had never considered before. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The Storytelling Centre has a lovely quote that 'a story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart' and so remaining faithful to that, the audience will be part of the story rather than passive spectators. I shall be borrowing liberally from the African storytelling tradition, helping them step into different cultural shoes and finally borrowing from the world of theatre, I shall be using some techniques gifted to me by directors Annie George and Isla Menzies to engage in different ways,

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I am first and foremost a Storyteller and we are found in every culture in the world. I am lucky to live in Scotland where there is such a rich tradition of storytelling and I grew up at the Kenyan coast surrounded by stories. 

In Scotland I find that we do not have a strong presence of multicultural performances throughout the year and as I would like my children to grow up as aware and proud of their African culture as they are of their Scottish culture, then I find myself inspired to create productions more from an African perspective and then share that with audiences in Scotland, the UK and beyond.

This passionate, witty, thought provoking theatrical storytelling piece tells a tale of intense sibling rivalry, political triumphs and complex spiritual dilemmas; witnessing Nzinga's rise from slave's daughter to one of Africa's greatest leaders.  

Performed by storyteller Mara Menzies, with extraordinary poetic music and dance accompaniment by Yamil Ferrer, previously of Ballet Folklorique de Cuba, this powerful piece is never overtly political, self-righteous or moralistic. 

It simply presents the issues as a backdrop to the compelling story of Nzinga's love for her nation and desperate quest to protect her people.

Thursday 4th – Friday 19th August (NOT 10th) at 15:00 (1hr)

Scottish Storytelling Centre (Venue 30a) 

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