Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Elephant Dramaturgy: Margo MacDonald @ Edfringe 2016

Parry Riposte Productions
New Town Theatre (Venue 7) - until August 28th

'The most notorious girl gang Britain's ever seen' (Gangs of London). Organized, devious, and daring; they stole from the rich and gave to themselves. The riveting story of the all-woman gang which terrorized London for over 100 years. Once you meet Maggie Hale – the gang's suit-wearing, bloody knuckled, girl-chasing 'enforcer' – you won't be able to look away.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The idea for the piece was sparked by a random comment I
read online where someone mentioned the Forty Elephants, a real-life all-female gang in Victorian London. I was immediately interested in making a play about them. 

On further research, I was struck by the suggestion one newspaper made that, instead of male hard-men, they actually had a handful of women who dressed as men and did the dirty work the gang sometimes required. 

Now that intrigued me. I decided to write the story from the point of view of one of those female "enforcers".

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Oh yes. I think sometimes theatre is what allows people to learn about and experience things directly that they would not otherwise seek out. As theatre artists, we can weave all kinds of ideas and messages into stories that seem to be about something else entirely. 

For example, The Elephant Girls seems like it will merely be a story about a forgotten all-female gang, but it's got all kinds of discussions happening. Why have so many women's stories been left out of history? Have we come any further in providing opportunities for the disenfranchised? How do we view our "outsiders"? Is prison a true solution to dealing with lawbreakers? And so many more.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I first realized theatre was what I wanted to do with my life when my parents took me to see a production of Oliver! when I was 5 years old. It was sometime in university when I realized that if I wanted to tell the stories I wanted to tell and do the work I wanted to do, I would often have to make it myself. So, creating theatre has always been a part of my career, and lately that has involved actually working as a playwright in addition to performing and producing.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
The Elephant Girls was a similar process to all of the scripts I've written as a playwright to date (rather than as part of a collaborative creation process). It began with the spark of an idea. 

This idea then turned into an intense period of thorough research, where I made a lot of notes and thought about a lot of things from many different directions. The notes eventually started to turn into scenes and dialogue in my head, and at some point either before, during, or after, I determined what the structure would be. I usually write the beginning and a few scenes in my head before ever committing anything to paper. The first drafts are always written by hand in notebooks. Then I transfer that work onto a computer and continue the writing process from there. I gather a team--director, designers, stage manager--and share the draft script with them, listen to all of their reactions, questions, and ideas, and write the next draft of the script from there. 

Once in rehearsal, the show becomes a collaboration between all of us.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I like theatre that takes the audience on a journey, and the more unexpected that journey is, the better. With this show, I've used a technique I learned from Jane Austen--that of the unreliable narrator. So the audience may think and feel one way about my character in the first part of the show, but have that completely turned on it's head by the end. I've tried to use a bit of the journey I went on while researching the gang and their story; at first, I was excited and fascinated by them, but the more I found out about them, the less Romantic they became and the more I realized they were in fact brutish, just as any modern gang. I wondered, why do we glorify violence which happened in the past, but deplore it in our own time?--Another thing I hope the audience may walk away thinking about.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Trust the audience. Trust them to be able to think and feel for themselves without having everything spelled out for them. Work, as I've mentioned, with a compelling yet unreliable narrator. Allow myself (as the character, Maggie Hale) to be disliked; allow her to be ugly, yet vulnerable. Allow the audience to judge for themselves.

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