Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Fisk Dramaturgy: Ross MacKay @ manipulate

UK Premiere Manipulate Festival 2017
by Tortoise in a Nutshell, in co-production with Teater Katapult in association with Macrobert Arts Centre.  
A new devised piece of theatre by award-winning Tortoise in a Nutshell, Fisk (fish), delves into how we manage struggles with our own mental health, with the support of others.  The theatre company, renowned for their innovative puppetry and visual theatre – perform the show in both Danish and English.  
The show welcomes us into the world of Man (Alex Bird), who, in the moment in which he cannot help falling under – meets Fisk (Arran Howie) coming from the depths. In a new highly physical and visual piece – the company draw on their own experiences living with depression and anxiety to create a portrait of how it’s possible to pull through – and how those around us become vital in balancing our brains.  
This new poetic and visual exploration of masculinity, mental health and cups of tea at kitchen tables has been created working in collaboration with Teater Katapult, Aarhus Denmark. This collaboration has allowed Ross, Arran and Alex to stretch their wings and push the scale of their work, working with a diverse creative team. The script was devised with Danish playwright Anne Sophie Oxenvad.
The latest production from Edinburgh based theatre company, Fisk marks a huge step up for the company developing their practice and returning to venues across Scotland taking on bigger spaces. They are proud to be working with Manipulate Festival to premiere the piece in Scotland.  
I always feel kind of guilty when I ask this one, because it's like the relentless merry-go-round of the critical preview. So, I am going to try and get around it... it doesn't really matter what 'visual' or 'physical' theatre actually means, but it does offer a label that sets certain work apart from other work, and operates as a suggestion for marketing purposes: but do you think there is any kind of quality that sets 'visual' theatre apart from 'scripted' theatre that enables a particular kind of theatricality?
Good way to tackle that question. The idea of visual versus scripted means that the semiotics of  spoken words doesn't take precedence and can exist on an equal or lower footing than other aspects of the show. 

This means that the mise-en-scene can dominate, or sometimes it's the music or sometimes it's the expression on a performers face.This means we don't always rely on words to drive the narrative in: sometimes we actively seek a more theatrical method of telling the story. Hopefully in exploring the piece in this way we do create imaginative staging. 

Leaping straight from that to something blunt and obvious: I got excited to see that you have a dramaturg. Does the dramaturg have a specific set of functions within your making process, and can these be observed within the performance?
The Dramaturg was vital to us. In this particular story we were awash with metaphors and Kirstine role was teasing them out and interrogating the journey that they all go on. 

For example: black boil like barnacles are important in the story and Kirstine was keen that this element had its own narrative e and fed into the greater story. As this story is itself a huge metaphor Kirstine was able to help us looking at when to peel back the layers of the show and show glimpses of the truth. 

It's delicate and if we give to much or too little at any point we ruin the journey of the piece so Kirstine was vital there. Also importantly, the playwright was Danish and Kirstine is a great interpreter so she became a conduit to ensure we were all on the same page at many points of the process. 

There's talk in the press release about this production marking out the company's career: how it does it relate to previous work? And has the collaboration changed anything in your process?
It has. Each show we approach brings a slightly different process. We try to make each show unique in style and to make the form work with the content. 

One of the biggest departures here was working with an incredible movement director, Darren Brownlie. We have never worked so expressively with our bodies. Usually the performance is left to the puppets but working with a movement director gave us a whole other layer of language to use. 

Shifting to the content: that seems to be a pretty heavy topic. What was the inspiration for it?
We started out just with an image of a man on a boat and a fish. We didn't have any preconceptions of the theme. But as we continued to explore the piece we realised that time and again the imagery drew parallels to depression. Rather than run from that we decided to go for it. 

And as we pushed we found more and more that this seemed to be the story. On top of this we all had experiences we could relate to whether it was our own depression or witnessing someone else go through it. It felt pertinent and the idea of a young couple going through this. 

One person having to support as another suffered the illness was a story we were talking about a lot but felt we hadn't seen on stage. We felt we had something we could say here, something that would leave the audience with questions. Which is what we like to do.

Do you think that theatre - and especially your approach - can be a good place to address issues about mental health? I am assuming you have not gone for an information packed, 'theatre in education' strategy, but maybe I am wrong again...
No you are quite right. No facts and figures here. We worked really closely with an audience panel of mental health sufferers, carers and those who support in a professional capacity to ensure the show felt truthful and relevant but we wanted to steer clear of it being an issue based show. 

The theme can support a much more emotional journey than that. Also with visual theatre and these big symbolic metaphors it allows space for the audience to project on to it. Mental Health can be experienced in so many different ways and each persons own experience can be very unique even if there is a universality, we wanted people to feel there is space within the visual world to see their own story. Hopefully we have got a little close to that. 

You've been working with PAS for a while. What keeps you connecting with them, and do you think that your work might bear certain hallmarks that mark it as part of 'manipulate'?
They keep asking us back. They have supported us so much through many of our project. We are even staging a new Work In Progress with them during Manipulate so the relationship goes beyond Fisk

Manipulate was a huge inspiration for us. When I was a student, Simon Hart gave me a bursary to attend the first ever festival in Dundee. I attended the masterclasses and saw all the shows. It was incredible. I felt part of the community and even more importantly felt inspired to make work. All of s at Tortoise have manipulate marked in our calendars. We draw a lot of inspiration and talking points from the festival so we are delighted to feel our work sits alongside these great artists. 

Fisk opened at Teater Katapult, Aarhus, Denmark, in October 2016.  
Scottish Tour dates  
Macrobert Stirling 26 Jan  
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 28 Jan  
Eden Court Inverness 1 Feb  
Lemon Tree Aberdeen 3 Feb  
Traverse Theatre Edinburgh 9 - 11 Feb  
Perth 14 Feb  
Eastgate Arts Centre 16 Feb   
Platform Glasgow 20 Feb  

The Company
Tortoise in a Nutshell have toured extensively over 250 performances across 78 cities in 7 countries around the globe – they have taken shows to Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Mexico and toured extensively across the UK.
The company have worked with Imaginate Festival, Cumbernauld Theatre, Manipulate Festival and performed year in year out at the world’s largest arts festival – the Festival Fringe - in their home town of Edinburgh.
2010 – The Last Miner – Idea’s Tap ‘Edinburgh Ideas Fund’ – Edinburgh Festival Fringe
2012 – Grit shortlisted for Arches Brick Award and Total Theatre Award for Emerging Artist or Company Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Bedlam Theatre  
2013 – Feral wins Fringe First, shortlisted Total Theatre Award for Physical / Visual Theatre Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Summerhall.
2014Feral returns to Edinburgh Festival Fringe – Underbelly – as part of Made in Scotland’s expo programme.  
2015The Lost Things – commissioned by Imaginate Festival. A bespoke piece of theatre for young audiences.  
Danish co-pro background
The relationship with Teater Katapult began when Artistic Director saw Feral in 2014 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of Made in Scotland. Invited to perform at the theatre as part of a Scandinavian tour, the companies began to work together. The EU collaboration has been an exciting way to consider other ways of working and draw on new perspectives when creating theatre.
Ross MacKay – Co-Artistic Director Tortoise in a Nutshell.
“For Tortoise in a Nutshell, art and theatre is about crossing borders and breaking down boundaries. Theatre allows you to put yourselves into someone else's world. It's important then that we can take theatre across cultures and communities. We can share different experiences and outlook on the world. Collaboration allows us to draw on different experiences, different styles of making work and different political climates. International co-productions allow us to create richer and deeper theatre and find the universal experiences even in the smallest of stories and individual of experiences.”
Creative Team
Director: Ross MacKay
Cast/Devisers: Alex Bird and Arran Howie  
Designer: Ana Ines Jabares-Pita
Composer: Jim Harbourne
Lighting Designer: Simon Wilkinson
Movement Director: Darren Brownlie
Production Manager: Andrew Gannon
Dramaturg: Kirstine Christensen
Writer:  Tortoise in a Nutshell and Anne Sophie Oxenvad
Producers: Dawn Taylor and Nick Wong

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