Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Conscious Dramaturgy: Rosie Wilby @ Edfringe 2017

Rosie Wilby presents:

The Conscious Uncoupling

A true and tender tale of a heart-wrenching breakup from Radio 4 and festival regular Rosie Wilby
Written and performed by Rosie Wilby | Directed by Colin Watkeys
The Counting House, Loft, 3 – 27 Aug 2017 (not 14), 18.30 (19.25)

In an increasingly serially monogamous society, we all the face the possibility of more serious breakups in a lifetime than ever before. Comedian, writer and broadcaster Rosie Wilby poignantly interweaves comedy, memoir and Richard Hawley music to ask if we could reinvent this universally painful experience.

With a humorous, personal touch, Rosie dissects her own breakup emails, excavated from the depths of her inbox five years on from the fateful dumping and intersperses them with the visits of three ghosts from her romantic past, present and future.
What was the inspiration for this performance?
In early January 2011, I got dumped by email. I could never bring myself to delete the message or file it away (I mean, what folder heading would that come under??) so it just nestled and lurked there at the bottom of my inbox on my, then brand new, laptop. Five years on, in January 2016, I decided to re-read the email. The joke is that I felt much better about it once I'd corrected her spelling, punctuation and changed the font. In reality, I wondered what had really happened and wanted to explore the breakdown in communication further, and with a more even-handed perspective than I could've had at the time. In the meantime, Gwyneth Paltrow had made headlines by using the phrase 'conscious uncoupling' to describe her separation from Chris Martin. At first, I wondered if it was just the latest celebrity fad. But a little further digging revealed a compassionate concept that absolutely chimed with me and who the actual the creator of the idea was - author and marriage and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
It's one of the best places. Comedy makes tricky ideas a bit more accessible. The Conscious Uncoupling is the final part of my trilogy of shows exploring how we do love and relationships in the twenty-first century. The middle part was Is Monogamy Dead?, which I performed at Assembly Hall for Edinburgh Fringe 2013, and that show certainly provoked a lot of heated post-show discussion and debate. It has spun off into a book, which is published on the same day that my Edinburgh show opens.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I was a singer songwriter back in the 1990s. My between-song banter spun off into a successful career as a stand up. Then I started to miss the rollercoaster of emotions you could express onstage as a musician. So my solo shows became a hybrid of comedy and theatre, with a sense of a narrative arc and lots of poignant moments in there alongside the laughs.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Initially I wondered about interspersing my own narrative with some other people's stories. I'd been really inspired by Chris Goode's Of Men and Cities, the way he presented that narrative and used music really effectively.
In the end, I sat down with my director Colin Watkeys and came up with something completely
different to that with a really sweet, warm energy. I read bits of the email and started commenting on it and Colin was in hysterics as some of my improvised asides and reactions and just said, 'Yes, do more of that'.
I also had a memoir written that had been shortlisted for a Mslexia writing prize and wanted to use bits of that. It wasn't long before I realised that intercutting timelines and making the narrative non-linear would give the show a bittersweet quality. Hearing about how sweet and romantic the start of the relationship was after you already know the ending has a tinge of sadness.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
In style, it's more akin to the storytelling approach of my multimedia feminist adventure show Nineties Woman, which I performed at The Voodoo Rooms for Edinburgh 2014.

That was also directed by Colin. It's less similar in presentation to the other two shows in the relationship trilogy which took more of the form of a comedy lecture. But, this time, rather than info-tainment, I wanted everything I'd read about the psychology of love to underpin and inform a
piece of theatre as opposed to actually being the content.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they'll experience the rollercoaster of emotions with me that we do experience in the aftermath of a breakup from laughter to sadness. A few audience members, who have had very similar experiences with homophobia and shame playing a role in their romantic endings, have cried.
Some heterosexual men have come up and told me that how much my queer female story resonated with them. 'All hearts break the same' was what one guy said. I'm also happy that some audience members at Camden Fringe last year told me that it had helped them think about their breakup differently or helped them to communicate with their ex.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Music was certainly key and choosing the right piece to tell the story over. Richard Hawley is mentioned so it made sense to go for one of his instrumentals. When you're in love, there is often a sense that music is playing in your head and there's a constant soundtrack.
So it makes sense that these sections are always accompanied by it. Colin and I wanted to keep the staging and lighting relatively simple so that it would be possible to tour the show without big setup times. It was an intuitive decision to move between two different sides of the stage to make the two different timelines - the rosy, glow of nostalgia for the beginning of the relationship and the colder, harsher, silence of being dumped.
It's pretty clear for the audience to follow. I've also been keen to incorporate post-show discussions where possible and talk more widely about how breakup impacts us and how technology has changed our romantic lives.

At Edinburgh Science Festival this year, I did a
performance at Summerhall with a chat recorded with Dr Sarah Stanton from the University.

The Conscious Uncoupling was commissioned by London’s Southbank Centre for Festival of Love and was shortlisted, by public vote, for Funny Women Best Show 2016.
Rosie Wilby says, For the first time in years, I skipped Edinburgh 2016 because I was busy working on my book at a writers’ retreat in Los Angeles. So I’m glad that the idea of ending relationships more compassionately hasn’t gone away in the meantime. This year, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom talked of ‘respectful, loving space’. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Paltrow continues to comment on ‘conscious uncoupling’. It’s sweet to still be touring The Conscious Uncoupling in 2017 because now there’s a really happy ending. I’m six months into a lovely, new relationship. I wouldn’t have been so open to falling madly in love again without the catharsis of writing this show.”

Rosie’s first book Is Monogamy Dead? is published by Accent Press on 3rd August 2017, the same day that she begins her Edinburgh run. Her nonfiction debut follows a TEDx talk and Radio 4 Four Thought piece and is informed by a trilogy of solo shows investigating love and relationships, which began with 2010’s award-winning The Science Of Sex and now ends with The Conscious Uncoupling.

Alongside The Conscious Uncoupling, Rosie will be hosting a companion event, The Breakup Monologues, inviting comedy colleagues to look back at their own relationship breakup stories. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, right? Can we ever really stay friends with our ex-partners? Acts lined up to join Rosie in this daily lunchtime chat show include Pippa Evans, Juliette Burton, Kate Smurthwaite, Sarah Bennetto and Abi Roberts.

Rosie Wilby is a comedian-turned-theatre-maker, a regular on BBC Radio 4 and at festivals including Glastonbury, Secret Garden Party, Green Man, Larmer Tree and Latitude. She was a finalist at Funny Women 2006 and Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year 2007. Her writing has been published in the Sunday Times, Guardian, Independent, New Statesman and more.
@rosiewilby | #consciousuncoupling | |

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