Thursday, 11 May 2017

No Dramaturgy: Ellie Dubois @ Edfringe 2017

  No Show
Summerhall (The Old Lab), Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL Wednesday 2nd – Sunday 27th August 2017 (not 10th or 21st), 16:15
What do you expect when you go to the circus?
The greatest show on earth?
The glitzy smiles, the glitter of sequins, the drum rolls as performers who seem super human effortlessly perform death-defying acts?
No Show joyously and heartbreakingly reveals what lies hidden beneath the showmanship. There will be desperate attempts and heroic failures, glorious achievements and bruised bodies and egos as the performers push themselves to their physical and mental limit. See behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution of the traditional circus performance to show the wobbles, the pain, and the real cost of aiming for perfection.

A show for anyone who has tried, failed and failed better.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

When I was training at circus school, I saw the hours and hours of effort, hard work and pain that went into achieving the effortless performances that audiences normally see in a circus show.  I was interested in the idea that instead of just showing the perfect tricks it may be possible to make a show that shows the process as well as the product.  

I set about to see if I could find a way to put the
efforts and failures of circus performers into a live performance, so that audience could see circus performers as humans.

I was also really interested in expectation.  What do you expect to see at the circus?  And, in particular, what do you expect of female circus performers?  Why is it that female circus performers are so often told to be pretty or sexy and do splits and wear only their underwear rather than use their physical skill to their full potential?  It also felt poignant that these ideas came at a time where male (and often all male) UK companies were being highlighted.  

It felt like there were very few spaces for female circus performers on stages unless they were able to conform to certain stereotypes of what a female circus performer should be.   

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Yes, although it’s a pity that we are often preaching to the converted within our work.  I love theatre but know that I am privileged to have had a way into seeing shows and working in theatre as a child.  There would be more public discussion of ideas if our audiences were more diverse which is why I love rural touring or going to a theatre like Platform that really engages with its local community, so audiences are not traditional theatre goers.  That way theatre can be a discussion rather than us all always being in agreement.

How did you become interested in making performance?

My mum is a theatre critic so when I was younger
I went to the theatre with her and I was so lucky that I was able to see everything from Shakespeare to new writing to live art, contemporary dance and circus . I had some really magical (alongside some awful) theatrical experiences and decided that I wanted to be part of that world and that I wanted to make things.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I always start with an idea that we are exploring - sometimes that is a theme like the deconstruction of the showgirl, sometimes that is a concept like a circus show for one person at a time or a circus show for babies.  I always devise my work, normally with a wee team, and so although I am leading everyone is involved in the creation of material.

With No Show we only had two weeks to make the show so we had to work really fast.  We explored a mixture of text, physical work together and each artist’s own individual disciplines.  All the work comes from the performers own experiences so we spent time seeing what was shared experience and what was individual.  We also spent time working on circus technique and getting to know each other as we hadn’t all worked together before.  

With everything it was about what made the show as interesting as possible for audiences and trying to make sure that each piece of material offers something new and allows us to dig deeper into the themes and ideas of the work.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This is the largest piece of work with the biggest team that I have created so far.  I don’t always think bigger means better but I am so excited about having five performers on stage in this show.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that they will come and enjoy a fun and entertaining circus show. However, I also hope that they will see a show that is thoughtful and challenging and will offer them ideas to take away.  I have used circus as a way of exploring ideas of gender, feminism and what we expect of a female circus performer.  While there are plenty of tricks and skills, the piece also asks a lot of questions of its audience.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I think a lot about the space and what the audience will see.  Often circus is shown in large spaces and the audience is large and far away.  I am interested in circus being seen in smaller and more intimate spaces and how the performers can connect with the audience and the audience can connect with the performers.

I have also thought a lot about how an audience can connect with the themes of the work and the shared experiences they might have with the performers.  They might not be able to relate to doing a back flip or walking on their hands, but maybe they can relate to striving to beat a personal best or being forced to do what society wants to see you do and not what you want to do.

No Show opens with five strong, glamorous, female circus artists – the perfect ‘show girls’ performing to the best of their ability, showcasing their spellbinding acrobatics and flexibility. After this initial opening number the show starts to break down. Instead of showing only perfect tricks, No Show starts to unveil attempts and failures, revealing frustrations and how artists are pitted against each other. The audience learn of everything that could go wrong from finger crushing to concussion and shoulder dislocation in a Cyr Wheel act.
There will be desperate attempts and heroic failures, glorious achievements, bruised bodies and egos as the performers push themselves to their physical and mental limits. Behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution of traditional circus performance, see the wobbles, the pain and the real cost of aiming for perfection. This is a show for anyone who has tried, failed and failed better.
No Show deconstructs superhuman circus performers and shows them as vulnerable and human. It explores the idea of not always making it and about knowing when to give up and when to go on. It asks whether it might sometimes be better and more interesting to be flawed rather than flawless. With an all-female cast, this is particularly relevant in era when women feel under increased pressure to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. This is a production that puts female strength, skill and power centre stage.
Ellie Dubois comments, 
With No Show, I wanted to break the mould of male dominated circus ensembles by working with five hugely talented female circus performers. It’s a fun and spectacular circus show for all ages, but it’s also a piece about ambition and achievement which questions what success really means and why we push ourselves to accomplish it.

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