Sunday, 21 May 2017

Powder Dramaturgy: Ross McCaffrey @ Edfringe 2017

Powder Keg presents: Morale Is High (Since We Gave Up Hope)

Thrashy, energetic gig theatre smashing together pop and politics to create an up-to-the-minute evaluation of our political climate.

Part of Northern Stage at Summerhall, Tech Cube, 5 - 20 August 2017, 22:15 (23:15)

A fast paced, raucous performance from the Hodgkiss Award winners weaving together time travel, intertwining narratives and songs performed live on guitar to predict what might happen between now and a future general election in 2022. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The idea formed just before the 2015 General election and ended up being a response to its result. I tried to picture where I would be in my life just before the next one, which at the time was going to be 2020, and how five years of a Tory majority was going to affect me and the people around me. Then Josh and Jake suggested we create a reality where I can time travel, go and see what happens and come back to tell everyone. 

Then Emma and I went away and tried to write as much as humanly possible. The main inspiration I think, and I think this goes for all of us, is pitting the ideas of individualism and collectivism against each other, and seeing where we as people fit into that dichotomy. 

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

I think so yes. It all depends on what the subject is and who’s telling it. I also think it can only be a good space if it’s accessible. We have a policy of care in Powder Keg, we look after each other, and I feel the same respect needs to be given to the people that come and see our work. I think without that, using theatre to publicly discuss ideas can fall a bit flat. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I played in bands for ages when I was a teena
ger and then went to a college where there was no-one interested in playing heavy metal music with me. My music teacher put me in the band for one of the college productions and all the people acting in it seemed like they were having the most fun in the world. So the next year I auditioned for the production and took it from there! 

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

Emma and I wrote the initial first draft together and brought it into the rehearsal room where the four of us started to piece a story together. Then the EU referendum happened, David Cameron resigned and Britain got a bit chaotic. So we had to go back, cut big chunks and re-write others. 

Then Donald Trump got elected and another general election got called, so we’ve got a few weeks after the 8th June to update certain things that might not make sense anymore. We do our best to keep things current and that helps keep the show fresh, but fortunately there’s a few plot points that can stick so we don’t get too bogged down with writing and can focus on devising. 

We set ourselves some guidelines; we didn’t want
the show to preach, we wanted to challenge our own beliefs and the beliefs of our audiences, and we absolutely wanted to avoid talking down to people. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This is our first full length show as a company. We spent years doing 15-20 minute pieces and installations where we figured out what we wanted our style to be. We all come from musical backgrounds in some shape or form so the majority of our pieces feature live music. 

Morale is High fits with our previous work in that respect, but also because of its DIY feel. It’s something that grew out of necessity more than anything else, but it’s something that we’ve adapted into our regular practice. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Hopefully the audience will come away feeling politically invigorated. It’s quite a funny show behind all the uncertainty of the future so hopefully they’ll have enjoyed themselves! The show is fun, and we want people to have fun, but also think about where we all stand in the world and how we go about our daily lives. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Josh had the idea of staging the piece as an old variety performance, so Jake and I experimented with the idea of a comedy double act. We watch a lot of comedy so I guess we imitated people we look up to and tried to see where it fit into the narrative. 

A lot of the piece is told to the audience directly, and we involve them pretty much from the beginning. This is a show that knows it’s a show, by that I mean we constantly acknowledge the fact that people have come to see us and are sitting and watching our show. 

Powder Keg’s double act Fringe debut performance explores the effects of popular culture, political policy and inane day-to-day actions on who we choose to vote for. 

Moving from the present to the future and back, Ross McCaffrey travels to 2022 and returns to warn the audience and his best mate Jake about the failures of contemporary politics and the punishment doled out to society. 

Ross tells stories of meeting Michael Gove, feeling displaced from his home town and a drug induced water slide incident that happens in Barcelona. But what is Jake not telling Ross? 

Is this a report on the future of politics or just a platform for Ross to show off about his time travelling adventures? A raw, up-to-the-minute performance for our current times of political uncertainty channeling a gamut of emotion from anger to apathy, passion and despair. 

Josh Coates from Powder Keg said: “Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) was first made whilst the campaign trail for Brexit was going full pelt. We're now having to re-write the show because of a snap general election. Oh boy. Morale is High is a show about a constantly shifting and baffling political climate and how to survive it. It's part funeral satire and part time travelling buddy adventure. It's a show that aims to create a sense of the public grieving that’s been happening in response to current election results yet attempts to laugh in the face of shock through songs and wank jokes." 

Powder Keg is a Manchester-based theatre company who formed in 2013. They are best friends who make fast paced, experiential, anarchic performances. They tell stories and transform spaces, creating pieces to engage and challenge audiences. They have created work for many places, including a pub cellar, a field in Manchester, and a shopping trolley. 

They use a process of consensus decision-making to create and develop their pieces, which gives them the freedom to apply individually held skills to each aspect of whatever piece they are working on. They challenge themselves and their practice to consistently push themselves out of their theatrical comfort zone.

Northern Stage in Newcastle has a reputation for breathing new life into classic texts, curating ambitious and sometimes daring contemporary theatre and working with thousands of people every year in a strong participation programme. 

This is the 6th year that Northern Stage has hosted a programme at the Edinburgh Fringe, presenting some of the most interesting theatre from across the north of England and beyond, in partnership with Royal Exchange Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Hull Truck Theatre. 

Performers Ross McCaffrey Jake Walton Creative Team Devised and created by the performers, Emma Geraghty and Josh Coates Morale is High (Since We Gave Up Hope) has been developed with the help of Theatre Delicatessen in Sheffield and the kindness of Partisan Collective.

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