Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Class Dramaturgy: Rebecca Atkinson-Lord @ Edfringe 2017

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord presents 
The Class Project 

An autobiographical solo performance about ‘making good’ and growing up voiceless that explores regional identity, class mobility and what it means to be a citizen of nowhere

Devised and performed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord

The Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall 15 - 27 August (not 21), 20:40 (21:55), 12+ 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The Class Project is based on my experience of feeling that I had to shed an obvious connection to my regional identity and heritage, including changing how I spoke, in order to be successful at a national or international level. 

I spent years thinking about making the piece, but the final trigger was being part of professional discussion about working class and regional identity and having the opinion of a much more economically and socially privileged colleague prioritised over mine because they speak with a faux ‘urban’ accent and were therefore deemed to have a more authentic understanding of working class identity as a result. 

I’m from the Black Country and spent most of my childhood being told that if I wanted to better myself I had to change how I spoke and presented to sound more like the posh folks from Down South.  It frustrated me that our understanding of class identity and access to a cultural voice is still so simplistic and this show is an attempt to reclaim an authentic voice for myself and all the other folks who have experienced the cultural dislocation that comes with class mobility. 

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

Yes. What’s precious about live performance as a forum for dialogue is that it allows us to engage with big complex things in a collective shared space; to encounter the experience and opinions of other people in not only an intellectual way, but also through our instincts and emotions.

That’s really important because emotions are sneaky - we can feel new things without necessarily consciously deciding to think differently.  That allows for a tiny chink in the armour of our habitual thought patterns and encourages us to be empathetic and open rather than entrenched in old ideas. 

It means we’re more likely to think and feel something genuinely new and enlightening. And in the current political climate, the more of that, the better!

How did you become interested in making performance?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in some way or another. When I was a kid, maybe 5 years old, I used to sing along to Aled Jones’ The Snowman while tap dancing on a metal tray in my living room. An aunt had been an opera singer until she got married, so my parents reasoned that maybe if they encouraged me to pursue singing and performance at school and through local am dram groups then I’d torture their ear drums a bit less at home. 

After school, I was due to go to drama school to study acting, but had an accident that meant I couldn’t walk for a while, and so took a place at university where I started directing, then an MA in Directing at RADA. That led me via years of low paid gigging about, to my old job as Director of Theatre at Ovalhouse where my marvellous colleague Rachel Briscoe  encouraged me and the programme away from text based work to engage with more interdisciplinary contemporary performance. 

Five years full of working with artists to make innovative, activist, ‘weird’ work later, I find that it has seeped into my personal artistic practice and I feel compelled to perform some of the work I create. 

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

I guess it’s a sort of episodic story-telling show. Anecdotal. I tell stories and sing songs from my history and each episode has a pixel of meaning or resonance within it. Collected as a whole, I hope they create a coherent picture that holds both the personal narrative of my experience and the wider sociological implications of that at its heart.

I was careful to make it all around the UK - I wanted to make sure I was living a bit outside my Metropolitan Liberal Elite bubble while I was writing and trying to figure out what it was I wanted to say. I think that was really instrumental in how the piece feels, and ultimately what I’m trying to say in it. 

Apart from that though, it has been a really instinctive process. When I direct plays, I often hear how the dialogue should sound in my mind long before an actor reads it - and it was similar with this. I knew what I needed the rhythm and cadences to be and sculpted the stories to fit that. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In some ways, not in the slightest. This is my first solo show and my first piece of work as a performer. Its form is a totally new departure for me and I’m incredibly excited by that. 

On the other hand though, all of my work has had a political, activist or socially engaged undertone. The plays I direct and produce tend to seem quite familiar but then reveal hidden claws - they’ve all had a very clear agenda for queering the mainstream and subverting habitual assumptions. I guess there's a definite element of The Class Project that fits within that!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they’ll experience an interesting, emotionally affecting story in which they can see their own experiences. I hope they’ll leave with a re-acknowledgment of feelings within themselves that they’ve long ignored. I hope they’ll understand something new about themselves and the world and that they’ll feel activated; inspired to act to make things different.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Hundreds. From the form and content of the piece to the performance style, technical methodologies, performance context and performer-audience relationship. 

This has turned out to be an intimate, analogue, storytelling show with a relatively traditional audience-performer relationship, because that’s how it works best. I’m asking the audience to think quite deeply about the assumptions our society is built out of; I want them to feel unexpected things and think newly shaped thoughts - so to facilitate that, I’ve worked to make the experience of the show itself a comfortable one that they feel safe within.

This thoughtful and passionate new work, Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s first solo show, challenges the status quo around being who you are versus who you have to be to succeed in society today. Reflecting on 200 years of personal and political history, this incisive performance blends rhetoric from previous UK heads of government with the highly personal story of Rebecca’s heritage and early life in the Midlands. 

Born and raised under Thatcher and her legacy, everything Rebecca’s parents taught her was about betterment and aspiration. As a scholarship child at a private school, Rebecca was given elocution lessons to make sure she would never speak like her family again. Bullied by her sisters and cousins for sounding posh, when Rebecca went to university the genuinely posh students laughed at how she spoke. Thirty years on, Rebecca can pass for one of the Liberal Urban Elite, but all she wants is to go home; to have a home and a community where she’s not the odd one out. 

The Class Project considers the places you belong in because you were born there and the places you adopt; that you pretend are your home and change yourself to try to belong in. Raising the question of entitlement and who gets to have a voice, the performance discusses becoming an imposter to move amongst the elite and how achieving can leave you exiled and isolated. 

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord said: “The Class Project is my story. It’s about the cultural dislocation that’s at the heart of social mobility. It’s about being taught that you’re not good enough and trying to fit in so hard that you forget who you are. It’s about being from a nation that sneers at the place you were born and all of the confusion and pride that comes with that. I’m bringing it to Edinburgh this year because I hate what Britain is becoming and I want to get people to talk a bit more about how we can be our best selves instead of the frightened and selfish people they tell us we should be.” 

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord is a hybrid theatre maker who performs, directs, writes, devises and produces theatre and performance. She has directed extensively around the UK and internationally. The Class Project is her first solo show. 

Born and raised in Wolverhampton, Rebecca read Ancient History and Classics at Bristol University, specialising in ancient Greek drama. She trained as a Director at RADA and with the Royal Opera House and Young Vic. 

Her work has taken her from major international companies like Shakespeare’s Globe, Scottish Opera and the Royal Opera House, to intimate found spaces in London and beyond. Rebecca is Founding Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Arch 468 and Chair of the Board of Dante or Die. From 2010 – 2016 she was Director of Theatre at Ovalhouse.

1 comment :

  1. Saw the piece at theatre in the mill Bradford uni. This is not about class,it is not about politics its an exploration of self.The history lesson was crass and without depth.I enjoyed the singing and presentation was good.Rebecca worked hard although she would be stronger if she recognised the depth of her storyline never mind parents uncle's etc etc and developed her own story which is deep within and much more worthwhile best wishes Helen xx