Friday, 30 June 2017

No excuse at all

It would be silly to announce that 'theatre is dead' (although it is fair to note that it is far from the dominant artistic medium in 2017). I have seen work - David Leddy's Coriolanus Vanishes springs to mind - that affirm the dynamism of theatre, and while I can't say that I enjoy everything at Buzzcut, the festival has an admirable vibrancy as well as some exciting performances.

It would probably be equally silly to say criticism is dead, but after reading the reviews of Jane Eyre, I am not willing to say it is healthy. Produced by the National Theatre, this adaptation was a lazy chronological romp through a well-beloved novel that failed to deal with the problem of a romantic hero locking his wife up in the attic.

I don't want to be joyless about this, but having the abused wife wander about singing Cee Lo Green's Crazy isn't just a breach of taste: it is an abdication of moral responsibility. A love song about mutual dependency lacks the gravitas to accompany a house fire that ends in suicide.

Perhaps because I am in a minority about this, I am raging about the National Theatre's Jane Eyre. It is one of the most tedious experiences that I have had in a theatre, and its version of 'the English Touring style' barely hides the witless dramaturgy that takes a romantic novel and converts it into a three hour long exploration of how thoughtless contemporary theatre can be.

Let's start with the easy targets. Jane Eyre is about a romance between a governess - abused as a child by a vicious aunt and a religious schooling - and an aristocrat who has some dark secrets. One of these secrets is that he has locked his wife in the attic. 

When the wife eventually escapes the attic, burns down the house and jumps off the roof, singing Cee Lo Green's Crazy is not a bold dramatical choice. It's a fucking insult, and an instance of how this adaptation repeatedly fails to think before it acts. For those not paying attention, being exotic and darkly sensual is not an excuse for locking away women.

Second easy target: the ensemble came up with a
neat choreography to represent a ride in a carriage. So they repeat it. Three times. Yes, it was cool the first time, the way they all jogged about, pretending to be both passengers and the horses. But your production is three hours long. Couldn't you have just assumed the journey?

And the length itself... the purpose of adaptation might be to reinterpret. Certainly, with a familiar text like Jayne Eyre, there are certain scenes they could be removed. A teaching scene, for example, doesn't need to followed by a conversation about the experience of teaching. I've got a train to catch, and I don't need a reminder of the protagonist's most recent action.

The desire to round out Jane's character causes problems - having seen her at home, at school, teaching and travelling, her personality's development is fully explicable. Never mind it takes ages for her to meet Rochester (and, yes, the novel is centred around that romance): when he does turn up, his awkwardness and mystery is attractive because there is some dramatic tension about him. What has he been doing? Why is he so odd? Jane, meanwhile, is so clearly a product of all the activity the audience has spent an hour watching that she lacks any interest. 

Oh - and just because a man pretending to be a dog gets a laugh, don't put it in every scene. Yes, we get it. Hilarious. 

But my rage is not directed at the company. It's directed at the critics who can't tell the difference between bog-standard theatricality and an imaginative direction. The show has received four and five star reviews for rolling out an over familiar bunch of tricks (abstract set like a 'climbing frame', characters pretending to be Jane's interior monologue). 

One duff production is no evidence that theatre is dead, but poverty of criticism is a worry: if this kind of performance is accepted without caveats, then what motivation do companies have to think carefully about the reasons for staging a play? 

Or it is possible that I demand certain thongs from a play, and this fails to provide them, making my opinion a valid one, but not quite as important as I am making out...

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Yvette's Dramaturgy: Urielle Klein-Mekongo @ Edfringe 2017

China Plate presents:


By Urielle Klein-Mekongo

A one woman show with original music about a stolen childhood and growing up with a secret.

Directed by Rebecca Atkinson Lord Script by Urielle Klein-Mekongo

Pleasance Courtyard, Below | 2nd – 26th August (not 14th), 2.15pm (3.15pm)

Fresh from graduating from East 15, Urielle Klein-Mekongo brings her award-winning, debut production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Based on a true story, Yvette fuses spoken word, music and an exceptional solo performance to present a story of survival, teenage angst and Hello Kitty knickers. 

Written and performed by emerging artist Urielle Klein-Mekongo, Yvette has won the Young Harts Writing Fest Audience Favourite, the Kings Head Theatre Stella Wilkie Award and The East15 Pulse Award 2017. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I had many inspirations for the performance, the storyline itself is based loosely around my own experience. I had read and seen two one-woman shows (chewing gum dreams and Bitch Boxer) where the staging and style of writing felt unique and engaging and I wanted for my piece to have that feeling to. 

I think I wanted to write myself to a place of healing, but soon figured that I couldn't. What I actually needed to write was the truth about where I was at. One of the the things I wanted to explore most in the show was a sense of vulnerability and emotional nudity,  and so the devising process was hard for me but truly beneficial for the show that we created through it. I want people who have been through what I went through to be inspired by this show to reclaim their lives and rise from it.

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

I think its a perfect space to talk about it, especially topics that are rarely talked openly about. There are more victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking everyday and I feel that my show doesn't just make you look at it with a quick glance, but makes you see what it takes to be vulnerable and then have someone take advantage of that. 

I also wanted people to realise that whilst children may appear childish and young, they often know much more than we imagine children should. I also wanted to explore the racial politics that exists within the black community . The fact we still value ourselves buy the standard of the brown paper bag, a way of viewing ourselves ingrained in our community from the days of slavery till now.

How did you become interested in making performance?

As part of my course at East 15 Acting School I had to write a play for our course’s Debut Festival. Whilst I had always written music and poetry, I’d never written a play.  I sent 5 pages of funny scenes drawn from childhood memories of just being a curious girl from a London estate.  I enjoyed integrating my love for poetry and drawing the struggles of growing up without a father because it gave me more depth to explore what I was afraid of addressing. I knew there was one story of mine I really wanted to tell but was too afraid to, but it became less of an obstacle and more something to weave into the piece.

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

I did a lot research on multi rolling through watching stand up shows and I  found it help me tie the overall show together. There was a lot of character improvisations which helped me tidy the script.  I also had a playlist of my favourite hits of that time that really help me get in touch with the youthful spring in my characters step, and with a loop pedal I adapted an created a musical through line to transition the piece through.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This is my first production so I'm very new to this but  I hope the standard of my future productions will get better every time.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope for women and men to look at their struggles and be able to look forward and say ‘what's next’. Because, I truly believe that we are the authors of our own story despite the things that go wrong. We decide whether we can get back up and face the world.

Evie is thirteen and lives in Neasden with her Mum. She wants to tell us about something - her crush on Lewis, trying to be a woman, friends, virginity, lightys, garage remixes… and an ‘Uncle’ who lurks in the corners of her story. She wants to tell us something, but first she must face it for herself. Through music, rhyme and witty character observations Urielle Klein Mekongo invites the audience into a snapshot of a young girls life, growing up in a single parent home in North London, the trials and tribulations of being a teenager and the dark figure that infiltrates her life.

Urielle said, “This project tells a coming of age story, that asks questions about what it means to be a black girl from a single parent household. It’s particularly important to me because its a story based on challenges I faced growing up with major daddy issues and trying rise from of ashes of sexual abuse. It took me a while to come face to face with it, like many other victims but I believe that this show could encourage more people to speak up.”
Following its opening performance at East15’s DEBUT Festival, the Bernie Grant Arts Centre has commissioned the show and producers China Plate have come on board for its transfer to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Director Rebecca Atkinson Lord has worked with Urielle to enhance the production and elevate it beyond the constraints of a university setting. 
“Urielle is a startlingly compelling performer with an exciting gift for brilliant music and cheeky wit. Yvette is a story of determination and triumph that is breathtaking in its honesty told by a performer who is so dazzlingly herself that you can't help but root for her.” Rebecca Atkinson-Lord
There will be a collection for Rape Crisis England after every performance as a means of supporting the excellent work that they do across the UK. Rape Crisis England & Wales is a charity that exists to promote the needs and rights of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence it is the national umbrella body for a network of autonomous member Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales and was set up to support their specialist work.  

Urielle Klein-Mekongo is a writer, theatre maker singer/songwriter and performer. After first entering training via the National Youth Theatre’s Playing Up course in 2013, she went on to study Acting and Contemporary Theatre at East 15 where she graduated in 2017. Yvette marks Urielle’s first professional outing as a writer/performer. Other credits include Swipe (The Arcola with NYT), Three Sisters (East 15).
Rebecca Atkinson Lord trained at RADA and with the Royal Opera House and the 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. She is Founding Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Arch 468 and from 2010-2016 was Director of Theatre at Ovalhouse in London. 
China Plate is an independent theatre studio that works with artists, venues, festivals and funders to challenge the way performance is made, who it’s made by and who gets to experience it. Launched by Ed Collier and Paul Warwick in 2006, the company is currently collaborating with Caroline Horton, Chris Thorpe / Rachel Chavkin, Contender Charlie, Dan Jones, Sarah Punshon, Rachel Bagshaw, Inspector Sands, Joan Clevillé, David Edgar, Katie Lyons / Ella Grace and Ben Wright. China Plate are Associate Producers at Warwick Arts Centre where they develop and commission new work, Artistic Associates at the New Wolsey Theatre where they are Directors of PULSE Festival, Programmers of New Directions (the NRTF showcase) and Programme Consultants for Hull City of Culture 2017 (Back to Ours Festival). They are producers of innovative development programmes including The Darkroom, The Optimists (producer training), The First Bite and Bite Size Festivals and the NRTF Rural Touring Dance Initiative. 
Commissioned by Bernie Grant Arts Centre in association with Hull 2017

Dramaturgy Up: Michael Marino @ Edfringe 2017

Written and performed by Peter Michael Marino with help from his Audience
Produced by Civil Disobedience
3.30pm – 4.30pm   3 – 27 August 2017 (no shows 13 & 20)
Laughing Horse Free Festival at The Counting House, 38 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

Comedy show where the audience helps create the laughs!
It’s being billed as the Edinburgh Fringe’s ‘most unpredictable show’ because each audience will help to write and direct each unique performance of comedian and solo artist Peter Michael Marino’s critically acclaimed New York production, Show Up.

In his ‘socially anxious’ solo comedy show, improvisation maestro Marino uses a box-load of Post-it Notes to collect real-life audience experiences to create a hilarious, unique and imaginative performance.

The anything-can-happen nature of the production is ramped up as audience members are engaged to cue sound, design the set - and inform the direction of the story based on their own experiences.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Honestly? The inspiration for Show Up came from the hundreds of solo and storytelling shows I've seen over the past 20 years. I noticed many tropes and patterns being utilised (and over-utilised) and I felt the need to create a solo show that turned those tropes on their heads. I've written and performed many solo shows, but I didn't want to write and memorize a new one...and that's when I had the idea to just show up at a theater and create a show on the spot drawing from the real-life experiences of the audience.  

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

Absolutely! In Show Up I'm also "coming out" as someone who struggles with social anxiety and depression. It's been a great discussion-starter and it's been eye-opening to hear from audience members who totally relate. I didn't realize that so many people are also socially anxious. I feel like it's somewhat of a catharsis for them, because so many solo shows are a catharsis for the performer. It's nice to get people to talk and to let them know they're not alone. It also helps all those extroverts understand us introverts a bit more. 
How did you become interested in making performance?
I think it all started in middle school, and being around kids who were doing school plays. I found a real sense of "tribe" and community there. 

I love how theater can bring all kinds of people together to share ideas and art and how there are so many different roles one can take in the arts besides just being a performer. I started out as a solely a performer, but as the years went on I became interested in directing, designing, writing and producing. It's an addiction that's hard to break. 

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

The approach seemed simple. Show up and make a show happen. Easy? Not as easy as I thought. I really had to workshop the show to structure how I would get the audience to share their enlightening, challenging and shite experiences with me. Then I had to structure how all of these life-experiences would be turned into a cohesive narrative with stakes, turns, highs and lows, and of course, comedy.

That part seems to come easily. A big challenge is to take their "garbage" and not mock it, but to turn it into something real and believable. So far, it's been successful in NYC and other festivals. I'm eager to see how it works with an international fringe-going audience. It's always evolving. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

My shows are all solo shows, so yes. The big difference here is that the show is different every time - based on what I'm given by the audience. I like the challenge and I like having that sense of "what will happen tonight?" every night.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they will laugh, think and even cry a little bit. I hope it makes them more empathetic. And I hope they have a good time not knowing what to expect while watching me dance on the high-wire of not knowing what's going to happen and where the story is going to go. 

There's a party at the end of each show, so at least they have that to look forward to. Unless, like me, they struggle at parties.  

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Being authentic. Being still. Being vulnerable. Being silly, while being smart. Trusting my instincts and experience. And most of all, making the audience feel comfortable. I'm shattering that fourth wall and I hope we all enjoy going on the ride together. Look, it's a small show in a small room. Why even try to hide or be inauthentic? 

Show Up creates an often wild, totally unpredictable ride for the audience as Marino walks a comedy high-wire, simultaneously commenting on his own social anxiety, depression and performance challenges.
“Ultimately, Show Up demonstrates that the value of truth in autobiographical performance is totally subjective,” says Marino.
He adds, “Every day it's a different show. If you asked Forrest Gump about the show he'd probably describe it as ‘a box of chocolates’ - because you'll never know how it'll turn out since the audience steers the plot. Another plus point is it's a free show, so audiences don't even have to pay-to-play, they just need to show up.”

Show Up is semi-written and performed by Peter Michael Marino. Directed by Michole Biancosino and the audience, produced by Civil Disobedience.

Performances from 3 – 27 Aug every day at 3.30pm (except 13 & 20 Aug) at Counting House, 38 West Nicolson Street Edinburgh.

The Unaccompanied Dramaturgy: Elan Zafir @ Edfringe 2017

A SilverSword Collective present

Starring Elan Zafir

There are 1.2 million children at the airport... he's looking for one.

Following his critically acclaimed appearance in Season 4 of the Netflix hit show House of Cards, American actor and playwright Elan Zafir makes his Fringe debut with The Unaccompanied Minor, a one man autobiographical show - ‘thrilling to watch’

A story about a father, his son and the 1,795 miles
that divide them. The script is a sharp and funny observation on modern parenting, which turns the stereotypical role of absentee father on its head. Zafir uses his mimicking talents to fabulous effect as we meet an array of characters on the journey of his boy’s life.

Venue: The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall (Venue 53) Dates: 4th-10th and 19th-26th August (Not Sunday’s) Time: 16.05
Tickets: £10/9

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Taking my son to the airport is probably the most excruciating thing I do.

One time I was dropping him off... the flight was very overbooked, and there was a long line of people—in this sectioned off area—waiting to board. 

I realized my son and I hadn’t said goodbye to each other. So I kneel down, and he turns to me, and I say "you’re the best thing that has ever happened, you’re the best thing I’ve ever done," and when hugged me, he knocked my chin back so my face went up... and I noticed the entire line of people, waiting to board, were looking at us. 

It wasn’t pity. It wasn't rubber-necking to see an accident on the highway. It seemed they wanted me to know me. They waned to be there for me. And that’s when I started writing the Unaccompanied Minor.

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

Hopefully, not during the performance. That would be distracting. I'm up there. I'm  saying things, trying to get the audience going. If other people just randomly got up and started 
MAN: I think what he saying is problematic in todays loose-based equality—
ME: Shut up. Sit down. Shut up. Talk after. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

You hear a lot of people say "Oh, I was five and I saw Hello Dolly and BAM! I knew I was going to be an actor."  Well I'm one of those people. except it was 42nd Street.

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

The Unaccompanied Minor was fascinating to construct. My life entire life in an hour. The format of the show is  similar to the format of our lives. I see my son four times a year, and on some of those occasions I go four months without seeing him. So every time I meet my son it's similar to meeting a new person—that I have to relearn. It's a strange phenomenon to think you know someone you're so close to, and realize you don't know them at all.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I have another show going on at the same time with this one called Super Earth. You'll have to come see that one, too. Then let me know.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I talk about life, death, loved one's, heartbreak, science fair projects, first kiss, first contact, father, brothers, getting beat up, getting laid, tattoos, high school, and getting shot at school. 

Inspired by an experience at an airport boarding gate, The Unaccompanied Minor is an honest, witty and poignant snapshot of one family’s dynamic living situation.

Directed by Dody DiSanto - the 2017 Helen Hayes Award Nominee and Cirque du Soleil choreographer. Trained at the esteemed Ecole Jeaque Lecoq, Disanto teaches at the Shakespeare Theatre Company's Academy for Classical Acting at the George Washington University.

Elan Zafir is an award winning (Helen Hayes, Montreal and NY fringe) actor and writer. He lands at his first Fringe with not one, but two theatre productions -The Unaccompanied Minor and apocalyptic satire Super Earth (11th-18th Aug).

Elan said... “From the moment you enter theatre school you hear someone mention the Edinburgh Fringe. This has been a dream of mine for some time.”

Salted Dramaturgy: Selina Thompson @ Edfringe 2017

Selina Thompson Ltd presents
Tech Cube, 5 - 26 August 2017, 14:30 (15:45) 

Two artists boarded a cargo ship to retrace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle - from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica and back in February 2016. Their memories, their questions and their grief took them along the bottom of the Atlantic and through the figurative realm of an imaginary past over a three month period. It was a long journey backwards in order to go forwards. saltis what they brought back. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Inspiration feels like a very strange way to speak about Salt - it makes it sound like there was a flash of light and then it came to me, whereas Salt felt very much like a creeping despair that needed an outlet - hah! 

Cheery - so you want to put The Black Lives Matter Movement in there, the Exhibit B Debate, Online Discourse around Afropessimism and the afterlife of Slavery, the 2014 Stuart Hall Conference, Saidiyah Hartman's Lose Your Mother, Audre Lorde, Ria Hartley, and the music video for Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus in there. All of those things are connected by the same thread - of race, of diaspora, of the door of no return. And the work is looking at this door in more detail, I guess, looking at my relationship to it. 

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

Depends, doesn't it. On the idea, on who holds the space, and who comes to the space, on where the space is held. Performance enables you to bring people in a room and attempt to force them to feel things together. Sometimes the aftermath of this feeling, or during this feeling can help us find truth, other times, I think it obscures it. I think all art is only as good as the integrity of the person that is making it.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I've always liked showing off! I did a play in Primary school, was good at it and enjoyed it. Kept doing this at Senior School, and during uni. Realised it was the only thing I really cared about when it came time to graduate, so just kept doing it. I find it very difficult to imagine my life without it. This is not necessarily a good thing.

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

I think there was a very particular approach to this one, in that I made the show my retracing a route of the transatlantic slave triangle via cargo ship for 2 months, spending time in Jamaica and Ghana, and of course, a huge amount of time at sea. I tend to work by getting everyone - director, visual designer, sound designer, choreographer and film maker (if there is one) dramturgs into the room at the very beginning, even when there is nowhere for them to work from. 

This is a lot to ask of collaborators, I have found, because so many of those jobs are responsive to script, but I am wanting the script to also grow out of their knowledges and practices. I usually make a first version of a show, ignore it for a year, and then return to it, with distance. So the first version is always quite raw, and messy. The second version more contemplative. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I think it's a bit more grown up and a bit less DIY than the others. It's less funny. It's more academic. But I think it's less of a deviation, and more of a development - so there are definite traces of other shows running through it. 

But it would be a problem, I think, if the work I was making at 27 looked too similar to the work I was making at 22. I've learnt lots in the past five years, and I hope that's apparent in this work.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that they will feel that they have gone on a journey with me. I hope that it is an experience which allows contemplation and thought, and opens up space for people to grieve, or to sit with elements of our lives which we are often encouraged to gloss over. 

But I don't necessarily want it to be a show that enables emotional release. I am much more interested in it as a show that compels us to action, with no promises or guarantees of resolution.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

So we worked with dramaturgs this time around - so it is scripted very tightly, every word of it is considered and pointed. Tanuja put together a really strong, resonant sound design enabling us to bring things in with subtlety - and Kat made a design that is simple, clean. 

All of it is about opening space for contemplation. We've also made a show with a great deal of ritual, trying to figure out how an audience can be opened to this subject matter on a range of levels. So in short, we considered as many as were available to us. 

saltuses film, performance and sound to evoke the journey focusing on grief, home, afropessimism, what it means to be Black, the Black Atlantic, the forgetting of the UK’s colonial history and the impact that has on the daily life of Caribbean communities in the UK today. 

Instructions for Border Dramaturgy: Daniel Bye @ Edfringe 2017

An Arc Stockton production, written & performed by Daniel Bye, Directed by Alex Swift
Daniel Bye 
Instructions for Border Crossing 
5 – 26 August 2017, 16:40 (17:55)

From the maker of the Fringe First award-winning Going ViralInstructions for Border Crossing is an  exposed gearbox of a political thriller. Blending Daniel’s trademark storytelling with a series of live interventions from the audience, the show itself is as unstable as the world it describes. A twelve-year-old girl sneaks across the border into her own country. 

Her parents watch her on a computer screen. The works of a half-forgotten performance artist seem to hold the key to bringing down a brutal system operating on our behalf and under our noses. Do you join in? Or do you look the other way?
responses to Gareth Vile Edinburgh Fringe 2017 dramaturgy database questions
What was the inspiration for this performance?

I’m not sure that this question buys into it exactly, but I have a bugbear with the idea that a finished performance is simply the realisation of an unadulterated original impulse. You know, the “vision” of the artist, the Archimedean revelation that gave rise to its creation. My experience isn’t like that. Any number of things rub against each other in the world and in my mind, and gradually the dialogue between those things begins to appear fruitful.

By the time I have something I can call a show, it might have little or nothing left of the original impulse that got me started. I might start off thinking I’m going to walk to Livingstone, but if I don’t discover somewhere I didn’t know existed then I’ve no business telling you about the journey.

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

Maybe not, but it’s better than the alternatives.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t. I was making shows with my sister and my cousins when I was eight or nine. Coming from Middlesbrough it was a long time after that when I realised that this was a viable career option, or even an augmentable skillset.

But it’s always been there in some form. In this respect I suspect I’m unusual not for having had that early impulse, but in not having lost it.

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

Scrabble around in the dirt until something turns up. Polish it until it’s almost disappeared. Repeat.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Anyone who’s seen my work before will probably recognise a few tropes and gestures. They’ll also be surprised by some new ones and by recasting of some of those old ones. But basically it’s me, the same bloke, talking to a group of strangers. There’s only so different that can be.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Laughter, self-disgust, hurtling down an intellectual hill without brakes, lacerating politicised fury, the sense that art might make a difference even if not this art, a galvanised sense of hope and possibility.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

At the time of writing I’m about to redraft a few sections taking out several layers of irony. It was getting in the way and letting everyone off the hook. The next (and hopefully final) draft aims to take everyone a bit more seriously. Whether in the final show you think there’s too much irony doesn’t mean I didn’t succeed in this aim. You just don’t know what it was like before.

There was an experiment at one point with me not doing my usual thing of chatting to the audience early in the show. It was useful to learn that this is as fundamental part of my practice as I’d thought, and integral to this show, so we put it back in.

I don’t know if this is what you mean by “strategies”, or indeed if you’re principally interested in those considered then jettisoned. But there you go. I won’t spend time describing the things I actually do in the show. You’ll have to watch the show for that.