Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Dream of Dramaturgy: Rich Rusk and Tang Shi @ Edfringe 2017

Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in association with Gecko mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with an international co-production, The Dreamer.

THE DREAMER, Shanghai Dramatic
Arts Centre in association with Gecko, is Gecko’s first international co-production.
The show is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Peony Pavilion, the work of his contemporary, Tang Xianzu (1550-1616).

Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko celebrated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a new show as part of Shakespeare Lives.

The Dreamer premiered in China in October 2016 winning Best Stage Design – 2016 One Drama Awards, China.

The UK Premiere is 2 – 15 August at the Pleasance Grand

Answered by Rich Rusk, Gecko Associate Director and Director of The Dreamer and Tang Shi, producer at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre

What was the inspiration for this performance? 

That’s a huge question. William Shakespeare died the same year as Tang Xianzu, who happens to be a literary giant in China. Both men were way ahead of their time and when it came to celebrating Shakespeare through the British Council’s, ‘Shakespeare Lives’ project in 2016, we decided to go for something very ambitious. With our very good friends at Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre we started to cook-up a new piece of work. 

The Dreamer is heavily influenced by the characters, themes and emotions of two very famous texts. We used A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and The Peony Pavilion by Tang Xianzu as the starting point of our devising process.

However, this is an original devised work, set in a Gecko-style heightened reality. We wanted to make it relevant to today’s society while also drawing on imagery from the classic texts. 

The inspiration at the core of the devising process is the idea of being trapped (by culture, social norms, tradition, lack of ambition, lack of bravery, a need to fit in) and how we break out of that loop, emotionally and physically. We live in a world where parents arrange marriages, men and women have their ‘rightful place’ in society and we worry about everything, all the time…

The Dreamer offers a provocation to consider your position and decide who is in control of your life. 

Dreams. We all dream. When we immerse ourselves into deep sleep, our brains become unchained from the reason and logic imposed by daylight, so real emotions - fear, loneliness, confusion - spring up. The world of dreams is full of possibilities where the order of daily life can be broken.

Shakespeare dreams. His Chinese contemporary Tang Xianzu dreams. Myriad people like you like me living in the modern world also dream. So what's the connection between these dreams? Do we share the same emotions and dreams throughout human history? With these questions, here's The Dreamer.

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

Performance should always be a place for public discussion of ideas for as long as we are looking to be open minded in the making of work and think highly of our audience and their unlimited capacity to imagine, consider and feel. Now is a great time for theatre to inspire discussion. I don’t think The Dreamer is necessarily designed to do that, but I do hope that audiences will allow themselves to consider how they might respond to the various predicaments we throw our protagonist into.

Sure and it'll always be. Theatre is the space allowing different people to breathe together. Same time, same location, watching and being watched. Isn't the co-presence of performer and audience the best beginning of public discussion of ideas?  

How did you go about gathering the team for it? 

I am directing the show. I have worked with Gecko for 9 years across 6 productions and when the opportunity came up to work with a company of Chinese performers and artists in Shanghai I jumped on it. Chris Evans, who co-created the show with me and handled all the movement has performed in 3 Gecko shows and toured the world with the company.

We are working with long-term Gecko
collaborators – Designer Rhys Jarman, Lighting Designer Chris Swain and the brilliant Dave Price who has composed some amazing music for us. Along the way, we have worked with various Gecko Technical team members too, alongside an incredible creative team in Shanghai.

We are all held together by Rosalind Wynn, our producer at Gecko, and the producers in Shanghai who have all shown such passion for the project from day one, and cooked up the collaboration together. The performers all auditioned for us in Shanghai before undergoing training, research and development and two rehearsal periods.

My company, SDAC (Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre) has always been interested in working with international artists. Some of my colleagues saw Gecko's Missing years ago in Edinburgh and still share their excitement after watching it. So it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that The Dreamer has been in the pipelines for a long time!

In September 2015, Gecko artists and SDAC performers had a workshop in Shanghai, presenting a 10 minute sharing on the subject of dreams. It was exciting, and both SDAC and Gecko saw the potential to develop the piece. Then in December came the casting. Decisions were made quickly and it turns out that we've made the best decisions.

How did you become interested in making performance? 

I love Shakespeare but I work mainly with companies who don’t use many words. I wanted to see if it was possible to not only take one of my favourite characters (Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and drop her into a ‘Gecko’ world – but I also wanted to see what the Chinese team would make of her and her dream to marry a man who doesn’t really love her.

For me it was also an opportunity to work with Chris Evans as a co-creator having toured with him on numerous Gecko shows, always being amazed by his creativity and talent. I rarely have the chance to co-create work with people, this whole project has really changed the way I think about collaboration in the arts. [RR]

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

Gecko has a very methodical, rigorous making process, which Amit Lahav (Artistic Director) has perfected over the years. The Dreamer process has been a slightly truncated version of that but we were keen to make sure that the making process was as collaborative and creative as possible. 

We wanted to share with our Chinese partners our way of working which is based on making as many discoveries as possible before rejecting vast amounts of material… and that’s all before we even start to knit the show together. 

We performed a version of The Dreamer in October 2016 in Shanghai. We were really pleased with how it went but it also served as a stepping-stone to the version we have now. In May / June 2017 we have been redeveloping the work – exactly as we would with a Gecko show in the UK - taking everything to a more exciting place ready for the fringe. [RR]

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

This is a departure from Gecko and SDAC’s usual productions. SDAC ususally present plays and were interested to work in a different genre through this project. All of Gecko’s previous work, which Fringe audiences are used to seeing, has been created by Artistic Director Amit Lahav. 

This is the first production that has been created by associate artists of the company and Amit was keen to give Chris and I as much creative space as possible in the making of this show so it has a Gecko flavour, but comes from our style and voice too. 

The show doesn’t feature a wide range of nationalities and languages and it is inspired by existing characters and texts – all of which are unusual to Gecko’s approach.

Having said that, the show is set in a world not unlike other Gecko shows – using movement and imagery as its primary form of storytelling. It features an ensemble of special Chinese performers who have worked intensively to be ready for Edinburgh, training in Gecko’s physical performance style. 

There is a more linear narrative at play here than in recent Gecko productions but it’s still a poetic world to dive into for an hour. [RR]

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that people will come into the room and let their imagination take over for a while. This should be a fun, slightly crazy experience for the audience and I hope they switch off the intellectual part of their brain and just enjoy themselves. There is a lot to feast on. [RR]

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience? 

At Gecko, we always look to take the audience on a journey; we look to invite them to stop ‘thinking’ and just enjoy a story, an image or a piece of movement. This work is actually all about metaphor, poetry and imagery. That doesn’t mean we want them to stop engaging with the action. 

The Dreamer can be seen in various ways, but at its heart there is a very modern women, who we hope audiences will recognise, either through her actions, her feelings or the dreams she unleashes. We do our best to keep inviting the audience into our story, we try to guide them into our world without ever telling them how to feel when then get there. [RR]

The prestigious Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre in China teamed up with Gecko to stage a new piece of work - THE DREAMER - inspired by two playwrights considered the most influential in their respective countries: William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu.

Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre is the only national performing arts company in Shanghai. Famous for its new Chinese-language dramas, as well as performing English-language classics in Chinese, its impressive team of actors, directors, writers and other creatives works across various venues in the French Quarter of the city. This is the company’s Fringe debut.

Gecko is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed physical theatre company, led by Artistic Director Amit Lahav, established in 2001.

2016 marked not only the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death but also that of his Chinese contemporary, Tang Xianzu. Dreams were a leitmotiv for both writers and THE DREAMER reimagines a dream sequence, inspired by The Peony Pavilion and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Focusing on strong female characters within both plays and exploring the topics of magic, humour and love in classic Gecko style, the show will blend emotionally driven movement, a spine-tingling soundscape and striking visual storytelling to bring a new twist to these classic works.

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