Saturday, 3 June 2017

Blank Dramaturgy: Dylan Cole @ Edfringe 2017

Blank Tiles by Dylan Cole

15:55 (60 mins)

3-28th August
(Not 14)

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I always thought I could do show about a board game. I settled on Scrabble as it plays into my own love of words, anagrams and problem solving. It was a game I remember playing often with my late Grandmother.
Researching the world of competitive Scrabble I came across Word Freak by Steven Fatsis, a book about the North American National Championships. There is also a documentary called Word Wars which follows many of the same people that the book did in their quest to become better players. These resources gave great insight into the lives of obsessive Scrabble players. They were the inspiration for a lot of the character in the show. But I still needed a story. Making the show about memory loss seemed to be a natural dramatic fit for a character who treasures their ability to commit the entire dictionary to memory.
There came a point in the writing process where I had to define what type of memory loss my character was suffering form, I was looking at all sorts of Aphasias, the inability to process or recall words. I decided though, to make the show about Alzheimer’s disease, as it seemed to fit more naturally with the story I was trying to tell. Defining the character’s disease was a frightening moment, it is a terrible disease that affects so many people. I knew that I would have to do it justice, to not make light of the gravity of being effected by such a disease. As it turns out, my scrabble- playing Grandmother developed dementia in the final years of her life. So I felt like I had come full-circle.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. Live performance has the power of personal connection, and when that happens, inherently discussions seem to flow. What I like about my show is it is not “preachy” in any way. It’s not telling people what to do or think, or to go out and support a dementia charity. The show tells one man’s experience with a shit disease. The discussions that I’ve had with audience members after the show often revolve around personal experiences of the individual, their interpretation and what the performance meant to them.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve always felt a need to write, to create, to be working on something. I have tried not doing it, but then it seems like I’m neglecting an important part of myself. I have less of a need to perform – but ironically that is the part I enjoy the most. That’s why Fringe is the best - it allows me to indulge in every need.

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

It was combination of a lot of research while writing about nothing in particular. Not unlike The Shining, I went away for a week and did nothing else but read & write. I’m happy to say I didn’t go crazy. Some things I wrote I liked, some made it into the show, some didn’t, some were useless.

For example this excerpt about bananas never made it:
Bananas – some people like them green, some perfectly yellow, some people who I don’t understand like them a little brown, a leopard of the fruit world. Whatever your preference, when it comes to eating a banana, there seems to be a slim margin of time between good and bad. The Banana Lament: “Had I eaten that banana, 30 minutes earlier, I would have enjoyed it.”

Eventually you come up with some material that you think is good enough to string together in a way that you like, while throwing in some of the discoveries you’ve made through research.

I think the phrase “Kill your darlings” is always a good one to have at the back of your mind. I frequently cut scenes or sequences that while fun, aren’t necessary. You also have to be careful of over-explaining research material or not advancing the plot with too much exposition.

But I suppose you never really know what you have until you put it in front of an audience - Then it’s just a matter of continually refining.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I think I’m definitely developing a style and each show I do seems to get better & better – which is a relief.
It would seem I tend to focus on neurotic, passionate and obsessive characters. They really are the most intriguing.
My last show was departure from what I normally do, it was autobiographical, rather than  character based - it was a kind of return to my stand up routes, but it taught me a lot about the way I like to write. Each previous production has influenced the next.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience experience personal connection with the character, to not define him by a disease. To see elements of themselves, of people they know. To empathise and sympathise and in the space of an hour, experience fully the highs and lows of a life well lived.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I spent the most time on building the world of the character and their relationships. Making their world as multi-dimensional, layered and as real as possible. The show is about a disease, but I quickly realised that the less I said about the disease the better, that I should focus on the story of the character and trust that my research will show in the character’s actions. I also desperately try to avoid clichés as much as possible.

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