Friday, 2 June 2017

Hyperion Dramaturgy: George Siena @ Edfringe 2017

4-26 August I 60 minutes

In a bunker on a Greek island, a conscript keeps watch. Alone. His mission: to guard the border for 72 hours. Three days later, no one shows up: no replacement, no pick-up, no one. What to do? 

Hyperion is a performance inspired by Friedrich Hölderlin's early romantic novel, Hyperion or the Hermit in Greece (1797). Written in an age of revolutions and seismic changes in Europe, the novel traced the journey of a young Greek dreaming of national independence and freedom from foreign rule. 

What was the inspiration for the performance?

Hyperion has two main sources of inspiration. First, there’s the epistolary novel written by Friedrich Hölderlin, published in 1797: a young Greek, Hyperion, returns to his homeland after years abroad and deplores its state of devastation and the abuses of the Ottoman regime. He joins a secret revolutionary group aiming at emancipating the country from foreign rule. 

In the process, the rebel leaders will betray their initial cause preferring to pursue their personal ambitions, leaving the country divided and subjugated as ever. Hyperion is once more pushed to self-exile. There’s nothing new under the Greek sun. Hölderlin writes in an age of revolutions and seismic changes in Europe, both political and social. His oeuvre is still very much influenced by the Enlightenment with a very personal prophetic instinct about the limits of the realm of Reason and the dangers humanity faces in alienating itself from Nature and the sense of Being-in-the-world.

His whole work has been a source of inspiration: his poetry, his philosophical essays and his personal letters. They are all one. The second source of inspiration is our current political environment, European but also more broadly Western. The Greek debt crisis, soon reaching its tenth birthday without foreseeable prospects of recovery, is undeniably both a bitter source of inspiration and the backdrop that forms and informs the performance. It’s the element that gives it that sense of entrapment.

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

That’s such a crucial question. I don’t think there is anything as potent as live performance to touch in depth those involved in it, all those present in the room. 

So then the question is: who is in the room? Who are we discussing with?

There is a real challenge in terms of reaching audiences beyond our kind. I find it difficult when artists end up doing work that only other artists see, forming a little arty bubble that doesn’t reach out. Performance equally loses its raison d’être when treated like a product with a specific market to target. ‘Who’s your audience?’: every serious theatre maker is supposed to do some marketing in order to viably preach to the converted. 

Is our audience in this case that other, larger bubble of relatively well-off liberal-thinking theatre-goers? Are we just another recycled expression of what is already discussed on tv and in newspapers? It’s a bit like our social media networks that end up being echo chambers: a recipe for stillness not growth. 

There is a cultural dimension to it: in Greece, going to the theatre is part of popular culture, not just a middle-class pastime. The audience at Epidaurus is a microcosm of Greek society in its entirety. Equally, a bit further East, I was amazed by the Moscow theatres where I’ve seen the best shows so far in my experience as an audience, but most importantly, where all social classes seemed to be present. 

There are tickets for a pound in the best Moscow venues. Then yes, that can become a good space for the discussion of ideas. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have a classical acting background which was my first contact with stage work.

I started making my own work at the London International School of Performing Arts (still called LISPA though they’ve moved to Berlin!) The training is inspired by the teachings of Jacques Lecoq and takes its students on a most incredible journey of creativity. 

If you meet Lispa graduates they will all agree their training there was a life changing experience. It was eye-opening, a bit like an initiation. I hope I don’t make it sound too much like a cult! More broadly, making one’s own work feels like being part of a wider trend. There is an ever growing number of actors, dancers, performers who find themselves much more in creating their own material or devising with others. 

There is such an empowering element to it. Making performance or the co-authorship of performance is also relative to emerging methods of work, and that goes beyond the arts: they are less vertical than traditional ones, more collaborative.

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

The approach is: throw everything in the space, make a big mess, a too-much of materials. For example: the novel Hyperion was published in 1797: what was going on then, what can help me understand the world I’m visiting? I find historical research fascinating and I’ll bring in anything I might consider even remotely relevant to the piece, or something surprising or unexpected I’ve come across. 

There was of course so much material regarding Hölderlin: his poems in particular, his essays, his letters; then there was the presence there of what inspired him, like the Greeks, especially the Pre-Socratics… then his native Swabia that I had the chance to visit: some filmic material from that trip is used in the performance… So the challenge is always: where or when to stop? T

here will always be more stuff out there so one needs to set a limit at some point. On the other hand, even if less than 1% of all this material gathered finally makes it in the show, it still felt necessary for my own writing process and the creation and ‘ownership’ of something at the same time ‘original’ and genuinely ‘inspired by’.

Then there’s a whole range of apparently ‘unjustified’ materials that come along in the mix, more instinctive and less ‘intellectual’ I guess. Stuff one wants to play with - an image, an object, a medium, anything, even when one is not sure where the idea comes from. It might find its way later. To the bin probably. 

Although it’s increasingly difficult along the process, this necessary elimination defines and refines what the performance wants to do. Then the game is to create some order, find some rules, or some kind of structure and carve out the show from that initial messiness. And finally question the limits of that order too.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I guess it does with the productions that are consciously seeking to find their form - and accept that quest as part of the performance. Hyperion is somehow cross-genre and that is because the experience of exile and the search for one’s language is at its core.

What do you hope the audience will experience?

Fun, emotion and thought! Isn’t that the grail of every performer and theatre-maker? I hope they will experience a genuine sharing. There are aspects of the performance that defy narrative patterns and narration altogether: I hope they will accept the invitation whenever the onstage events go against their expectations.

Last, there is a political aspect to this piece which is by no means restricted to the Greek crisis, but tries to look at the questions that lie beneath and currently touch all western societies. I hope the audience will be interested in responding to that.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

What felt essential was to keep a sense of playfulness that would be shared with the audience when leaping from one character to another, one world to the next, or between ‘genres’. It might not be a ‘play’, but play we must!

Interweaving historical events and experience of contemporary Athens, this performance re-visits Hölderlin’s work by blending text, physical theatre, original music and film. 

Created and performed by George Siena, Hyperion questions our sense of belonging and heritage in a changing world and explores themes of identity and exile, individual responsibility and collective action.

A major German poet, Hölderlin was also an important thinker in the development of idealism and dialectics. Inspired by Greek philosophy and poetry, his thought pursues the overcoming of conflict and opposition in an englobing unifying principle.

Greenside @ Royal Terrace (venue 231) 
1b Royal Terrace, EH7 5AB
60 minutes
4-26 August
4-5 August: 11.25am previews £5 
7-12 August: 11.25am £7 (£6)
14-19 August: 10.15am £7 (£6)
21-26 August: 12.35pm £7 (£6)

George Siena, creation and performance 
A National Theatre of Greece graduate, Siena obtained the 2005 Academic performance Award, and worked in productions of the Greek National Theatre and the Athens Festival. 

A multi-lingual performer, he has had the chance to work across Europe, performing in Greek, French and English. Based in London for the last ten years, he has performed in a wide variety of genres including devised theatre, movement-based shows, ancient drama, new writing, immersive theatre, opera and dance, making work at the NT Studio, Young Vic, Riverside Studios and ENO where he had the chance to collaborate with directors Yoshi Oida and Terry Gilliam. As a deviser, he worked with Clod Ensemble, Slip of Steel and co-founded Off-balance and Move to Stand. 

Further training in Theatre Directing lead him to Moscow for seminars at the GITIS Academy and to assisting Simon Usher in Peer Gynt and Jemma Gross in The Winter’s Tale. Recent directing work includes Gilgamesh by Denise Stephenson, currently in development, and assisting Kelly Hunter on the European tour of Flute Theatre’s Hamlet.

Byron Katritsis, composer
A composer, writer and performer based in Athens, Katritsis explores ancient stories and archetypal themes with contemporary sound. 

For over ten years, he has been composing for theatre and film in Greece. Neon's composition for the poems of Kariotakis met extensive critical acclaim. His most recent work for the stage includes Athens Festival productions of Medea and Flux, Hamlet Machine at the Athens Contemporary Theatre and Foinisses at the Delphi Festival 2017.

Mayou Trikerioti, costume design
Mayou Trikerioti trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Mayou is one of Greece's most established theatre designers, working at venues including the National Theatre in Athens and the Ancient theatre of Epidavros. She now lives in London where she has recently designed at the Young Vic and Riverside Studios. 

Since 2007 Mayou has designed feature and short films that have traveled across the globe and screened at international film festivals, including Venice Film Festival, Berlin and Toronto IFF. Most recently she designed costumes for True Crimes, dressing amongst others Jim Carrey, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Agata Kulesza.

Melly Still, mentor
Melly Still is a theatre and opera director and began her career as a choreographer and designer. She has worked for many companies including the National Theatre, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Bristol Old Vic, Hampstead Theatre, The Manchester Royal Exchange, Liverpool Playhouse and the Young Vic.

She has been nominated for Olivier and Tony awards (best director and best design). Her work has travelled throughout the UK, Europe, Scandinavia, the Far East, US and Broadway.

Li-Tien Chueh, dramaturgy
Li-Tien has worked as a director with Cheng-Chi and Tam-Kang Theatre in Taiwan, in productions such as Hedda Gabler, Death of a Salesman, and several site specific performances. In London, she completed an MFA in Theatre Directing and assisted Tony Graham in Three Birds Alighting On A Field, at the Tristan Bates Theatre. 

A steady ‘outside eye’ and dramaturg for Hyperion, she wrote to George in August '15 before leaving for Greece on a night bus: ‘’I want to see where Hyperion comes from. The land, the people, the air, the water’’. She is currently based in Paris where she works as a director and continues exploring methods of devised theatre.

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