Saturday, 22 July 2017

A Magic Dramaturgy II: Joe Strickland @ Edfringe 2017

Strickland Productions proudly presents

Written and directed by Joe Strickland

Joe Strickland has always felt stranger than most people. At the age of 15 he realised that almost all magic shows were just sequences of unrelated tricks and wanted to change that, he went on to perform various routines incorporating magic into dramatic narratives. 

 4th-26th of August, 2017
20:00 (4th- 12th)
12:00 (14th-19th)
 13:05 (21st-26th)
Tickets: £10 (£8 conc)

With help from twelve years of experience performing and inventing magic, a string of awards including being a finalist at the Magic Circle’s Young Magician of the Year Competition and an invitation to perform at the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ “Stars of Tomorrow” show, Strangers: A Magic Play II is the culmination of years of work blending magic with theatre, and into the 21st Century. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Continuing our themes from our show last year, we wanted the new incarnation of the Strangers: A Magic Play concept to carry on looking at the world through the eyes of a large variety of people, exposing their perspectives to the audience
and helping these ideas come across with the help of magic tricks and illusion. 

The magic is used as a way to entertain and relax the audience, allowing them to listen to what the characters have to say, or watch what they are going through. It is also used to help explain the more complicated parts of their lives via analogy. 

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

Absolutely! Though the medium is somewhat one-sided in a large number of instances, public performance allows for the dissemination of knowledge and ideas to groups of people eager to consume them. I’m not sure I’ve ever left a show having not discussed it or what it meant, something I can’t always say about other art forms. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’ve been performing one way or another from a very young age, and without formal training for any of what were once my hobbies I began creating things in order to develop those skills I had taught myself. 

I started crafting my own magic acts with a difference when I was 14 years old, and worked on the idea of trying to push the art form until I was creating characters that were using magic to help tell stories or get points across rather than just for the sake of performing.

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

Yes, we start out by writing outlines of a large number of potential scenes, narrow it down to between 5-7 and recruit actors to workshop the scenes, write dialogue, create the magic in the scenes, etc. 

We then usually stage a work in progress version of the show in the autumn/winter time. From this, we see what worked well with audiences and what needs rethinking or clarification and we construct the final Edinburgh show from what we discover. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Whether as part of Strickland Productions or externally, I tend to put on shows that don’t flinch from showing the darker sides of human nature, especially what happens when social pressures can be avoided or ignored. I’ve recently staged productions of Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley and The Nether by Jennifer Haley and the same themes in those works, even if to a lesser extent, are present in Strangers: A Magic Play II. However, the “Strangers” shows tend to look at the people that society ignores, either intentionally or otherwise, rather than those who act to avoid society’s gaze, making them both something of a divulgence from the two works mentioned, in which the latter is very much the case. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Firstly, we hope they will be entertained, but we also hope that they will equally be challenged by some of the themes the show touches upon; in this instalment being homelessness, addiction, family planning, depression and political extremism. It’s almost a trade-off; we will show you magic that will amaze you, but you’ll also have to listen to what we’re saying and take it in and think about it. I want people to leave having entirely changed their opinions on the capabilities of magic in performance. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Magic has certain tropes that people presume will happen when they go and see a magic show. We wanted to try and ignore or subvert these tropes in a way that still allows us to entertain people, just in a way different to that of which they expect. Like I said, we often test our shows with in-progress runs and preview performances around the country to make sure what we’ve created fits our two goals of being entertaining and thought provoking. 

We also tend to interview the audience after our shows in order to get feedback while it’s still fresh in their minds so that we can improve the audience experience for any future audiences as soon as possible, picking up on feedback as we go along. 

He has done this with a group of actors from the Nottingham New Theatre, none of whom knew magic prior to being cast in the show, and all of whom come together to help us understand how magic affects all of us, and to show that magic itself has the potential to be a much more powerful performance tool than previously.

Having performed last year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to great success, four brand new scenes have been created for this year’s festival. A homeless person given a magical gift by a mysterious stranger. A gambling addict battling with her addiction. A political preacher giving their first sermon. A shopping channel presenter struggling to care about their job. In the same way that a musical blends theatre with music and lyrics, Strangers: A Magic Play II blends theatre with magic and illusion. 

Four separate stories are interwoven with magic to create an audience experience which challenges what we think and how we think about magic and performance.

Strickland Productions, founded by Joe Strickland in 2015, is a production company focusing on the presentation of original work by new writers, as well as the innovative staging of already established works. 

For the past few years they have been workshopping and staging various iterations of the play Strangers: A Magic Play, currently taking their second show up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2017. Joe Strickland has directed and produced plays all over the country over the past five years. He is currently working on several productions to be staged this year and next, including Cleansed by Sarah Kane and a new adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Previous productions include Mercury Fur by Philip Ridley (Nottingham New Theatre), Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford) and The Nether by Jennifer Haley (Nottingham New Theatre), as well as stage adaptations of Reservoir Dogs by Quentin Tarantino (Bartons PLC, Nottingham) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Nottingham New Theatre).

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