Sunday, 30 July 2017

A Thousand Dramaturgies: Diane Edgecomb @ Edfringe 2017

       Diane Edgecomb – A Thousand Doorways 
Quest to Preserve Folktales of the Kurds
“There is one world, but a thousand doorways” Diane Edgecomb brings the dramatic true account of her travels among the Kurds of Turkey to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Her aim was to help preserve a vivid part of a threatened cultured, the traditional folktales passed through the generations by word of mouth but never written down. The task was urgent as Turkish laws have been silencing their ancient language.

Theatre (storytelling, true-life)
Venue: C Venues – C primo (Venue 41)
Dates: 2-19 August
Time: 13:30. Duration: 90 minutes  
Guidance: 12+
Tickets: £6.50 to £10.50

What was the inspiration for this performance?

In 1999, I met Kurdish refugees from Turkey and, when I heard the stories of their suffering, I began advocating for them as best I could. As we grew to be friends, I came to know and love their culture- it was so deeply ingrained, so ancient but it was very threatened and rapidly disappearing. I’m a teller of traditional tales by trade – I’m in love with the eerie magic of the old stories and strive to have them live for contemporary audiences with all of their mythic ambiguity and power. It was so troubling to hear that much of the incredible oral tradition of the Kurds was dying without even being documented. 

I decided to record as many of the old Kurdish storytellers as I could before their traditional stories died with them. So began an unbelievable adventure in Turkish Kurdistan as the Kurds helped and guided me in this endeavor. Because of the ongoing oppression in Turkey, this project, innocent though it was, had to be kept secret. Fortunately, I was aided by a network of true believers. They shared everything with me – risked their livelihoods and sometimes even their lives for this innocent work. “A Thousand Doorways” is the true story of that journey, of the unbelievable moments we shared and the people I met: the struggle, the spirit, the humanity, the humor and the absurdity of it all. This encounter with the Kurdish people and the doorways that opened are my inspiration for this piece.

Is performance still a good place for public discussion of ideas?
I’m not sure I see theatre as a place for a rousing debate these days or even a controlled discussion of ideas, though perhaps that’s because my own work is not a searching for that. Most of my work is as a storyteller and storytelling to me is not about discourse but about shared space. In fact, it has recently been proven that when you hear a story, the memory of that story lodges in your brain in the same space that lived experiences do. 

Talk about shared space! 

I once met an anthropologist in Poland who was working with head hunters - an interesting late night conversation - when he heard I was a storyteller he said, “Oh, you take people to the invisible worlds.” I would like to share with my audience not ideas but experiences from the invisible worlds of memory, myth and time. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

When I was young, I loved the playing out of stories, enlisting my siblings and the neighborhood kids in my scripted “plays.” It was so exciting, this world of imagination where anything was possible. To me, it was the culmination of the imaginative play we were already engaged in, transforming an old dead tree into a spaceship, a boat or a toboggan. 

In my teens and twenties I took a little detour into acting. There, the transformative aspects of performance became clearer as I worked with the tools of memory and association, drawing from and changing my own emotional life and physical manifestations as a way to try to experience the essence of another. 

Leaving the strictures of acting and coming to storytelling was a major and welcome shift as I was again able to author my own work. I honed my narrative chops over many years by adapting traditional tales, working with material from the greatest “plays” and plots in the world! Deirdre of the Sorrows, Gawain and the Green Knight and, of course, Princess Firefly. 

Gradually, I began creating original and personal stories, but my immersion in traditional narrative over the years gave me a sense of structure that has proved helpful whenever I am knitting together a piece. 

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

I don’t approach making performance with a conscious plan, still, on reflection, I can say something about the journey of this piece. Initially, I didn’t even know I was making a performance! I wanted to tell the stories of the people I had met and began doing that by telling the stories they shared about their lives. This series of short anecdotal tales would often accompany a talk about the Kurdish Storytelling Project or a book signing of my collection of Kurdish folktales. 

I have always been a fan of the work of Anna Deavere Smith who crafts her solo performances from interviews, focusing on an event or topic that has touched the interviewees lives. Her “script” is from transcripts of these interviews and it is so rich. Not only the wording, but HOW people say things is so revelatory. I learned a lot from her about the power of that.  So the generation of this show was in the people I met. I wanted to share them with others that did not know them. 

Gradually I began to tell not only the personal anecdotes but to enact significant scenarios that had happened – different parts of the journey. Stories of these adventures later became part of the potential weave of the piece.  Now, I had many small elements for the makings of a performance but what was missing was the arc of the story. I fought it initially, but realized through exchange work with other tellers that it was my “character” that needed to carry the narrative arc. 

Once that became clear I moved closer to a chronological telling of the story. The last addition was the inclusion of the haunting legends I had encountered. I really wanted them to have a presence in the piece. The story that I decided on,“The Eggs of the Ancient Tree” not only found its place in the piece but mirrored the journey and the core of this quest in surprising ways that helped the whole show to come together. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?  

My main work is as a teller of traditional tales. I work with seasonal and nature based myths adapting them so that they can convey the meanings they were created to hold. I also have performances I call “Living Myth Events” which are juxtapositions of story and landscape – where each enhances the other. The purpose is to find a way to surprise an audience into understanding and experiencing a myth with some of its original power and with some of its original purpose - to create relationship. I have found that unusual but resonant environments help.

“A Thousand Doorways” is a culmination of my work not just as a storyteller, but as a theatre artist. Previous to the creation of this piece I was telling only a few personal stories.  This the longest and most in-depth personal story I have ever created, calling on everything I can give as a storyteller/theatre artist in terms of emotional range, variety of characters and story structure. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

In terms of the performance itself, not only do I want the audience to live through and experience this journey and the world of the Kurds, I also want them to really consider the cultures they have not met, the people they may have initial thoughts about but have never gotten to know. I would like them to consider opening a doorway where they might never have before.

As an artist, I try to fulfil the requirements of a storyteller in ancient Ireland.  To be a teller there it was required that you be able to: cause an audience to laugh, to weep and to fall asleep. Being able to bring an audience to laughter and tears seems like obvious and goodly “skills” but to fall asleep is really intriguing and I have wrestled with the meaning of that over the years. 

At first I thought that “sleep” was referring to enabling the audience to be able to “dream,” to enter the imagination. But recently, in a conversation with another teller I had a different revelation. 

This teller mentioned that whenever she told stories in a certain classroom, a young troubled child would always fall asleep. She felt badly about it until the teacher told her that the child was so terrorized by events at home that he was never able to sleep. Only with the safe presence of the teller and the grounding of her voice was he able to finally let go. I also wish to create that feeling of care and release for my audience . 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping that audience experience? 

The journey of the narrator in the piece is from outsider to someone who truly kens and lives with a people. I hope that through that unexpected journey the audience can begin to consider what it would be like for them to make similar choices and open a door. The theme of doorways recurs throughout the piece in a variety of forms. Including that of an egg that ever renews in the overriding Kurdish fairytale of the “Eggs of the Ancient Tree.” 

Protected by the Kurds, who kept this innocent project hidden from government eyes, Edgecomb found herself in remote mountain villages forbidden to outsiders. Here, the true stories of their lives and struggle began to mix with their legends as doorways opened on a very different world, a mythic landscape of shepherds, guard towers, caravans, impossible mountain passes and the mysterious “Eggs of the Ancient Tree.” 
She says: “During the performance I bring to life the events and people I encountered, playing over 16 characters. I try to let the voices of the Kurds, a people who have been silenced for so long, shine through with all of their wisdom, humour and heart. This is my chance to honour the unforgettable people that I met.”
A master storyteller and theatre artist, Edgecomb takes the audience to the heart of a life-changing journey, revealing an unforgettable world. Exotic legends from her book A Fire in My Heart: Kurdish Tales, the first book of Kurdish folktales published in English, are set against the dramatic true story of her encounters with the Kurds. Carpet dealers, chain smoking octogenarians and shy village heroes bring about a series of improbable, synchronistic events in this struggle to honour these last Kurdish storytellers. 
A featured storyteller on National Public Radio, at the National Storytelling Festival and the International Storytelling Center, Edgecomb is known for her unique style where she embodies the various characters and scenes in a tale, bringing each moment alive. She has won the first and only National Oracle Award for Storytelling Excellence in the Northeast as well as five Storytelling World Awards. 
‘A storyteller in the grand tradition, Edgecomb is a virtuoso of the spoken word... an entire cast rolled into one’ Publisher’s Weekly. ‘A tour de force in every way... A Thousand Doorways will leave you irrevocably and powerfully changed’ Genevieve Aichele, Artistic Director, New Hampshire Theatre Project.


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