Thursday, 20 July 2017

God's Dramaturgy: Shotgun @ Edfringe 2017

Triumph of gender-blind casting in reimagining of ‘Godspell’.
Shotgun Theatre presents a new twist on Stephen Schwartz’s hit musical.

Venue: Greenside @ Nicolson Square (V209)
Address: 25 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BX

Previews: 4 - 6 August @ 6.30pm (Duration 2hrs)
Performances: 7 - 19 August (not 13th) @ 6.30pm (Duration 2hrs)

This August Shotgun Theatre are due to bring a gender-blind adaptation of ‘Godspell’ to the Edinburgh Fringe. In a bold move, the student theatre company have opted to cast a female actor to play the title role of Jesus.

Director, Joe Miller, and Assistant Director, Katherine Lea

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Our interpretation of Godspell focuses on the bringing together of a community through song and storytelling. We wanted to create a world that was as vibrant as the characters who inhabit it, letting their individual quirks and personalities shine through. Our set is minimalist in order to let the characters take precedence; filling the space with their dynamism and exuberance. 

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

Yes, definitely! We believe that performance either starts a discussion or contributes to conversations that have happened before. Godspell, although religious in nature, is fundamentally about human connection and experience: through audience addressal and thrust staging, we open up a forum of discussion as to how relationships can develop in a believable and sincere way regardless of background or upbringing. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

We both studied Drama at university and we are frequently captivated by the theatre’s ability to communicate and resonate with its audience. 

The sheer emotive power of the songs in Godspell capture the extremes of human emotion in a way that is accessible to absolutely everyone, regardless of their religion. It is this accessibility, this finding of a common ground that makes performance so powerful, and it is something we have tried to draw on throughout the performance and process. 

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

We have re-envisioned Godspell in a way that deviates from its obvious connections with religion, instead focusing on the notion of community and the way in which religion is just one method of bringing people together.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Shotgun Theatre was initially established to broaden the opportunities available for those interested in musical theatre at the University of Exeter. We seek to create innovative and dynamic productions, and Godspell definitely fits the bill, with its gender-blind casting and creative storytelling. 

Our approach has enabled us to build an ensemble of incredibly talented individuals, prioritising their distinctive qualities over rigid character descriptions in order to create a truly unique and inclusive take on the musical. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We’ve had previous audience members approach us after the show and tell us that they’re now considering religion, but we’re not looking to convert anyone! We hope that the audience will leave our show with a warm heart and an open mindedness; an understanding that no matter what our differences are, we can all be united by song, dance, and good company!  

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Audience experience has been at the forefront of our rehearsal process, and our main strategy consisted of creating a safe environment for these stories come to life. By giving our actors a fairly free rein over their characters, we have ensured that they are fun, likeable, and relatable. 

Considering the current political climate, we believe more than ever that relationships and community are at the heart of everything we do. Our production in particular shows that people from very different backgrounds are capable of coming together and changing their lives for the better.
Not just about faith, ‘Godspell’ is a vibrant and compelling musical about love, hope and finding friendship. Based on the Gospel of Matthew, the popular Broadway hit features chart topping by the composer of ‘Wicked’, Stephen Schwartz.
In a new twist to the popular family favourite, Shotgun have taken a unique approach to casting, completely ignoring the gender of the actors who auditioned. Rather than defining certain roles as ‘male’ or ‘female’, the team focused on creating a tight ensemble of actors regardless of how their roles were traditionally cast. As explained by the Assistant Director, Katherine Lea, “We had some incredible voices audition for us, and it would've been a terrible shame not to cast them simply because they were a certain gender. Instead of restricting ourselves, we decided to cast based on talent and suitability for each individual song.”

The approach to casting is most notable in the lead role of Jesus. Traditionally a male part, Shotgun have cast talented female actor Emily Lafoy to take on the character. This change is not just cosmetic. Originally written to suit a man’s voice, the melodies of the part are brought to the fore by Emily’s higher vocal range, giving the production a truly unique sound. Rosie Peters, the production’s vocal coach, explains “from a musical point of view, it could have been very risky casting a female, but Lafoy's soprano voice more than rose to the challenge. She has now made the role of Jesus completely her own.”

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