Saturday, 8 July 2017

Perfectly Imperfect Dramaturgy: Danyah Miller @ Edfringe 2017

As part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017, Wizard presents
Perfectly Imperfect Women
Performed by Danyah Miller & Directed by Dani Parr

Award-winning storyteller, Danyah Miller brings her touching, funny, fast-paced, biographical piece,
Perfectly Imperfect Women to Pleasance Courtyard (venue THAT) from 2nd – Monday 28th August at 12.45pm.  

Perfectly Imperfect Women explores what drives some females to want to live perfect lives as mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and bread-winners. Looking at our society the play questions what makes women want to be perfect and asks - what is so bad about imperfection anyway?

Looking at five generations of Miller’s own family, this one woman play examines the often complex relationship between mothers and daughters and the discovery that some women may have more in common with female bloodline than they care to admit. 

LISTINGS INFORMATION: PLEASANCE COURTYARD (That) Wednesday 2nd – Monday 28th August, 12.45pm (except 14/21/28 August). Tickets £6 - £9.50

What  was  the  inspiration  for  this  performance?  
I’m a storyteller. A couple of years ago I was invited to create a ‘female’ story. I said yes without knowing what stories I might tell: folktales, creation myths, legends? But I soon realised that there was a story demanding to be told, my biographical story.... I began to explore my matrilineal line, to consider the less than perfect relationship between myself and my mother through the lens of our female ancestors.

As I began to write and speak I made many connections between myself, my mother and her mother which surprised me. What was I passing on to my daughter I wondered?

The story was incredibly personal and I knew that whilst this was fascinating to me, I wanted to create a performance that also spoke directly to other women about their own relationships and about their drive to be better, or perhaps ‘perfect’ mothers, daughters, business women.

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

I believe that it can be, and often is, a great space for discussion and reflection - This show is a good example of that. When we opened Perfectly Imperfect Women in March this year (we did 7 performances in different venues) I immediately received a great deal of feedback from audience members saying how much the show had stimulated debate between them.

People who spoke or wrote to me later also commented on how they were still discussing the show, thinking about it, looking at their own stories

‘Fabulous, loved every minute and it hasn’t ended yet as I will peruse and ponder on my thoughts that you have left with me’

‘I think I’ll drink until Christmas! - so much to think about, so much to talk about. Thank you for making us think, question, speak’

How  did  you  become  interested  in  making  performance?

Since I was a child the only thing I wanted was to be ‘in theatre’. I wanted to be on stage but as I grew up, not thinking I was good enough to be an actor, I became involved in marketing, administration and management of theatre venues. However with every new job, new step up the ladder, I tried to get closer to the creative process, always feeling that I was too far away.

When John and I set up Wizard Presents in order to produce our own shows I still felt that I wasn’t close enough to the ‘action’. I retrained at Lecoq in Paris and began to work in schools as a storyteller. This work felt hugely satisfying and led me to producing and performing in a small scale village hall tour of a children’s story, which I also then brought to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Since that time I have continued to create theatre and it is where my heart lies and where I want to spend as much time as possible. I feel privileged to enjoy a combination of producing, teaching storytelling at International School of Storytelling, performing and writing... these strands work perfectly together for me.
Is  there  any  particular  approach  to  the  making  of  the  show?

This is the third, one-woman, show Dani Parr (director) Kate Bunce (designer) and I have created together. We’ve worked in a similar way on each of the productions although each end result has been different. We have a basic story from which to begin but the show is created out of a devising and improvisational process which begins with us determining the answer to certain questions, for example: what do we want to say? Why this? Why now? Why me? We consider and decide the structure, the conceit and the parameters of the piece including how the design grows from these decisions and then informs and creates the world of the story.

We work very closely together for a period of time, then leave time and space for the ideas including design to emerge. A couple of months later we come back together to continue the process and have the ‘set’ and props in the rehearsal room as early in the second process as possible. Other creative practitioners work with us at different times, including voice coach, movement director, devising actors and other specialists. We always seem to run out of time as we get close to the first performances as the ‘words’ come last and the script changes right up to the last moment. For me, this is hair-raising to say the least....

Does  the  show  fit  with  your  usual  productions?

Yes it fits really well into our family theatre work and into my own work as a storyteller (trainer) too.

What  do  you  hope  that  the  audience  will  experience?  

What I love about art in general, and theatre in particular, is that you can never predict how an audience will respond to your work, either as a group or individually. Before I go on stage I always remember that I’m in service to the story and hope that the audience will receive it on many levels. I believe that there’s a magic triangle between the story, the teller and the audiences which means that no two performances are ever identical.

In Perfectly Imperfect Women, people have spoken to me afterwards about their stories and experiences, their mothers and how the show has stirred up their thoughts. I have heard people say that they want to come back and see the show again. I’m really happy with these responses and feel that the production is provoking questions and discussion.

‘I connected so much - I relate as a mother of three, brilliant. Funny, true and honest. Beautifully performed and cleverly staged. Thank you’ - Tracey

‘You touched me in so many places and ways - and your beautiful sensitivity and vulnerability illuminated this rich, true, wonder tale’ - Judith

‘Bold, courageous, entertaining, liberating’ - Matthew

What  strategies  did  you  consider  towards  shaping  this  audience   experience?  

I performed my original biographical story in front of a couple of audiences and received feedback from them, researched a number of other one-woman biographical performances and spent time with Dani (director), Kate (designer) discussing what we wanted to achieve with this production. We knew that we had some of the ingredients to make a compelling story but we also knew that we needed to throw everything up in the air and start again whilst exploring what connected the three of us, our families and our lives. We joked about our need to be perfect and questioned what perfect is anyway. We played with a range of structures and asked many questions, Is he need to be perfect uniquely female? What happens if we’re less than perfect?....

We were amazed at and delighted by the number of similarities we discovered between us. We laughed a lot and consoled each other too. We worked with the personal, the universal and the archetypal to create a modern day fairytale which we’ve discovered, to our delight, seems to speak to audiences on many different levels....

As one reviewer said ‘It is simultaneously her story, my story and our story’

Danyah Miller starred in ‘I Believe in Unicorns’ by Michael Morpurgo, which premiered at Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 before touring nationally and internationally. She received an Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence at Brighton Festival 2014 and an Audience Choice Award for ‘Get Creative Family Arts Festival’ in 2015. 

Danyah also recently toured ‘Why the Whales Came’ by Michael Morpurgo. She was a regular storyteller on BBC Three Counties Radio and recorded a 5-part version of ‘The Snow Queen’ for BBC Radio Solent in 2014. 

The production is directed by Dani Parr, who is Director of Participation at Almeida Theatre. She was previously Associate Director at Royal & Derngate Theatres, Northampton. 

Dani directed I Believe in Unicorns for Wizard Presents. She also directed ‘Why the Whales Came’ which is currently on a national tour. Dani co-directed Moominsummer Madness, a co-production between Polka Theatre, Royal & Derngate and Little Angel Theatre and won two awards for Flathampton at Brighton Festival in 2013: the Argus Angel award for artistic innovation; and the Latest award for Best Children’s Event.

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