Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Richard III (a one woman dramaturgy): Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir @ Edfringe 2017

Brite Theater


Richard III
(a one woman show)

Tues 15th August to Sat 19th August 2017        
13.30  1 hour
£12 (£10/8 conc)

The multi-award winning adaptation of Shakespeare's classic about greed, corruption and how charisma can win you everything is back on the road after last summer's excursions to New York City Fringe and Prague Fringe. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The inspiration for Richard III (a one-woman show) was another Brite Theater performance called Shakespeare in Hell. Emily played Richard in one of the scenes and he simply wouldn't leave her alone. His voice would come up in her head and in our conversations in the car, touring. In our studies together he kept popping up as well, in car parks for instance. 

I was fascinated by the unique relationship he had
with the audience and Emily wanted the challenge of a one-person show. It seemed to me to be a marriage made in heaven (or hell).

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

If it's not then what is the Fringe for? I think performance is and has always been a good space to discuss ideas. Look at the amount of theatre pieces telling transgendered stories at the moment, we as a society are trying to learn something and evolve and this is our way of doing it, in putting ourselves in other people's shoes as performers and audiences. 

I think it's hugely important in times of instability, such as these, to explore our society, our morals, politics and passions on the stage.

How did you become interested in making performance?

My mum worked for a while as a PR manager for the Reykjavik City Theatre, a rep company, and I fell in love with being behind the scenes, with the strange corridors leading to unexpected places and the bizarre short cuts, the make up and wigs, the actors doing warm ups, the stage managers on the intercom - it was all magic to me. 

But the things on stage didn't interest as much. I wasn't fussed about the stories people were telling at the time. I tried my hand in youth theatre acting and frankly I wasn't any good and I didn't like being on stage much. At the time there was no theatre degree you could do that didn't focus on acting so I never saw it as a viable career. 

Then during my final year of college they started a theatre-maker's BA programme at the Icelandic Academy of the Arts. I was so excited to have other options than Icelandic or English Lit, the possibility of becoming a director! 

I was lucky to be accepted and being part of a brilliant class that kindled that spark I had for theatre again. I didn't have to tell the stories that were already out there, I could tell my own; and I didn't have to tell them in the manner those on stage were, I could do it all differently.

What did you need to adapt to bring this into a
solo show?

The whole thing! Apart from Richard's direct address speeches. But even then those are often interjected so there is adaptation in every single aspect of this performance. The plot needed simplifying and focusing on Richard's narrative. The conversations were all gone so the information needed relaying in a different way. 

The whole structure shifted. There wasn't direct audience participation in the original text so we needed to work out how that was going to work, how we could get the audience to help us tell the story. But we used 99% of Shakespeare's own text to do that. It's all in the editing.

Why do the themes of the play still matter today?

Because we have people like Trump and May in power. And it is obvious that they are not the most worthy or trusted leaders or even the most popular, but a flaw in our democratic systems makes it so that whoever is the hungriest for power can get it. 

Democracy can be bought or bargained for. And because we live in a democracy we, the people, are made complicit in the acts of our governments, because we supposedly put them in the position of power, they are supposedly speaking for us. So an exploration of how people get to the top in politics is very timely, I think. And whether we are responsible for our leaders as a society.

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

We worked on it in residency at the home of independent theatre in Iceland with an open door policy. In fact we put word out on local radio when making it encouraging people to come play with us. So what did we do? We started with a rough cut of the play. 

Having read that we discussed the themes and what was important to us vs what was important to Richard in telling his story. We did a lot of character study and improv, making sure that we knew exactly who Richard was and what made him act in the way he acts. 

Then we started playing around with staging the text, adapting it and changing as we went on, using a circle of chairs and name tags to create our audience when no one showed up to lend us their eyes and ears. 

I played all the audience members as well for a time. When people did show up we asked them what it was like for them, what made them uncomfortable, what wasn't clear, and what they enjoyed. So it was quite an experimental, character driven and audience participation heavy process for us, intuitive but also very open to feedback.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes, as much as anything fits with anything else. Brite Theater is interested in new writing, often very personal, and re-imaginings of classics, often very political, so it fits with one strand of our work perfectly. But I guess aesthetically it is quite a lot simpler than our previous work. It has no sound queues, no lighting, no set to speak of, a very basic costume, etc; and though it is highly adaptable to any space it is not site-specific like some of our other stuff. 

In both strands of our work, the old and the new texts, there is a fair share of direct address and audience inclusivity but we took our relationship with the audience to a new level with this show. It continues our love of gender blind casting, that has always been important to us. So it was a departure in many ways, whilst building on our prior work, honing in on what is really important to us; audience, character and society.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope they go through a range of emotions, but most of all we hope it is an experience, meaning that it happens to them, rather than that they witness the events of the play. We want to make them a part of the world, to live within the play for an hour. 

Now Richard is a very strong character and he won't let you run riot, there is a narrative structure that is adhered to, but within that framework it is just as much your world as it is his for the duration of the play. Have opinions, take sides, become best mates with him, hate his guts. Some people come repeatedly to see it from another character's point of view, to be part of a new cast of audience members.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
We considered tons of strategies but we decided to keep it fairly simple, so we leave a lot of the audience experience up to the audience. Richard gives out name tags and characters. He seats you. He addresses you directly and he will shake your hand or answer your phone if it goes off. 

It is his room and he runs it like a boss but he has also given the audience a certain amount of power within it. We have given the other characters (the audience) a brief explanation of who they are and how they feel about Richard on the back of the name tags, so if they are interested they can really get into their characters, and some do. 

We've had a Lady Ann spit at Richard. She was fuming! So a lot of the experience is what the audience decide to make it. This show has been on the road for two years now and it is constantly adjusting to the audience, to what they bring to it. So our main strategy is to know Richard through and through and be prepared for anything.  

Richard III.
An audience.
All the world is a stage.
What part will you play?

Pushing the boundaries of Shakespearean Performance, Brite Theater have re-imagined Richard III as a one- woman show. The fourth wall has been utterly obliterated as you the audience takes on the roles of all the other characters at Richard's party in this intimate, exciting and moving production. Let Richard entertain you...but will you survive?

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