Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Shit I'm in Love with Dramaturgy: Rachelle Elie @ Edfringe 2017

Bawdy Romp through Life, Love and Family with Cheeky Songs About Sex
Rachelle Elie can tell you more about love and relationships than Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Katy Perry could ever do – and she’s laying it all on the line.

The Outstanding Canadian Comedy Award winner is bringing her critically acclaimed one-woman show Shit I’m in Love With You Again (SIILWYA) to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time. Packed with witty observations, tales of embarrassment plus cheeky songs about sex it’s a joyfully bawdy romp through the ups and downs of her life that covers teenage lust, family, marriage, parenthood and therapy.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

For the last 15 years I have been creating and touring one-woman comedy character shows such as Joe: The Perfect Man and Big Girls Don’t Cry. After years of marital distress, my obstetrician/gynaecologist husband and I managed to rescue our love from the cliff’s edge, a recovery that inspired my own story. 

I realised I knew more about love and relationships than Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Katy Perry could ever know. So six years ago I decided to strip away the characters, get on stage in stand up clubs and find my own voice, a decision that led to Shit I’m in Love With You Again. The show is my life, including my time spent in Kenya where my husband worked in a hospital and I taught art to HIV positive adults shunned by society. 

Medical politics forced my husband to resign his post just as I, after making sacrifices and overcoming doubts to accompany him, found my niche and was making a real difference to people’s lives. The rest is history – a history laid bare for all to see on stage. Shit I’m in love With You Again is my first autobiographical show and this is me laying it all on the line.    

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

I feel theatre is still one of the best ways to share ideas. What I love about theatre is it is an art form that requires an audience. As a performer I get immediate feedback about whether my idea is being understood and it affects my performance.  

With so much social media and texting, face-to-face communication is harder to get but theatre is an old fashioned art form that offers modern present day idea sharing and expression.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

From a very early age I would do silly characters to make my siblings laugh. My brother always pushed me to do the characters for others to make them laugh. We would be driving through Florida and he got me to walk up to strangers and do my characters. I got addicted to the laughs. 

Those were early performances. By being weird I realised I could affect a stranger’s day. I failed Grade 8 and at that time a guidance counsellor encouraged me to audition for a high school of the arts. I didn’t know it but I was an artist. I got into the art and dance program and thrived.  At 16 I was working as a professional model and at a Ralph Lauren show we were told to completely ignore the audience. 

This was impossible to me and that realisation led me to persuing a degree in acting at Bishop’s University. Making performance was something I gravitated towards but as I got older the type of performance I was meant to do became clearer. I went to theatre school to be a serious actress but my true calling has always been to be a clown and to do comedy.

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

Every show I have created has had a slightly different approach but most of the time it involves collaboration with clown experts. I have worked with Philippe Gaulier, Sue Morrison, Mike Kennard, James Keylon, Francine Cote, Adam Lazarus, David Shiner and others. T

hese people are masters of clown and physical comedy. When starting a new project I often get in a room with one of these people and start jamming. They help me get clearer with my ideas. I also get on stage as much as I can because the audience will immediately let me know if something is working. I am not a linear thinker so I often work with dramaturges or directors to shape the show. 

Once I feel I have at least an hour of strong material I will schedule previews so the show can further develop in front of an audience. I will video those previews and make major cuts at that point.  Friends and family feedback also influences my work. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In the past my work has been theatre based and the shows have revolved around over the top characters. This show was developed in front of audiences in stand-up clubs, cabarets and bars. It became clear after hundreds of 5-30 min sets that a new show was in development but I was to be the central figure. 

Many comedians will say it takes years to really find your VOICE, after six years of consistent performances and feeling like my comedic voice was surfacing it became clear that I needed to create a new piece. I knew I wanted to perform it in theatres so I returned to my usual approach; to shows which involved several collaborators and mentors. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

More and more people need to laugh. As a comedian my favourite part of my work is doing just that and I believe this show provides some comic relief. I am also a trained clown. Clowns go too far, push boundaries and talk about things people are usually hesitant to discuss. 

I hope audiences jump on board with me when I go into the good the bad and the rauchy experiences of life. My specialty is “being too much” and “going too far” I hope audiences will enjoy my unique brand of comedy developed over the last twenty years that involves storytelling, stand up, clown, characters and acting.  

Near the end of the show, when we get more into the crisis of my relationship audiences get to see the worst of me. It is very intimate. I try to always come back to the light of it which is fun because things get crazy and then we laugh about how ugly things got. I had a friend who went through a nasty divorce and at the end of the show he was teary and said he wished he saw the show before they broke up. 

Another elderly overweight gentleman said he wished he had "fucked first" in his first marriage. Maybe it would of saved it! I tell the truth about love and relationships and the shows message is that even if a relationship appears to be shit it may be fixable. I hope audiences will laugh and when conflict part of the show comes up that people will relate to my struggle and to my universal message about love.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

A few years back I discovered Aristotle's “Fryetag's Pyramid". Exposition, Rising action, Climax, Falling action & Resolution. I am not by nature a linear thinker and this tried and true triangle for story development is a strategy that helped me shape my chaotic ideas. Also I perform as much as I can in front of a live audience so that I can ensure my writing and performance are consistently funny for all types of audiences. 

Lastly and most importantly as a performer doing what I have to do before a show, to be in the moment with the audience that is in front of me, is crucial to shaping an audiences experience. There is a magical place, a five star place, between an audience and a performer on stage and when I access that place the audience and I have the ultimate experience. I am getting better and better at stepping into that place and it is the part of theatre that is like skydiving: life and death.

The show was a sing and shout-along success across Canada. Mums empathise with the “Ring of Fire” scene where Elie discusses that unforgettable sensation during childbirth, just before the baby arrives. 

And we can all learn from the Fuck First ditty and its core message about going to bed together before, rather than after, a romantic restaurant curry. 

SIILWYA rips through every key moment from Elie’s fall out with Jesus and enthusiastic embrace of sexual freedom, to true love and a marriage that came within an inch of divorce.

Described by legendary French master clown Philippe Gaulier as “fucking funny”, Elie has won bucket loads of praise. Critics delight at the energy and charm with which she delivers this autobiographical tale. Elie’s comedy can switch in an instant from naivety to raunch and then into the pathos of the realisation that she “loves everything about her husband – even the things that she hates”.

Elie treats universal themes in unexpected ways. She says: “It’s all there from splitting up with Jesus to the need for patience, tolerance and blow jobs in saving your marriage. I know more about long-term relationships than Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna and Katy Perry combined. I’ve been in the trenches of love for 20 years with my husband. We’re raising two boys together. I talk about the things most people are afraid to discuss.”

The songs are co-written with Luke Jackson, who provides live musical accompaniment.

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