Monday, 21 August 2017

A Room in the Dramaturgy: Matt Rudkin @ Edfringe 2017

The Room in the Elephant by Slash theatre.
On Aug 8th - 12th, 2.15pm, The Hive.

Seemingly set in a garden shed, this provocative, mind-boggling comedy begins with two young men struggling to come up with ideas for a show they are due to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe the following week.  

They excitedly decide the piece will be an exact re-enactment of their creative process and begin to video themselves. 

A third, older performer arrives and tells them this sounds like some “awful, self-referential bullshit”, to which they reply, “And you’ll say that in the actual show!” which indeed he does.  

Following the logic of this premise leads to conversations about art, ambition and evolution, and continually shifting realisations about where and when the show is actually set, and who these men really are.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
The other two performers, Merry and Joe, did a short piece at a cabaret event I ran in Brighton.  In the piece they came on to the stage saying things like "And we'll just walk onto the stage like this" "yeah, I'll go first and you'll come on 2nd, and then we'll stand on the stage" "Yeah... and maybe do a little dance..." "Yeah, and we'll say this as we do it".   I thought it was funny but doubted they could sustain it for their 8 minute slot.  But it actually just got funnier and I became fascinated with how far the idea could be taken, so I invited them to make an hour long show based on this premise.   It was actually quite an easy process as we kept finding ideas within ideas and layers upon layers, and making each other laugh a lot. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
I think it can be a good place to provoke debate, but theatre makers should have a clear sense of what their real motivation is and where their talents lie.  Too often people seem obliged to 'deliver content' when they don't actually have a deeply considered, informed or passionately held opinion on a subject, just a desire to be on stage and admired (...for a having a deeply considered, informed and passionately held opinion. Ouch!)  Really, we're a bunch of attention seeking shows-offs - the audience know that and they're fine with it... as long we get on with entertaining them with our skills and stories and avoid presenting ourselves as being morally or intellectually superior.   And even when we do really have 'something to say', some arguments may be best made in essays.  I remember Keith Johnstone writing in 'Impro' that when he was script reader for the Royal Court, if he could tell what the playwright was trying to say in the first few pages he got bored - not the conclusion he wanted to come to but one he had to admit to.  I prefer performance in the form of a 'thought experiment', exploring the possibilities, intricacies and contradictions of a theme.  Its much more interesting overhearing a person's dramatised struggles with their uncertainty than being assailed by their convictions, as this seems to be a more authentic representation of actual experience... or maybe that's just me. At the same time, I have seen some verbatim theatre pieces with a clear political point which were inspiring, and I think there are some stand-up comedians working today who are great at getting to the nub of things.  I'm not sure how much I'm speaking from the point of view of my character in the show.... our show kind of explores this theme; 'what motivates artistic creation?'

How did you become interested in making performance?
I wanted to make the world a better place!  Actually, my Mother signed me up to a children's theatre group when I was 4 and I really enjoyed the whole process of rehearsals and playing lets-pretend with other people watching.  Then I went to big school and it suddenly wasn't cool to be the theatre boy, so I did more art and writing. I started actually creating shows during my degree in Creative Arts where we were introduced to all kinds of devised theatre and live art practices.  I was a very introspective young man and would write at length in my diary about the difficulties of life and then try to turn these into shows.... which I suspect were really quite pretentious (all of the criticisms above describe what I've done myself and probably have not fully trained myself out of. Its a fine line and one small side step can transform a contrived, clunky, cheese-fest into an elegant, insightful... trifle).   

Since a young age I have habitually tried to make people laugh.  Not that my efforts have always been appreciated, but I have grown into quite a funny person.  I enjoy laughing and making people laugh, and perhaps I shouldn't admit this but perhaps more than anything else I really enjoy making myself laugh.   

Since I'm also quite introspective I figured that if I could give people the pleasure of laughter whilst sharing my thoughts, then it was a good deal, a win-win situation.  I get to say what's on my mind, they get to have a laugh.  I think humour can really be an incisive instrument for revealing assumptions.  And then there's just being funny for the sheer delight of foolishness.  I was in a Street Theatre show called ''Then Incredible Bull Circus' for several years, and we were just stupid idiots and people really enjoyed that. Some people say there is too much comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe,  but I think that's mainly because comedy gives people an experience they value. It's too easy to say its lowest-common-denominator / escapist, and people who complain should just try and be funnier.... 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
This show is a complete and utter collaboration between myself my two significantly younger co-performers, Meredith Colchester and Joe Mulcrone.  I had written and directed our previous show 'Buddhism: Is it Just for Losers?' but for this one we recorded a lot improvisations and transcribed these to form the basis of the script. This gave the dialogue a more natural feel since we each say things we'd actually come up spontaneously.   None of the shows ever feel really finished in that we have a tendency to tinker between performances, but this one feels pretty done and consistent. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Its quite similar to previous shows in the sense that its funny, with an odd storyline of sorts that is quite unpredictable and sort of 'conceptual'.   The difference is that its a pretty much a fourth-wall 'play' with characters who pretend the audience aren't there. These characters do, however, have the same names as the performers and there is quite a bit of confusion about which parts are 'real'.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience are taken on a journey in which they become thoroughly absorbed.  I hope the complex twists and shifts and layers of the show really keep them fascinated and by the end they feel like their minds have had a proper workout.  .  I hope they don't completely mistake the characters for the actual performers (which happened once), because then they would think we are quite forlorn and misguided individuals... which is probably true to some degree.. .but not this much.  Part of the show features three men in a shed sharing the kind of stories from their lives they wouldn't want to share in public.  I hope it provides some food for thought. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The show begins with a fairly a simple premise and explores its weird logic through a multitude of strange possibilities, weaving several strands together as its travels towards its bonkers conclusion.  We test the shows in front of guest audiences and ask a lot of questions and then make adjustments.   We also video all performances and listen back to the audience's laughter because this is tells us how much they're 'getting' the new ideas as they emerge.  During the process if we come up with something that makes us all laugh our heads off, we always try to find a way to put that in the show. 
This is the 4th show by Inconvenient Spoof, a Brighton-based company whose work has appeared at such venues as the Soho Theatre (London), Tobacco Factory (Bristol), The Old Market (Brighton), Co-founder, Matt Rudkin, created and compered Edinburgh’s original Bongo Club Cabaret, and has toured internationally with Street theatre classic The Incredible Bull Circus. He has also worked as a senior lecturer in Theatre Arts at the University of Brighton for the last 15 years.

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