Saturday, 5 August 2017

Changeling Dramaturgy: Pucqui @ Edfringe 2017

Pucqui Collaborative presents CHANGELINGS by Robin Ian HallSmith and Nicole Marie

Featured at theSpace’s new North Bridge venue, the show will be presented at Monday through Saturday, August 4 through 26, as part of the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

CHANGELINGS, the third production by the international Pucqui Collaborative, is a mash-up of Rudyard Kipling and William Shakespeare, imagining a world in which The Jungle Book’s Mowgli is the boy over whom the fairies of A Midsummer Night’s Dream‘s have been fighting. An original piece written by and featuring Pucqui’s founding members, Nicole Marie Palomba and Robin Ian HallSmith, the play was created while the authors were completing their post-graduate study at the University of Essex’s East15 Acting School.

CHANGELINGS’ story takes place in a magical forest which exists in limbo between the two source stories. Mowgli finds himself cast out of his wolf pack, alone and left to fend for himself. Puck discovers him and entices him to leave the jungle for Oberon’s forest.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Both creators of the piece, Robin HallSmith and Nicole Palomba, are 2017 Acting MFA recipients from the East15 Acting School in London. For our degree, we were asked to write a dissertation, design a portfolio, and build a 7-minute one-person performance all around a pre-existing character in drama. 

Robin chose Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Nicole chose Mowgli from a stage adaptation of The Jungle Book. It occurred to us during the process that we might find a way to merge the two characters, and we found the common theme in both stories of the little Indian boy lost in the woods. The coincidence excited us because it allowed us to subtly examine themes that resonate with us personally - queer themes, gender roles, multiculturalism, the attraction of the natural world, and magical realism.

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

Performance - particularly live performance - is still an excellent venue for debate and examination. There is something visceral and enthralling about live theatre that no other art form except performance art comes near. 

There is reason why film audiences or live music audiences don't need intermissions and feel galvanized to go out for a handful of pints afterward, while theatre audiences engage in ways both physical and psychological that takes real energy and focus. 

When there is a live audience, the ensemble engages in a real-time dialogue with that audience, which makes theatre the most exceptional world in which to examine and express truths, confusion, frustration, and hopefully joy.

How did you become interested in making performance?

We honestly believe that performance is a medium, and it has always been the medium that we feel most comfortable storytelling in. This story in particular, is best fit for performance because both characters were born on the page so long ago, and we can reintroduce them to people who already think they know who they are. Puck and Mowgli lived (unknowingly to most) side-by-side in Kipling's universe, and we want to invite people to actively participate in the conversation about how characters, and people, can coexist, perhaps without realizing they have been already with those different from them, after the show is over. 

We hope that by bringing these characters to life in an intimate, human setting, we can encourage audiences to look deeper into all relationships they think they already completely understand, be it with a person, a play, a character, or themselves. 

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

As we said above, the MFA program really lit the fuse for the creation of the concept. We used a number of methods in order to build the final piece, including free writing, improvisation, performance impulse work, animal study, and a number of other techniques. 

One might be hard-pressed to call the process "devised", however, as a working production script was created at the onset and adjusted throughout the rehearsal process. The piece was particularly built, as one would imagine, from the characters outward, allowing them to steer the story and tone.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Very much so. Our company has addressed queer themes and gender roles in all of our pieces. Our premiere production created last summer for performance at the Lion & Unicorn in Camden was 1W1M, a half-improvised performance art piece in which the two main performers - one woman and one man - cycle through a number of Shakespeare duologues, while the corset changes place and the man is allowed to veer from the script while the woman is required to maintain the pentameter. 

We've aimed toward building a multicultural approach to our work, and we're excited to be able to playfully address the issues of both colonialism and culture in our new work.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

More than anything, we aimed to create a piece that - though teasingly political in brief moments - primarily just built an ambient tone of two childlike characters meeting in a wood. We wanted it to be a bit of a respite from the more brash and demanding theatre that one frequently encounters, which we love but also feel is not all that contemporary theatre can do. 

We feel that in the hyper-urban, technologically aggressive modern world in which we live, we can offer a differently paced and more nature-inspired experience that taps into the fire-pit storytelling of our collective unconscious.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Particularly, we've kept these themes in mind in terms of performance pacing and technical design. Our set is designed to mimic not only a forest at dusk but also to tap into the audience's experiences of the nocturnal houses in modern zoos, and the sound design is particularly ambient and intends to beckon the audience into the world of the play as soon as they enter. 

We hope it helps create as much of a rest and an organic experience as is possible within the gorgeous chaos that is the Fringe Festival.

The production addresses themes of loneliness, family and tribe, childhood wonder, and the magical nature of storytelling. While not expressly written as a children’s show, it is family-friendly and appropriate for all audiences.
Quoting their mission statement, the Pucqui Collaborative “is a curious theatre collaborative rooted in the creation of vibrant, playful, and occasionally sinister performances that reconnect modern audiences with traditional storytelling”. Last summer at the Lion & Unicorn in Camden, the company premiered its first original production, 1W1M, in which famous scenes from Shakespeare were re- imagined through gender-bending, corseting, and copious blood and glitter. The founding pair, Palomba and HallSmith, state that their primary focus is always to approach the collaborative’s work “through a multicultural, queer, and/or gender- conscious lens.” on/changelings
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