Sunday, 13 August 2017

Dramaturgy Triptych:Emily Dickinson @ Edfringe 2017

Born under the train tracks in New York City, The Emily Triptych is an original solo performance piece dedicated to the mind and art of Emily Dickinson. This summer, we bring America’s greatest poet and most famous recluse to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Our project meets her at three points in her day. In Part 1 (Morning), we meet a younger Emily, embroiled in the eternal conflict between the artist and her Creator. Part 2 (Noon) explores the literal blossoming of her inner life after many years of solitude. Part 3 (Night) transports us to present day New York, where the actress playing Emily treads the boundary between living and dead. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration for our piece was a coffee-table book called The Gorgeous Nothings, put together by a textual scholar and a visual artist, which displays photographs of Emily Dickinson's envelope writings alongside transcripts of them. This marriage of physical object and language struck me as very theatrical. Especially as the objects concerned, often cut-out sections of used envelopes, are both fragile and surprisingly tenacious. They are objects in flight, whose flight has now been stopped. I think that performance often shares these qualities - fragile, yet tenacious. A flight of thought that must, according to the nature of performance, be fixed.

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

Yes. In my home town of New York, I have just spent a month ushering a controversial production of Julius Caesar in Central Park, where Caesar was a Trump lookalike. The media went crazy. And I have never had a stronger feeling of being in the right place at the right time as I did in that theatre, in the centre of New York, in the centre of... some conception of the world. I do not, however, seek to 'discuss ideas' in my own work. I think performance should be allowed to breathe. Whatever audiences take from it should be personal rather than political.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Performance is the form of storytelling that involves as many means of expression as can be crammed into it. It makes the most of human bodies and voices and souls. And also non-human things, like light and physical space and textures and colours. I could not now imagine trying to say anything without all of those elements to work with!

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

Yes. The show was developed as a result of intense collaboration between Miranda McCauley, the performer, and me. We developed it over the course of about six months, rehearsing once or twice a week, at the beginning, and more often towards the end. Our first rehearsal took place during a snowstorm in January, and... here we are now in sunny Edinburgh. The show indeed has always been responsive to conditions in the world outside. We perform in a room with windows using natural light, so the character of the piece changed from winter to summer, as birds started appearing outside our windows, and the light changed from leaden to golden.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It does fit in the sense that Slava (my co-artistic director) and I both take the literary basis for our work very seriously. So no matter whether we are working with Shakespeare or Daniil Kharms, or in this case Emily Dickinson, getting as intimate with the author as possible is our first goal. And then, I have been fortunate enough to work with Miranda on two productions now. Such that her virtuosity and physical creativity are becoming 'usual' for us. For which I couldn't be more grateful.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

If they hold their collective breath for only a moment, we will be happy. One of our audience members in New York said that he felt as if his soul had been looked into. That, I would say, is the ideal experience.

Though a full cycle of the Triptych lasts an entire day, audience members are free to attend as many or as few segments as they wish, in any order.
Dickinson (1830-1886) spent most of her adult life in extreme isolation. Yet this isolation gave birth to over a thousand poems, many of them the best our language has to offer. 

From the bedroom, kitchen, corridors of her Amherst house, she loved, and philosophised, and questioned God with a voice that is both familiar and alienating. Domestic and cosmic. Feminine, rebellious, and strange.
Over the six months of its development, this piece has become a translation into dramatic form of something drama often overlooks: the stillness and silence from which great thoughts proceed, and with them, great words. 

It is an opening up of deep introspection – its language, its patterns, its idiosyncratic beauty – to the external eye. It is an effort to create an atmosphere in which Emily’s thought, and her poems, can live.
Performed by Miranda McCauley, directed by Charlotte Day, adapted from the poetry and prose of Emily Dickinson.

The Emily Triptych
Quaker Meeting House/Venue 40
August 12th & 19th – 13:30, 16:00, 20:00

August 15th-16th, 18th – 13:30, 17:00

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