Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Drone Dramaturgy: Elliot Roberts @ The Vault

Ever wondered what would happen if Call of Duty or Battlefield were real? DRONE is the story of 3 friends and 1 outsider, living in a bunker after a nuclear war... the only thing to do is to play the game... but at what cost?

Drone is a piece of new writing from actor/writer Stephen Redwood presented by Crimson Phoenix this week at the Vault, 11 Merchant Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2QD.
Wednesday 25th – Friday 27th 7pm, with additional 2pm performances on the 25th and 27th
£10 tickets are available on the door, or in advance online from https://www.crimsonphoenix.co.uk/shop/drone-tickets/

Dramaturgy Database entry written by director Elliot Roberts

What was the inspiration for this

At the point at which I became involved with the project, I remember that Stephen Redwood (the writer) was particularly interested the gamification of warfare and the increasingly close, and increasingly problematic ties between entertainment and the military.

I think for both Stephen and I, there was also an intriguing challenge to be found in representing games and games culture onstage, as it’s an area not often tackled in performance despite its sizable role in the entertainment of our generation.

For Stephen too, this piece represents an experiment of sorts in its mixture of technological dynamism, post-catastrophic genre study, and closely observed realism. In pitching the show to me, Stephen focused on a new kind of theatre borne out of the gaps in Scotland’s current theatrical culture, of which Drone represents an intriguing hint of things to come.   

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

I believe that it is, particularly if you are interested in the kind of less didactic approach that can accommodate for multiple interpretations and which can facilitate the interrogation of cognitive dissonance. By design, a dramaturgical process structured around collaboration in which carefully selected participants are offered ownership of their own material can help a work to become more richly textured, more porous to audiences, and more rigorously constructed.   

With that in mind, it has been a terrific experience opening up the plays ideas to the collective thinking and questioning of the rehearsal room, and we hope in turn that this opening this play up to an audience will yield similarly fascinating results.

How did you become interested in making performance?

For me, I would have to say that I think that my longstanding interest in the power of theatrical storytelling comes from our ability to recreate and transform small parcels of our universe into beautiful pockets of human expression, to say the unsayable, to achieve the impossible.

Since then I have tracked a journey from an amazed audience member taken in by the theatres magical spell, to an enthusiastic deconstructer of the mechanics that make such seeming magic possible, then from ill-advised forays into acting into more promising roles in directing and dramaturgy.

In particular, I have been fortunate enough to work frequently with new writing, where the challenges of process and the priorities of storytelling take their cues from the text itself, allowing for a fresh set of tools and questions every time.

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

Going into rehearsals, I was acutely aware that for Stephen and his production company, Crimson Phoenix, this piece represents something of an experimental approach by marking out territory that they hope to explore in future developments and productions. On the page, the piece called for a cross-medial approach to action, spanning physical theatre, film, live-gameplay, and sonic dimensions.

Certain sections in the text were even marked out specifically for creative intervention in the form of audio-visual and movement choreography. As a director presented with these generous calls for my own contributions, I felt particularly aware of the responsibility I feel towards the dramaturgical intent of the writer, and my place in providing a staging that compliments and clarifies the qualities of this particular text. 

More specifically, I was aware of the role that my direction would shape in issuing first impressions of Drone to both audiences and potential producers alike. I’d have to say that one of the key aspects of my approach to the piece would be a pragmatic appraisal of what could be achieved in the time and resource limits that fringe theatre is subject to. We are grateful to have welcomed the contribution of professional cast and creatives whose passion for the piece, along with liberal doses of creative thinking, have together brought this piece to energetic, detailed, and sometimes chilling life.

In terms of production process, we were working on a scale that people might most commonly associate with the Play, Pie, & Pint programme, in which new writing is given two weeks and rehearsal and one week of performances. It’s not too hard to see why this model is popular in that it can often deliver punchy, disciplined results that gets new ideas in front of an audience quickly and without too long spent incubating in the rehearsal room. 

And for me, some of the most successful examples of work made on this scale is that which makes bold, disciplined, and theatrical choices when presenting their material to an audience: For me, Drone ticks many of these boxes in that it takes places in a single location over an almost uninterrupted span of time, it juggles themes both large and small, it is populated by flawed but never unfeeling people, and explosive drama always sits just under the skin.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

For me, this is actually my third collaboration with Stephen Redwood, having previously directed the short play Kansas for the Tron 100 Festival and the development of his play Blood for Bread. So despite all of those plays having quite different themes, tones, and styles, I can see a continuity in our process as theatre makers which sees us entering the rehearsal room with a pretty clear proposition which can be poked, prodded, questioned, and altered by our cast and creative company in a way that opens the play up to as many perspectives and audiences as possible.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I think there can be a bit of a genre expectation that work that is post-catastrophic should be harsh, violent, and particularly stark (think Mad Max, Fallout, or Walking Dead) that I think both Stephen and I were keenly aware of. So in some ways this was something that we hoped to both encourage and subvert, by picking this particular segment of culture to survive and gain an eerie significance.

The more I’ve watched the play grow in rehearsal, as it jumps off of the page and into the actors bodies, the most keenly aware I am of the kaleidoscope of emotion that this play is. At points it is funny, endearing, tender, electrifyingly tense, haunting, and pulse-quickening.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

As a dramaturg myself, I am acutely aware of the benefits wrought from having an outside eye as part of the process, although I was mindful of the time and resource limitations of the process, so I came around to the idea of utilising a collaborative rehearsal room process for cast and creatives that would allow for a regular feedback of ideas not unlike that offered by the formalised use of a dramaturg.

Aside from that, I was particularly keen for the design of the piece to reflect the same dramaturgical thinking as the staging, allowing for a kind of total theatre, in which all of the elements of the theatrical production can together form a multi-faceted and engaging theatrical experience for audiences.  

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