Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Off Kilter Dramaturgy: Ramesh Meyyappan @ manipulate 2018

At work and in his home, Joe Kilter has his daily set routines. Although some people think Joe is obsessive, Joe would prefer not to be thought of at all. When an unexpected event changes his everyday habits Joe’s world is turned askew. His life is no longer his own, he’s off his game… Joe Kilter is most definitely off-kilter.

Feeling more and more isolated, Joe’s life seems increasingly impossible and perhaps the only solution is to exist in darkness. Exploring mental well-being, identity, and those unsettling times when you feel a little bit different from everyone else, Off-Kilter is a darkly comedic visual theatre production, incorporating illusions, masterful physicality and dynamic, non-verbal storytelling.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

There wasn’t one specific event or source of inspiration, much of my work has previously touched on mental / emotional well-being.   While I haven’t explicitly explored Mental Health before, family / relationship breakdown and resulting isolation was explored in Snails and Ketchup, while Gin and Tonic and Passing Trains looked at the impact of loneliness and hinted at alcoholism.    

A lot of theatre explores this albeit that it is not implicitly focusing on mental health.   This time I’m being more explicit and have attempted to put a piece together that focuses on mental well being – it’s an observation rather than a narrative, although the character is on a journey that for him is challenging and at times crippling!

Mental health has been much over-looked, stigmatized at times – that’s the driving force behind Off Kilter.  No-one really wants to admit having a diagnosis associated with mental health, no-one wants to admit when they’re not coping with the day and what it brings and often suffer in isolation, this is what I wanted to explore and attempt to highlight. 

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the manipulate festival?

My work is entirely visual – as a deaf performer / theatre-maker I spent many years exploring how to make my work entirely accessible and have always considered how to extend my visual theatrical vocabulary.   Since the beginning of my career in the arts I’ve thought visually – it’s been a huge part of my deaf identity, Manipulate champions visual work and ‘visual’ is what I do! 

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

Yes – I’d like to think so or what is the point of performance!  I think irrespective of the type of performance there is always discussion.   I’ve always viewed performance as a public dialogue – a presentation of an idea through whatever form the performance takes.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I became increasingly passionate about theatre when I could see the power of the theatrical language.  Language and having to explore how people communicate has influenced me greatly, the desire to be able to communicate in a universally accessible way has always been the challenge that keeps me going.
When I’ve been exposed to a piece of theatre, dance or film that has been able to say something to me on the same level as the person sitting beside me (even if their language is different from my own) I wanted to create work that did exactly that – communicate on many levels and to people from all walks of life.

Recently I’ve talked at length about pushing myself and extending / developing my skill level as I strive towards developing an extensive visual vocabulary.
As a deaf person it has become important for me to find a language that is shared – that allows me to not alienate folk, that allows people to appreciate that deaf share many of the same experiences, ideas and thoughts as hearing.

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

I worked closely with Andy Arnold (Tron Theatre) and Kevin McMahon (illusionist) to explore how simple illusions and sleight of hand might work within a narrative structure, that would appear to happen to the character rather than him ‘doing magic’.   Once we’d explored a range of illusions we developed a visual script that gave the illusions a place within the story.
The script provided us with a structure – a journey for the character that we then used to further develop and devise the final piece.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I like to think that my productions are at least a little different from each other, the stories are different, the themes I hope are different.  While they all have in common that they are all purely visual I do make efforts to develop and explore a new visual elements and visual ideas.  

For Off Kilter I’ve incorporated a new visual element -  illusion. The illusions are fairly small in scale but none-the-less are integral to the character and what happens to him.   The illusions aimed to make the character feel out of sorts and confused and they work on that level.   This is not a magic show, the illusions were chosen and designed to support what we wanted to happen to the character, he doesn’t perform a trick but his mind sort of plays tricks on him.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The initial idea was centered around the experience that many of us have of having an off day - I think like most folk I’ve experienced that type of day too.  However, I wanted the Off Kilter ‘off day’ to explore a day that had more serious consequences.    I wanted to identify the isolation felt, the fear, anxiety, confusion, deep sadness and even anger and I hope that audiences empathize with this by considering moments in a day in their own life.     

Reading about mental illness I was beginning to appreciate the stigma felt by those who suffered (a stigma that is a result of much ignorance), that makes some feel completely alone.

I think with Off Kilter I wanted to offer a sense of the real stories and not over dramatize these – I was hoping that the audiences would identify with some moment experienced by the character.   I think most of us have experienced not being ourselves.   In terms of my own experience, things have happened in life that have triggered a host of emotions that were ‘off’ and needed to be worked through…I assume we can all identify with that. 

Ramesh Meyyappan‘s award-winning solo performances and collaborations have toured extensively, both nationally and internationally to much critical acclaim, most recently with his production, Butterfly, which was presented at manipulate in 2015. Ramesh is currently part of the Design Team for new BA Degree for Deaf Actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Off-Kilter, Co-produced with Ramesh Meyyappan Productions, Torn Theatre, Glasgow & TheatreWorks, Singapore.

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