Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Burrowing Dramaturgy: Andy Edwards @ Tron

 In Burrows
A new performance in BSL and spoken word, created by Andy Edwards, presenting at Tron Theatre on March 23rd and 24th. 

credits: Julia Bauer

The performance frames the act of description through a series of choreographies, investigating the relationship between spoken language, sign and meaning, and exploring perspective and how we engage with the world around us.

In Burrows will be accompanied by a number of guest performances. Musician Blair Coron will perform a composition developed especially for the event. Petre Dobre and Adriana Navarro will present the short performance Words, who needs them?

 What was the inspiration for this performance?

In Burrows began as a short piece, first performed at Only Skin’s SCRATCH back in October 2016. In the work I would describe an image to the audience, an image that was placed onstage so that they couldn’t see it, in 1500 words. What inspired this performance was a desire to make the easiest piece of work I could possibly make, that offered the maximum amount to the audience it could while carrying with it as little as possible. So it made sense to work with an audiences imaginations. Then I also wanted a piece of work I could just turn up and do, make up on the spot, so it made sense to play with improvisation.

The method of improvisation I employ was developed as part of the ground, the highest point a duet of text and dance I performed with Paul Hughes at a couple of festivals during 2015. Initially it very strongly drew from (or, less charitably, stole) Tim Etchell’s solo practice but since then it has departed considerably, and I’ve improvised poetry across a wider range of contexts, developing my own particular set of enquiries. Those enquires are primarily linguistic – I’m interested in how language works.

When offered to present In Burrows at Tron I was posed with the problem of how to take a very solid short work and evolve it into something three times the length, without just dragging it out. I’d been curious about working with a British Sign Language interpreter for a while, largely out of a desire to make my work more accessible to an audience I’d previously not made any work for and also because I was curious about the language itself. Placing Amy Cheskin into the work has been brilliant. A simple act that has produced lots of tensions, questions, that have driven the work forward. 

Thinking about translation, interpretation and the fuzzy areas in
between has given the project a new lease of life – and certainly inspired me to push forward with it. Rehearsals are thundering along and we’re both pretty buzzed by how fascinating language is, and how it intersects – both producing and being produced by – what you’re thinking, what you’re feeling, how you’re trying to position yourself to others and the world around you.

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

It is a good launch-pad for the public discussion of ideas – and then, that discussion, happens after the performance has taken place. Any good discourse is advanced by someone making a claim about something, and then other people assessing that claim. Me saying that I think this gives you something to react off of.

The way I go about making performance is to think that each performance I make is an act of making a claim about something, taking up a position, and that by taking up a position I’m inviting others to observe, discuss and criticise that position. That’s the basic task that I’m up to – trying to hold someone’s attention long enough for them to know what it is I’m claiming but with a relaxed enough grip so that they can react to it. And then things that I’m doing are hugely informed by the ideas I’ve previously discussed that have led me up to this point.

I think that’s why art in general is a good space for the public discussion of ideas – because it is often people making statements about the world that have a smaller impact on that world. That isn’t to say that impact is negligible. Not at all. Or that it doesn’t have a significant impact on the world. It most definitely does – and that isn’t always a positive one. But there’s something both flimsy and robust about art that means the stakes are low enough so that we can discuss it but that also our discussion of it won’t kill the thing stone dead. So yes, in that sense, it’s has the potential to be a great space to discuss ideas.

That’s all potential though, because if only a small segment of people can access the space in which the discussion takes place then it won’t be much of a discussion at all. So, it depends on what the performance is, where it is being held and who is allowed in.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I’m not particularly sure. I came about it the long way around and avoided it for a while, in part due to a certain type of pressure applied to me when I was younger, and in part due to being scared that I’d be totally rubbish at it. As a teenager I found acting, with characters and lines and arcs, such a release for a build up of emotions I’d not learnt how to deal with. I did a GCSE, then A-Level, in drama. Then fell in with the theatre crowd at University – after a brief attempt to avoid doing it – then did a masters – after another brief attempt to avoid doing it – and since then I continually flip flop between wanting to knock Shakespeare off his perch and “getting a job in a bank”, forgetting of course that getting a job in a bank is probably quite difficult / the banks might not be particularly in desperate need of my services.

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

Me and Amy work in a manner where the creative responsibility is a little imbalanced. Given Amy is a translator, that’s a really necessary thing for her to do her job, but it leads to the interesting tension where if the work is crap it isn’t her fault, it’s mine. So it is interesting how labour divides up as a result of that. The pattern is that we meet once a week and for three hours throw things about, try something and note what happens. Then I’ll go away and write something, some notes, a script, or whatever – and then we’ll come back together again and throw what’s left together again. So we move forward like that – and it’s going super well I think.

Thinking about our general approach, we spend a lot of time asking what the audience will be getting from the work, and how audiences with different abilities will receive the work differently. The work will be accessible to a range of audiences including those who are D/deaf, hard of hearing, partially sighted or blind, with integrated BSL interpretation and audio description. This desire to make a piece of work that offers a rich theatrical experience to these audiences informs a lot of decisions we make. Rather than to offer one blanket experience of the work, we’re curious as to what we can offer each of these specific audiences in turn. The work, as a whole, is concerned with a very specific relationship to each and every one of its audience members. It’ll be a bit different for everyone, given that a lot of it will take place inside their heads.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

While I’ve performed my work before, most recently as part of Andy Arnold’s group show NOWHERE during Take Me Somewhere 2017, I am more commonly found as a playwright. Typically I write text for others, in a ‘New Writing’ context, whereas for In Burrows I’m speaking text that has never been written down.

There’s a thread that runs through all this work though, which is about being in control of language. That sentence sounds a bit gross, reading it back. With In Burrows I’m making that process more explicit to the audience then if I were to write a play, which I’d typically do out of sight.

So while it will look very different to a lot of my other work, I think the underlying mechanics are fundamentally the same.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The dramaturg for In Burrows, Paul Hughes, wrote this note to me after a development weekend:

I’m looking at a photograph by Andy Goldsworthy currently on display in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art: a line of upturned leaves placed on dense patch of bracken, the stark white undersides standing out from the vivid green of the forest. It doesn’t impress the viewer in how it has acquired huge or rare or precious materials, or on how many people the artist holds in their command, or even in how it has hoodwinked and mocked the institution that houses it. No sustained physical commitment was required to produce this; in fact, the action so simple that we can imagine the exact steps with which it was undertaken. The gesture points towards the artist themself as much as any material circumstance or image.

Is this an alchemical transformation? Do we perceive the artist as a magician, effortlessly transforming reality around them? This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual viewer’s tastes, affiliations and readiness to go along with the trick. What’s more clear is the particular sense of romance, of the poetic, within the artist: of the ways in which they read charm and delight in the world around them. Perhaps in this work - and obviously I’m talking about In Burrows too - the artist is inviting us to briefly see the world through their eyes - not as a way to seduce us, but to share with us a way in which we might allow ourselves to be seduced. We stand before an intimate proposition; the individual’s un/abashed offer of their very personal relationship to beauty

So perhaps that sums it up, perhaps it doesn’t. I’m wanting the audience to have the experience of observing something very personal to themselves, namely their relationship to language, memory, imagination and image. It’ll be small, quiet, and hopefully full of stuff for them to latch on to and play with.

Both In Burrows and Words, Who Needs Them? have been created for the enjoyment of hearing, hard-of-hearing and D/deaf audiences. In Burrows also features integrated audio description for blind or partially sighted audiences.

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