Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Where Does the Dramaturgy Go? Zach & Viggo @ Edfringe 2018

Zach & Viggo + Thumpasaurus: Where Does The Love Go?
Underbelly Cowgate – Belly Button
August 2nd – 26th
(not 8th or 13th 

I am bit out of it when it comes to music: can you help me with a quick description of where the band's music fits into music history: what is punk-funk, where does it come from and where is it going?

Thumpasaurus draws its influence from a species of shamanic dinosaur that existed in pre-historic times. Similar to the band Funkadelic, they create a universe full of homemade characters that reflect all sides of their dierent musical personalities. They specialize in making people dance, sweat and have a great time, creating a space for festival goers to release themselves from the intensity of the fringe. 

How on earth did an underground LA punk-funk band and Norwegian-American comedy duo end up working together?

Zach and Lucas (the lead singer of Thump) met in LA a few years ago while dating two girls that were best friends. The two boys fell madly in love with their girlfriends and started hanging out loads - eating at taco trucks and ramen spots all over town. A few months into the friendship they both got dumped and were completely heartbroken. The two boys met up at a diner really late at night, Lucas showed Zach an opera he was working on, and they decided to give it a go. 

And what made you go for opera? Can you even have a funky opera at all?

When you say opera people think of a lot specific elements but really an opera is just a narrative piece expressed entirely by music. Thump is a funk band so when they wrote an opera, of course it was funky.  But funk is as much a mentality as it is a sound. There’s a New Yorker piece on George Clinton that really captures the essence of funk
- If you surrender yourself to their music, there would always be a place for you on the Holy Mothership. If you just stood there, with your arms folded, you were probably down with Sir Nose ‘DVoidounk, a killjoy who promises he will never dance.

And what experience do you think the audience will have?

Of course we want everyone to be blown away and leave with a newfound love for life - but above all we just want everyone to have a good time. Most people think of chaos and idiocy when they think of us but there’s still a strong theatrical element to what we create. We’re hoping to go further in that direction this year and see where it goes. 

I am vaguely better on the idea of love (although people will disagree if they know me), so I feel better qualified to ask about this part of the show. You are exploring many kinds of love - can you make a statement about any conclusions that you might be drawing in the production, and any handy advice for a love-struck critic who might be trying to deal with it round about now?

Everyone is perfect, everything is beautiful.  

I am also terrible on comedy.... can you explain to me about your comedy tradition, what kind of humour I might expect and how that fits in the opera and punk-funk context?

So Zach, Viggo and Jonny (director of Zach & Viggo) all met at a clown school in France called Ècole Philippe Gaulier. While we were there we studied Melodrama and some saw some of the funniest things we’ve ever seen on stage. You can’t write better jokes than clowns seriously trying to do dramatic scenes. So the shows not funny but we’re funny so it might be funny.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Stardust Dramaturgy: Miguel H Torres Umba @ Edfringe 2018

How would define the political content of your work?

STARDUST  is a piece that dissects the journey from the coca leaf sacred to indigenous communities in the Amazons and the Andes to a line of Cocaine in a mirror in the fast moving world we live in; a world driven by an insatiable need to consume.

In the piece we talk about the human and cultural cost that cocaine production, traffic and consumption have in communities in Latin America, the general association that Colombians are by default directly linked to cocaine and narcotrafic, the criminal element that is immediately transferd to us as a result of the stigma and how this allows xenophobic narratives and policies to exist. It questions the role played by the Western world in the history that lead to the growing popularity of cocaine, the voracious demand for the drug, the point in which the whole thing became illegal, the economical reality of the illegal trade and where the money actually goes to, the anti drug policies, and of course  the war on drugs and its impact on the less privileged and marginalised communities all over the world - but in particular In Colombia and Latin America.

Yes, we know... this is an gigantic issue, an extremely complex worldwide problem that has millions of sides to it, and strong interest that drive it – there are no easy solutions.

But STARDUST is not a piece created to just deliver information or to provide answers - afterall, the information already exists and can be easily Googled by anyone. So what the piece is intended to do, is to make the journey a relevant one for the audiences and to be an affecting piece of theatre and  to generate a strong emotional connection with the audience inviting them to actively engage and play an active part in the search for change.

STARDUST departs from the understanding that any real change starts with the individual and that in order to generate individual changes we need to touch people’s inner fibers and invite them to empathise, to care.

As humans it is part of our survival instinct not to engage or care for things that don’t affect us, and why would we?  Everyone has enough things to deal without spending  extra energy on things that they don’t really care for.

If we don’t empathise with something or someone, we don’t care about them - and if we don’t care, then we do nothing. And that is exactly where the transformative powers of theatre play a pivotal role. The shared experience of seeing a group of people – actors - go through live struggles in front of our very eyes,  the intimate relationship that can exist  between the audience, the actors and the show, means that people can empathise with a difficult life situation without having to live it themselve, or have a direct connection to those to it through a family member or friend.

With  STARDUST we aim to deliver information and speak out  about a pressing and complex issue but our main goal is to create that that emotional connection with our audience that we know can transform them into active agents of change.

Are there ways in which your work can engage the audience beyond the immediate emotional rush of the content, and move forward towards further action?

There are many things to be done; the issue is complex and around the world individuals and organisations are working tirelessly to find solutions working to change drug policies, supporting problematic users, supporting farmers in small communities in Colombia, supporting farmers and the use of other coca products like teas, creams and shampoos that is happening in Bolivia and parts of Colombia, defending the lives of social leaders who are demanding state support in isolated areas of Colombia and many more. As a theatre company we are particularly encouraged by the potential of channeling our audience’s response to the work and we direct them towards practical steps they can take. In our previous show ‘Pedro and the Captain by Mario Benedetti’ A play about torture, we partnered up with NGO REDRESS who support victims of torture and we gave the audience three simple actions to take, sign a petition, donate, write a letter to a victim.

With STARDUST the journey to define those exact practical actions is still finding its way. People may think we’ll be telling people to stop using cocaine, but that is too simplistic; the issue is much bigger than that- and whilst that is an action some people might chose to make, we are certainly not telling people what to do and it might not necessarily be the only or actual solution. For this show we have counted with the support of the IDCP (International Drug Policy Consortium, RELEASE (UK), ATC (Col) ANZORC (Col) and others who have informed the piece through their knowledge and experience and who have joined us during the post show conversations we organise with the audience, a space where we invite the audience to talk and voice their opinions - which is the very first step to further action and change.

With STARDUST we are not necessarily looking to give answers or solutions, we are looking to connect deeply with the audience and invite them to join us in the conversation, be part of an open an honest dialogue where we question our relationship with the whole issue, the role we play and our share of the responsibility. This might not seem like much, but we strongly believe that further action starts with an emotional reaction and the urgent need to do respond to that emotion. With this show we have seen how are audience is desperate to talk, to share their points of view and to react. Yes, we have heard of radical changes people make in their behavior regarding cocaine and  the way the see the drug issue, cocaine, coca, Colombians and themselves - which is a testimony to what the impact the work can have. And whilst we will continue to try find those exact actions that we might guide people to take, we are motivated by starting a conversation.

How far do the material conditions of the Fringe impact on the process by which you make theatre for it?

This is the first show I’ve taken to the Edinburgh Fringe and whilst the conditions of the Fringe mean the show needs shrunk a bit to fit the space; and also the length, (the piece originally lasted 65 mins and we had to cut five ... not easy) the show since its inception was created with the idea of it being portable and adaptable. STARDUST was initially R&D’d as part of an Artist in Residence program at CASA Latin American Theatre Festival in 2017 and the full production premiered at VAULT festival 2018, so the structure of fringe festivals has already been taken in to consideration.

The main goal with this show was to be able to take the message everywhere and with that in mind the decision for it to be a solo piece came about, as well as the choice to use a minimalist set. The one thing that been important for the work, is not to let the conditions affect the ambition and quality. I tend to see parameters and creative challenges more than limitations; there is so much that can be achieved when there is little. In a way the game is to outwit the conditions; that in itself is exciting and tickles the imagination, challenging creativity and resourcefulness.

I have had the chance to do excerpts of the show in  places without theatrical conditions, places like small galleries and outdoor festivals - and what is initially a bit daunting, has given birth to new solutions and new details that now inform the show. I am very much looking forward to Edinburgh fringe, I am excited to see what new things will come and how the piece will develops.

Pleasance 10 Dome
August 1st – 27th 4.20pm

In Pursuit of Dramaturgy: The Apex @ Edfringe 2018

What was the inspiration for this performance?
It came from a few different places. One was my fascination with the Isles of Scilly and how geographically different they are to the rest of the British Isles, wanting to explore a mystical side to what happens there. Another was my love of all things fantasy, how I've always wanted to bring realms of the mystical into the real world, in particular with Andromeda the folklore of mermaids. How untapped they are in terms of their agenda and what their history is.

Finally the big one for me was WWI. My research began at the beginning of 2017 when visiting the Imperial War Museum in London, meeting with chief historians in WWI studies and understanding the horrors that the soldiers went through, not just on the front line, but within themselves, as is the case with Edward. With 2018 being the 100 year anniversary of the armistice of WWI, this story feels somewhat current despite the era it's set within.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
I think it’s quite possibly one of the only potentially safe spaces left to have a public discussion of ideas! The idea of holding the mirror up to society is such a powerful image to me that I feel goes hand-in-hand with performance, whether it be a play, musical, dance piece etc. It’s created to make an audience not just question society but also themselves within society and their own role. I normally go to the theatre on my own, sad I know, and I always find that there’s nothing more interesting than when leaving a show and listening in on what people thought of the piece, even more so when two people think to completely different things.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been a very ‘hands on’ approach kind of person, especially from a young age and definitely when I was in school. I simply can’t sit behind a desk or watch a demonstration, I have to be very much involved on a physical level.
When I was finishing my final years at secondary school I used to pop up to London on my own and go to watch theatre, in particular to the Royal Court, what I believe to be the home of the most exciting, engaging and thought provoking new writing and performance.
That building inspired me deeply and even does so today, in particular with writing plays, hopefully one day my name will appear on those red neon lights…

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I’m a meticulous planner. People who know me know that my day-to-day activities have to be structured and thought out, even if it’s a lazy day at home with nothing on the agenda, I’ll still make an effort to prepare the day!
The same goes with the making of a show. When it came to writing In Pursuit of Andromeda I had a story layout, scene/act map, character arc line and research notes galore, I could never write anything cold, there are some who can and I’m in awe of them, but for me it’s all about the preparation down to the very last detail.
As the Polish bar manager said to me at a cocktail bar I used to work at “Fail to prepare then prepare to fail.”

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
This is the first production that I have ever put on, as well as my first written piece! I’m sure lessons and regularity will become clearer once we have finished our time up in Edinburgh, but hopefully this has a life after so maybe anything I learnt that needs working on can be cleared up then…

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that the audience experiences something new, exciting and breathtaking. In Pursuit of Andromeda is an enchanting little play, littered with beautiful music from our composer Harry Sever and stunning movement from our movement director Micaela Miranda, where after many years of the world tearing itself apart in the most horrific of circumstances, the real world and the fantasy world meet one another to try and put just a little piece of it back together again.
I’ve written the lyrics for all of the songs too so if I get to hear any of them from audience members around the streets or pubs then that’ll be a nice added bonus!

Just Dramaturgy Please @ Edfringe 2018

What was the inspiration for this performance?
John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme and the NewsRevue. The former, a BBC Radio Four sketch show, the latter the longest running live comedy sketch show in the world. Both are brilliantly written, crafted and performed shows which inspired us to start our own journey. We are all actors and had worked together before in various capacities: from film to improv troupe Very Serious People. We came together in a beautiful marriage of written material, the desire to work and finding each other completely hilarious. 


Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Absolutely. Especially if those ideas are ‘what if OFSTED went to Hogwarts’ or ‘What will our generation’s Dad Dancing be?’ 

On a more serious note, performance is an invaluable space for the discussion of ideas and we sincerely believe that the demographics these discussion reach must be vastly widened and diversified. 


How did you become interested in making performance?
We’re in it for the money.


Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
A first draft of a sketch will be written. This will either come out of a mutual discussion, an idiosyncratic comment or from sitting in cafes for too long. Once we have a draft it is reworked and edited by all four of us until it is precise, lean and fits the following criteria:

    It makes us laugh
    It doesn’t ‘punch down’ 
    It can be acted with sincerity 

Alongside writing jokes about Pope try-outs and the dangers of Original Source shower gel, we spend a lot of time discussing the political message our show is transmitting. 


Does the show fit with your usual productions?
This is our Edinburgh Frine debut so this is sort of the litmus test of what a usual ‘Just These, Please’ production is. So yes. It completely fits and is entirely on brand, one of the fringe benefits (pun intended) of being a brand new brand. 


What do you hope that the audience will experience?
We hope the audience will experience fulfilment, happiness and a new found purpose. Regarding our show, however, we hope they spend an hour laughing and leave with a newfound respect for their Bag For Life. 

Fire at the Art School (Reprise)

Valerie Dramaturgy: Robin Kelly @ Edfringe 2018

Valerie - To All The Women Who Hold On For The Ones They Love

Valerie reaches deep into the guts of families and their mythologies and also honours all the women, down the generations, who have been strong for those they love.

It is a work of inter-generational cabaret theatre created by writer, composer and performer Robin Kelly that is inspired by his own grandmother’s battle to support a troubled family.

This was a family where the seemingly joyous quirkiness of a grandfather who kept live canaries in his beard slid into despair and dislocation through the nearly overwhelming impact of severe mental illness. Kelly’s grandmother Valerie was their bulwark.

The title role is taken by actor, guitarist and singer Cherie Moore who appears alongside Kelly and drummer Tom Broome. Together they intersperse the compelling narrative with a series of powerful blues-style songs.

First of all, how do you define mental health? What does the term mean to you - do you have a social model of sanity, for example, or is it concerned with neural atypical conditions?

Our show ‘Valerie’ deals quite directly with the conflict between conceiving ‘mental health’ as either a social or medical/neurological condition. That conflict really percolates through the whole work. As the writer of the work I have a background in molecular and neuro biology, and so my first port of call for understanding mental disturbance is a scientific one.

Through the process of dealing with my own mental disquiet and creating this show I have directly confronted that scientific reductionist approach and forced myself to accept that whilst causation might be at the molecular level, the experience and our understanding
of mental health needs to be face to face at the social level.

What areas of mental health are you looking at in the performance?

We’re looking at the intergeneration ramifications of mental health issues. So this necessarily touches on both the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to an individual’s overall health. The catalyst for the work was my grandfather’s severe schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the spectre of genetic susceptibility that haunts my generation.

It’s a show almost more about that threat than anything else – it addresses my grandfather’s condition and my own chronic depression, but overall it’s trying to relieve the panic of the unknown – the fear of the dark – about what we can and can’t control about our mental health destinies.

In what ways do you hope that  your play can help the audience to move forward in their understanding and actions towards a greater sense of mental good health?

Mental health issues are scary. Even though mental illness is much less stigmatized these days, it can still be an extremely confronting phenomenon to experience yourself, and there are plenty of barriers to openly acknowledging that struggle. ‘Valerie’ is, for me, an extremely personal platform to uncompromisingly stare that fear in the face. I expect (and have experienced) that being an audience member for this show is challenging, but it’s a constructive challenge.

A challenge to openly acknowledge your own fear, your own grief, your own struggles. To not compartmentalize or shut off. To be vulnerable and open to what scares you. We all have rationalisations that prevent us from dealing directly with some of our biggest flaws. ‘Valerie’ encourages audiences to slough off those rationalisations and just start to feel. I reckon that’s a vital first step to constructive coping with mental health challenges.

And given the high pressure nature of the Fringe, do you have any ideas about positive self-care during August in Edinburgh.

Positive self-care in the fringe has been a lynchpin of our strategy as a company for coming to Edinburgh. We’re coming from the other side of the world (little ol’ New Zealand), which means not only facing a huge financial burden, but leaving all our support structures behind. So as a company we’re looking inward to support each other with some super practical steps. The most important of these is that we have scheduled time across August to check back in with families/therapists/partners/friends at home, and we all understand that that is a priority which supersedes anything else – flyering, socialising, seeing other shows, whatever. Personally, I’ve got my running shoes and I’m going to start an intimate relationship with Arthur’s Seat.

Kelly says: “The show goes to some dark places. But it’s an exercise in not being afraid of those dark places too. I’ve written songs that explore the connection between experiences across generations. I’ve written some pretty brutal truths. But ultimately I think the show is about love. It’s a way of saying thank you to my grandmother and all those other women across the world who have struggled to keep their loved ones safe.”
The Fringe offers the first chance for audiences outside New Zealand to see Valerie which is directed by Benjamin Henson and presented by Last Tapes Theatre Company. The company has a long, successful track record The Last Five Years, Verbatim, Earnest, Fallout: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, Love and Information) and sums up its ethos as “theatre that gives a shit”.

·     Venue: Summerhall, Cairns Lecture Theatre
·     Dates: 3-26 August, preview 1 August
·     Time: 21:15
·     Duration: 65 mins
·     Ticket prices: Full price £12, concessions £10, preview £5

Toujours Dramaturgy: Erratica @ Edfringe 2018

Using the 19th century ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion, a man and woman uncover a story of loss, regret and unresolved trauma.

Directed by Patrick Eakin Young

Assembly Roxy: 2 – 27 Aug  (not 13 & 20), 3.00pm

Incorporating dance, physical theatre, video art and an era-spanning set of opera, Toujours et Près De Moi blurs the lines between past and present, reality and illusion, to explore a couple’s – or former couple’s – story of absence and heartbreak.

The Victorian music-hall illusion of ‘Pepper’s Ghost’, which creates moving 3D images by projecting on to a large piece of glass, is used to invoke virtual representations of the two unnamed characters’ past selves. 

The figures interact with the set, each other and the real-life actors with uncanny realism to suggest a relationship fractured by loss, absence, heartbreak and regret.

Can we start by talking about the illusion? That sounds as if it will be something unique at the Fringe. Where did you discover this trick, and why did it appeal to you for contemporary use?

I taught myself how to make a Pepper’s Ghost through internet research and trial-and-error. It’s actually a very simple technique, and has been used since the mid 19th century. The contemporary innovation, which was not my own, was to use video projection. The main issue has always been getting a mirror big enough. I started by using actual glass mirrors, then commercial window film, but now we’re using professional grade mylar. There are companies that make these illusions commercially on a big scale. It’s mostly used at trade expos, to make cars or planes or other products appear and disappear onstage. But there are some theatre companies that use it too, like 3Legged Dog in New York and Lemieux Pilon 4D in Montreal. Obviously magicians still use it. (Our current mirror was bought second hand from a magician!) They used it in Ghost the musical on the West End, and then it sometimes gets used in big stadium music acts, like when they made a hologram of Tupac for Coachella a few years ago.
The one innovation that I seem to have stumbled on in my trial-and-error tinkering is how to make the holograms seemingly interact with objects. Every other peppers ghost I’ve ever seen, the image always appears in a black space. But I discovered that if you place objects in the right place in relation to the projected image, they can look like they are touching. This is what I particularly love about the holograms in this piece, because they interact with real objects—the figures jump in and out of boxes, climbing on them, hitting them—it gives them a real sense of presence and weight. But they aren’t touching! In fact the image that you are seeing is a reflection and isn’t in the space. The two performers can’t even see the holograms at all. They spend the entire time looking at an empty space, moving objects around the table. But to the audience it is totally convincing.

You mention the operatic soundtrack: at what point in the process did the soundtrack start to be developed, and can you tell me about how it spans eras - and why opera?

I call the piece a holographic puppet opera, but technically, it is none of those things! A pepper’s ghost is an illusion, not a hologram, the video projects are not really puppets, and there isn’t any actual opera. But somehow, that does seem to convey what the piece is. 

All of ERRATICA's work has music at its core, and almost always the human voice. When I started this project I wanted to make a piece that could be performed with either recorded or live music, and specifically unaccompanied voice. I worked with a brilliant composer and conductor, James Weeks, who leads one of the UK’s top contemporary vocal ensembles, EXAUDI. He started to suggest composers and pieces that might be of interest. I had in mind Monteverdi Madgrigals, but James pointed me towards Gesualdo and from there to Sciarrino. I put together a long playlist of options and then started to whittle it down to the 11 musical pieces in the show. The works that I chose in the end span from the middle ages to the 2010s. But they all have some connection to the themes of the piece—loss, memory, and the persistence of the past. The title, Toujours et Près de Moi, comes from a piece that James wrote called Complainte, which takes up a long section in the middle of the show. It’s a setting of a poem by Mary Queen of Scots (written in French) about the death of her husband and how his memory is always close to her.

In this way, the music actually preceded the creation of the show itself. I had an idea of the subject matter of the piece, and with my playlist, I'd mapped out a kind of emotional dramaturgy. Then, with the performers, we devised what actually happened in the scenes.

It sounds as if it is pretty lucky that the dance section is also physical theatre, because this work feels very cross-genre. Would it root it in any particular tradition, and how does it relate to other works that you have made?

All of my work is cross-genre! Aside from having music at their core, ERRATICA projects regularly involve dance, puppetry, physical theatre, and technology. Our last piece, Remnants, had 4 singers, a dancer, and recorded voice-over. We did an installation opera, La Celestina, at the Metropolitan Musuem in New York, which was for polyphonic voice over a twelve-speaker array and projected shadow puppets, and we’ve even made an interactive pinball machine. So everything we do is a bit hard to categorise.

I think this piece makes sense as both physical theatre and dance. There is no text, so all the storytelling is done with the body. There is dance in the holograms, but I would say that the real choreographic feat is performed by the live actors. They have to enact complex choreography, moving boxes and placing them in the exact right place, looking and reacting to the holograms which they can’t even see. Its just not at all the kind of choreography that you associate with ‘dance’ and if everything is working properly, the audience doesn’t really see it as such, they just think the performers are reacting and interacting with the holograms.

In terms of the narrative and themes, what inspired the production, and do you have a particular process of creation (is it devised by the performers or runs to a pre-ordained script... that kind of thing...)

When I started working with Pepper’s Ghosts I was living in Johannesburg in South Africa with my wife’s family, although we weren’t married at the time. My wife had stomach cancer, and we both moved there from New York where we were living so that she could go through treatment and be close to her family and support networks. Thankfully, she made a full recovery, but it was a very scary and traumatic time. I made my first Pepper’s Ghost while I was there, a table-top installation called Corpus Sed Non Caro. After she recovered, we moved to London, and I decided I wanted to make a longer piece involving Pepper’s Ghost and live performers.

The video for the piece was created ridiculously quickly, in two weeks with three performers. As I mentioned, I had a soundtrack and a basic story in mind, but we devised the scenes together. The box choreography was created at that time as well. Most of my pieces are developed through a combination of devising, scripted work, and composition (since they’re always musical) and are always very collaborative. My new work generally develops over an extended workshop process, often taking up to two years from initial investigation to opening night. This piece is different in that it is the record of a single condensed creation process. Because the video can’t be changed, in a way, I created a kind of script that I’m having to reinterpret each time I produce the piece. With every successive production (this is the 4th iteration) I’ve changed and improved the storytelling of the live actors, but always within the constraints of the video. This time, we’ve also introduced additional sound design to conjure the world of the show more vividly.

There seems to be some kind of discussion in the work about the interface between time, memory and desire: am I right or well off beam here?

Toujours et Près de Moi is very much about that time in my life when my wife was sick and how it has continued to affect me. In that sense it is a very personal project, but it is also about memory in general, and the ways that trauma and our past can haunt us. At the centre of the piece is a couple, a Man and a Woman, who, in some kind of magical theatrical way, find themselves in a space where holographic versions of themselves romp around on a table playing out their needs, desires, fears, longings, and ultimately affection for each other. In the first version of the piece the actors on stage and in the holograms were the same, but now I use older performers in the live portion. It actually works much better, to really draw the distinction of these people looking back on their past. Pepper’s Ghost is a medium that by it’s nature is about presence and absence, and therefore about memory. Ghosts are fundamentally about traumas that persist in the present and about the ways that the past will not be forgotten. This exists both on a social level, and on a personal level. I think desire is a very important part of the piece as well: the desire to be loved, the desire to be heard, the desire to be connected, but also the desire to remember. There is a pleasure that we get from remembering, even things that upset us. It’s not only that the past will not go away, but that we refuse to let it.