Monday 13 July 2015

Dramaturgy in My Attic: Monica Salvi @ Edfringe 2015

Mad Women in My Attic!

Just festival at St. John’s, Aug 7-8, 10-12, 14-19, 21-26, 28-29, 31 Times vary

Embodies everything that’s dangerous and alluring about the twilight world of cabaret…an unexpected gem of a show. ★★★★ FRINGE GURU

Set in an imaginary mental asylum, Mad Women in My Attic is a fantastic romp through showtunes, folk and cabaret songs, celebrating the mentally unstable women that populate music and theatre.

Through multi-costume changes, lots of humour, wonderful tunes, seduction and touching moments (and some good old audience participation), we’ll follow Ms Salvi -and her multiple personalities - on an unusual journey along the twisted corridors of her mind, where we will meet the maddest and quirkiest women of musical theatre, and joyously celebrate our own special brand of insanity!

Participate with Ms. Salvi and her psychothera-pianist in a musical group therapy, administered through the wonderful melodies of Stephen Sondheim, Kurt Weill, Kander & Ebb, Maury Yeston, Tom Lehrer and Heisler & Goldrich: wise and talented composers who realized that a good madwoman can inspire the greatest songs.

You would be mad to miss it. #madwomenattic

The Fringe
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a
script or an object? 

Monica Salvi: It all began with bunch of songs and characters with a common theme: a mad woman. This is a role I've often been typecast in, throughout the years, audition after audition, no matter how girly and cute and "English rose" I tried to be in front of the auditioning panel, I always ended up with the role of the crazy character in the show. This would include: mad evil queens, asylums patients, lunatic wives locked up in attics, and women with homicidal instincts or some other deranged tendency.

As most of these shows were musicals, these mad women were often presented with some wonderfully quirky song. As my collection of quirky songs grew, I thought it would be interesting to put them all together in a cabaret and link them with a self-penned story-line. This story-line then became a half autobiographical, half fictional story where I am a patient in a mental institution, who is entertaining the other inmates (the audience) during the recreational hour. 

Through songs and portraits of each mad character I've played, I tell the story of how I ended up "between these padded walls" while trying to pursue a theatre career.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
I think there is no better environment for this show, than a completely mad and insane atmosphere such as the one at the Ed Fringe Festival! 

My Madwoman and her multiple personalities are looking forward to roam free on the Royal Mile, and to find themselves at home amongst the odd characters who inhabit the Fringe asylum in August! On top of that, my Madwoman has an important message to bring to the crowds, and I feel the Fringe Festival allows performers to come up with all crazy manners of dialogue, in order to make themselves heard. See, there is reason in my madness!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
This is a one-madwoman-show, but, as I said, with many personalities! The audience will see different aspects of the same person, a kaleidoscope of costume changes, some cheeky striptease too -made all the more naughty by the fact it will take place in the beautiful Episcopal Church of St. John. 

As well as their eyes, their hearts will not be disappointed either: from the reaction and comments to past performances, in London and Brighton, I can guarantee the audience will experience a whole gamma of emotions, from hilarity to tremor, from arousal to compassion, and will be carried by beautiful songs towards the discovery of their own penchant for insanity.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
In this case the dramaturgy took over and almost developed by itself: the show started as a cabaret, all I needed was some "banter" to connect the songs.. But then I thought that with a theme like this, I could dare to make it more atmospheric, so I decided to give it the asylum setting, and to create a character who delivers my own ideas and anecdotes, but as if they were a Madwoman's own experiences, someone who is proud of being the way she is, and who lets her thoughts run free in a mentally scattered and sometimes overemotional way.

We can almost see the dramaturgic journey of this show as a psychotherapy session (Working on this project felt very much like one): it starts in a light and seducing way, to create a sense of ease and trust, then it takes a road where irony and comedy are the main landscape, but is sometimes punctuated by more sensitive themes. In the second part though, the mood gets darker, and we find ourselves in the abyss of our subconscious, we recognize parts of ourselves we had always denied, and find the courage to bring them to surface. 

This helps us to move forward on a healing process that allows us to feel liberated and even powerful in our new way of owning our madness (instead of being owned by it).

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
The cabaret goddess I worship is Camille O'Sullivan. I have yet to see someone else who, despite the great technique and artistry, manages to bring her naked soul on a stage and give it all to the audience the way she does. The way she enters the scene and immediately creates a bond with every person in the auditorium almost has a spell-like quality...

That is definitely a way of doing cabaret that inspires me and influences me - As opposed to some artists who, despite a spectacular voice, just deliver the whole performance staring into the middle distance without any connection to the songs nor the audience.

As for the type of show, Meow Meow is another huge influence, she's a wonderful and compelling show woman, who can be either hilarious or extremely moving from one song to another, and she also has some crazy costume changes and audience participation - everything I love about cabaret!

Other influences who have nothing to do with the musical theatre and cabaret world, are Alice Cooper and Vincent Price, whose fantastic over the top characterizations of madmen accompanied me throughout my teens, and formed a lot of my cultural baggage!

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
It usually starts with the songs. As well as the ones I already had in my repertoire, I researched and collected all the titles that had a mad woman as a theme. On a lucky day, I also bumped into a collection of comedy songs from the 60s, which were all on the subject of psychotherapy. They seemed to have been written especially for my project! 

To open the show, I found a beautiful and alluring cabaret song, written by renowned psychotherapist Brett Kahr. I made a list of all the songs I had, and put them in an order, based on a variety of style and mood.

I now needed a script and a strong character.

I am definitely no method actor, so to create my show about madness, I retired for ten days in a peaceful village by the sea in Italy, and there, aided by the sun, the sea waves, the gorgeous food and wine and the most relaxing time, I came up with my creation. I would sit on the grass with a notebook and a pen, and would jot down ideas on how to deliver the songs in new unique ways, as well as link them together with short monologues about madness. 

Always thinking -while writing- "What would I enjoy seeing, if I were a member of the audience coming to see this type of cabaret?"
Once the script was put into a decent shape, I sent it to a few trusted people, in order to get some feedback (also to see if it made sense, since English is not my first language).

It was then time to get on board the people who would help putting the thoughts into action.

All I needed was a like minded crazy director, which I found in Clare McKenna: with her devising experience and her vision, as well as her therapeutic and engaging way of rehearsing, she truly brought my Madwoman to life and gave a clearer meaning to what I was trying to say.

Most difficult it was to find the right pianist: as most of the songs are not easy to play, I wanted not only a true virtuoso, but also someone with a great stage presence, as in the show he also plays the psychotherapist to my Madwoman. To accompany me in the Edinburgh Fringe madness, I have found Artemis Reed, who despite his youth, is already quite barking mad -and very talented to boot!

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
The audience is my co-star, my mirror and my resident director! The whole show is based on an exchange of energy between me and them, and from their reactions (or lack of them) I adjust my performance accordingly.

I always want to make the audience feel included as much as possible - but not in a way in which they feel invaded. I talk to them throughout the show and get close and personal on a couple of occasions. For me it's a dialogue that starts even before the show begins, as soon as they enter the house and I hear them chatting while taking their seats: that's when I begin talking to them (in my mind) from behind the wings, welcoming them into the space and asking them to enjoy and have as much fun as I do.

Somehow this always creates a link and when I pop out on the notes of the first song, I can already feel their curious and excited attention. I flirt with women as much as I flirt with men, and they all seem to like it. I like to make them feel safe to react in whatever loud or big way they want - after all we are asylum inmates!

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you? 
I think another great way for you and I both to understand my approach to dramaturgy would be for you to ask me questions under hypnosis: I bet that would be some enlightening interview! But as this is logistically impossible at the moment, I reckon the best way would be to come and experience my show for yourself, and make sure you sit in the first row if you want the Madwoman to get up close and personal!

Thanks again for your questions, you'd make a good psychotherapist.

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