Thursday 30 July 2015

Richard the Dramaturg: Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir

Pushing the boundaries of Shakespearean Performance, Brite Theater have re-imagined Richard III as a bold and engaging one-woman show. The fourth wall has been utterly obliterated, as you the audience take on the roles of all the other characters at Richard’s party in this intimate, exciting and moving production. Let Richard entertain you…but will you survive?

St. John's Chapel, Just Festival and Edinburgh Fringe
12-15th, 18-22nd, 24-29th and 31st of August 2pm

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

Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir (
Artistic Director of Brite Theater and Director): Richard III (a one-woman show) started with another production, Shakespeare in Hell, where Emily Carding played Richard III in one of the levels of Dante’s Inferno. We realized that not only would he not leave us alone but his relationship with the audience was much more powerful than of the other characters we had been working with. I, director Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir, then had this idea of making it into a monologue where all the other characters were portrayed by the audience, which is a concept we developed in our residency at Tjarnarbio Theatre in Reykjavik.

How does this production sit in your usual run of work? 

We’ve been working on unconventional stagings of Shakespeare for a couple of years now, and a lot of that has been gender-blindly cast, so it feels like a natural continuation of our work. This time we wanted to see how far we could take the audience inclusion and participation of our pieces. Having last made a promenade piece we wanted to see how we could get them involved directly without making that the sole purpose of the show. It’s a tricky balance, getting the audience to participate and telling them a coherent story at the same time, but we feel Richard III (a one-woman show) has a good balance.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production? 

We expect them to feel part of the story as they have distinct roles to play, such as the one of Lady Anne or Buckingham or even the Major. But at the same time we hope that they get a unique insight into Richard’s character and the world he lives in. Furthermore, on a personal level, they might revisit their own experiences of betrayal, jealousy, bitterness or even family. 

Then there will be the hardcore Shakespeare fans who will hopefully get a kick out of figuring out how the adaptation has been put together. A few might ponder the impact of gender-blind casting. Most will hopefully just enjoy the story, its ups and downs and the utter charm of Richard/Emily.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work? 

It’s hugely important, both because this work is text based and taking apart a text is always going to require quite a lot of dramaturgical insight and also because it is a well-known Shakespeare piece which means that most will come to the play with their own preconceived notions of what the play is ‘really’ about and how it should be performed. Having a broad knowledge of the highlights of the staging history of this piece has therefore been really important to us, so we know where we stand among the other versions and what makes this one different.

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 adaptation is made from a rough cut and a concept made by me but then on the floor in rehearsals with Emily so one must account for our different traditions and influences here. I’m relatively new to Shakespeare, whereas Emily has a lifelong relationship with the Bard’s work, ranging from Cambridge Shakespeare Festival to performing at the Globe to seeing Propeller and Knee High and loving it. 

My background is in deconstructed and physical theatre making, devising and site-specific work influenced by She She Pop, Forced Entertainment, Gob Squad, Hotel Pro Forma, Complicite, Sarah Kane… So the traditions and influences are both highly conventional and hugely post-modern. I guess the common ground between Shakespeare’s Globe and Gob Squad is that the work never dismisses or forgets the audience, it acknowledges the live-ness of performance and the intimacy created between performer and audience. In that sense we are just continuing with the age old tradition of storytelling.

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 starts with a piece of text and an idea of how one might approach it (physical, site-specific, character based…). It can be Shakespeare, it can be an article, it can be a love song, it can be a testimony, it can be a photograph. An actor is given that text and with it some sense of the world the piece is set in and what characters occupy it (character can be used in the loosest sense of the word). 

We try it out on the floor. We cut what we don’t feel fits in this world. We try it again. We cut some more. We make sure it makes some sort of sense. We work on the staging and visual elements. We ask why we are staging this now – what relevance has it for an audience in 2015? We usually cut some more, rearrange a few things. We get an audience in. We ask them questions. We usually fix something. There’s probably a few more cuts to be made. We try again.

What do you feel the role of the critic is? 

The role of the critic depends on which publication they represent and what they hope to bring their readers. If it’s meant for entertainment the critic must find a relateable way to tell an audience what the show is about and if it might be for them. If it is a publication that prides itself on dissecting its subjects then the critic must ask questions of the piece they are writing about, frame it within the theatre landscape, think of its goals and whether they are being achieved within the production and so on. The key to the role of the critic must be context, the one they are working within and the one the work is being presented as part of.

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you? 

I think it’s important to keep in mind that every piece by every company will have a different need and use for dramaturgy. And I usually never realise what it is until I’ve gained some distance from the work. 

That’s why a dramaturg must stand outside a process, to view it with fresh eyes. It’s a challenge to do so with the work you yourself have created. In recent years, in order to get more insight into dramaturgy, I have made more of an effort to see absolutely everything I can. Nothing is done in a vacuum but it is easy to create your own creative bubble. I look forward to the festival as that’s when those bubbles start to burst and we start sharing our work. It’s then well really get a sense of the context of our own work I think. It’s an exciting time.

Brite Theater's Richard III(a one-woman show) awarded all awards at Prague Fringe 

We are happy to announce that our production, Richard III (a one-woman show) is the winner of the Creative Award (artist or company whose worked is deemed as being creatively exceptional), Inspiration Award (best new piece of work) and Performance Award (artist who has excelled in their performance at the festival, Emily Carding) at this year's Prague Fringe. This is the first time that one production receives all three awards.

The show started its journey in director Kolbrun Sigfusdottir's hometown of Reykjavik, where she and Emily Carding worked in residency at Tjarnarbio Theatre. This summer, despite being completely self-funded, our radical one-woman adaptation of Shakespeare's masterpiece has traveled to Prague, Plymouth, Exmouth, Barnstaple and Bristol, receiving praise throughout.

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