TRAVERSE THEATRE COMPANY
“Who said smashing things up was a bad thing?”
Three strangers are about to face their demons head on.
Balanced precariously on the tipping point, they might just be able to save one another if they can only overcome their urge to self-destruct.
Painful yet playful, poignant but uplifting, this world premiere takes a long hard look at the extremes of everyday life. Questions of identity, heartbreak and hope are explored with vivid, poetic intensity.
Swallow is a powerful and invigorating new play from Olivier Award-winner Stef Smith whose impressive record includes her text for Roadkill (Traverse Festival, 2010 and 2011).
Directed by Traverse Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin, acclaimed for previous Festival hits Spoiling and Ciara, Swallow features original music by rising star, singer/songwriter LAWholt, who has collaborated most recently with Mercury Prize-winning hip-hop trio Young Fathers.
What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Stef Smith: The script is inspired by many things - predominately my interest in themes of self destruction, self creation and how so often those two things are interlinked. I wanted to explore how we deal with the anger and frustrations that come with these moments in our lives and how we so often we lack the healthy tools to channel and express these feelings.
I wanted to write characters who feel furious at the modern world, because it's a sensation I often feel myself - for all sorts of diverse and complex reasons. I wanted to write characters who despite their fury (or maybe because of it) also dance, laugh, have sex and are entirely present. We live chaotic messy complicated lives and I wanted to explore what that means for these three characters in three very particular situations.
What does the musical collaboration bring to the production?
Collaboration is an important part of my work and my process. I listened to LAW’s work a lot while redrafting the play last summer and there is something about the texture of her work that felt like it fit the play - which is why we approached her as a collaborator.
We are currently in week three of rehearsal and Danny Krass (our sound designer) continues to have conversations with Orla O'loughlin (the director) about where sound might work within the piece. The collaboration is in constant evolution and it’s really wonderful looking at how music as a texture and as a medium can help tell the story of the play.
What keeps you in theatre making rather than any other medium - and how does it fit with the questions that you are asking about anger and identity in Swallow?
The real joy of theatre is the fact it is live - it lives in the audience, in the performers, in the space and relationship between those two things. There is a raw quality to Swallow which I think lends itself to the ‘liveness’ of theatre. When you get to watch characters change, evolve and struggle right in front of your eyes - I think that’s really special. That is not say you cannot achieve this in other mediums but there is something as an audience member about experiencing and reading a body and voice in the same space that feels so entirely exciting and authentic.
The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Dramatugy is very relevant to my work. The director of Swallow, Orla has worked closely with me on the piece. She has given feedback and notes about the script in the months prior to rehearsal. Even in rehearsal the script continues to adapt and evolve. Dramaturgy also extends to the cast and rest of the creative team on Swallow, particularly on this play it’s about ensuring a creative clarity. That we are all moving towards a cohesive vision of what we all want Swallow to achieve, the story we want the piece to tell.
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?
I am naturally influenced by other playwrights particularly those who are interested in the middle of the venn diagram of form, character and content, for example the work of Caryl Churchill, Debbie Tucker Green and Sarah Kane. Outside of playwriting - I am inspired by lots of things and it depends on the project as to what is feeding me. Documentaries and nonfiction books often give me a starting a point to a play.
I listen to music while I redraft plays and often have particular playlists for particular plays so music is a great influence too. I would also say travelling deeply influences my work, not necessarily explicitly but I think travelling allows me to be very present and often brings to the front of my mind the things I wish to write about.
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's important to me that my progress can bend and shift to suit a project. Generally speaking I write first drafts very quickly but that is after fostering an idea for a long time. I don't tend to plan the first draft too much, I pour it into a page, see what is there and then go back with my 'craft' or technical eyes.
From there I begin to redraft or sometimes entirely rewrite from what is there. I really love workshopping my work. Smart and thoughtful actors can be the best dramaturges of all. I also like to start conversations with the director as early as possible. From then it just depends on the time frame but I generally like to hear the play aloud as many times as possible before entering a rehearsal progress. I might also send it to one or two trusted people to read so I am able to have a conversation about the piece.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
The audience is utterly vital to my work, without them what I do wouldn't be what I do. I should say I'm not particularly interested in giving them an easy time. I like audiences to work a little, to be active in my plays - not just spectate and let it wash over them. I would hope that that they feel challenged - in an exciting way.