Monday, 3 August 2015

Dramaturgy of Redemption: Amee Smith @ Edfringe 2015

Unrestricted View:
Acts of Redemption
An uptown girl waits in a pub for a man who's shirt she's ruined; a man teaches his son to stand up to bullies; a woman can't let go of her ailing father; a man finds the courage to admit who he really is; a drunk man bares his soul in the street, and a woman wins the lottery. 

Unrestricted View present a series of funny, bitter-sweet and deeply moving monologues about loss, self-discovery, loneliness and not being able to get in to your house. Written by New York Times editor Ken Jaworowski. Directed by James Wren.

Underbelly: Cowgate
15.20 (16.20)
6-30 Aug
No show 18 Aug

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Amee Smith: As an actor I came to this work already written. The collection of monologues is a wonderful mix of moments of joy and sorrow that are beautifully written. Each character is unique yet we all know a part of them. Upon reading them, I wanted to be involved immediately and I think that wanting to see them brought to life was the inspiration for James Wren (Producer/director) to create the project.

We have had to work on Anglicising the scripts from the original American dialects. That has involved translating phrases and nouns that are American for the UK versions; keeping the idea and sentiment of the pieces while making them sound like British people. That task actually appealed, as I studied American Theatre as an undergrad and so I really liked the challenge of finding the universal truths in the characters while making them sound like me.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Edinburgh is an amazing showcase of work of so many genres. It’s a change to not only get work seen by audiences but by the creative community too. In London I don’t get a chance to see all the work I’d like to (nor can I afford to) and Edinburgh gives me a chance to make the most of everything being together in one place. 

I’d like to create my own show and Edinburgh seems like the perfect place to share it, build on it, feedback and create more. It’s a creative space and a critical one. If what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, then once you’d done Edinburgh, you can face anything!

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
I hope our audiences will feel. There are moments of joy and laughter and moments of sadness and tears that I think everyone can relate to or at least sympathise with. I’d like the audience to leave reminded of just how complex humans are yet how alike. Every person you meet in your day-to-day life will have a story just like these characters, but without the opportunity to peep into their lives as you can with these monologues, all that depth and experience is hidden below the surface and we only see the role they play at that point in time -  “waitress”, “Father”, “Child”. I’d like the audience to leave thinking more about the stories behind all the people they see, and the stories they share, and the influence they have with each meeting.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
Context is everything. We only see a snapshot of each character’s life but to truthfully show that snapshot, as a cast - we have to have an understanding of more of their lives. The whens and wheres of a life can make big differences to the whys behind a character’s words and actions - and this can take performances in different directions.

Understanding context is even more necessary when you are translating the dialect the work was originally written in, understanding what was meant, implied and understood by the original words affects the choices made in their replacements. Is that American brand that no one here has heard of a luxury or a value brand? What’s the best UK equivalent? And it’s the same with phrases and sayings.

Where and when these characters exist isn’t dictated by the script in Acts of Redemption. We’re not told where they are in world or what they did before we met them or why they are talking. But an having an idea of all of those things helps define them and bring them to life.

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’ve studied a range of theatrical practices and practitioners and I think I’ve taken elements of many of them (even if I’ve only studied at a very introductory level) and used elements of the techniques and systems to find a way of working that suits both me and the style of the piece and company I’m working with. 

With this piece there’s definitely a Stanislavskian influence in my work – treating the characters as entirely real with full back stories, asking how I would feel / have felt in similar situations, using those emotional tools to “be” while on stage whist still being aware that that my character, Diane, is recounting life events - not living them in front of the audience. 

But not working “the Method”, Diane exists on stage and I live as myself the rest of the time.

I can see the influence of Viewpoints in the rehearsal room. Looking at interactions and seeing/feeling reactions to moments of action/reaction. Although originally designed as a system to compose and choreograph movement, the way it’s implemented with actors really helps to bring the physicality of a performance into work as much as the words and their delivery. It can have a huge influence on how we physically and vocally react to external and internal stimuli.

When I’m working on immersive pieces, I often think of Artaud and his Theatre of Cruelty. Creating a world that allows audiences to feel their own emotions not just sympathise with another’s, building the entire reality of an experience not just letting the audience peek in on another world in a passive way.

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?
The rehearsal process on this production has been a first for me. Each monologue has been rehearsed with each actor and the director independently of the other cast. There are three characters on stage at one point and we have all created our parts with just the director, bringing them together only in the first of two previews before Fringe.

The monologues in this section play off of each other, moving and changing the tempo and energy while the audience are lead up and down with laughs and sorrow along each character’s recounted journey. 

We have independently created each section, reacting to nothing but the content of our own story, then we fine tuned those sections when they all came together making slight changes for the overall feel of the piece. But there is always an overall awareness that each individual story has lived on its own and they sit in complement or contrast to one another though the truth of their own story.

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
It would be very self indulgent to pretend to be someone else for an hour everyday just for myself. And probably something I’d be medicated/treated for. 

The work exists to be shared and without the audience to talk to, there’s no meaning in any of the words beyond something personal to the writer. Without an audience there no point in acting it, or reading it. There are better techniques to write something that is designed to be read alone.
It can be argued at any theatre has a didactic element; it’s the sharing / experiencing / feeling that gives theatre a purpose. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
Ask any two performers and they will probably have different definitions of what dramaturgy is and why it’s needed or wanted. Having lived both here and in the US, the range of definitions is even bigger and I’d predict that “drama-what?” would probably come up too. 

I guess that the only question that I ask of myself especially when working on devised pieces, is “Who is this for?” and I’m not sure if that comes into many definitions of dramaturgy, but understanding the context of the performance can have as great an impact as understanding the context of the work.

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