Sunday, 21 May 2017

Dramaturgy Speaks: Sarah Thom @ Edfringe 2017

Jimmy Jewell presents 
Beak Speaks 
A masterclass with the self-proclaimed Queen of the British Fringe

Underbelly Cowgate (White Belly), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX
Thursday 3rd – Monday 28th August 2017 (not 14th, 21st), 16:00

After over 30 years of working in, under and around the British Fringe Theatre Circuit, Gillian Beak finally bares all and shares a lifetime of theatrical insights and anecdotes.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Gillian Beak was a character I invented in the back of a van whilst going slightly crazy on an overlong tour about 15 years ago.  I’ve always wanted to do a show with her and this finally seems to be the moment to unleash the Beak.  The inspiration is Fringe Theatre - in all its brilliance, inspirations, oddities, pretensions and idiosyncrasies.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Yes absolutely.  There is nothing quite like the live experience.  It’s true, of course, that technology has had a massive spike recently but when, and if, it works there’s nothing to match live communication. (I have officially turned into Gillian Beak).

How did you become interested in making performance?

I started acting with my family at quite a young age in the local dramatic society; all my family were involved - grandparents, parents, my sister, aunties, uncles, great aunties, great uncles, cousins, the lot. But, I probably became interested in making work via my training, firstly at Exeter University and then with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. From then I went to work with many devising companies, including Kaos, Ophaboom, Trestle - when they were all about mask - and Foursight Theatre.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

As it’s a one woman show I’m mixing quite a bit of writing with working in a rehearsal room, attempting to apply various devising techniques I’ve used along the way. I’m also working with James Greaves, with whom I created the last show I did in Edinburgh, Bette & Joan: The Final Curtain  (at Assembly in 2011). James is working with me as a dramaturg to hopefully make sense of my meanderings. I’m attempting to blend a fictional narrative and character with true happenings, so it’s a real mixture of imagination, research and memories. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

No, not really. This is quite a different route for me. I have always loved comedy and making comedic characters, but I have done a good deal of straight theatre and group- devised work. Last year I was commissioned to make a one-woman piece for the Equilibrium Vintage Humans Festival at Southwark Playhouse, Bright Orange Flowers, which I found a very inspiring experience. 

Even though this is a different genre, I am attempting to mirror the process I used to create that to develop Beak Speaks. Since working with BBC Radio Comedy on Clare in the Community, I’ve been inspired to revisit some of my earlier comedic ideas and I’m attempting to apply all my devising experience to making a more comedic one-woman show.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope … the audience will have an amusing hour, that leaves them wondering if truth might indeed be stranger than fiction. I’m also hoping to create a little bit of a homage to the fringe, but we’ll see how we go!

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I have always been very fascinated by the live experience. This fascination probably came to the fore when I co-created the site-specific company, Angels in the Architecture - we did shows in non-traditional spaces such as Aldwych Tube, a women’s refuge, an old chapel and Kensington Palace! I’ve always loved the idea that the audience are entering a real space. 

For Beak Speaks, I very much want them to feel like they are coming into Gillian’s studio and that there is a real feeling of live event rather than reported action. That is not to say that there won’t be a little of both, but I am hoping that each show will feel very immediate, and that some will be improvised dependent on the audience so that every performance will be slightly different.

Beak Speaks is a character comedy based on the life and times of Gillian Beak. Accompany the doyenne of the Fringe as she takes you through her masterclass, reminiscing about the infamous techniques that shaped her young protégée, Tamsin Bush, how it all went wrong with the frightfully well connected Bryan Gambon du Pont (co-creator of Go! Theatre) as well as one young upstart who she claims she taught everything he knows, Miles Jupp.

Miles gallantly declares, If I was 10 years younger Gillian Beak would already be my ex-wife.

Beak Speaks is staged by kind permission of Sarah Thom, heard frequently as Joan on Radio 4's Clare in the Community and less frequently on In and Out of the Kitchen and Rudy's Rare Records, and seen on BBC TV's Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and Not Going Out. In 2013 Sarah made the top 20 ‘One to Watch’ list for the Funny Women Comedy Writing Awards.

Thom comments, Gillian Beak has been incubating for several years now so it's good to finally let her spread her wings. A large section is pure Beak, and daft as it is, some is genuinely inspired by what happened to a young Thom as I sewed my seeds as an actor in London. A while ago I set up a workshop at The Actors Centre, London run by Gillian Beak - the participants were in the know, but it yielded some rather interesting insights... I've loved working more in comedy in recent years and am very much looking forward to unleashing the Beak.

Join Gillian Beak on her spectacular journey as she lets you peek behind the magic curtain to see that the whole world is indeed a stage. Finally, Beak speaks....

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