Sunday, 23 July 2017

What Kind of an Idiot are You?

Those people unfortunate enough to know me IRL can tell you: I am a horrible person, lonely, twisted and obsessed with showing off how clever I am (usually by quoting from a book I have read the introduction to, or throwing in a phrase like scopic regime, which I don't really understand). I am also spiteful about other critics and whisper things that I would never dare say even on my blog about directors and actors.

Furthermore, I always try to have a hate piece about the Edinburgh Fringe on my blog in the weeks leading up to the annual jamboree of thwarted ambitions and savings pissed up a wall by enthusiastic artists. 

Let's see how nasty I can be. 

This post is for all those people who don't have an entry on The Dramaturgy Database...

No, you are none of those things. You are an idiot. 

I understand that a press release might feel like a compromise with the commodification of art, an attempt to use marketing to compensate for a lack of creativity. Only sell-outs need to use capitalism's tricks. The real artist will always rise above the pack, and the real critic will spot the genius from the hundred words that I used for the Fringe guide.

I wish that were true. The real critics probably can spot the best production of Macbeth just by glancing at the preview. But I can't. I need a bit more to go on. At the very least, give yourself a fighting chance. Take five minutes, slap a few words on a bit of paper, and send me the press release. 

Alternatively, come and visit me at the end of August and I'll explain why only six people turned up to your show.

You do, sunshine. 

Seriously, have you ever been to the Fringe? Have you ever thought about the relationship between 'number of shows per day' and 'number of critics writing articles'? After August begins, no-one is going to be doing a nuanced preview of your show, even if it is the best gender swap Shakespeare in recorded history. They are on the streets, they are writing reviews. 

I have been so generous - and that is why this article is not directed at the three hundred and fifty artists who have taken time to answer my questions. I spent hours putting interviews on here. It's because I feel shitty about the lack of coverage most shows are going to get (and the shitty things I might say about some shows, I suppose). I can't bear to think of you coming to the Fringe and being totally ignored.

Only you ignored the opportunity... so get to fuck, then. 

Right. I'd rather you didn't bother me, anyway. I know that some artists are threatened by the very idea that a critic or an academic can analyse the magic of their creation, and I have very little time for that attitude. It's like a fundamentalist reading of The Bible, a terror that rationality will unweave the rainbow. 

Now, that's an insult. You fundamentalist Christian. Take that, artists. 

There are at least 350 performance makers ahead of you when I decide what I want to review this year. How do you think I decide what is worth my while - or how I know that Cheeks is getting loads of attention, and will probably be the surprise hit of the Fringe. I publish and tweet, I look at the statistics. 

Actually, what I want to say - but had to hide it beneath a rant about how great I am - is thank you to the many creators who did take the time to fill out the email interview. I've enjoyed reading them, and appreciate the time and effort.

I just thought it would be funnier to be nasty about those other artists, the ones who haven't filled it about. They probably aren't reading this anyway.

Professional Dramaturgy: Charlotte Cromie @ Edfringe 2017


6:15pm 21st - 26th August
TheSpaceontheMile2, The Radisson, The Royal Mile, EH1 1TH

Half past five on a Friday evening, and a school’s electronic door-locking system shuts down for the weekend… with four teachers still in the staff room. 

Claustrophobia sets in. Tea turns into alcohol. Ties, jackets and the ceremonies of the school day are shed, giving way to messy power plays, grievances and the desire to behave badly. 

But they are still haunted by the ultimate threat in their job that keeps their behaviour in check. And it isn’t the headmaster. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration for Professional came from my own experience as a teaching assistant at schools in North and East London, as well as the experiences we all have as students. The culture of teachers – the dress codes, the surnames, the secrecy of the staff room – as well as the uneasy relationship between teachers and students strikes me as fascinating. 

So I wondered what would happen if a group of professional people were trapped together in their place of work but after work hours, whether they’d maintain professional etiquette, and whether they would still throw caution to the wind if their work involved the most protected members of our society – children.

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

Absolutely! A group of people standing up in front of another group of people and simultaneously saying, ‘Imagine if this happened’ with the added urgency of, ‘This is happening right now in front of you’ – I can’t think of another practice where the balance of theoretical and actual is achieved like that.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I started telling stories as soon as I could tell anything, and when I was turned down for a school production of my favourite play I felt the first sting of theatrical ‘let-me-at-‘em’. 

The writing and the theatre having come together, I found myself in an environment (University) that valued plays and allowed you to do something with them immediately, so I started collaborating with up-and-coming producers, performers and crew members to put on new plays as much and as well as I could.

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

The show relies heavily on characterisation, both in the teachers as individuals and in the layered relationships between them, and so character work was key. 

The crucial ensemble element meant that the group really needed to develop a brilliant chemistry, a sense of bouncing off each other and spurring each other on, both comically and dramatically, which they have developed beautifully and which I’m sure the audience will notice in their performance.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The productions I write and/or direct span a range of genres. My directorial debut (produced by the wonderful Gaia Fay Lambert who has produced several of my plays, including Professional) was an adaptation of Michael Green’s comic classic The Art of Coarse Acting, which won a lot of laughter, but in my own writing I can never stay entirely within the bounds of comedy. 

I always end up bringing in something a bit deeper and darker, so Professional is a balance of the two.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

In an environment of lowered guards and shirked responsibilities, but with certain lines that must not be crossed, both the audience and characters experience the thing: comfort and laughter one moment, and then, with one joke too far, shocked silence and self-questioning the next.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

In casting the show, I chose performers who were primarily dramatic actors rather than comedians. 

Judging by the raucous laughter of our Cambridge audiences, we seem to have succeeded in pinning down the comedy of the play, but the superb dramatic ability of these actors means that the comedy, however outrageous, can easily drop back into tense drama, and the lingering effect of the play is darker and more ambiguous than that of a simple situation comedy.

This deliciously disobedient comic drama asks where the boundaries of professionalism lie, why working with children is so terrifying, and how much pressure it takes to reveal the petty, paranoid, impulsive teenagers inside even the most polished individuals.

‘I have practically run the English department for the last three years, and you have bought me a bottle of wine with a screw cap.’

Professional’ is a Bennett-esque comic drama from up-and-coming writer Charlotte Cromie. It portrays the fascinating culture and ceremony of teachers – the dress codes, the surnames, the secrecy of the staff room, but most importantly, the danger of working with children, since small ‘unprofessional’ acts can so easily become crimes. 

The show draws on the author’s own experiences as a teaching assistant, as well as the universality of our experiences at school. 

Professional is funny, uncomfortable, familiar, alienating and explorative, all in the space of forty-five minutes.

Fragile Dramaturgy: David Martin @ Edfringe 2017

New playwright tackles the fragility of being human at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Softsod Productions presents…

Fragile Man

It’s not an event, it’s a process.

The Space on the Mile (Venue 39); 10th-26th August; 11.50am (50 mins).
Playwright David Martin is making his Edinburgh Festival Fringe debut with a newly written two-hander dealing with the fragility of being human in the modern world

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The play’s topical inspiration was initially drawn from the dramatic and shocking rise in Western male suicide rates, highlighting the stress and isolation of 21st century living. There are still strong elements of this inspiration in the play but we undertook a series of improvised workshops and the play is now focused more broadly, on the difficulties we face in 'becoming ourselves’ and the mental and emotional struggle we face to know who we truly are, both men and women. 

The play's themes delve deeply into our shared experience of being human and take a new perspective on our freedom to choose, faith, guilt, self-preservation and the dawning reality of our own fragile existence. So what started as an exploration of the hidden depths of male identity has become a darkly mysterious, sometimes comedic and often moving journey of human self-discovery. 

It’s a play with strong overtones of what it is to suffer poor mental health, and how our own defence mechanisms, particularly repression, can often be as damaging as they are protective.

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

It’s the perfect way to raise awareness of topical issues, to spark debate and to present and challenge ideas, beliefs, norms, expectations and behaviours held firmly by society. 

Fragile Man for example pushes boundaries on what it is to suffer mental health problems
in silence and to ask the questions “what would we do in this situation?” “how am I different in reality to people who suffer self-doubt, anxiety and repression which lead to ‘mental health’ issues?’  “is mental health something that is ‘out there’ (not my problem), or ‘in here’ - a key part of all of us” and finally “if I suffered uncontrollable loss, abuse, anxiety or internal conflict, how would this affect me and those around me?” 

We believe that Fragile Man is an expose of what it is to be human and how we are all affected by stress and demands and usually by loss. If this is the case, surely we all suffer ‘poor mental health’ from time to time and can admit it? So why do we medicalise, patronise and exile those who suffer mental poor health?”. 

Presenting these themes through the ‘acceptable’ medium of performance brings topics otherwise pushed to our outer-consciousness into the realms of our own reality. We simply can not ignore the messages. 

I have written Fragile Man from first hand experience, having suffered poor mental health myself and having worked for many years in mental health services. I have seen the devastating affects of poor mental health on people’s lives and know the importance of raising its profile.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was so inspired by visits to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015 and 2016, that I formed Softsod Productions specifically to create a drama for the Fringe that would stand out from the crowd. So in writing the play I have always been focused on creating 50 minutes of dynamic ‘Fringe’ drama.  

And we truly believe in Fragile Man we’ve been able to achieve that in the writing, directing, production and performance. It even has its own originally scripted musical score to add to its unique and edgy feel. 

The play opens on an isolated hilltop with high drama that is both uncomfortable and riveting as we witness a chance encounter between two men which is destined to change their lives forever. 

Having watched it, people have described it as an unsettling and insightful drama exposing two men's fight for truth, justice and survival, as well as a unique, well-crafted, edgy and evocative. Audiences can expect themes of mental health, psychological disturbance, guilt, abandonment and projection. 

Less noted, but just as present throughout the play is the importance of your name and of belonging, the evanescence of love and the conflict of the very human need for both presence and isolation. The hilltop setting for Fragile Man is perfect for the dramatic opening and has allowed us to introduce plenty of metaphorical references; such as being on the edge, staring into the abyss, the fading of the light and the setting of the sun. 

However, the ‘real’ story is told through a series of flashbacks which take the men (and the many characters they portray) off the hillside and into a number of other locations in time and place. This shifting between the flashbacks and the hillside creates a real dynamic, with an accompanying, original soundscape, which helps transport the audience and projects the story forward with great pace and poignancy.

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

Having been inspired by how many men are turning to suicide to resolve deep emotional issues we took the play on its own journey through improved workshops. We wanted the play to be direct yet mysterious, revealing and yet shadowy and inspiring and yet confrontational. 

Now it’s written, rehearsed and ready to go, we’re really proud to announce that our show is entered for the Fringe First Award and eligible for the new Mental Health Fringe Award. given the themes in Fragile Man are centred around suicide, self harm and repression - aiming to help raise mental health awareness. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

The is our first Softsod Production, but yes, its focus will continue to be on ‘the human condition’ making plays that are edgy, challenging and always resonating with the deep psychology and complexity of our inner world. I have a degree in Psychology, practised as a Social Worker for many years and went on to be a counselling and
psychotherapy practitioner.

As a result I am fascinated at how the unconscious, upbringing and socialisation affect us in ways that are often barely perceptible. 

I am keen to use our writing and performance to focus on this ‘hidden vulnerability’ within all of us whilst also ensuring the drama is also always entertaining, humorous but challenging.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

After performing Fragile Man for the first time to a live, paying audience (our Preview Performance) at the Bath Fringe Festival at a marvellous Fringe-friendly theatre the Rondo Theatre, we are fairly certain now what the audience will experience and take away. 

We gave the Bath Fringe audience members feedback forms to fill in which asked some very pointed questions aimed at generating constructive criticism to help us shape any parts of the show that people felt it needed. 

So when we received comment after comment about how much they had enjoyed the show, ‘got’ the show, felt it was real, moving, inspiring and relevant, Jacqs (the Director), Richard (my fellow ‘creative’ and actor) and I were taken off guard somewhat. I’m going to admit that I welled up at one stage where an audience member I didn’t know spoke in such glowing terms I didn’t know where to look or what to say to her. 

So it’s given us a renewed confidence that the play is Fringe-ready and destined to generate a fabulous response in Edinburgh. Fragile Man is designed to take people on a very personal emotional journey and we’re confident people are going to experience it as much as watch it. From the feedback, my favourite comment was “deep issues, beautifully communicated”. We all came out of the evening glowing.

After watching Fragile Man we anticipate many entertaining evenings sat with friends, a glass of wine and some bar snacks, whilst trying to unpack the hidden depths of the play and piece together all of its messages, some clear, some barely-visible, some light, some refreshing and some deeply disturbing.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The key strategy was to write a play that had strength and depth in its writing and in getting the audience to go on the Fragile Man (person) experience with us. 

The play was developed and refined through Workshops and in live rehearsals. Undoubtedly the greatest challenge has been in getting the scripting of the play to the quality we wanted in the timescales we’ve had. 

Deciding to do a Preview at Bath Fringe at the end of May was both the best and worst decision. It put us all under enormous pressure to get the production ready for such an early date and we often doubted we would be ready. But it also gave us a target to aim for and in achieving it, this has taken a lot of pressure off us when bringing the production to Edinburgh. 

During the early days the workshops had generated a huge amount of material and deciding what to leave out was a real test. For example, the play has had 4 different endings since January, each with a lot of merit, so again it was hard to let the early ones go in search of the one with just the right impact and ability to both surprise and delight. 

I think a lot of writers struggle with this aspect - in getting attached to a particular plot line which is good, but not good enough and struggling to let it go in search of  'the one'. But I was encouraged by writer friends and family to be brave and to trust my instincts. And in doing so we’ve got a story and an ending that we're extremely happy with and is hopefully anything other than what the audience will be expecting. 

Their experience will be, we believe, one of a lasting impact of Fragile Man, one to ‘keep’ from their Edinburgh experience.

Fragile Man is an unsettling and insightful debut drama exposing two men's mental and emotional struggle to know their true selves. On an isolated hilltop they must face their darkest secrets and deepest fears in a chance encounter destined to change their lives forever. 

A battle for truth, justice and ultimately their own survival.

The play’s topical inspiration was initially drawn from the dramatic and shocking rise in Western male suicide rates, highlighting the stress and isolation of 21st century living. 

Further developed through improvised workshops, Fragile Man has grown into an originally scripted drama which delves deeply into our shared experience of being human and takes a new perspective on our freedom to choose, faith, guilt, self-preservation and the dawning reality of our own fragile existence.

On making its Fringe debut, Fragile Man’s writer, David Martin says…

”what started as an exploration of the hidden depths of male identity has become a darkly mysterious, sometimes comedic and often moving journey of self-discovery, which is relevant, thought-provoking and designed to resonate loudly with its audience.” 

Inspired by visits to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2015 and 2016, David formed Softsod Productions specifically to create a drama for the Fringe that would stand out from the crowd. 

He continues … “in the hands of our outstanding Director Jacqs Graham and alongside fellow creative and actor Richard Miltiadis, we truly believe Fragile Man captures the very essence of the Fringe, in this unique, well-crafted, edgy and evocative piece of theatre.”

Genre: New Writing; Drama
Original script and original musical score: David Martin

Cast & Crew
Director: Jacqs Graham
Producer: David Martin
Cast: David Martin and Richard Miltiadis
Sound and Lighting: Neil Bonnett
Photography and Arts: Sammy Pea

Basic Listing Information

Laid Dramaturgy: Natalie Palamides @ Edfringe 2017



A melodramatic / comedic journey of motherhood / breakfast Edinburgh: 

Wed 2 – Sun 27 August (not 14), 16:15 (60mins) London run: Mon 6 – Sat 18 Nov, 20:30, Soho Theatre Upstairs

A woman lays an egg every day and faces the decision: to raise it or eat it. 

A hilarious, surreal, melodrama of yolks, shells and funerals, LAID, written and performed by Los Angeles based comedian Natalie Palamides, explores motherhood with absurd dilemmas, silly routines and surreal physical comedy. 

Co-devised and directed by Edinburgh Festival Fringe favourite and Comedy Award Winner Dr Brown, Natalie Palamides brings her playful and cunning character to the Fringe for the very first time as part of Soho Theatre’s 19- show Edinburgh Festival Fringe season of the most vibrant new theatre, comedy and cabaret. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I envisioned the image of a woman hatching out of an egg, and from there, expanded the image into a world where a woman lays an egg every day. The egg is her only source of food or love, which will she choose?  

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

Oh yeah! Performance is a great space to explore your own ideas of public issues. Then, depending on how the audience reacts to your performance, you can feel the overall consensus on the issue that is being presented through the energy in the room. 

In comedy, when the audience laughs, it's an understood agreement that mostly everyone in the room is onboard with the idea that you're presenting--pretty cool way to bring people together!

How did you become interested in making performance?

I've been a performer since I was a kid; performance is something that has come naturally to me, and I've always been drawn to it. When I was 5 years old, I put on my first solo show--a one time performance of "The Little Red Hen" for my kindergarten class. I'm realizing as I write, the only two solo shows I've done in my life have somehow involved chickens... classic. I never thought I had a fascination with chickens until this very moment.

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

I've always performed the show in front a live audience. There has never been a rehearsal without an audience, which is important for me, because I play so much with the audience. I have a background in devised theatre, and through that have developed a quick way of creating material by outlining it and improvising my way from beat to beat--like a skeleton.  

From the moment I conceived the show, to the first time I put it up, only a week had passed, which seems fast, but I like to work in a way that allows to me to think on my feet during performance, instead of pre-performance, i.e. spending time writing a script, planning blocking, etc. I like to "write" the script by performing it over and over, and seeing what works. I didn't actually write a script for the show until I had already performed it 10 times. 

My training in improv, character, and clowning has inspired and contributed to the style of the show; I like to keep the show loose and open for new things to happen--from the beginning until now. Each performance I discover something new, and I might just keep it for the next show! 

Lastly, I wouldn't have been able to get the show to the playful place it is today without the help of my director, Philip Burgers (Dr. Brown). He encourages me to play and pushes me to heighten and expand my bits in a way that no director has done for me before. I feel so lucky to have him, and the show would probably be garbage without his insight and encouragement.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I tend to perform very absurd, dark, goofy, silly, out-of-left-field character pieces, which 100% coincides with this show.  I always try to keep the audience guessing, and like to surprise them in delightfully strange ways. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope that the audience will experience belly aches (from laughs) and heartaches (from sadness), ideally at the same time. It's fun for me to confuse emotions and bring the audience to a place where they're feeling joy as well as grief as well as whatever other feelings the show may evoke (but mostly joy). I love when people question why they laughed at something that's truly very dark.

Named one of the New Faces of Comedy for her characters at last year’s Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, Natalie performs regularly at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre as a member of their house teams and a director. A SAG-AFTRA actress, voiceover artist and writer, Natalie is the voice of the Cartoon Network’s PowerPuff girl, Buttercup. Her other credits include: Bob’s Burgers (FOX), BriTANick (Comedy Central), Uncle Grandpa (Cartoon Network), Uncle Buck (ABC), Disney XD, Comedy Bang Bang, Tween Fest, Funny or Die, The UCB Show, Future Worm and Freaks of Nature.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dramaturgy for Freedom: Pandorum @ Edfringe 2017

Pandorum Theatre Company presents
A modern-day “hero” story

A risqué and murky journey through the realms of the phenomena known as the f*ckboy. A satirical fusion of theatre and sketch comedy playing with penises and the patriarchy. Funny, sharp, and bitingly relevant.

Venue: Sweet Grassmarket: International 2
Dates: August 3-14, 16-27 (2 for one tickets August 7&8)
Time: 21:30 (1 hour)

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The inspiration for this performance was when the term “fuckboy” came to prominence on social media. According to the various Urban Dictionary definitions, the fuckboy is not a new phenomenon, but the term is. 

We wanted to explore the definition and make serious issues funny and palatable for an audience to discuss without being condescending or prescriptive.

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

It’s a vitally important space for discussion! Although social media is arguably the largest space for public discussion, people often forget the merits of what is typically perceived as entertainment. Dark comedy especially is very valuable: it seems like only theatre that is considered “proper” or “serious” is given any credit or validation in raising and discussing social issues, but in reality, comedy is the way we so often deal with serious issues in life. 

Why shouldn’t this approach also apply to theatre? Life isn’t black and white, and comedy really can explore the grey areas of life very well. Performance doesn’t necessarily have to preach to people, but it can introduce new ideas in a subtler way that get people thinking about things differently and can effect change.

How did you become interested in making performance?

Myself and James started this show together back at the very end of 2015 as part of our final show project for our drama degree.  We had done both sketch comedy and theatre together and wanted to find some kind of middle ground between the two mediums.

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

This is the third reincarnation of Fuckboys for Freedom and the approach to making it has changed every time – the first version of the show was produced within the university, and it was made using a series of devising and improvisation games, then a writer would script what we’d done, and it was rehearsed in a way more typical to theatre – with a director to say the least. 

We tried to cover too much with the show and it ended up spreading itself too thin and trying to talk about too much. The second production was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and was more typical to sketch in the way  it was created; we started essentially from scratch, and tried to make each other laugh with characters, and created a linear series of sketches trying to parallel the life and trials of a Fuckboy to the 12 trials of Hercules. It was created between 3 actors and no director beyond recording rehearsals and watching them back. 

This version was much better but we had restricted
our structure too much and became too tied to the idea of having 12 herculean trials. This year we have a cast of 4, and we have kept the sketchiness, some of the characters and the beginning of the show, but we wanted to free our structure up. We have created a whole magical land which frees up our sketch ideas and also allows for a more theatrical linear structure. 

We are also scripting as we devise, which is a melding of the first two processes. So we use a lot of different processes that develop as we go!

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In terms of style and genre, no. F*ckboys for Freedom was under a different company name last year (Facepalm Theatre), which has since merged with Pandorum Theatre Company. Pandorum in the past two years has produced dark comedy dramas which have been in the more traditional theatrical format of a linear one act play. 

Although the type of theatre is slightly different, the company’s ideas on dark comedy as a platform of discussion for new ideas is the same.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

We hope that they’ll enjoy it – we want them to laugh, and perhaps be pushed beyond laughter when they realise what they are laughing about. At the end of the day every single person is going to take something different from the show, and we love that! What else is art for?

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We try to make each other laugh as much as possible in the process – comedy is a shared experience, and we hope the audience will appreciate our sense of humour. 

Due to the sensitive subject matter we know that it’s likely some people will be offended by the fact that we discuss rape culture through comedy instead of by saying “this is bad”, but the people we are trying to reach with this message would not
go along to see theatre like that. There’s a reason we have been labelled as one of the top ten outrageous show names this fringe! There’s no point in preaching to the choir. 

We have discussed everything from language choice to the way physical actions are perceived on stage and made sure we have air-tight justification for all of our choices. 

Follow the journey through the life of a young man commonly described as a f*ckboy and his bizzare, hilarious, worrisome and sometimes all-too-relatable encounters with a whole host of other characters. Pandorum Theatre Company (Scottish Arts Club Theatre Awards shortlist 2016) brings you this unique piece of thought-provoking comedy theatre that you don’t want to miss.

Locally based Pandorum Theatre Company was established 3 years ago by former students of Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University.

It has since expanded to include the former Facepalm Theatre Company and to recruit theatre artists from both London and the USA. As a comedy theatre collective, we take life with a pinch of salt and a fresh perspective, disguised as a bucket of bad taste.