Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Evil Rag Begins!

How to ensure 'gender equality' in international festivals

Me Dramaturgy, Mostly: Mick Cohen-Carroll @ Edfringe 2018

Me Talking, Mostly-HD 1080p from Mick Cohen-Carroll on Vimeo.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I was at a comedy show and just thought about how surreal it is to be doing comedy. There’s no reason for you to be at a comedy show and I thought: “hey there’s a lot of things that are just expected and accepted as normal”. Like clapping, or sometimes snapping, and I thought someone needs to write a show about the rules of comedy. So I wrote one. So many rules.

Is "Me Talking, Mostly" still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
I always welcome any conversation that arises from the show, so long as it is not mean-spirited or during the performance!

How did you become interested in making Me Talking, Mostly?
I was thinking man I don’t do any fun projects, I wanna do one. So I tried to make something as fun to watch as it is to perform.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
I get riled up whenever I think of people who think they’re the shit. So I like to break down those expectations.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
I don’t usually do solo shows, so no...

What do you hope that the audience will experience in Me Talking, Mostly?

Unfettered elation. A sense that some rules are ok to be broken, that the world is open for play and if you want to have fun, that’s ok.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Clown Dramaturgy: Sáras Feijóo @ Edinburgh Contemporary Clown Festival

Edinburgh Contemporary Clown Festival
3rd-5th May 2018 - Assembly Roxy.

Shows, Masterclasses from our Gardi Hutter and Ricardo Puccetti, a panel of discussion.
Our co-production Clown Cabaret Scratch Night will take place the weekend prior to the festival as a prelude to it.
CloWnStePPinG - A hub dedicated to the understanding, promotion and development of contemporary clown as an art.
Link to the campaign,

Looking over the guests that you have coming across for the festival - what made you choose these particular artists?

Switzerland's Gardi Hutter is a big icon in the world of clowning, also my idol almost since I started my journey within this art. I traveled, for a couple of years, as a nomad clown with actor, clown and teacher, Victor Stivelman (and taking part in theatre clown groups), and one of the things that we always carried with us was a DVD of her show, The Brave Joanne, which is actually the show she is bringing to the Festival. 

When I facilitate workshops, I always show
her work too. I find her work very inspiring because she has both sides: the message and the silliness of play. For instance, this brave Joanne is a washerwoman who dreams of being Joan of Arc; through her Hutter takes us into this journey of playing and having fun when we do things that we don’t really like.

Not only has Gardi Hutter performed all around the world, winning more than 13 awards on the way, but her humanity is outstanding. Through her work she shows us both the tragic and the comic sides of our lives, moving us emotionally inside at the same time as making us think about what it is that makes us human.

I have chosen her because, although she defines herself as being in the ‘classical tradition’, she is the perfect example of what I call contemporary clowning. For me this is about the content and how we present ourselves in the world, instead of being about taking up a ‘form’ based on a mentally-constructed (idea) character which doesn’t truly reflect who we are as human beings.

Ricardo Puccetti (Brazil) is not only a big influence in South America but also an international reference when it comes to the art of clowning. A major part of his practice is to explore “the comic use of the body,” to the point that he has developed his own methodology of work.

Johnny Melville was born in Leith. He took part in a revolutionary artistic clown movement in Europe, ‘the Fools’ movement of the 70’s and 80’s, and he is 'one of the living legends of the modern clown’. He has performed in over 44 countries and taught hundreds the art.

His last performance in Scotland was in 1975, so I believe that bringing Johnny back to perform here after 43 years is very special.

I feel extremely honoured that they three are joining us at the FIRST edition of the Edinburgh Contemporary Clown Festival!.

They are our international artists and, as someone based in Scotland, I will also perform my contemporary theatre clown solo which actually had its debut at the Assembly Roxy in 2014.

As well as, of course, the quality of the work, I have focused on bringing performers and artists notable for their high integrity and love for what they do. Ricardo, Johnny and Gardi are bringing both high quality professional work and lots of warmth as human beings.

I have chosen these 4 different productions because we all are going to bring something of different value to the festival and show our audiences different ways in which this art can be expressed, while always drawing on the same set of core values.

What made you decide that Edinburgh needed a clown festival?

For the last 4 years, I have been producing, under the name of CloWnStePPinG, contemporary theatre shows, Exploratory Clown Laboratories and Clown Communities Socials, as well as co-producing Clown Cabaret Scratch Nights and Clown Cabaret Special Editions. These events have been bringing more awareness in Scotland, of what contemporary clown really is, at the same time as nurturing and expanding our community of clown artists and audiences.

I started to work on this idea of a festival over a year ago by following my heart’s desire of bringing the work of Gardi Hutter to the country. Then I contacted her, and started to look for a home for our festival. Assembly Roxy accepted to be our home!

Last year, when our Clown Cabaret Special Edition co-production (a collaboration with Plutôt la Vie and Melanie Jordan) took part at the SURGE festival and got a great audience reaction, I realised I was on the right track.

Our audiences are ready for more. Furthermore, our community of clown artists are too. Not everyone can travel to see the work of the international artists we are bringing, so the Festival seems the perfect opportunity to continue to inspire and nurture our community of clown artists and, of course, clown-lovers.

As we all know, Edinburgh is the city of Festivals; sure, some of them bring clowning/physical theatre as part of their programme, but none of them constitutes a space for contemporary clown to exist as such. I believe we are now providing that space.

I know that clown can contain a variety of different disciplines and approaches: when you say 'clown', how would you define it?

I define it as ‘contemporary clown’ and yes, it differs from other disciplines within clowning (as you mentioned), as well as the conceptions people have of it. Contemporary clown is about the connection we create with ourselves first (as performers) from which we are then able to connect with our audience from an innocent, playful place. 

A place of constant communication and discovery, wonder. A space where we allow our vulnerability to show constantly, thus giving our audience an opportunity to get in touch with their own, as they see themselves reflected in the performer. 

Because, ultimately, contemporary clown is about revealing the humanity that we have within ourselves, a humanity that society so often encourages us to hide behind masks. These masks can separate us from our true essence and that of others.

And a contemporary clown shows us this humanity by, for instance, accepting failure and moving from there into finding a new ingenious solution which grants the clown and us, their audience, a sense of achievement that is created by being completely in the moment. 

It also helps to develop a sense of listening and honesty about what is really happening. A contemporary clown performance is real and raw and at the same time has a structure and a message. The artist knows where they are heading but still allows this fresh and constant connection and communication with the audience, making them participants in an emotional journey.

This kind of practice also has a message behind it, which is what I love the most and which makes the performance both an emotional and a thought-provoking experience. What we see it is not so much based on the abilities of the performers and the amazing tricks they might be able to do, but about our shared ability to be humans, truly and transparently.

Moreover, this particular discipline goes beyond the stage or performance to become a lifestyle, a philosophy, a way we, as humans, interact with the people around us, in our daily tasks, our business and, ultimately, the way we relate with the world.

Why do you think that clown is becoming so popular - and important - in Scotland at the moment?
I think I already answered that one above. But I will also add the following:

The gift that contemporary clown brings to us, as humans, is going through the ‘uncomfortability’ of looking at ourselves and who we are, in order to find our heart, our vulnerability, our fragility, at the same time that we find our playful side, joy, and our own individual way of doing things. It is important also to allow ourselves to laugh at the ‘tragedy’ of our existence; it is the only way to find ‘the light’.

Why is this important in Scotland? As a person involved in the arts, clown gives us a different dimension to our work (and world). So it is a great addition to the Scottish cultural rainbow which already has many colours.

As a person, I would go even beyond the limits of this land. Clowning take us through an emotional journey that makes us feel human, inspired, that our lives matter and also connects us with ourselves and with the others in that space… and, it allows us to laugh freely and without limits at those little things that makes us who we are.

Do you have a particular vision that the festival expresses?

Yes, I do! (She says with her hand on her heart committing herself to building a dream that was born in her heart.)

To bring high-quality work that reflects the different takings a contemporary clown show could have but yet, as mentioned about, always draw on the same core values. 

Ultimately, Contemporary clown is about allowing ourselves to be who we are and, to love that and to share it completely with our audience! Our vulnerability, fragility, our sense of ridiculousness, our “not fitting in” but trying to fit in, our soul’s honesty and need for connection, love and acceptance.

That is my vision for the festival, to create a space where it is ok to be us. It is ok to be in touch with our soul and hold our heart’s desire so deeply that we wildly go and make them real.

A space that honours the beauty and inspiration this art brings to our lives and how it reflects our Own Humanity and transforms it into a Creative Adventure.

Right now, we are running a Kickstarter campaign and would love to get supported by all of you, readers! I encourage you to help us build this space by supporting us financially now. With all the funding cuts and other pressures on creative organisations, crowdfunding allows us all to build together something that will benefit directly our society and enrich it in unimaginable ways.

We have created perks for general audiences, performers, supporters and, (local or online) businesses to become our partners in crime,

Sáras Feijóo. Creativity Mentor, Curator and Multi-Media Performance Artist.
As a curator, I am the Artistic Director of the FIRST Edinburgh Contemporary Clown Festival.
International Artists
Gardi Hutter, Switzerland. Headliner.
Ricardo Puccetti from Lume Theatre. Brazil.
Johnny Melville, originally from Leith in Edinburgh but have been based in Spain for many years.
Scotland-based Artist
Saras Feijoo - Venezuela/Spain/Scotland

Friday, 9 March 2018

Unexploded Dramaturgy: Lois Weaver @ Take Me Somewhere

Split Britches present Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), an up-to-the minute topical interactive show which takes unexploded ordnances as a metaphor for the unexplored potential in us all - particularly elders – and tries to uncover it. UXO comes to Glasgow’s Take Me Somewhere Festival on 26th May.

Legendary performance duo Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver evoke the Cold War paranoia of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove to seek solutions to the problems keeping us awake at night, as the audience counts down the final hour to doomsday on their phones.

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is touring the UK from 13th April, visiting Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts, Wales Millennium Centre, Barbican Centre and Glasgow’s Take Me Somewhere Festival.  

Split Britches present:

Unexploded Ordnances (UXO)

Legendary performance duo channel Dr Strangelove in a satirical, interactive show that seeks to use the unexplored potential of the audience to stop nuclear armageddon

Performed by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw

UK Tour 13 March – 26 May

What was the inspiration for this performance?  

The inspiration for this performance actually comes from two places. In the first place, we were inspired by the term Unexploded Ordnance. It's a term we heard while Split Britches were on an Artist Residency at an old Army base in the middle of the New York Harbor, on Governors Island. 

The person showing us around warned us not to 'do any digging' on the island incase we encounter a dangerous civil war cannonball, or an Unexploded Ordnance. Peggy and I looked at each other and thought immediately that this would be a great metaphor for working with elders on the subject of their unexplored potential. 

So, we began doing workshops with elders on this subject and then we got obsessed with the film Dr. Strangelove. We decided to put those things together and explore our buried desires while thinking about the urgencies and anxieties of time and the possibility of time running out. Then of course Brexit happened and Trump was elected so we had lots of other urgencies and anxieties to contend with!

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the TAKE ME SOMEWHERE festival?

For one thing, Take Me Somewhere Festival has grown out The Arches. We have often performed at the Arches and love working there. So it feels great to be involved with what feels like a continuation of that. Like Take Me Somewhere Festival, the work of Split Britches tries to find innovative approaches to making performance work and mort importantly tries to give voice to the unvoiced. 

Also, like the festival, our work has always centered issues of those on the margins of mainstream society - women, LBGTQ communities - and now we are working with elder communities. 

Although Unexploded Odnances (UXO) privileges older people in a lot of ways, it also aspires to an intergenerational conversation. 

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

Our recent performance work performance is rooted in our belief that the theatre is a viable space for public conversation. We intentionally set up situations where we can talk with the audience not just to the audience. We try to create performance mechanisms that will encourage dialogue with us as well as other members of the audience.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I began performing when I was four years old I think because I was an exhibitionist. Peggy began performing in her early 30s after a career as a painter and printmaker in order to express her sexuality. Since then, performance for both myself and Peggy has always been a way to address some of the challenges we face as we move through life. 

For the last forty years it's been a way to help us answer difficult questions like - what does it mean to be a woman, a lesbian; how do you manage a long term relationship, what does it mean to be a butch going through menopause, how do you sustain a performance career after a stroke, what do we need to know about getting old and having sex. 

Now, with this performance, we're asking the question how might I use my unexplored desires to allay my global anxiety.

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

Since the beginning of our work together we have used humor and drawn from popular culture such as film and live television to investigate serious and sometimes painful issues.  

More recently, I've been developing formats
for conducting accessible and democratic public conversations such as Long Tables, Porch Sittings and Care Cafés. In Unexploded Ordnances (UXO), we have combined these approaches and are experimenting with juxtaposing rehearsed performance that includes song, dance and comedy, with real-time conversations with the audience.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions? 
See above

What do you hope that the audience will experience? 

We hope that people will come away feeling a bit more connected in these times of harsh disconnection. We hope that they feel a little less isolated and perhaps some hope for the future. 

We hope that the audience will enjoy the company of a table full of elders who are sharing their experiences and talking about their world concerns as much as we do. We hope people laugh a little and come away thinking about how their own buried desires might help them solve a problem - even if it seems ridiculous or whimsical or impossible.

Split Britches present an up-to-the minute topical interactive show which takes unexploded ordnances as a metaphor for the unexplored potential in us all - particularly elders – and tries to uncover it. Legendary performance duo Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver evoke the Cold War paranoia of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove to seek solutions to the problems keeping us awake at night, as the audience counts down the final hour to doomsday on their phones.
On a stage that echoes the film’s iconic War Room, with a round table and doomsday images projected onto screens, Peggy and Lois adopt the characters of a bombastic general and ineffectual president, lacing the performance with both playful urgency and lethargy and encouraging discussion about the political landscape. The twelve eldest audience members are invited to enter the Situation Room and become a Council of Elders to discuss the global issues of the day from Trump, Brexit and Climate Change to the challenges of the ageing baby boom generation – as the company weave in satirical insights and spirit-lifting humour, resulting in a production where each show is unique. 
Developed over two years through residencies with older people in London, Los Angeles and on New York’s historical Governor’s Island (where real undetonated civil war bombs lie buried beneath the surface), UXO is the latest show from the groundbreaking duo whose work is characterised by experimentation in form and political content, as well as plenty of pop culture references. It marks Split Britches return to the UK following Peggy Shaw’s RUFF, which toured in 2016, including shows at the Barbican.
Speaking about the show Lois Weaver said “We've always used performance to help us through our personal challenges — about being butch and going through menopause, being femme and feeling invisible, or being an artist during the Reagan-Thatcher era. Now that we're older we use performance to help us think about age. We started this project before Trump was elected and before Dr. Strangelove became as relevant as it is now. We drew from the doomsday urgency of the film, that something horrible is going to happen unless we do something. But it's really about the urgency of time as an elder as well.” 
Split Britches have been creating satirical, gender-bending performance for 37 years. Founded in New York in 1980 with Deb Margolin, the company’s work comprises methods for public engagement, videography, digital and print media, explorations of ageing and wellbeing, and iconic lesbian-feminist theatre.
Lois Weaver is an artist, activist, Professor of Contemporary Performance at Queen Mary, University of London and a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow.  She was co-founder of Spiderwoman Theater, WOW and Artistic Director of Gay Sweatshop in London. Peggy Shaw is a performer, writer, producer and teacher of writing and performance. She co-founded Split Britches and WOW in NYC. She is a veteran of Hot Peaches and Spiderwoman and has collaborated as writer and performer with Lois Weaver and Split Britches since 1980.
Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) is part of the Barbican’s 2018 Season, The Art of Change, which explores how artists respond to, reflect and can potentially effect change in the social and political landscape

@Split_Britches | #Unexplodedordnances |

Running Time: 1 hr 15 minutes | Suitable for ages 16+
Company Information

Performed by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw

Written by Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw and Hannah Maxwell

Created with Jo Palmer, Claire Nolan, Matt Delbridge, Alex Legge, Edythe Woolley, Meg Hodgson

Listings information

13 – 14 March Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts, Brighton

University of Sussex, Gardner Center Road, Brighton BN1 9RA

7pm | £12, £10 (concs) | 01273 678822

27 – 31 March Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Bute Pl, Cardiff Bay CF10 5AL

7pm | £12 | 029 2063 6464

15 – 19 May Barbican Centre, London

Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS

7.45pm | £18 | 020 7638 4141

BSL-interpreted performance: Thu 17 May 2018, 7.45pm
Post-show talk (BSL-interpreted): Thu 17 May 2018 (free to same-day ticket holders)
Weekend Lab with Lois Weaver: Sat 19 & Sun 20 May 2018

26 May Take Me Somewhere Festival, Glasgow

Platform, 1000 Westerhouse Rd, Glasgow G34 9JW
Times and prices TBC | 0141 276 9696

Monday, 5 March 2018

Dazzled by Definition

A hypothetical definition of tragedy

Tragedy and Ritual and I am Thinking Out Loud again

If the origins of Athenian tragedy are broadly found in religious ritual - the importance of the chorus suggests a shared ancestry with the dithyramb, a hymn to Dionysus - the extant plays offer few clues to the nature of their relationship. One striking feature of ritual, the invitation of direct response extended to the spectators, is absent in Athenian tragedy. By the time that Aeschylus, the earliest playwright of the surviving tragic scripts, was writing, the tragedy had evolved into a separate form and the application of ritual's standards onto theatre has already been rendered, at best, controversial.

It's always easy for me to be distracted by questions of ritual and theatricality, because I dislike the 'revolution' of performance studies (as expressed by Richard Schechner) which dumps all sorts of human activity into a single category (performance) without much care for their cultural or historical context. Religious services, for example, are lumped together, with rock concerts. Sure, they are all amenable to the application of dramaturgy as a methodology, but the intention of a Sunday Mass is not the same as the revival of Sam Beckett's Godot. But once Schechner advocated a smearing of the boundaries, artists could happily claim that they were making rituals - rather than being influenced by rituals - which accords their work a sanctity which it may not deserve.

But I am supposed to be thinking about tragedy today, so let's park that for the moment. I am trying to work out what it might mean, and whether there is any continuity between the tragedy of fifth century Athens, the plays of Shakespeare, French neo-classical tragedy, the naturalism of the 1880s (Ibsen, moving into Chekhov) and various bits and pieces from the last century or so. I suppose, if I asked whether The Motherfucker with the Hat (about to be staged at the Tron) is a tragedy, these are the reflections that would inform my answer.

The easy line to follow is that from Athens to 17th Century France: Aristotle wrote about the Athenian tragedies, and the French theorists turned his observations into rules. The same rules encouraged the self-conscious tragedies of the twentieth century - Death of A Salesman, a couple of plays by T.S. Eliot. These were experiments in form, to see whether it was possible to use the formula and structures of Athenian tragedy for contemporary theatre. These are your Aristotelian tragedies, I guess, for want of a better name. It is strict, follows a bunch of rules  including the unities of time and space.

But tragedy is a wider term: it is applied to Shakespeare, the violent melodramas of Seneca and the Jacobeans (mainly because the word melodrama wasn't available until the 1760s, when Rousseau coined it). And that's enough to cause problems. And I don't even know whether the plays of David Mamet - to take a fairly random example - count as tragedy. Until I get some kind of definition...

So, if Hamlet and Othello are tragedies (and popular opinion say that they are), that isn't because they share the same formula as the Aristotle-influenced tradition. That's why I have an ache in my heart.