Tuesday, 27 January 2015

REVIEW: King Charles III

King Charles III (Wyndham's Theatre)
I have been excited to see this production after several friends recommended it to me, and it is closing at the Wyndham Theatre at the end of the month, so I got in there just in time.

To be honest, I'm still absorbing the impact, and I feel I'll take more from it as time goes on!

Image Source: theatreexplorer.com

The play forces us to think about the future, about the role of the monarchy in modern life, about individual freedoms, about the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, about the restrictions of society, our perceptions of the established hierarchy, censorship, the position of the government, and so much more. I laughed, I cried, I clutched my boyfriends arm in horror. It was a roller-coaster of emotions!

Written in blank verse, the meter feels very Shakespearian and highbrow, although modern language is used throughout. Mike Bartlett's script is wonderfully witty ("You look like you've been raped by Primark" being one of my favourite lines), poignant and thought-provoking, and Charles is brought to touching life by the glorious Tim Pigott-Smith who completely inhabited the character, making him lovable, slightly ridiculous, determined and confused simultaneously. I sobbed during the final confrontation, and throughout the final scene; whispering to my boyfriend "The scary thing is, we will see this happen in our lifetime..."

Stand out cast members also included Richard Goulding as Prince Harry, struggling to reconcile his position within the monarchy, the family, and the country as he falls in love with the republican commoner Jess (played by Tafline Steen). Lydia Wilson was a scheming Kate; her speech to the audience as she acknowledged and dropped the mask she is forced to wear was beautifully Machiavellian, and I don't think I shall ever look at a picture of the Duchess Of Cambridge in the same way again! Having said that, though, all of the actors were wonderful: those playing members of the Royal Family having such a difficult job portraying people whose image, actions and mannerisms are so well known across the world.

Image Source: theguardian.com

The set was sumptuous and minimalistic at the same time, with the cast taking part in the moving of props to denote scene changes: otherwise it recalled to me the altar of Westminster Abbey and was beautifully lit throughout. The music supported the action well; the opening funeral sequence sent shivers down my spine (not least because of whoever was singing the bass line - those notes!).

I hope this play returns soon: the initial three month run was extended for a month to the end of January but I wish it could stay longer as I would love to see it again, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

OPINION: Are The Arts Too Elitist?

There's been a lot of talk over the last few weeks in the media regarding the supposed 'elitism' of areas of the arts. It began with MP Chris Bryant basically calling James Blunt a 'toff' and claiming that British culture was dominated by those from privileged backgrounds. Blunt hit back, stating that his background had actually been more of a hindrance than a help when starting out in the music business, and several opinion pieces appeared on each side of the argument.

Image Source: theguardian.com

One of these caught my eye as Julie Walters voiced her opinion on the side of Bryant:

"People like me wouldn't have been able to go to college today. I could because I got a full grant. I don't know how you get into it now. Kids write to me all the time and I think "I don't know what to tell you"

As much as I love Ms. Walters, I have to disagree with her. I believe the arts represents the broader culture of society, both in training and on the stage. I am from a working class background and was lucky enough to get a grant for my course. In my day job I have come across several families whose children are desperate to go to an arts college but because their income is slightly over the threshold, they have been unable to apply for a grant and therefore cannot afford the training. This is a problem: talented students unable to attend college because they are considered 'too privileged. 

Certain aspects of the arts have always been considered highbrow or inaccessible, such as Opera and Ballet. There are many initiatives in place to try and break down these barriers, such as ENO offering cut price tickets to students, or the Royal Ballet conducting classes with schools from disadvantaged areas. This is not elitist at all: this is the spirit of inclusion!

Image Source: IMDb.com

Ms. Walters goes on to claim that writers, too, are shunning the working-class: 

"Working class kids aren't represented. Working class life is not referred to..."

Again, I disagree wholeheartedly. Have a look at many prime-time television dramas. Yes we have the ubiquitous 'Downton Abbey' and the forthcoming 'Indian Summers' (which I can't wait for!) but we also have the new 'Cucumber/Banana/Tofu', shows like 'The Endz' and 'Youngers' which depict children from lower-income backgrounds as just a couple that I thought of off the top of my head. 

On stage, too, new works are depicting the harsh brutalities of regular life, or the comedy of it: '3 Winters', 'Rules For Living', ' The Separation' and 'The Royale' are all plays that are either showing now in London or are coming this season, and show very different aspects of 'normal' life, without a 'toff' in sight. Re-workings of established plays are depicting the working class and transposing what can be considered to be high-brow into a truly accessible production, as was the case with the production of 'Othello' I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

Yes it's true that many of our television personalities or stage actors do come from privileged backgrounds: a lot of the top comic actors came through Cambridge Footlights group, but I would argue that there are equally as many performers who are from working class roots; Jessie J, Tinie Tempah, N-Dubz, Daniel Craig, and many more.

I'm going to admit, though, that yes, there is elitism in the arts, in that everything isn't going to appeal to everyone, and that's a good thing! People who love musicals may not want to go to a band gig; those who visit art galleries and art installations may not want to visit the cinema. There's enough out there for everyone and trying to make out that the arts is discriminating against a particular area of society, whether that's James Blunt arguing that his upper-class background worked against him, or Julie Walters claiming that her working-class background worked against her, is naive and discriminatory in itself.



Monday, 26 January 2015

Task 4d (Part One): Literature Review

I have begun collecting literature that I feel may help me in my proposed line of inquiry: using 'Delicious' I have started tagging online resources that have relevance to my intended research.

Screenshot of the links page on my Delicious account

I have found several useful documents and websites detailing audience viewing trends that will help me to understand more about that strand of my enquiry, and I have a professional contact working for a major London theatre who can assist me further with this area of research.

I have several books about Dramaturgical practice and Theatre theories, and I will use this literature to assist me with the understanding of my intended career route.

 

 
Some of the books I have read recently or am currently reading

Now I'd like to try and find some resources that will help me to understand the connection a piece of theatre can have with an audience. I intend to investigate the different impact of different styles of performance (i.e. proscenium stage vs. promenade production) and how artists or directors decide to stage a new piece of work to achieve the intended level of engagement.

I would also like to think more about how new stagings of established works can change an audience perception: for example, a company in London recently produced 'MacBeth' in parklands, using the park equipment as the castle, presenting The Witches as homeless people and having the audience follow the action around the park. This immersive experience allows for much more engagement with the audience than watching the same play presented on a traditional stage.

I am aiming to contact a couple of playwrights to discuss their aims when creating a new work: the message they would like to convey and their thought processes while working on a new production. I would like to find out if the reception for a new work has differed from their intention or suppositions: for example, I recently discussed on this blog the differing interpretations of 'Alice In Wonderland.' There is a new production about to be staged by The National Theatre, interpreting Wonderland as an online escape from the real world. Now this obviously wasn't the interpretation Lewis Carroll intended, or could have even dreamed of, so it is interesting that we can now view Wonderland as an online world given the new experiences of the audience who are able to identify with this interpretation. It would be fascinating to find out whether audiences take something different away from a production to what the creator originally meant by it, whether they feel this enhances or diminishes their product and whether it really matters to them that the audiences feel something other than they originally intended.

I am also hoping to find out more about the effect of advertising and promotion on the theatrical experience. Whether the way a show is advertised affects the audiences initial expectations; many posters advertising productions will use excerpts from reviews and 'star ratings': would a passer-by be more likely to go and see a work that is advertised this way, and will they expect more from the experience?

 
The same movie, advertised and presented very differently!
Image Source: moviepostershop.com

If anyone can point me in the right direction for existing literature or resources on these topics, I would be very grateful!

Task 4c: Developing Questions

Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking about the development of my line of enquiry: conversations with my Special Interest Group and Professional Network have allowed me to expand upon initial ideas and think about ways of linking the different strands I'd like to investigate.


I mind-mapped the different areas of my thought process and found that many aspects of the different strands were occurring in each area: I'd like to investigate all of these and feel that I can make links between the various aspects.

I don't have a specific title for the enquiry yet, and I'm not exactly sure what to use as my awards title! Suggestions Welcome!! I'm thinking Professional Practice (Theatre) but is this too broad? I'm also thinking of the enquiry being along the lines of "Theatrical Experience" but again, is this too non-specific??

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

REVIEW: Mat Ricardo - Showman

Mat Ricardo: Showman (Purcell Room: Queen Elizabeth Hall)

As part of the London International Mime Festival, the Queen Elizabeth Hall is presenting several shows, one of which I saw last week, and this one: Mat Ricardo.

Image Source: southbankcentre.co.uk

I know Mat personally, having performed with him many times over the years, so it was great to support him in this show as a large group of cabaret performers turned out to watch.

Mat began as a street performer in Covent Garden, a fact he talks about during the wonderfully witty production, and it shows: he is quick, agile and rarely pauses for breath - all attributes needed when attempting to hold the attention of disinterested, busy shoppers in one of the most hectic parts of London. Seeing him, therefore, in this context (a theatre, with a paying audience, all coming specifically to watch his show) was lovely, and a tribute to how far both he and variety as a medium have come.

Stand out moments included his lightning fast yo-yo trick - blink and you'll most definitely miss it! I especially loved his new routine, juggling (or flaring, but that's a point he covers very well!) with the drinks bottles; I was quite hypnotized, and it may have even replaced my previous favourite, his Gene Kelly-esque Hat & Cane act, which made an appearance here too.

Mat is most well known for his incredible Tablecloth act, which has been updated for this show. I'm not going to give it away, but even a slight misstep at this point worked in his favour as it brought the patter of the show full circle, closing where we opened, and we closed with the audience yelling for more.

Image Source: facebook.com
Photography Credit: zebrowskiphotography.co.uk

Even knowing Mat and seeing various shows over the years, we learned something new at this show: his passion for his art form is obvious both through the stories and the routines which varied from smooth and sophisticated to actually quite terrifying at several points! There was a lovely sense of flow to the production as he juggled, balanced and manipulated various objects, enhanced by some lovely lighting and rather a lot of stage haze (which led to one of my favourite lines of the night!)

It was a funny, thrilling, touching and personal production and if you get a chance to see Mat Ricardo in action, it is a chance not to be missed.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Theatre Conversations

Once again a practitioner's blog post has made my brain run away with itself and I've spent the last two hours or so frantically scribbling in my journal!

I am currently thinking about the intention of the creative self: when an artist creates a piece of work, (visual, performance, or otherwise) they obviously have an intention behind the creation, and a meaning, feeling or message they hope the audience will relate to. But how can they be sure that the original intention is successfully conveyed to an audience when audience interpretation can differ, influenced by so many different factors. People view a piece of work coloured by their own understanding and experiences so if there is a meaning to be made clear, how can this be done so without patronizing the audience? And does it really matter? As long as the viewer takes *something* from the work, does it matter what that something is?

Image Source: youtube.com

I remember seeing a piece of art in the Tate Modern one afternoon: I hated it. I had an almost visceral reaction to the work, and even now, years later I can remember both the art and my feelings vividly. Now maybe that's what the artist was trying to convey? A gut feeling of hate and anger? Maybe there was a political or sociological commentary to the canvas, but I don't remember that at all. I compared it with my feelings towards the famous art by Rothko: I am completely baffled by what I consider to be glorified Dulux colour charts. Surely an artist wants to provoke some reaction, any reaction, rather than complete disinterest?

We read books such as Alice In Wonderland, now coloured by many different interpretations of the work: theories that the author was a laudanum addict and possible paedophile, prolific film and stage versions of the story, the influences of the British Empire or modern theories on child psychology all affect our understanding of what may have been initially intended as simply a children's tale.

Having said that, I love Alice in Wonderland (hence using it as an example - it was the first thing that popped into my head since I have this beautiful picture right by my desk!

Shakespeare has been re imagined, re-interpreted and studied for hundreds of years, and each new presentation obviously takes influences from what has gone before. We study the particular meanings and nuances of each line of the Sonnets, deciphering the hidden intentions, without considering that maybe, just maybe, Shakespeare used that particular word because it contained the right amount of syllables for the meter, or just happened to rhyme with the word at the end of the previous line?

There was an interesting Twitter thread last week, beginning with a tweet from The Royal Opera House regarding the editing of Operas. One of the most interesting responses (for me) was this one, as it started me thinking about this sort of thing (the audience response being dictated by experience):

Taken from @TheRoyalOpera Twitter feed 


One of my first thoughts on an inquiry question was "How much is it the performer's responsibility to incite an audience reaction," based on my experiences as a cabaret performer and with the intention of comparing this to other performance forms. I had difficulty moving away from this as an inquiry question because I couldn't find anything else that excited me to the same level. However I have now begun to see a way of using this original line of inquiry and expanding upon it in the new context of dramaturgy and creative practice, bringing in the different elements I have been discovering and questioning over the last couple of weeks. It's exciting!

Friday, 16 January 2015

REVIEW: 'Thomas Monckton' and 'Gandini Juggling'

This month sees the London International Mime Festival take over venues across the city. I will be seeing a couple more of these shows throughout January but I kicked it off this week with two of them.

Thomas Monckton: The Pianist (Circo Aereo - Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall)

Thomas Monckton: Image Source - southbankcentre.co.uk

When most people think of clowns, they probably either think of Tim Curry's terrifying 'It' or a middle-aged kids party entertainer making balloon animals and squirting water from a fake buttonhole flower.

Clowning is one of the most difficult, physical and demanding of the circus disciplines as it requires a supreme level of skill and control; it requires the performer to relinquish control of the self and commit entirely to a character and an absurd premise. Thomas Monckton displays all of this, and more. He is, by turns, an aerialist, a dancer, a contortionist, an actor and a comedian. 

A hapless musician simply wants to walk onto the stage and play. Obviously this is not as simple as it may seem and Monckton held the audience spellbound for sixty minutes as he attempted, failed, and attempted once more to play the piano. Beautiful moments included his thwarted attempts to take the sheet from the grand piano, his accomplished chandelier aerial routine, and the finale as the smoking piano yielded magical flowers. 

I have a love of circus, and I am constantly in awe of physical theatre performers: Thomas Monckton is, quite rightly, lauded as one of the best.

Gandini Juggling (Linbury Studio Theatre - The Royal Opera House)

Image Source: theguardian.com

I was attracted to this show based on the premise alone: ballet and juggling? Together? With a live string quintet on stage as well? Well, let's go and see that!

It was as beautiful and as baffling as I expected: at moments there was so much going on I genuinely didn't know where to look. After the first section I turned to my boyfriend and whispered "I don't think I've blinked for about fifteen minutes!"

The level of skill on display was truly incredible: the four ballet dancers (two male and two female) and four jugglers (two male and two female) had a lovely symmetry and symbiosis - I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during initial rehearsals - as they wound in and out of each other, throwing, catching, jumping, pirouetting and leaping... it was mesmerising. I especially enjoyed the sequence with the rings, and the incidental "Can you dance while the ball is in the air?" and there was a nice flow of group acts and solo or duo routines.

There were some moments that I felt were a bit superfluous and (I hate to say it) pretentious, but on the whole it was a beautifully choreographed, lit and staged production with a highly trained and dedicated cast.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

REVIEW: Othello - Lyric Hammersmith

I never win anything (apart from a bottle of dodgy wine once in a raffle) so I was beyond excited when I got a message on Twitter from the Lyric Hammersmith telling me I had won two tickets to Frantic Assembly's production of Othello.

And it was fantastic! I urge anyone who can to go and see it!

Image Source: franticassembly.co.uk

The production is set in a working men's club, with a pool table, gambling machine and faded red upholstery. The music is pounding and a group of, for lack of a better word, chavs is drinking, playing and... erm... dancing. My first thought was; "And now we shall present the work of William Shakespeare through the medium of interpretive dance..."

If you're going to commit to a concept, you have to commit all the way. And my goodness they did! The movement never looked out of place, which is strange when tracksuited skinheads are quoting Shakespeare; everything flowed, suited the characterisation and was skilfully presented. The choreography was clever; twisting and aggressive, and enhanced moments beautifully, such as the tender scene on the pool table between Othello ( Mark Ebulue) and Desdemona (Kirsty Oswald), or the fight sequence, which was beautifully lit.

The set was equally clever; the walls of the club opening to reveal the street, or spinning round to become the ladies toilets. My favourite moment occurred during the scene where the men are getting Cassio (Ryan Fletcher) drunk; as he staggered into the walls they moved and melted around him, accompanied by an edge-of-hearing tinnitus through the music - that is what being drunk is like! The walls move!

Image Source: lyric.co.uk

In the small company (nine cast members) there was not a weak link for me. Ebulue was an impressive and imposing Othello - there are few actors of his physique on the stage in the UK at the moment and it won't be long until television snaps him up, I'm sure - Oswald was a sympathetic Desdemona - I loved the portrayal of her as a beer swilling ladette with a heart of gold, and the impact of her death scene was extraordinary. Barry Aird's Brabantio was suitably menacing, and Richard James-Neale as Roderigo brought an injection of pathetic comedy to the character.

I suppose the stand-out performance for me was Steven Miller as Iago. The edits to the script meant that the play could have been titled for him, and he extracted every nuance out of the character. His ambitious machinations to overthrow Othello, using Roderigo as a pawn to implicate and attack Casio, his stabbing of Emilia ( Leila Crerar): everything was sharp and bitter as the action of the play wound around him.

The standing ovation from the packed out opening night audience was justly deserved.








Originally Published at http://bit.ly/1IYJqKR

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

REVIEW: Shakespeare In Love - Noel Coward Theatre

I was so excited to see this play, but even then I had my misgivings: I really like the film, it's a guilty pleasure of mine, so would the play be like the film? If it was how would it transfer onto the stage, and if it wasn't how would I react? Would I bring a preconceived notion of how things should or shouldn't be? Would I like the necessary changes or would I have preferred to just curl up at home with a cup of tea and watch the movie?

It's difficult, when something is so well known, to make it new and fresh, and Shakespeare In Love is an Oscar-winning, popular movie. I'd like to point out straight away that we didn't have the best seats so our view was somewhat restricted at times and that could have affected my review.

Image Source: shakespeareinlove.com

First off: the set was brilliant. Elements of it moved, rose up, swept back or came forward; lights came down from the flies and trap doors appeared. It was beautifully authentic looking, with low rails and multiple levels, steps, staircases and little balconies, meaning the action could take place over several planes. Many of the cast spent much of the performance scattered throughout the various levels of the set, observing the action, which created a lovely sense of the entire production being 'a show' There was never a moment that the stage wasn't occupied, and the cast themselves brought on or removed benches, tables, props, etc. as scenes changed which was a lovely touch meaning the flow of the action never stopped.

This was carried through by the musicians being present on stage and using period instruments: the male vocalist had the most hauntingly beautiful voice, and I loved the harmonies in the piece at the opening of Act Two.

The use of the set was ingenious during the final scenes as the action moved between 'backstage' and 'on stage', and a touching moment was created as the stuttering Wabash (played by Ncuti Gatwa) took his steps forward for the 'Prologue' of 'Romeo and Juliet'.

I enjoyed the performances of Orlando James as William Shakespeare, and Edward Franklin as Christopher Marlowe; there was a lovely sense of brotherhood and camaraderie in their relationship and the scene at Viola's balcony was wonderfully witty, with a wink and a nod to the conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn't necessarily write his own material. There were some lovely ensemble moments that made me laugh out loud; such as the moment during 'rehearsals' when Shakespeare and Sam (Gregg Lowe) are demonstrating how Romeo and Juliet ought to kiss.

Many of the lines from the film appeared during the production, and there were many references to other works by Shakespeare (a dog called 'Spot' being told to 'Get Out! Out! Damned Spot.') which were nicely placed and brought the smug, knowing laughs from the self-supposed scholars in the audience. But it keeps them happy I suppose.

Image Source: telegraph.co.uk

However. I felt like they 'played the jokes' too much. The acting crossed over into 'hammy' at times - I understand in the role of Burbage (played by Peter Moreton) this might have been a character choice, but it often felt like I was watching a pantomime as many of the characters seemed to be over-acting constantly. The first scene with Viola De Lesseps (Eve Ponsonby) was actually quite uncomfortable for me to watch as she writhed around the stage bemoaning her inability to join a company of players by thrusting, beating her breast multiple times, jumping on the bed and growling; obviously showing 'passion' in theatre dictates 'throwing oneself around and shouting'. It meant that I didn't warm to the character and therefore didn't particularly care about her story.

I never forgot that I was watching a play. I never felt like the actors 'became' their characters (with the possible exception of Edward Franklin who played a mischievous and knowing Marlowe) and therefore there was no change of tone during the sequences 'on-stage'. Even when Shakespeare learns of Marlowe's death, I didn't really believe his passion. During several sequences between Shakespeare and Viola I actually had a flick through my programme, reading about the interesting background to the play and the use of music and dance during the production.

Programme Notes

When I see a good production, I forget that I'm watching a play. I want to be transported into that world and feel that I am watching real people in real situations. As I said at the start, maybe I brought my personal opinions of the film into the theatre; Gwyneth Paltrow's beautifully understated Viola; Martin Clunes' bombastic Burbage, etc.  But I didn't feel how I wanted to feel; I wanted to cry when Viola/Juliet dies, and I didn't. I kind of didn't care.

I'm glad I've seen it, I did enjoy much, if not all, of it, but I doubt I'd see it again... Maybe, if I had better seats. Despite this, it was a strong production; there was love, life, laughs, a jig at the end and a bit with a dog. As as Henslowe (Neal Barry) stated - that's what the audience want!








Originally Published at http://bit.ly/1mQirqj

Monday, 12 January 2015

Theatre Conversations

I had very interesting conversations over the weekend with practitioners who specialise in writing and dramaturgy, whom I greatly admire.

New Theatre
Many Dramaturgs work, essentially as sounding boards for new plays and playwrights. During the conversation this practitioner mentioned that they had seen an explosion in new work from about the mid-90's; prior to that there were only a couple of theatres that promoted new work, and even then much of the programming was made up of classic or popular plays. I asked what had brought about the change and the explanation was that the government had given huge grants to theatres to put on work by new writers.

The Soho Theatre: one of the homes of new writing in London
Image Source: theatresonline.com

Opinion:
In the mid-90's the UK was experiencing a boom; there was more money around and therefore more disposable income. In times of recession, people often cling to the familiar and do not have the money to spend on taking a risk watching a new play that they may not enjoy. I also believe that having more money increases confidence and therefore pride; the governments promoting of new, homegrown playwrights is a symptom of national pride, creating a national voice, which is what Gotthold Lessing (the first recognized Dramaturg) was tasked with doing at the creation of the National Theatre in Hamburg in the 1760's.

However this doesn't necessarily explain the proliferation of New Writing Theatres at the moment; we have just had one of the longest recessions in history, yet new writing is flourishing with several theatres in London dedicated just to new writing, new adaptations or new stagings. Why is this? I believe it may be partly because much new writing tends to be quite 'gritty' or realistic, highlighting the problems with society. Maybe it is a form of catharsis for an audience to witness characters whose problems are greater than our own? Does it help to put our own issues into perspective to watch a play about the slums of India (Behind The Beautiful Forevers - The National Theatre) or murder, violence and sex-trafficking (Pig Girl - Finborough Theatre)?

Is it that audiences nowadays are more likely to want to be challenged than audiences twenty years ago? Are we more jaded or less willing to accept the norm? Or are we more adventurous and questioning these days? Are audiences 'bored' of the classics, or is it because we associate plays like those by Shakespeare, Ibsen et.al. with school work and therefore think of them as academic or stuffy?

The Royal Court Theatre, London: programmes a combination of classic work and new writing
Image Source: travelstay.com

This, to me, is similar in a way to my previous professional experience in Cabaret and Variety performance; Cabaret, historically, thrives in times of recession. Audiences who may want a 'different' experience may not have the money to spend on going to the theatre to see something new and risk not enjoying the production, then having to sit through two hours of an unenjoyable experience. In Cabaret, if you don't like what's on stage, something else will be along in five minutes that may be more to your taste. Cabaret also has a place as a mirror to society, reflecting the absurd and making mockeries of current events.


What do you think? As always, opinions, thoughts and feedback gratefully welcomed!







Originally Published at http://bit.ly/1N2WGJ7

Theatre Thoughts: Changing Habits

I had a very interesting conversation over the weekend that linked back to something I wrote about last week...

I have had difficulty making contact with practitioners working in dramaturgy, but recently had a bit of a breakthrough when I finally decided to stop being so polite and scared and message a couple directly.*

*I worry about sending unsolicited messages; as a performer in a niche industry I often have newcomers saying things along the lines of "Oh you'll have to give me all your tips!" I'm sorry, why do I 'have' to? It's taken me years to build up my contacts and reputation. I'll help, of course, but I hate the assumption. I'm very wary of appearing this way myself so I have previously been trying to make indirect contact through Facebook posts, Tweets and statuses on LinkedIn, to no avail. 

It took a while, but I received messages back from two practitioners whose work I greatly admire, which was very exciting! Then followed a telephone conversation which helped me plan my next steps, gave me some ideas of where to go to gain experience and raised an interesting point that I had already considered in my previous blog.

New Theatre
Many Dramaturgs work, essentially as sounding boards for new plays and playwrights. During the conversation this practitioner mentioned that they had seen an explosion in new work from about the mid-90's; prior to that there were only a couple of theatres that promoted new work, and even then much of the programming was made up of classic or popular plays. I asked what had brought about the change and the explanation was that the government had given huge grants to theatres to put on work by new writers.

The Soho Theatre: one of the homes of new writing in London
Image Source: theatresonline.com

Opinion:
In the mid-90's the UK was experiencing a boom; there was more money around and therefore more disposable income. In times of recession, people often cling to the familiar and do not have the money to spend on taking a risk watching a new play that they may not enjoy. I also believe that having more money increases confidence and therefore pride; the governments promoting of new, homegrown playwrights is a symptom of national pride, creating a national voice, which is what Gotthold Lessing (the first recognized Dramaturg) was tasked with doing at the creation of the National Theatre in Hamburg in the 1760's.

However this doesn't necessarily explain the proliferation of New Writing Theatres at the moment; we have just had one of the longest recessions in history, yet new writing is flourishing with several theatres in London dedicated just to new writing, new adaptations or new stagings. Why is this? I believe it may be partly because much new writing tends to be quite 'gritty' or realistic, highlighting the problems with society. Maybe it is a form of catharsis for an audience to witness characters whose problems are greater than our own? Does it help to put our own issues into perspective to watch a play about the slums of India (Behind The Beautiful Forevers - The National Theatre) or murder, violence and sex-trafficking (Pig Girl - Finborough Theatre)?

Is it that audiences nowadays are more likely to want to be challenged than audiences twenty years ago? Are we more jaded or less willing to accept the norm? Or are we more adventurous and questioning these days? Are audiences 'bored' of the classics, or is it because we associate plays like those by Shakespeare, Ibsen et.al. with school work and therefore think of them as academic or stuffy?

The Royal Court Theatre, London: programmes a combination of classic work and new writing
Image Source: travelstay.com

I am considering this as a line of inquiry, as I feel I can link also this trend to my past practice in cabaret; Cabaret, historically, thrives in times of recession. Audiences who may want a 'different' experience may not have the money to spend on going to the theatre to see something new and risk not enjoying the production, then having to sit through two hours of an unenjoyable experience. In Cabaret, if you don't like what's on stage, something else will be along in five minutes that may be more to your taste. Cabaret also has a place as a mirror to society, reflecting the absurd and making mockeries of current events.

_________________________________

So that's my thinking at the moment; it is an interesting subject that I feel I can investigate and will lead me to an awareness of theatrical trends, audience tastes and the work that a dramaturg can do in theatres.

What do you think? As always, opinions, thoughts and feedback gratefully welcomed!



Thursday, 8 January 2015

Task 4b: Special Interest Group

I thought about ways to engage a network of practitioners and those who share my interests and I decided to start a Tumblr page.

I have used Tumblr casually in the past, and I like the fact that hashtags and areas of interest are simple to search, a range of images, videos, posts and media can be uploaded and users are able to interact with each other easily. In this way I believe I can engage a variety of people and sources in an interactive way that wouldn't be possible through other Social Media.

I have shared the link across my other social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn to try and cross-engage those I have already connected with.


So if you are on Tumblr and share my interest in Theatre, Dramaturgy and Creative Practise, do come along!

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Task 4a (Part Three)

I had a chat with my professional network today in an attempt to help things make more sense. One of the suggestions was to make a mind-map of things I've been thinking about.

I don't usually make mind-maps - I usually find that writing things down in a linear fashion helps me puzzle through things more easily as I work through issues logically. However, since I've been hitting a mental brick wall recently I thought, why not?

Mind Map of issues

I looked back through my journal and made headings for the things I noticed I write about the most.

And you know what? It's helped!

I can see from my mind map links between different aspects of my trains of thought that weren't immediately obvious to me (until I colour coded them!) and it has actually assisted me in coming up with a couple of questions that I think I could use for an inquiry; or at least the starting points. The following points have arisen from the frequency of my writing about them, and the links I have made between the different issues.

* Why is it that there are so many female dancers and actors yet relatively few prolific female directors or choreographers?
I have asked this question before on my blog and I realised through my journal that I think about gender issues a lot regarding the theatre and performance: is there an expectation that women in theatre will progress to become teachers? Does the fact that there may be comparatively less men in a company mean that they will stand out more and therefore be thought of more readily when a choreographer or director is needed? What role does societal precedent play in determining a career change?

* The risk of the 'new': I actually mind-mapped this one as well - I think I got into the groove!



I intend to discuss these questions further with my professional network, and I have begun to make contact with practitioners outside of my current network so hopefully this will begin to yield some results!


Monday, 5 January 2015

Task 4a (Part Two)

Following my read through of the materials for the first part of module two, and after beginning task four, I thought it might be useful for me to look back at Task 2d, and try to answer the Inquiry questions from the viewpoint of my intended practice.

When I first worked on this task I was relating the questions to my current professional practice, but as this will shortly be my 'past' practice, I believe it will be more beneficial for me to focus on the career I *want* rather than the career I have *had*

My only experience of Dramaturgy has been through my reading and research, and through conversations with my current professional network. I have made attempts to connect with current practitioners in the field in order to expand my network and my knowledge of the industry.

Please be aware, therefore, that many of my opinions and impressions may be completely wrong!

Some of the reading I've been doing!



What Questions Do You Have?
From my reading I have formed the opinion that Dramaturgy is still a relatively unknown practice in the UK. It began, as we know it, with Gotthold Lessing in around 1767, and apparently in Europe it is a well known and respected position within a theatrical establishment.

So my first question would be, "Why?" Why is Dramaturgy not as well known in the United Kingdom? Through my research it seems to me to be because acts of dramaturgy are already being undertaken by various members of a production team, so maybe there is no need felt to hire an individual to take on responsibilities that are already held elsewhere.* However from what I have found out, there is an intense need in many areas of theatre for an individual to take on this role; to provide an unbiased eye, to take on research projects, to bring together a team, and to have a depth of knowledge of a production that can be shared with the rest of the unit and from there to an audience.

I did initially have the question "Can acts of dramaturgy enhance Cabaret performance?" as a way of attempting to relate my past experience. However as I continued to read I decided that this convention of theatrical practice has no place within Cabaret; the audiences don't know or care about the deeper meaning behind an act or whether the costume is historically appropriate. I feel that dramaturgy and similar theatrical practices would only serve to obscure and muddy a cabaret performance.

I found this lovely article that serves to highlight how beneficial Dramaturgy can be within various aspects of the industry.

*For example, one of the possible tasks a dramaturg might undertake is to research the era a director may want to base a production in (i.e. 1950's America); it would be the dramaturgs' role to know everything about the fashions, politics, societal influences, etc, of that era in order to avoid anachronisms or errors in translation. However, some would argue that this is the directors' responsibility, or that of the actor playing the role.

I'm not sure how beneficial acts of dramaturgy would be within an art form that relies on satire, parody and deliberate anachronism.
Image Source: High Tease


Do you see practice that makes you question your ethical code of practice or your personal sense of relatively appropriate behaviour?
Having had no first hand experience of the industry I couldn't answer this unfortunately!


What in your daily practice gets you really enthusiastic to find out more? Who do you admire who also works with what makes you enthusiastic?
From my reading and research I am quite excited about a couple of the different aspects that constitute a Dramaturg's job; researching the background to a play would be fascinating, finding out about past productions and the impact both society may have had on the original production or vice versa. I have also found out about an area of the role called 'Dance Dramaturgy' which I am keen to find out more about.

Through conversation with my professional network I have also found that often dramaturgs work with performers to develop the 'story' behind a particular dance (or in my contacts case, circus) routine. I love the idea of working to develop storytelling and artistic technique in a performer while keeping the choreography and aesthetic strong.

Dramaturgs I admire include Ben Power, who works at The National Theatre in London, Lisa Goldman, who was listed as one of the 1000 most influential people in London by The Evening Standard, and Katalin Trencsenyi who founded the Dramaturgs' Network.

Image Source: losangeles.bitter-lemons.com


What gets you angry or makes you sad? Who do you admire who shares your feelings or has found a way to work around the sadness or anger?
Again, this is a difficult one to answer as I have no experience to draw on.

I suppose what is making me frustrated (more than angry or sad) at the moment is my lack of experience and that I'm finding it difficult to make connections.

Several of the contacts within my wider professional network have, in the past, come up against a lack of experience; a group of acting graduates from a leading drama school found that their training hadn't adequately prepared them for a particular area of the industry so they formed their own production group to both produce shows of a particular genre, and to allow graduates or graduating students opportunities in this area. I definitely admire the tenacity and will of these students to create their own opportunities rather than feeling that an entire area of theatre was off limits to them due to a lack of training or experience. 


What do you love about what you do? Who do you admire who also seems to love this or is an example of what you love?
So far through my reading I am loving that the remit of a Dramaturg is so wide-ranging; working with playwrights, translators, directors, designers; working as a researcher, an observer and a critic; acting as the impartial eye to make sure a script makes sense or a production runs seamlessly; taking part in audience feedback sessions to discuss the impact of a production or assisting with writing the programme; it seems like such a multi-faceted, unpredictable role!

The examples of practitioners above mentioned are those I admire for working within this role.

Image Source: meetville.com


What do you feel you don't understand? Who do you admire who does seem to understand it or found a way of making not understanding it interesting or beautiful, or has asked the same questions as you?
There is a lot I don't understand! My knowledge of Dramaturgy is still theoretical rather than practical so I don't understand really how the role functions in a 'real life' situation. Before I could answer this question fully I would definitely need to gain some first hand experience!

I suppose that's one of the things that I don't understand; how to gain the experience. If I had more free time I could look into volunteering or undertaking an internship with a theatre or theatre company. However I have very little time off as I am currently in a full-time job and much of my free time is taken up with work for the course, reading and research, I am still performing a little on occasional weekends, and trying to find time to fit in a social life! Many of the volunteer or intern opportunities on offer require much more time commitment than I am currently able to give. Despite this I have attempted to make contact with a couple of practitioners to see whether they would allow me to volunteer with them for a day or two each week to assist them with any projects or research in exchange for the experience of the industry.

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Conclusion
Working back on this task hasn't necessarily helped me figure out any routes of inquiry, but it has enabled me to work through why I am attracted to this career path and make sense of some of the roadblocks I've felt I've been coming up against.

I may still look for ways to tie in my previous experience; as I mentioned earlier I didn't feel that Dramaturgy had much to offer to Cabaret. Although cabaret is traditionally a satirical, slightly political art form, the modern interpretation of it borrows much more from the showgirls. I have seen politically motivated cabaret acts, and much of the time it fails to engage the audience in the way it was intended; if the performer is not playing to a politically or socially savvy audience, the meaning behind the act can fall flat and the performance becomes purely about the aesthetic rather than the background.

I have worked on an act in the past that I was extremely proud of; the aim of the routine was to burlesque Burlesque; I performed a very 'classic' routine, using music, choreography and costuming that was extremely cliched and predictable. However, over the top of the music I recorded my 'internal monologue' detailing some of the things a performer might think about while they are on stage; I wanted to reveal the 'truth' of our thoughts while we might be looking alluring or 'sexy' on stage:c

Excerpts from 'Psyche'

While the act was wonderfully received within the cabaret community, I have only performed it twice; this is because it is a very difficult act to place within the context of a show - it can't go last because it's not *big* enough to close a show, and it can't go first because it undermines everything that comes after it. It relies too much on an audience both listening and being 'au-fait' with Cabaret and Burlesque performance, and parts of the script depend on certain audience conditions. So it is tricky. Many acts that rely on assuming a certain level of audience knowledge or understanding come up against this problem and therefore many aspects of burlesque have come to embody a purely aesthetic form of entertainment.

I do feel that a couple of the elements I've touched on in this blog do bear further thought and development and I shall reflect on this in my blog while I work further through the tasks.