Thursday, 18 January 2018

Dramaturgy Fucker:Nicola Hunter @ Buzzcut

Double Thrills is a monthly platform from BUZZCUT supporting live art and experimental performance. 

Running from October 2017 - April 2018 we'll be showing radical performance practices from the UK and the rest of the world, alongside new live work in development from some of Scotland's most exciting makers, all in a super warm and friendly environment with drinks, dancing and welcoming vibes.

by Nicola Hunter

MOTHERFUCKER is a multi-layered response to my experiences as a single parent.

I have remained an outsider with my queer birthing body, fluxing and crashing through different lands of otherness over my time as a parent. MOTHERFUCKER is a conversation on gender and the home with a look at those patriarchal hands that feed us, while all too easily pushing their silencing fingers in our mouths.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

MOTHERFUCKER is my response to the way I've been treated as a single mother across many platforms, and how my experiences are very different to the father of my children who cut contact with our children, oh the fucking privilege. 

This piece talks not only of my experiences, but of the common and seemingly 'just one of those things' bullshit responses many single parents are fed. The fact that I have to find a few hundred pounds every month before I could even go to work and how that time is limited, how I am unable to go back into education to develop my skills, how I've not had a full nights sleep in years and yet the father of our children walks away and refuses to  financially support me bringing up our children. It's utter fuckery.

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

Performance can be a tool used as a catalyst for dialogue and dialogue has the potential to create change, all of which is dependent on the intention of the facilitator of that space.

How did you become interested in making performance?

My background is in fine arts I have no formal training in performance/theatre, I came into performance through a live art route, beginning as a fine artist influenced somewhere between the YBA's and painters like Elisabetta Sirani and Artemisia Gentileschi. 

MOTHERFUCKER is the next in a trilogy of works after LOST BODIES, which sees me push my own personal creative boundaries by creating a theatre piece that straddles live art. Making art work keeps my soul fed.

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

Due to my circumstances, threaded with the nature of my past works, I have never really rehearsed a piece of work. Lost Bodies was developed on tour, it was rooted in shamanic ritual and processing the work on site added to the success of the show, all of the emotion was real which I found kept the integrity and heart of the piece.  

I aim to develop MOTHERFUCKER with new collaborators, mentors and partners over the coming year, BUZZCUT will be my first sharing of the work. As a single Mother I am not able, like many artists, to live off my practice, so juggling creative processing, work and home becomes part of the build up of energy to inform the show.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

My practice will always straddle different processing methods to get the right fit and I hope my work will continue to evolve and challenge me. LOST BODIES was my first tour and I learnt a huge amount during the year we travelled with it across the UK. 

MOTHERFUCKER already feels unapologetically angry, whether I can tame myself before hand or the fire gets taller by the 7th February. I guess you'll find out...

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

A pissed off mother at the end of my fucking tether.

This new piece is an exploration of the binary, sex, death, life and the relationship western society has with the mother and the birthing body.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Off Kilter Dramaturgy: Ramesh Meyyappan @ manipulate 2018

At work and in his home, Joe Kilter has his daily set routines. Although some people think Joe is obsessive, Joe would prefer not to be thought of at all. When an unexpected event changes his everyday habits Joe’s world is turned askew. His life is no longer his own, he’s off his game… Joe Kilter is most definitely off-kilter.

Feeling more and more isolated, Joe’s life seems increasingly impossible and perhaps the only solution is to exist in darkness. Exploring mental well-being, identity, and those unsettling times when you feel a little bit different from everyone else, Off-Kilter is a darkly comedic visual theatre production, incorporating illusions, masterful physicality and dynamic, non-verbal storytelling.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

There wasn’t one specific event or source of inspiration, much of my work has previously touched on mental / emotional well-being.   While I haven’t explicitly explored Mental Health before, family / relationship breakdown and resulting isolation was explored in Snails and Ketchup, while Gin and Tonic and Passing Trains looked at the impact of loneliness and hinted at alcoholism.    

A lot of theatre explores this albeit that it is not implicitly focusing on mental health.   This time I’m being more explicit and have attempted to put a piece together that focuses on mental well being – it’s an observation rather than a narrative, although the character is on a journey that for him is challenging and at times crippling!

Mental health has been much over-looked, stigmatized at times – that’s the driving force behind Off Kilter.  No-one really wants to admit having a diagnosis associated with mental health, no-one wants to admit when they’re not coping with the day and what it brings and often suffer in isolation, this is what I wanted to explore and attempt to highlight. 

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the manipulate festival?

My work is entirely visual – as a deaf performer / theatre-maker I spent many years exploring how to make my work entirely accessible and have always considered how to extend my visual theatrical vocabulary.   Since the beginning of my career in the arts I’ve thought visually – it’s been a huge part of my deaf identity, Manipulate champions visual work and ‘visual’ is what I do! 

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

Yes – I’d like to think so or what is the point of performance!  I think irrespective of the type of performance there is always discussion.   I’ve always viewed performance as a public dialogue – a presentation of an idea through whatever form the performance takes.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I became increasingly passionate about theatre when I could see the power of the theatrical language.  Language and having to explore how people communicate has influenced me greatly, the desire to be able to communicate in a universally accessible way has always been the challenge that keeps me going.
When I’ve been exposed to a piece of theatre, dance or film that has been able to say something to me on the same level as the person sitting beside me (even if their language is different from my own) I wanted to create work that did exactly that – communicate on many levels and to people from all walks of life.

Recently I’ve talked at length about pushing myself and extending / developing my skill level as I strive towards developing an extensive visual vocabulary.
As a deaf person it has become important for me to find a language that is shared – that allows me to not alienate folk, that allows people to appreciate that deaf share many of the same experiences, ideas and thoughts as hearing.

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

I worked closely with Andy Arnold (Tron Theatre) and Kevin McMahon (illusionist) to explore how simple illusions and sleight of hand might work within a narrative structure, that would appear to happen to the character rather than him ‘doing magic’.   Once we’d explored a range of illusions we developed a visual script that gave the illusions a place within the story.
The script provided us with a structure – a journey for the character that we then used to further develop and devise the final piece.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I like to think that my productions are at least a little different from each other, the stories are different, the themes I hope are different.  While they all have in common that they are all purely visual I do make efforts to develop and explore a new visual elements and visual ideas.  

For Off Kilter I’ve incorporated a new visual element -  illusion. The illusions are fairly small in scale but none-the-less are integral to the character and what happens to him.   The illusions aimed to make the character feel out of sorts and confused and they work on that level.   This is not a magic show, the illusions were chosen and designed to support what we wanted to happen to the character, he doesn’t perform a trick but his mind sort of plays tricks on him.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The initial idea was centered around the experience that many of us have of having an off day - I think like most folk I’ve experienced that type of day too.  However, I wanted the Off Kilter ‘off day’ to explore a day that had more serious consequences.    I wanted to identify the isolation felt, the fear, anxiety, confusion, deep sadness and even anger and I hope that audiences empathize with this by considering moments in a day in their own life.     

Reading about mental illness I was beginning to appreciate the stigma felt by those who suffered (a stigma that is a result of much ignorance), that makes some feel completely alone.

I think with Off Kilter I wanted to offer a sense of the real stories and not over dramatize these – I was hoping that the audiences would identify with some moment experienced by the character.   I think most of us have experienced not being ourselves.   In terms of my own experience, things have happened in life that have triggered a host of emotions that were ‘off’ and needed to be worked through…I assume we can all identify with that. 

Ramesh Meyyappan‘s award-winning solo performances and collaborations have toured extensively, both nationally and internationally to much critical acclaim, most recently with his production, Butterfly, which was presented at manipulate in 2015. Ramesh is currently part of the Design Team for new BA Degree for Deaf Actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Off-Kilter, Co-produced with Ramesh Meyyappan Productions, Torn Theatre, Glasgow & TheatreWorks, Singapore.

Dramaturgy Trap: Johnny McKnight @ Dundee Rep


With an exceptional cast assembled and an exciting creative team ready to go, Dundee Rep Ensemble’s first show of 2018 begins with the most successful thriller in Broadway history. Today, rehearsals begin for the highly anticipated production of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap – performed by the award-winning Dundee Rep Ensemble.

Deathtrap will run from Tuesday 20 February – Saturday 10 March at Dundee Rep Theatre.

What was your inspiration for this performance? 

Deathtrap by Ira Levin is a clear play upon the popular thrillers that have went before it - Dial M For Murder, Sleuth, Rope, Gaslight.  The piece plays with the genre, plays with the idea of what sort of mind would write one of these thrillers and, indeed, are they a clear thrill seeker just like the devious minds of the characters that live within the play.  

There’s an over-arching meta angle running through the play that - despite it being written in the late 70s - still makes it feel questioning and interrogating of the theatricality it presents.  In terms of how I’m directing the piece I’m drawing reference on all of that genre - the work of Hitchcock, film noir and, indeed, those thrillers that are referenced throughout the piece.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

I studied at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on the Contemporary Theatre Practice course (now CPP).  The work we made was devised performance but, as I developed through the course I started to get interested in how the process of devising can become a written piece of work.  My initial work was devised in the room with a group of performers but then I started to get frustrated at the lack of a cohesive voice, or author.  From there I started to write, and then adding ten years onto that journey and exploration, I veered on an entirely new path - my interest being in written text - work thats made in the room from a very cohesive and structured blueprint of an author.  

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

Absolutely.  The exciting thing about being in a rehearsal room is that you and the actors and the production team are there to try and solve a problem - how to present a play/an idea/a story.  How do we tell that story?  Through whose eyes?  What attitude and view do we place on that story?  How do we wish to present it to an audience?  I think theatres at its best when its audience is engaged and questioning.  

Answers aren’t required but that moment that draws an audience forward in the their seat - that’s where the magic is - that moment where the question on stage draws us in further, makes us wonder what will happen next.  Theatres at its best when it questions, not answers.  

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

I think my approach differs from piece to piece.  its about working with the creative team, finding a way for all of us to work through the piece and examine it as rigorously as possible.  I always have a few ground rules that I think I need for myself.  

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

In some ways its a bit of a departure, normally I suppose I work with my own new writing (and I guess I work a lot on comedy).  This piece is different though - tonally, story wise.  It's American in flavour, heightened and operatic at times, there’s a sense of melodrama that runs through it.  That's quite a departure from my normal Scottish based work.  

However I think when you have a piece of writing like this script -  that’s so taut and tight and well thought out - you’re starting rehearsals with a  real sense of security (my own insecurities of being the author are, indeed, chucked out the window which is nice).  What it all comes down to is telling a good story, and this ones pretty bloody great it has to be said.  

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I want the audience to experience exactly what I felt when I read the script for the first time - the thrill of the story, the twists and turns and thrills that keeps me turning the page with a  real sense of excitement.  

I want to make sure we capture the laughs and thrills and jeopardy that I felt for the characters when I first read it.  For me, theatres at its very best when its unapologetically entertaining, when it absolutely grabs its audience and doesn’t let it go for the whole performance, that’s what we’re all hoping to find in our production of Deathtrap.   
Dundee Rep is thrilled to welcome award-winning writer and director, Johnny McKnight who will be directing for the first time at the Rep. Perfectly combining suspense and humour; this Tony Award-nominated play offers twists and turns, as well as laughs. 

McKnight brings this truly satisfying spine-chiller with gasps and giggles that is guaranteed to surprise and challenge audiences. Deathtrap promises a maze of shock plot twists, following washed-out playwright Sidney Bruhl who hasn’t had a hit play in years, we witness how far he will go to become a Broadway hit once again.

This edge-of-the-seat production of this murder-mystery play stars the Rep’s resident Ensemble members Ewan Donald, Lewis Howden, Irene Macdougall, and Emily Winter alongside new graduate apprentice, Tom England – who is making his main stage debut at the Rep. 

Speaking about what audiences can expect from this iconic play, Johnny McKnight, Director, said:

“I’m delighted to be working at Dundee Rep. As my first time working at the theatre I’ve admired the plethora of excellent productions presented at the Rep over the years: from Sunshine On Leith to Great Expectations, The Cheviot, The Stag and The Black Black Oil to And Then There Were None. I’ve always been struck by the sheer versatility and power of the Rep actors, so to finally have the opportunity to work with them is a real joy. The script Deathtrap proved irresistible - where else can you find a thriller that so enjoys playing with its audience, taking them through a maze of twists and turns, providing shocks and belly laughs.  I’ve always said that theatre’s at its best when it’s at its most entertaining, Deathtrap provides us with this – it’s full of gasps, giggles and horror. Our aim for this production is to give the audience at Dundee Rep a real rollercoaster of a night out.” 

Cast List

Ewan Donald

Tom England (Graduate Actor)

Lewis Howden

Irene Macdougall

Emily Winter

Dramaturgy in a Nutshell: Ragnarok @ manipulate 2018

Tortoise in a Nutshell/Scotland
The world is breaking. Years of frozen winters and endless nights have been followed by raging fires and infernal wars. Small huddles of humanity live in fear of the next attach from the skies. This is the Ragnarök. A glimpse of a new piece in development by multi-award winning company, Tortoise in a Nutshell.

What was the inspiration for this performance?  

The piece draws heavily on the Ragnarok. This is part of Norse mythology and describes the end of times. It features huge battles between gods and giants, ferocious wolves and serpents  big enough to cover the entire world.  

What we became interested in, though was how this might relate to humans on the ground.What would it be like to be living as the world is ending. When you feel so helpless against these huge scale events. 

Do you have any ability to choose your path and make a change or are events so big that your fate is inevitable?

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the manipulate festival?

Our work is visually led and we focus heavily on creating an atmosphere, a feeling of a world first before entering into the psychology of a story. We draw upon archetypes which hopefully allows the audience to fill in story blanks and project their own emotions onto the stage. 

I think, this is what Manipulate is all about. Work that ignite imaginations before language. 

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

I think so. It asks people to watch closely, to listen hard for a concentrated period of time and collectively come together and feel empathy. Place yourself in someone else's shoes.  The best performance is not a didactic argument, it reaches somewhere deeper and more emotional. It is important to be reminded of this. 

Also the world itself is hugely performative, we arguably perform gender, perform social class, perform roles expected of us from our family, our work place, the society we find ourselves in. Now with social media, we have a whole new place to perform. 

The stage is one of the few places though where we publicly acknowledge this performance and is therefore very honest. 

How did you become interested in making performance?

 As a company we all had different routes in but essentially through either youth theatre or classes in school. We all became inspired when we were young and ended up studying theatre at university. This is where we realised we had similar tastes and desire to make visual work. It made sense for us to come together and make the company and produce work that we wanted to see on stage.  

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

This is the first time we are drawing so heavily on a known story so we are concisely unpicking it and trying to find what it means to us. Stripping it down to its building blocks, finding out why the myth resonates for us and then reconstructing it.  So for instance you wont hear the names of Odin or Thor but their presence is rooted into the show. 

The feeling of huge mythic forces out of balance and a world in chaos is our building blocks. 

From there on we experiment. We know we want to play with scale, seeing huge cataclysmic events and then focusing in on its affect at a personal level. So we are playing constantly with theatrically zooming in and out, changing scales of our playing space and the audience's focus. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

 Yes and no. It draws heavily upon techniques we have used in previous shows. So for instance we are working with the small scale puppetry and video work seen in Feral and the large scale style puppets we used a little in The Lost Things and Dundee Rep's The BFG.   But this show feels hugely ambitious as we are smashing all these forms together to see what gels and what doesn't. 

You can definitely find threads of techniques and themes that run throughout our work. But we always want to experiment and ty something new so hopefully this will feel like a completely new approach to past subjects. 
Right now as we are making our work in progress, this show feels like we will be taking everything and turning it up to 11. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

An atmospheric shock to the system that leaves you wanting more. Or at least the feeling that the seeds are there for this to happen in the final show. 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Nothing Dramaturgy: Faux Theatre @ Manipulate 2018


Faux Theatre/Scotland

Fight/lose, breathe/suffocate, try/fail. A purposefully low-tech physical exploration of the force and grip of intense depression, that place where nothing matters.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I am often intrigued to make work starting from the materials  up. In my last piece Torn – that was paper. In this instance, for NOTHING I wanted to use polythene sheeting. I am interested in materials which are malleable. There is a huge range of potential interactions possible between a performer and large thin polythene sheeting. Polythene can be quite ethereal when caught in the air, and as large as a wall or tough, small and bunched.

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the manipulate festival?

Given that Manipulate supports innovative and experimental visual theatre work, I feel that my work fits within that remit and I’m fortunate to live in a city with one of the worlds few strictly visual theatre festivals.

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

That depends I think. Performance is certainly an important art form for raising issues, whether it’s a good space for public discussion depends on journalism, reviews, open discussion with the artists and platforms being made available where dialogue can be opened.

This piece explores themes of overwhelm and
being submerged by negative feeling states. I hope it will open discussion around depression and the debilitating effects of low mood. That this is something which could happen to anybody, that it can be part of the human experience and how powerful it is to be taken down by one’s own negative emotions and thoughts. I hope it will give a sense of the surprising grip of depression. 

That those who know will feel a resonance, that those who don’t know will understand more clearly. It is called ’Nothing’ re the point where it feels like ‘Nothing matters’.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have made theatre shows since the earliest I can remember. Like many kids, performing for their family. The difference is, I suppose, I never stopped.

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

Yes, it is devised in the truest sense of that word. I started in with the chosen material, polythene sheeting, in this instance and used a technique called ‘Listening to The Materials’ created by Rene Baker in which you ‘play’ very thoroughly and sensitively with the material, through improvisation. There was no remit, no brief and no narrative at that point. The emotions, situations and certain snapshot images become clear as you work. 

From those a story gradually evolves.
As a practising psychotherapist I am always interested in themes exploring the personal and intimate experience of the human condition.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes, I am drawn to text free strongly visual narratives. Working with the materials and individual snapshot images first, rather than starting with any particular ideas or a story or character/s.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope they will feel an association with the performer in dealing with the everyday monotony of life. That they will relate to the overwhelm she experiences, that they will be moved, that they will be interested in what unfolds on stage. Literally, the polythene unfolds as the story and characterisation does. However this is just a short show-of-work-in-progress. God Willing, (God being Creative Scotland), I will be lucky enough to be awarded funding to develop this to a full-length production.