Saturday, 30 July 2016

How I Learned to Dramaturg Myself: Shaelee Rooke and Toby Hulse 2016

Shaedates: or How I Learned to Love Myself
5 Aug 2016 - 20 Aug 2016 (16:30)
Shaelee Rooke
After her award-winning performance in This is Where We Live, Shaelee Rooke is back with her new one-woman show, directed by Toby Hulse. Shae has a boyfriend but she knows he's not the one. Then she notices someone else... someone different... someone who's always been there. A tender, surreal and wildly imaginative comedy about a woman who finds true love by dating herself.

What was the inspiration for this performance? 

SHAE: Learning to enjoy your own company is a really important lesson. And one I only really learned recently. My husband got a job on a long running West End show, and so we moved from Bristol to London. I found myself feeling a bit lonely in big city, with a lot of time to myself...  I began going out alone, joking I was dating myself. At first, this was really uncomfortable, I didn't like it. But over time, I started to really enjoy my own company, and my whole outlook changed. I felt compelled to write about it. I started researching the topic of self-love and came across the story of Grace Gelder, the woman who married herself, and other stories of romancing one’s self, and felt inspired to create a comedy piece that celebrated the joy of self-love, self care and self discovery...

TOBY: When Shae first came to me with the idea, I knew that we could take it in one of a number of directions.  Was this a confessional piece?  Was this a piece to inspire an audience to self-discovery?  Was this a satire of contemporary online, social media focused, attitudes to dating, love and relationships?  

Was this, at heart, actually a rom-com?  And what form would it take?  Storytelling? Stand up?  Multi-roling?  Something that explored the idea of being alone onstage?  In the end, the piece that we have created exists somewhere in the space between all of these.

Is theatre still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
SHAE: Yes, absolutely. Good theatre inspires discussion. It's a form of self-expression. It provides an opportunity to self-examine, as individuals and as a society. And above all, it's a shared experience, which immediately creates lubrication for communication. 

 When it's really good, it makes people want to talk to each other... The usual boundaries we create - "Don't talk to strangers"! - are broken down. I saw Rotterdam, by Jon Brittain, directed by Donnacadh O'Briain last year and it demonstrated a perfect example of this. Through comedy, the play deals with deep, complex transgender issues in an easy, moving and immediately approachable manner. 

When the play finished, everyone in the theatre stood, clapped and then chatted to each other on the way out. Strangers shared drinks in the pub afterwards and discussed transgender issues in an open and accepting way. It reminded my why theatre is important. Everyone in that audience felt like they had been through something together. 

Through comedy, the play deals with deep, complex transgender issues in
easy, moving and immediately approachable manner. When the play finished, everyone in the theatre stood, clapped and then chatted to each other on the way out. Strangers shared drinks in the pub afterwards discussed transgender issues in a open and accepting way I had never heard before. It reminded my why theatre is important. Everyone in that audience felt like they had been through something together. 

TOBY: One of the fundamentals of theatre is the shared experience.  The performers are in the same space as the audience, sharing a story with them.  The performers, the audience, the story - all elements exist equally and give validation to the others.  Remove one and you no longer have theatre.  It is an act of shared creation.  Theatre cannot help but be a public discussion of ideas.  

And, whilst it is useless at giving answers, because it is based on pretence, a knowing fiction to which all are party, it is brilliant at asking questions (look at the difference in the success of Brecht's early agitprop plays, in which he tries to provide dogmatic answers, compared to the success of his great later plays, in which he forces to ask some really complex questions of ourselves and our society - Mother Courage is most definitely theatre, The Measures Taken something closer to an enacted lecture).

The challenge, as always, is engaging the people with whom we would like to have these discussions in the act of walking into a theatre and seeing a show.

How did you become interested in making performance?

SHAE: It's something I've always been interested in. I've always loved stories. I love hearing them and I love telling them, and until recently I played my part in the storytelling process as an actor. But I always wanted to write. When I first had the idea for Shaedates, I knew it was a story worth telling, and I welcomed the challenge of writing my first piece. 

TOBY: I believe that everyone has a different and equally valid way of understanding the world, and expressing their understandings.  The physicist does it in one way, a gymnast in another, a collector of stamps in yet another.  The difficulty is recognising what your unique language is.  I got lucky.  From a very early age I knew that being in the same room as someone else, and telling them a story, was my language.  I have tried to write novels, for instance, but they always come out as plays.  I can't understand the world in any other way.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

SHAE: Shaedates is the first play I have written, and the first show I have made from scratch. It was made mostly through improvisation. Toby and I spent four days in a studio developing the idea. We wrote a structure and then I improvised each scene. Toby would make frantic notes of things that worked, ideas that could be developed or explored further, and we continued improvising and devising until we'd polished up a play. Then I scripted it, with Toby's help. 

TOBY: This improvising/devising process is usual to me when creating clown shows for very young audiences, although what we are discovering and refining in these shows are the games that will come to form the backbone of the piece in performance.  It was a fantastic challenge to use the same principles in the discovery and development of text and complex narrative.  It reminded me of how much a one person show is a conversation, a game played with the material of the story itself.  There is, after all, no one else onstage to play with!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

SHAE: The play makes you laugh and reflect in equal measure. It's a lot of fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. I want the audience to have a really good time. I want them to leave feeling warmer about life and themselves. 

TOBY: In addition, both Shae and I have overactive imaginations that skew the world into wonderful and unexpected shapes.  I hope that the audience, as well as laughing and reflecting, will see the world as a slightly stranger and more extraordinary place.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

SHAE: The piece was first presented as a work-in-progress performance, as part of Bristol Ferment. This gave me a chance to experiment, to try out the play on an audience and gauge their reaction. I also invited their feedback afterwards which was incredibly valuable. It's impossible to know how a play, especially a comedy, will resonate with an audience without trying it out live for them. 

I could feel that some parts didn't work, other parts soared, and overall it was a bit too long. After the work-in-progress, we had another development period in which we chopped and changed lots of the piece. I was never precious about the material, I think it's really important to stay flexible with your work. Even after the final preview last week, I decided that certain lines needed to be cut, hangovers from previous drafts that were no longer needed.  

TOBY: This shaping process is ongoing, if the piece is to remain a genuine conversation with the audience.  It's easier in a comic piece - audience feedback is immediate and audible in the form of laughter, and once we are laughing we are encouraged to respond more vocally to other non-comic elements.  We listen, we watch, we feel and we respond.

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