Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Trolling Dramaturgy: Rob Crouch @ Edfringe 2016

The Vile Arts questions for Rob Crouch

Trolling - by Rob Crouch directed by 5-time Fringe First award winner Hannah Eidinow
Pleasance Courtyard | 3 - 29 August 2016
A brand new thriller about the dark side of the internet that will make audiences think twice about sharing their reaction on Facebook afterwards.

Oliver Reed: Wild Thingstarring Rob Crouch
Gilded Balloon | 3 - 29 August 2016
Following its world premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe, a UK tour and an acclaimed London this tour-de-force shows returns by popular demand with an incredible performance by Rob Crouch

 What was the inspiration for this performance?
I co-created a play about hellraiser Oliver Reed a few years ago (which we've also brought back to Edinburgh  this year) and the jumping off point for that was based on a specific ​moment where an actress threw a drink at Ollie​ on a chat show​. 

I wanted to get an audience member up on stage to throw a drink at me. Everything else came from there. With Trolling there was a ​particular technical effect I wanted to achieve. It turns out that it was actually impossible with this version of the play and was becoming a distraction as we developed it so we've cut it from the Edinburgh show.  

I don't want to be too specific because we might use it in a future version but this moment, even though it's no longer there, was the first one I thought of. Even blind alleys ​and red herrings can be beginnings.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I started kicking the idea around when I was co-artistic director of a company called DonkeyWork.  Alan Sharpington, who was the other half of the Donkey​,​ has been working with me on the script since the start as a sounding​-​board and dramaturg. I had worked with producer James Seabright before and ​as the play began to take shape I ​asked him to ​help. He often works with director Hannah E​idinow and she has a great reputation for delivering new writing​,​ so I asked James to approach her. I knew Hannah socially but this is the first time we've worked together. 

She suggested Jo Bending. I ​actually​ started​ writ​ing​ ​the play​ with a completely different actor in mind but ​once Hannah suggested Jo, I couldn't​ imagine anyone ​else ​​playing ​the role. I knew ​Jo quite well socially too - we met in Edinburgh in 2012 (we bonded over the terror we both felt doing one-person shows​ for the first time​)​, ​​we had a running gag about starting a double act called Bending and Crouch. I guess we've finally fulfilled that ambition.

How did you become interested in making performance?
​I have always done it​. Starting with school plays, then university and after graduating I started a company with a friend and produced shows on the London fringe. 

We raised the money by just asking friends and friends' parents to invest - basically crowd-funding. We made a profit from our first show, everyone involved got an equal share and some of us just put our shares back in to do another show.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
​In that it has been very collaborative, yes. But it is the first thing I have written (more or less) alone and the first thing that is completely invented (rather than an adaptation of an existing story or based on real events). 

I think the process is always different because the material is never the same. Different directors bring different methods too. A tutor of mine used to tell a story about John Gielgud who, when asked what the most important thing about a performance was, said 'style' (I always imagine he then said 'dear boy'). When asked to define this ​further, ​he said 'know what kind of play you're in'. 

I think this is vital and an important part of the director's role is to make sure that everyone is in the same kind of play. ​Alan, who I mentioned above, ​always mocks me for continually repeating the Gielgud quote. The other story I always tell is about the actor Alfred Molina, I heard him being interviewed and he talked about being directed by Steven Spielberg in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He was playing this tough jungle guide, right at the beginning of the film and there is a moment where the script demanded that he does a comedy fall off a rock. 

He says that he'd been on the movie a few days and was feeling confident so approached the director and said 'look, my character is this tough, native guide... I'm not sure in real life he'd fall off this rock'. Spielberg apparently looked at him for some time then said 'I don't know much about real life but I do know about movies. I think you should fall off the rock...' I have probably told that story every time I have worked on a show because however much you want to find some kind of truth in theatrical performance it must always be in some way theatrical.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
​An interesting story well told.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Trolling is about the online world. I was thinking about whole elements of the show that would be available online, even streaming the show on Periscope or having chunks of it on YouTube. Also contacting the audience through social media while it was actually going on. I got a little annoyed by the fur​o​re about audience mobile phones and so on that was raging a few months ago. 

My view is that it is part of life and we have to deal with it. I find it odd that theatre makers are trying to break down boundaries and encourage a younger, more participatory audience while being so sniffy about something as minor as a phone ringing. The huffing and tutting that surrounds it is far more damaging than the phone.

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
​Part of me thinks 'blimey, I wouldn't dare presume' when looking at that question but I suppose the answer is that I am actually quite old fashioned. My work is mostly text based and part of an English theatre tradition that is irreverent and playful but also interested in language. I love physical theatre and clowning and non-European theatre forms so always look to create a ragbag of influences. I think Trolling is the furthest I have travelled from any of these influences though. 

It's very wordy, very tech-heavy and quite dark but, for me, part of the original definition of the internet troll was about irreverence and play, as well as the more sinister aspects that everyone expects. I had this sense that actors themselves are trolls (or trolls are a kind of actor) - hopefully this means there is a bit of levity amid the nastiness in this piece too.

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