Tag Archives: devising

Turning and turning in the widening gyre – Adrian Curtin on ‘playing The Maids’

Adrian Curtin, co-creator of ‘playing The Maids’ with The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash (Ireland), Theatre P’Yut (Korea), and Jing Okorn-Kuo (Singapore/Austria)  reflects on the final part of our collaborative process. What follows are his thoughts on process, form, and dramaturgy:

Flyer_playing_the_maids_FRONT

‪One of the fascinating things about this exercise in collective creation is the way the piece has taken shape. I use the phrase ‘has taken shape’ deliberately. It is not quite the same thing as ‘we have shaped the piece’. It’s a subtle semantic and grammatical distinction.‬

Maybe it’s an illusion. We have shaped the piece, obviously, and we continue to do so (having a dramaturg embedded in the process has been invaluable), but in a way it feels like the piece has taken shape without our complete or conscious understanding. We’ve proceeded intuitively. We’ve made something, and now we’re trying to figure out how we might improve upon it. And I, for one, am wondering about what it is that we have made, and what it might mean. I’m reminded of one of Goat Island Performance Company’s maxims: we have discovered a performance by making it. Effect, cause. Creation, retrospective understanding.

So what is this thing we have (un)knowingly made? I notice that we tend to call it a ‘piece’, not a ‘play’.

It’s certainly not a ‘well-made play’ in the nineteenth-century sense of the term. There’s no plot or narrative as such. It isn’t linear. There’s dramatic tension, but it’s not shaped in a conventional fashion (escalation, conflict, resolution or schism). There’s a scenario. There are characters, but they’re not stable characters. There are various modes of presentation.

Genet’s The Maids plays with a variety of scenarios, rehearsing action, and moves towards a violent conclusion. playing ‘the maids’ inhabits stasis for a lot of the time, like symbolist theatre (silence, stillness, waiting, inaction, gestures, whispers, listening, apprehending), though it resembles expressionist theatre too (phantasms, ciphers, chiaroscuro, unconscious desires, ecstatic self-abandonment). Things are perpetually put into potential, or actual, flux. It does not move toward violence but instead moves in on itself, both literally and figuratively. The (in)action is not resolved (shades of absurdism?); rather, it’s deepened, and what appears to be an intractable status quo, a permanently settled hierarchy, is revealed as a much less orderly state of affairs–mutual entanglement and complicity. Genet’s play rehearses and performs role reversal. One of the maids might ‘become’ Madame, taking her place, but that will not alter the system of power. The final scene of playing ‘the maids’ presents a more complex, and altogether more disturbing, arrangement of subjects. It replaces structure with anti-structure (choreomania?) and suggests that personal agency is a whirligig, a canard.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats’ articulation of situational chaos and barbarity is almost a hundred years old. Thinking about it in relation to the final scene of playing ‘the maids’, which one might read as a oblique commentary on capital in the twenty-first century, are we still “turning and turning in the widening gyre”?

Playing the maids…painted flowers and the dramaturgy of a skirt

A day of details, props, painting flowers and the dramaturgy of the skirt…

‘Playing the Maids’ takes as a starting point Jean Genet’s modernist drama ‘The Maids’. We are not doing a production of Genet’s text – it was the source material when starting the collaboration last September.

First edition with Mick O'Shea's sound desk puppet

First edition with Mick O’Shea’s sound desk puppet

Given our interest in the politics of power and intimacy, sibling rivalry, and the European austerity times and the boom in China and South East Asia, ‘The Maids’ was a fascinating source from which to begin exploring relationships and dynamics. As director Phillip Zarrilli put it – ‘who is it that’s smiling now?’

We have two sets of sister maids – Irish and South Korean – and one Chinese-Singaporean Madam, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo. Jing explores notions of privilege and beauty through a morphing figure of the powerful and desirable ‘Madam.’ Her choreographic work is influenced by the representation of the female from sources as broad as favourite courtesan in Beijing opera to the tragic Western ballet ‘Swan Lake.’ This is where what Phillip coined ‘the dramaturgy of the skirt’ arose from – the progression of the changing costume of Madam, especially in the form of a long sarong Jing pleats and folds to create different effects.

We have incorporated new text and found ways of further including cellist Adrian Curin and sound artist Mick O’Shea. They are on stage throughout, creating the soundscape of this world, responding to the action. I find myself watching Adrian and Mick watching our Solanges, Claires and Madam, adjusting the musical score, breathing with the performers.

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton

Supporting our intense rehearsal period is an efficient and enthusiastic small army of interns – Aoife Bradley, Katrina Foley, Josephine Dennehy and Alan Dalton – who I found merrily spray-painting silk flowers red, black, and white outside in this unexpected heatwave. We’re delighted to have them in the rehearsal room, observing part of a process usually taking place behind closed doors. It is a privilege to have the next generation of theatre makers and professionals with us on this journey.

 

 

Diary of a collaboration. Day 5.

Jing, Bernie, Sunhee, Regina, Jeungsook and Genet's 'The Maids' (first edition).

Jing, Bernie, Sunhee, Regina, Jeungsook and Genet’s ‘The Maids’ (first edition).

Images from within the rehearsal room:

mick and puppet

Mick O’Shea and puppet at the sound desk.

Regina Crowley, Bernie Cronin and Jing Okorn-Kuo.

Regina Crowley, Bernie Cronin and Jing Okorn-Kuo.

A day of running structures, testing, revising, trying, assembling….

The view form the floor

The view from the floor

Diary of a collaboration. Day 4.

Old Chinese character - 'she'

Old Chinese character – ‘she’

As one of her possible starting points for generating material, Jing Okorn-Kuo suggested old Chinese characters – as imagery to dance/work from; as a starting  point for dynamics spatially or between characters. Yesterday evening she and I explored some of the old characters for ‘wealth’, including the one above ‘she’ for extravagance, excess. 

Our project, (Playing) the Maids is not a production of Genet’s text. We are using that as a diving off point, identifying themes and issues for possible content. Wealth and the opportunities it brings is one of the differences between Genet’s Maids and the Madame, and something Jing (playing this privileged Madame figure) was keen to explore.

This starting point led overnight to some text I wrote, informed by the meanings and imagery of the old Chinese characters, and several movement sequences that Jing developed. We started playing with these this morning, alongside a bilingual script Phillip Zarrilli, Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim transcribed, edited, and translated into English from the original improvisation in Korean they had made earlier that day.

Phillip, Sunhee and Jeungsook working from the video of their improvisation

Phillip, Sunhee and Jeungsook working from the video of their improvisation

We are documenting everything as we proceed in this intense period. I film, photograph and notate each structure, and my colleagues all have their own way of noting their work. This will be essential now in this next part of our process, as we begin reviewing, revising, editing, and rehearsing the many sequences, scenes, and structures we have explored so far.

Diary of a collaboration.Day 3.

props During our previous two days collaboration, we shared song, sounds, music and dance representatives of ‘Madam’ figures from our respective cultural backgrounds; we’ve explored initial texts generated by individuals of the ensemble in response to the stimulus text (Genet’s The Maids); we’ve made physical and text-basd improvisations in response to the sound environment Adrian Curtin and Mick O’Shea created, and in response to themes such as ‘siblings’, ‘servitude’, ‘distance’ and ‘intimacy’. This morning we begin with the starting point of props, puppets and costumes. props 2 Gaitkrash (Bernadette Cronin, Regina Crowley and Mick O’Shea) brought a treasure trove of objects from their Cabinet of Curiosities, which emerged from the ensemble’s first collaboration in 2007.

Cabinets of curiosity, a phenomenon of the Renaissance, traditionally presented the rare, the exceptional and the marvelous, encompassing both ‘God’s creation’ and man’s art. Performed by hands in the twelve mini-theatres of the cabinet, curious objects – animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic – shift, morph and mutate under the spectator’s gaze. The visual images wrestle, dance and pause in conversation with unique sound sculptures. no stories or narratives are offered – these take shape in the mind of the spectator. This wondrous cabinet of sound and vision beckons the spectator to dream-time.                                                                                     source: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=500824779954141&id=276412909061997

Phillip Zarrilli with one of Mick O'Shea's puppets

Phillip Zarrilli with one of Mick O’Shea’s puppets

Phillip brought out various puppets, with which we explored agency and manipulation, prompting various instantaneous improvisations, where Sunhee and Jeungsook manipulated Adrian as he played the cello.

mainds and adrian

Already, even after such a short period together, we are beginning to see possibilities for assemblage – content that has resonance and complicity – counter-point and dissonance.

We begin to give names to sounds and combinations Mick and Adrian are making so that we may be able to identify and recreate them once we begin to montage. We could continue generating material forever, but already I am itching to put certain structures, texts, and physical scores together….

Diary of a collaboration. Day 2.

Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo

Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo

Beijing opera. The theme tune for Father Ted. Adrian Curtin’s haiku. Korean traditional dance. Irish folk music. Bach. Cathleen ni Houlihan….

A second day of contrasts and diversity. The gathered ensemble of Irish, Singaporean Chinese, South Korean and American practitioners unpack and display ideas, sounds, music and influences, informed by certain themes from Genet’s The Maids. Jeungsook Yoo shows a courtesan dance from Korean traditional dance, Jing Okorn-Kuo sings the maiden song from Beijing Opera, Regina Crowley shares a Dolores Keane folk song…. all representations of a kind of ‘Madam’ – the beautiful, privileged one from our different cultures.

Again, I am astonished and thankful for the ease with which we collaborate. But it’s not by chance. The shared vocabulary in the psychophysical approach to actor training which director Phillip Zarrilli has developed, using T’ai Chi and Kalaripayyattu helps. All five performers have trained with Phillip over many years.

Jing, Bernie and Regina improvising

Jing, Bernie and Regina improvising

‘It’s a mode of being, of operation we share,’ Sunhee Kim says.

‘But the bottom line is the work,’ Jing adds. ‘It’s a great group of people who walk in to do the work. Having said that, Phillip’s training gives us tools to stay within that work, to deal with the ups and downs – and there always will be ups and downs.’

‘You’re grounded,’ Sunhee continues. ‘The training gives you a grounding and if you’re grounded, you can be moved by other dynamic. If you don’t have a sense of solid ground, you cannot be adventurous, because you’ll be scared about where you’ll end up. Having a practice makes you freer; you’re not rigid.’

Diary of a collaboration. 8 days. Late August 2013.

diary

Where to begin?

The day before rehearsals start. The cliched still before the storm. Or, rather, a very restless, busy ‘stillness’, filled with reading and cleaning and searching and thinking and just standing, looking idly at nothing and everything….

So how do you prepare for a collaborative research and development week with an international group of artists, some of whom you’ve never even met?

We know our jumping off point – Genet’s The Maids. Our director has asked us to gather stimuli and propose specific entry points to themes we individually find in the script.

Various translations of Genet’s The Maids have been read, five beds have been made, bean stew for eleven prepared, travel instructions and directions to a rural location emailed… Music, images, and poetry with some form of resonance have been located, sleep has been interrupted, on and off line research pursued, a Genet biography read, past reviews sucked over, possible costumes envisaged and still I pace and deliciously fret and worry ‘What else…what else?’

One week is a a short time.

One week is a very short time for any form of collaboration, never mind one crammed with ideas and different entry points and diverse perspectives and a large company of five performers, one sound artist, one cellist, one director, three observers and one dramaturg (me). And five languages.

One week is a very short time to begin work with any real comprehension on new material generated by the group, never mind one coming together for the first time with artists from Wales, US, South Korea, Singapore and Ireland.

One week is a very short time to gather recently made material into any kind of comprehensive structure and dramaturgy – never mind then sharing it with a discerning audience of artists.

Which is what we are about to do.

And I shall endeavour to document it this week, end of August 2013.

Fasten your seat belts. It’s gonna be a bumpy (and I hope exhilarating) ride.

THE COLLABORATION is between The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash (Rep. of Ireland) and Theatre P’Yut (South Korea).

The project will be performed by a five woman ensemble working multi-linguistically between English, Korean, and Mandarin (with possibly Irish Gaelic, British Sign Language, and German), accompanied by two on-stage musicians.

The artistic team includes:

  • Director: Phillip Zarrilli, LLANARTH GROUP (Wales)
  • Dramaturg/Playwright: Kaite O’Reilly, LLANARTH GROUP (Wales)
  • Soundscape/environment: Mick O’Shea, GAITKRASH, assisted by guest musician/cellist, Adrian Curtin (Ireland/UK)
  • Choreographers: Jing Hong Kuo, LLANARTH GROUP (Singapore), and Jeungsook Yoo (traditional Korean dance, THEATRE P’YUT)
  • Performers: Jing Hong Kuo (LLANARTH GROUP, from Singapore Regina Crowley and Bernie Cronin (GAITKRASH)
  • Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim (THEATRE P’YUT)