Tag Archives: Jeungsook Yoo

Adrian Curtin: Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of ‘playing The Maids’

Playing The Maids

In 2014/15 I had the great pleasure of collaborating with Gaitkrash, Theatre P’Yut, the Llanarth Group and independent artists Jing Okorn Kuo and Adrian Curtin on playing ‘The Maids’, a response to Genet’s Modernist play. Our process was fully documented on this blog, and my co-creators have been reflecting on our process since, publishing articles in various journals and on-line platforms. The following is the opening to a fascinating essay by cellist and co-creator Adrian Curtin, with a link to the full text, below.

With thanks to Adrian and Contemporary Theatre Review/Taylor and Francis Online. 

Recomposing Genet: Analysing the Musicality of ‘playing The Maids’

by Adrian Curtin

Track 01: Prelude

In 2012 Deutsche Grammophon released an album entitled Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Max Richter, Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, André de Ridder, Konzerthaus Kammerorchester Berlin, Daniel Hope. Part of their ‘ReComposed’ series, which includes electronic remixes of classical recordings, this album features a ‘recomposition’ of Vivaldi’s score rather than a remix of a prior recording of the work. Richter explains:

I wanted to make the piece because I loved the Vivaldi. So it was my way of having a conversation with Vivaldi. I decided to rewrite the score on a note level, which meant re-recording it with an orchestra. [That] let me […] get inside it and […] start to work with the alchemy of the material itself, and […] gave me much more scope in terms of what I could do with it. I […] went through [Vivaldi’s score], picking my favourite bits and kind of ‘turning those up’ and making new objects out of those. It was […] like a sculptor having fantastic raw material and just putting it together in a way which kind of pleased me.

he Four Seasons, which has become depressingly familiar through tinny reproductions heard on the telephone, in shopping malls, and on elevators and airplanes, gets a new lease of life courtesy of Richter’s recomposition. Richter abstracts elements from Vivaldi’s concertos (about 25 per cent, in his estimation) and gives them a new spin, looping and collaging fragments, creating new textures, recasting the patterns of baroque music as electronica-inflected post-minimalism. Richter’s version provides an uncanny listening experience. It sounds both familiar and unfamiliar; the composer deliberately subverts expectations in places. The effect is disconcerting, but intriguing – rather like overhearing a delightfully skewed mental rendition of Vivaldi’s iconic work.

Musical recomposition is not new. As Joseph N. Straus observes: ‘[t]he desire to recompose the works of one’s predecessors seems to be almost as old as Western music itself’. Straus argues that twentieth-century composers such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Webern were prompted to recompose the work of earlier composers as a result of ‘anxiety of influence’ (Harold Bloom’s famous phrase). ‘In their recompositions’, Straus writes, ‘[these twentieth-century composers] reinterpreted the past in order to avoid being crushed by it. They attempted to neutralize significant or characteristic works of the past by imposing upon them a new, distinctively twentieth-century musical structure’. Richter’s statements about his recomposition of The Four Seasons suggest that he was motivated, not by a struggle for artistic autonomy, but by a desire to enter into dialogue with Vivaldi and create something that would complement this canonical work and allow it to be heard differently.

It is commonplace for playwrights and theatre-makers to adapt existing dramatic material and present it in an altered, updated form. This can involve deliberate subversion of the source material. For instance, Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s score is suggestive of contemporary ‘Regie’ approaches to theatre and opera, as undertaken in continental Europe. Regie ‘plays’ with the text in an often overt, directorially provocative manner. It can lead to the ‘recomposition’ of a text for performance.  To my knowledge, the term ‘recomposing’ has not been used to refer to the creation of new theatre that directly draws on an acknowledged ‘primary’ source (i.e. an existing play). Yet, it is an apt term to use, I suggest, when discussing work that borrows from the dramatic canon but eschews the conventions of dramatic theatre in favour of alternative ‘compositional’ methods. Matthias Rebstock and David Roesner have proposed the term ‘composed theatre’ for work that, in Roesner’s words, ‘[brings] the musical notion of composing to the theatrical aspects of performing and staging’. This aligns with ‘recent developments towards postdramatic forms that de-emphasise text, narrative, and fictional characters, seeking alternative dramaturgies (visual, spatial, temporal, musical), and focusing on the sonic and visual materialities of the stage and the performativity of their material components’. Composed theatre does not simply refer to the use of music in theatre; rather, it is a way of conceptualising theatre made using compositional strategies and techniques that are ‘typical of musical composition’. Recomposed theatre, I propose, may denote theatre that explicitly reworks pre-existing source material from theatre history in a musically compositional manner. The term provides a new way of thinking about adaptation.

An example of recomposed theatre is playing ‘the maids’, a co-created piece made by an international ensemble of seven artists working with Kaite O’Reilly (dramaturg) and Phillip Zarrilli (director) that premiered at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff in February 2015. playing ‘the maids’ previewed at the Granary Theatre in Cork, Ireland as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival on 20–21 June 2014. It was performed at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff on 19–21 and 27–28 February 2015, in Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon on 26 February 2015, and at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 6 March 2015. A 14-minute promotional video is available here. 

Three theatre companies collaborated on this project: The Llanarth Group (Wales), Gaitkrash Theatre Company (Republic of Ireland), and Theatre P’yut (South Korea). Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo (from Singapore) and I (also from Ireland) worked with these companies as independent artists (Okorn-Kuo as an actor/devisor, I as a cellist/devisor). As the title suggests, playing ‘the maids’ relates to Jean Genet’s classic drama Les Bonnes (The Maids, 1947). However, it was not a production of that play. This was stated in the programme. There have, of course, been many experimental stagings of Genet’s texts. For an account of key productions of The Maids, see David Bradby and Clare Finburgh, Jean Genet (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012). Rather, it used Genet’s text as creative inspiration, focusing on its character relationships and power dynamics as part of an oblique investigation of modern servitude, wealth-as-privilege, cultural notions of guilt and oppression, phantasms, and the politics of intimacy. It took themes from Genet’s play and recomposed them via a montage of newly written, found, and adapted text (primarily English-language, with some Mandarin, Korean, and Irish), psychophysical scores, choreography, and sound compositions that Mick O’Shea (a sound artist) and I performed onstage. The production featured two sets of maids, one Irish (performed by Bernadette Cronin and Regina Crowley) and one Korean (performed by Sunhee Kim and Jeungsook Yoo). Okorn-Kuo played a Chinese ‘madame. I will refer to Okorn-Kuo’s character as ‘madame’ rather than ‘Madame’ to differentiate her from Genet’s creation. The idea of using lower-case spelling for this purpose is Zarrilli’s. Similar to Richter’s recomposed Four Seasons, playing ‘the maids’ appropriated a canonical work for the artists’ own purposes, mining the source-text for raw material, re-contextualising it, and playing it anew.

In this article I will outline how playing ‘the maids’ functioned as a stage composition, and more precisely as recomposed theatre, by analysing its musicality. I will consider the sonic/musical components of playing ‘the maids’ as well as musically inflected aspects such as its dramaturgy and performance style. In this, I follow Roesner’s lead in treating musicality as a ‘perceptive quality that goes beyond the aural sphere’ to attend to ‘musical qualities or relationships of non-auditory events, such as silent movement, gesture, or even colour schemes’. David Roesner, Musicality in Theatre: Music as Model, Method and Metaphor in Theatre-Making(Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), p. 14. Analysing playing ‘the maids’ using this theoretical lens illuminates various aspects of contemporary theatre-making and demonstrates the significance of their inter-operation here. These aspects include the creative re-use of canonical source material, international collaboration, intercultural dramaturgy, musicality as process and paradigm, the continuing relevance of Genet’s work, and the vibrant legacy of theatrical modernism. My analysis of playing ‘the maids’as an example of ‘recomposed theatre’ is not meant to foreclose other ways of conceiving it. I primarily situate the piece in relation to western concepts and cultural traditions because of my background and knowledge specialism. I recognise that the piece might be interpreted outside the context of modernism, for instance. My collaborators Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim have co-authored their own scholarly account of this piece. See Jeungsook Yoo and Sunhee Kim, ‘The Actor’s Process of Negotiating Difference and Particularity in Intercultural Theatre Practice’, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 7.3 (2016), 417–37. I develop these motifs in the following ‘tracks’.

The rest of Adrian Curtin’s essay can be accessed here.


Guest blog: The Water Station: ‘Living Human Silence’ by Phillip Zarrilli

‘On 28 September 2015 director Phillip Zarilli published a feature in Exeunt on the links between his performance of Ota Shogo’s “Slow Theatre” play currently touring Norway and the European refugee crisis. It is with great pleasure I reproduce this here, with thanks to Exeunt magazine: www.exeuntmagazine.com

Ota Shogo’s The Water Station: Living Human Silence.                              By Phillip Zarrilli

Hilde Stensland (Norway) and Jeungsook Yoo (Korea) in 'The Water Station' by Ota Shogo. Nordland teater September 2015

Hilde Stensland (Norway) and Jeungsook Yoo (Korea) in ‘The Water Station’ by Ota Shogo. Nordland teater September 2015


Three years ago when Birgitte Strid, Artistic Director at Nordland Teater, invited me to direct the first major production of The Water Station with an international cast since the 2004 production I directed in Singapore, we had no idea that at this specific moment in time there would be thousands of people on the move around the perimeter of the Mediterranean and across Europe.

The Water Station has a very simple structure: in nine scenes a series of refugees/migrants/travellers are on the move coming from a far distant place, and are continuing on the still longer journey toward some place beyond. Some are individuals traveling alone such as The Girl, or Woman with a Parasol; others are in pairs Two Men, or Husband and Wife with Baby Carriage; or in a group: The Caravan. They appear along a pathway. Just behind the pathway is a huge heap of discarded ’junk’—objects left by those on this long journey. Once they appear along the pathway, each individual, pair or group encounters and interacts with a constantly running stream of water flowing from a broken water faucet into a pool of water in a catchment area. Each of the travellers encounters the water in their own way. Some observe or encounter another traveler. All eventually continue their journey toward whatever lies beyond. From the audience’s perspective, where these travellers have come from and where they are going we do not know. They eventually pass out of view…heading somewhere.

Navtej Johar (India), Rune S. Loding (Norway), Leammuid Biret Ravndna (Sami community/Norway)

Navtej Johar (India), Rune S. Loding (Norway), Leammuid Biret Ravndna (Sami community/Norway)

First created and performed in Tokyo in 1981 by Ōta Shōgo and his theatre company–Theatre of Transformation (Tenkei Gekijo), the production subsequently toured central Europe and the US in the mid-1980s. Ōta and his company were searching for a way to stage “living human silence”—how to turn down the volume or “noise” in our everyday lives in order to be present to the realities of our immediate environment. In that moment of quiet the audience become ‘witnesses’ to what is before us today in the immediate present…people on the move toward somewhere else.

In London on Thursday, 17 September 2015 Chinese artist Ai WeiWei and British artist Anish Kapoor initiated an eight mile London Walk as an artistic act on behalf of the refugee crisis in Europe. Both have major exhibitions currently open in London. Speaking to The Guardian, Kapoor explained how “This is a walk of compassion, a walk together as if we were walking to the studio…Peaceful. Quiet. Creative…It is important that artists are not outside the equation, we don’t stand on the sidelines. Artists are part of the story of a response, we cannot stand aside and let others make the response.”

Nordland Teatre’s production of The Water Station is inevitably “part of the [current] equation”. The Water Station is an artistic response to the age-old realities for peoples across the world of migration–those seeking refuge, fleeing persecution, and/or those returning ‘home’ after long-term conflicts. The Water Station reflects Ōta’s childhood experience. Along with other Japanese ex-colonists in China at the end of World War II, as a six-year-old Ōta and his family had to undertake an extremely long and exhausting two month journey of repatriation from China back to Japan. Along with the other Japanese being repatriated, he and his family walked almost endlessly for miles and miles, living in tents, and occasionally travelling by freight train as well by boat. The same experience of course was happening in many locations throughout the world with movements of other people at the end of World War II. In China, the Japanese had been permitted to take what belongings they were able to carry; however, during their long trek, many people on their long road of return discarded what they could no longer carry. As one biographer notes,

‘The themes, scenography and style of [Ōta’s] theatre can be related to these childhood memories. His intense concern with the ontology of human existence can be traced back to the need for sheer survival in his early childhood. A sense of the hardship of living and of the proximity of death characterizes his plays. Wide, bare landscapes through which characters travel, carrying their scanty belongings, provide the setting of all…of his Station plays written between 1981 and 1998 …The weak, disabled, and unwanted are featured in many of his plays.’

With its slowed down everyday movement, this non-verbal performance lasts 100 minutes and creates a completely different experience for an audience from narratively driven, text-based theatre. In his theatre aesthetic, Ōta developed a process of ‘divestiture’–discarding or paring away of anything unnecessary including spoken language so that actors and audience alike are taken out of their everyday world in order to focus on the irreducible elements of our shared human existence—what Ōta calls “the ‘unparaphrasable realm of experience”. The script for The Water Station is a sparse 20 page document—a simple record of the basic staging and images Ōta and his company devised from a diverse set of source materials. Although this is a non-verbal performance, as Ōta explains, “there are words here…you simply can’t hear them.”

Florencia Cordeu (Argentina) and Bjorn Ole Odegard (Norway)

Florencia Cordeu (Argentina) and Bjorn Ole Odegard (Norway)

Given the current refugee crisis, The Water Station has tremendous immediate resonance for all of us within the EU and throughout the world. This production has been planned around an internationally/ethnically diverse cast of ten including Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo (Chinese Singaporean), Jeungsook Yoo (Korea), Navtej Johar (India), Florencia Cordeu (Argentina/Chile), and six actors from Norway including Leammuid Biret Ravndna from the local Sami community, as well as Bjorn Ole Odegard, Ivar Furre Aam, Rune Loding, Stein Hiller Elvestad, and Hilde Stensland. The international cast reflects on-stage the historical, world-wide nature of issue of those seeking refuge during and after conflicts whether either of the two world wars, the horrific period of post World War II Indian partition, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Rwandan genocide, or the current Syrian conflict. Each has produced its own massive ‘refugee crisis’.
But according to Ōta, The Water Station is located not in any single one of the above specific historical instances of migration due to conflicts, but rather “anywhere and everywhere, [in] a place out of time.” One critic described The Water Station as a “quiet chamber piece that speaks in the rich language of silence to the neglected part of the soul”. Writing in The Straits Times, Clarissa Oon described the 2004 Singapore production of The Water Station I directed with an international cast from eleven different countries as

“…a wordless…tone poem whose silent chords struck notes of exile, loss and fraying endurance…[T]he water station [is] an oasis of sorts for thirsty sojourners…[E]ach sequence…told its own story through stillness and the most distilled of movement…[E]ach performer shed his name, cultural marker, and actorly ego. Voices silenced, their bodies were subsumed into the chamber piece, which in turn became an exercise in quietude…the emotions felt frighteningly raw.”

After the premiere run at Nordland Teatre in Mo I Rana, ten miles south of the Arctic Circle, the production tours the district of Nordland with performances in far-flung locations above and just below the Arctic Circle–Sandnessjoen, Mosjoen, Bodo, Svolvaer, Sortland, Stokmarkness, Narvik, Hamaroy, and Bronnoysund.

If we look back far enough, all of us will discover migration in our family histories. I am an Italian-American who migrated to Wales sixteen years ago. My paternal grandfather migrated to the US from southern Italy at the end of the nineteenth century seeking religious freedom. My paternal grandmother’s family migrated to the US from Oxfordshire several centuries ago. Viewing the current production of The Water Station today is equally an act of witnessing, and an opportunity for reflection on what one witnesses both within and beyond the theatre. The roads of Ota Shogo’s play lead through contemporary Europe, to far-flung locations around the world, to traverse our own stories.

Read more about Phillip Zarrilli’s work on his website here

‘Stunning..’ 5 Star Review for ‘playing The Maids’


Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, 'playing The Maids'

Regina Crowley and Bernadette Cronin of Gaitkrash, ‘playing The Maids’

The Public Reviews

Reviewer: Denis Lennon


If you are looking for a production of Jean Genet’s The Maids when you come to Chapter to watch Playing ‘The Maids’ you will find something else entirely, and may not get what you came for. What you will get, however, is a performance that engages and interrogates the notions of servitude within Genet’s world – a world where two sister maids play out fantasies to kill their Madame. For an audience, this production raises far more questions than it attempts to answer. It poses a challenge for the audience to scrutinise the power dynamics present within the 2015 zeitgeist. This is a refreshing break from the patronising didacticism we are all too often privy to in theatre today.
With this intercultural collaboration between the Irish Gaitkrash Company, the Korean Theatre P’yut and Wales based Llanarth Group, something of rare complexity, beauty and conviction has been created under the guidance of director Phillip Zarrilli and dramaturge Kaite O’Reilly.
“You look at me as if I am moving, it’s not me moving, I am being moved.”
The piece situates itself in a metatheatrical limbo: one minute we have one of Genet’s maids in front of us onstage, the next the same actor speaks her own name as stated very clearly in the programme on our laps. These transitions, from one reality to another, are not always obvious, leaving the audience in a constant state of questioning who exactly they are looking at, at any one moment. The way the company play with this ambiguity is inspired and had me (at times, literally) on the edge of my seat and still has me questioning the power dynamics present within the piece and, now, wider society.
All performers, including the musicians, in this production show a seamless cohesion with one another which creates an atmosphere and necessary moments of tension so palpable that the audience on the night held tightly onto any tickles in their throats to the end.
Apart from this wonderful production’s existential qualities, it serves the audience with an aesthetic feast from the belly-butterfly inducing crescendos created by cellist Adrian Curtin and sound artist Mick O’Shea, to the hilariously jarring Chinese night club karaoke of the Madame (Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo).
All this is interwoven by, sometimes subtle, humour throughout, for example when we hear the Irish sisters (Bernadette Cronin & Regina Crowley) threaten each other with a tirade of violent imagery, whilst always remaining sisterly or when the Korean sisters (Jeungsook Yoo & Sunhee Kim) display their fascination with the Madame’s beauty products with a hilarious, but poignant, childishness. These performances are all stunning.
If there is anything amiss in this performance, so much is the level of engagement that I did not notice it. Even the times I started to question any particular choice, such as the use of a distorted microphone to read stage directions, these choices were always justified later –it turns out the distortion of the voice serves a wonderful disembodied quality necessary for the metatheatricality of the piece.
This performance is something that will stay with me for some time and I urge you to see.

Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Thurs-Sat 19-21 February and Friday-Saturday 27-28 February, all at 8pm

02920 304400 / www.chapter.org


Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon

Thursday 26 February at 8pm

01874 611622 / www.brycheiniog.co.uk


Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Friday 6 March at 7.30pm

01970 623232 / www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk

In praise of theatre and collaboration

Making theatre can be life affirming, Sometimes when I collaborate with others, I realise how remarkable humans can be. At the great risk of sounding like some evangelising naïf who has just undergone a religious conversion, or taken too much MDMA, I have to say working with Gaitkrash, The Llanarth Group and Theatre P’Yut has been one of the most rich, harmonious and satisfying experiences of my working life.

And this wasn’t just because of the cultural diversity, and the astounding connections we found between Irish and Korean cultures (one of my favourite moments was the interweaving of Irish Sean nos -‘old style’ solo singing mingling with Sal Puri, a dance from the Korean Shamanistic tradition for the release of han); it was the generosity of the individuals involved – performers Regina Crowley, Bernadette Cronin, Jeungsook Yoo, Sunhee Kim, Jing Hong Okorn-Kuo, cellist Adrian Curtin, sound artist Mick O’Shea and all the interns from Cork, the young practitioners and technicians working with us, notably Josephine Dennehy and Katrina Foley. It was the joy of working with my long-term collaborator director Phillip Zarrilli, the speed and ease of our interactions and dialogue, the swift comprehension and response of our co-creators, the generosity of so many, not least our Fundit supporters, who assisted in making this happen.

In a difficult time, when so much feels compromised and austere, challenging and aggressive, when education is run as a business and integrity has been leached from our economic and financial structures, to collaborate and work generously and with commitment with others, seems, frankly, miraculous. It is good practice. It is communicative. It is political. It is thoughtful. It is communal. It has flow. It is efficient. It is creative. It is building many things – not just an experience for an audience, but team work, communication skills, an understanding of good working dynamic, problem solving, a sense of community and our individual and collective roles in that. It teaches patience, encourages understanding and empathy, creates a forum where difference is explored, ideas are shared, debates are made, connections possibly felt. As drama and art are cut totally from the school curriculum, as the arts are seen even more as a luxury rather than a necessity, as culture as creative endeavour is driven increasingly out of our lives, I am increasingly aware of what we are losing and feel we must resist this at every cost.

The dramaturg’s progress

'Playing the Maids' rehearsal from Adrian Cirtain's point of view

‘Playing the Maids’ rehearsal from Adrian Cirtain’s point of view

I am in Cork, working with The Llanarth Group, Irish company Gaitkrash and Theatre P’Yut from South Korea on Playing the Maids for the Midsummer Festival at the Granary Theatre this Friday 19th and Saturday 20th June.

We started work over the weekend, revisiting the seventy minute performance initially developed over a week in September last year. A mixture of text, choreography, dialogue, and physical scores, we have five female performers – Bernadette Cronin, Jing Hong Okorn Kuo, Sunhee Kim, Regina Crowley, Jeungsook Yoo – an on-stage cellist, Adrian Cirtan, and sound artist Mick O’Shea. As always I’m astonished at the company’s body and sonic memory as they remember a structured improvisation from nine months ago.

Although we might anticipate there being difficulties working with such an international group as ours – Irish, Welsh, American, Korean, and Chinese-Singaporean – scheduling when we are all available for work has been the biggest challenge, especially when we don’t have the luxury of time. We have just three weeks spread over an eighteen month period to make the project, initiating in September 2013, previewing work-in-progress this week in Cork, and premiering in Cardiff in February 2015. Many might see this as a recipe for disaster, questioning how the work, focus, and material could be sustained over such a long gap, but we haven’t found this to be a problem. Apart from the good fortune of having such generous and committed practitioners to work with, good documentation has been key – the sharings last September in Llanarth and Cardiff were professionally filmed, and with two cameras – long shot and close-up. Watching the different dvds and comparing and analysing the different structures have been essential for my work as a dramaturg and director Phillip Zarrilli.

Rehearsals 'Playing the Maids'. Photo: Adrian Cirtain

Rehearsals ‘Playing the Maids’. Photo: Adrian Cirtain

Working intermittently over an extended period also brings the advantage of the maturation of our ideas. Although we haven’t been consistently returning to the emerging script over the past nine months, the work hasn’t stopped- even if it has been largely unconscious.

As a dramaturg, I’ve learnt a lot on this project, especially the necessity of documenting improvisations fully – and not just on camera. Throughout the process I have been notating the actions of improvs, making little diagrams of blocking and use of space, outlining the shape of a structure, its length and tone, plus whatever other notes I need to capture the moment for future analysis or discussion.

Already this week when revising scenes/structures, we’ve questioned what the initial stimulus was nine months ago, and what the instruction and intention had been. My notes combined with the performers’ have enabled us not to try and recreate the initial improvisation (which would be impossible even if we wanted to do such a strange thing), but allows us to reconsider the purpose and dynamic – and inevitably to find something that helps the actors’ inner work.

I am constantly questioning what the work of the scene is as we revise. We are asking ‘is that what we mean? Is this what we want to say?’ The audience is always with me, and the relationship between spectacle and spectator paramount.

I see it as a dramaturg’s job to question everything, so material isn’t included just because it was part of the original work. Everything must serve a purpose, and earn its right to be included, by contributing to the whole.

The warm-up is drawing to a close as I write this. It’s time to stop blogging and begin with the day’s rehearsals.

More tomorrow.

ps. We are delighted to see ‘Playing the Maids’ is Pick of the Week for Cork in the Irish Sunday Times.

20-21 June
playing the maids