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