Tag Archives: Alex Kelly

Stories from our past

I watched Cape Wrath by Third Angel a few weeks ago in a van outside the Theatre Royal Plymouth. A gentle tale where Alex Kelly re-traces his grandfathers footsteps to Cape Wrath on the northern most point of Scotland and I was reminded not just of my own grandmother and her penchant for Bourneville chocolate of an evening, but the need to re-engage with our own past. The re-tracing of Alex’s grandfathers footsteps by coach and foot to the most north-westerly point of mainland Scotland fulfilled a need in him and interested me because of the autobiographical similarity in my own performances and it made me re-evaluate them. What makes us look to our past to make work and does it feed a duel need in us. As Alex raised a glass to his grandfather I wondered why I had drawn on my ancestry for my first solo show and my mother’s and grandmother’s stories for my next show. What is more,there is something about the fact that these stories all happened at a similar time in our lives, my mother and grandmother’s stories happening to them around the age I am now. Do generations of families repeat the same patterns? Do we do this subconsciously, or does life deal us similar cards at certain points in our lives? And, what am I trying to say by sharing these stories with people I wont know? Hopefully, we all relate to these stories on a fundamental level. The dozen or so people who sat on a minibus listening to Alex tell his story had not all taken that route to Cape Wrath but we all understood in our hearts why he was doing it. Some didn’t know Scotland, some had been to the very places he was talking about. Some liked a drop of the hard stiff (but definitely not a blend) and some had family with similar likes to Alex’s. I watched as people nodded in agreement or gasped at a revelation and  I thought how simple family stories can wrap themselves around you, like a cosy blanket.

Watching The Gods Are Fallen and All Safety Gone by Selma Dimitrijevic for Greyscale also took me back to family memories from twelve years ago. A conversation between mother and daughter that deals in the everyday of life, yet holds clues to things buried deep, becomes devastatingly raw in its simplicity and honesty. Like the mother in the play my mother hid what was truly happening to her in order not to worry anyone…until it was too late. Watching a mirror of my life onstage was cathartic and yet, I didn’t feel alone in the audience. Many people were experiencing the same recall, the fact that the female characters are played by men didn’t change anything.

Both shows were simplicity themselves, devoid of sound, set or props, the acting and the simple storytelling was all that was needed. Everyone has a story inside them and most of those stories have a need to be told, and… those stories WILL contain universal truths. Our stories come from our past, our family and mostly…they have love at their heart.

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dramaturgical strategies for solo performance

So as a solo performer I have to create a strategy for my solo work. My supervisor, Professor Roberta Mock, went ahead and created a solo performance when her collaborator pulled out. Her performance of Down/town was, as Matthew Reisz said in the Times Higher Education,  ‘a cabaret act followed by a more formal lecture’ that ‘demonstrated’ her research work. You can read Reisz’s article here. Mock believes that you are in a very vulnerable place making a piece of solo work essentially on your own. There is always a danger that it could be too inward looking, too personal, too self-indulgent, or simply inexplicable. Mock went ahead with the show as a solo piece using the applied dramaturgy of the disciplines she already knew, that of directing and sceneography. By using the disciplines she felt at home in first, Mock was able to ‘fill in’ the gaps from years of group devising with students, years of watching and observing. She then asked a fellow artist/lecturer, and someone she could trust, to watch the show four days before the performance to give her a second opinion.

I saw a show called The Lad Lit Project about a month ago performed by Alexander Kelly, the co-artistic director of Third Angel. Third Angel would normally work around two co-directors, one being “a foil”  to the other, when not actually in the piece. In this instance the second director was unavailable so Alex asked Deirdre Heddon to be involved in the development of the piece. Being geographically miles apart they started an email conversation and having no previous knowledge of the genre of lad lit Heddon was able to ask authentically objective questions. The email conversation also enabled Kelly to be reflective on his acting out of Heddon’s provocations, in order to articulate clearly back to her. Although the word ‘dramaturgy’ didn’t get mentioned until the end of the five-month process, the provocations that Heddon asked and that Kelly had to address they realized had become a dramaturgical enquiry, therefore giving their combined essay on their correspondence, a title, Distance Dramaturgy. (Heddon & Kelly, 2010). Each show that Kelly makes has a different strategy but he accepts that he needs an-‘other’, or a ‘foil’, as he prefers to say, for dramaturgical imput.

Phil Smith calls his ‘foil’ an ‘outside eye’ – Smith makes performance walks and for his 2004 Crab Walks he used actor Anjali Jay as his dramaturgical aide. Because Jay had accompanied Smith on some of the walks he was going to use ‘she was able to identify what was key in their affect, and cut away unnecessary “setting up” and glosses’ that were evident in Smith’s first draft. What came into play here was the fact that Jay herself was a performer, so she was able to use her actor’s dramaturgy and, in doing so, she enabled Smith himself to perform the text, she ‘made it performer friendly, and audience friendly’.

It seems to me from these examples that the addition of a second set of eyes that can watch the performance at a point before the intended audience, but with enough time to make adjustments, is a priority. Whatever we call that person, an outside eye, a foil, a collaborator, this one intervention can stop the solo performer creator from becoming, in  Mock’s words, ‘too inward looking, too personal, too self-indulgent’.

Smith has also worked without a second set of eyes but he claims he has taken on board a lot of what his outside eyes gave him and is quite fierce with himself. Smith works site-specifically, where the site itself can suggest what should come next. The site itself becomes the collaborator and part of an extended dramaturgy and, as Smith points out, ‘you should respect the site’s layers and textures as the first script’.

All quotes from personal or email conversations.