Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On The Set With Cora Bissett

If asked to summarize Cora Bisset’s Roadkill, I’d pick something along the lines of provocative, shattering, and tragic. However, after reading Roadkill prior to our master class with Cora Bissett, it was very comforting to walk into our rehearsal room and see a brightly colored and fashionable woman that would bring to life to our empty rehearsal room with her ideas, sense of humor, passion, and her overall uplifting personality. It was an honor to have had a wonderful and engaging master class with the highly acclaimed musician, actress, writer, and director.

​During this master class Cora Bissett showed us short clips of Roadkill, discussing her choices and reasons for her directorial vision for the production. With the large television screen reflecting actress Ojelade’s cry for help as the cover photo for the play, Ms. Bissett calmly discussed difficult and thought provocative topics with us including her own personal story that influenced her to write Roadkill. Also she shared how people initially reacted after seeing the intimate apartment staged play and finally, she shared her upcoming project which speaks against female genital mutilation.

​After the master class, the Company and I attended a poetry reading by the legendary Liz Lochhead at The Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Even there, the room suddenly brightened as Cora Bissett entered to enjoy and support her fellow theatre artist.

-Karolina Keach

Monday, August 18, 2014

Long Live the Fringe

We are in the midst of our last performances of Forget Fire, and it is impossible not to feel nostalgic. This show has been rewarding in so many ways, and truly has pushed our creativity boundaries, enlightening us all to think of theatre in a new way. I think that before coming to Scotland, I put theatre in a box. You get a script, get a part, rehearse, perform and then on to the next. But alas! It is so much more... Theatre is meant to share something with the audience, a feeling, a message, a metaphor. It can break past conventions and explore topics and issues from every angle. I honestly think my experience at the Fringe these last two weeks have been some of the most inspiring days of my life. My typical days these weeks have been: wakeup, perform, see show, see show, eat, see show, see show. I cannot convey how much I’ve learned as an actor from seeing all of these wonderful performances. Theatre is alive and thriving and breaking through boundaries here at the Fringe, and that is something so rare to experience this day in age. Actors are everywhere bustling through the city selling their show and coming to ours, it feels like a family. This is a place where Actors can come together and share their work while learning so much from everyone else at the same time. It’s incredible! I am so excited to journey back to Malibu with my fresh mindset on how alive and tangible theatre is. Long live the Fringe! 

Natalie Hovee

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Military Tattoo

As an American, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my expectations were a bit off. I definitely pictured strong men and women in the armed forces of the Scottish military, covered in glamorous body art, battling to the death. And something about bagpipes.

Well…..I was right about the bagpipes!

I watched as bits of history marched in front of the Edinburgh Castle. I saw India, Singapore, New Zealand….so many cultures and countries showcase their culture. These cultures come together for three weeks out of the year to display their pride and skills to the people from around the world. Highland Dancing, a steel drum marching band, spears, snipers…..I was awestruck by the talent, music, and quite honestly, the organization. As a tech who works backstage a lot, how they managed to organize several marching bands, group numbers, bagpipes, a choir, platforms, stilts, and ponies….I want to be on that crew!

As these tourists and members of the United Kingdom came together, I felt the unity in Scotland. As our trip comes to a close, this is one of the things I am going to miss the most about Scotland. Despite the referendum, their differences, and their struggles, the Scots welcome everyone into their culture and immerse you into it. They aren’t afraid to tell you the truth, and they are proud to be who they are. This is what the Tattoo displayed: Unity in a time where Scotland could choose to be bitter. Pride in a country that displays great strength.
No battling to the death. No displays of glamorous body art. Just culture…..including some of my pop culture music. I guess it wouldn’t be complete without something from the Americans!

-Maddy Fortney

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Living the Dream

I climbed New Arthur’s Seat the other day. As I sat on a rock overlooking the city and writing in my journal I couldn’t help but feel a joyful serenity within me. How wonderfully blessed I am to be sitting here in Scotland.

As a young child never would I have dreamed that I would someday venture to Scotland and study theatre for two months. Never would I have dreamed that I would devise a piece with a company from my universityand then perform it at the international FestivalFringe.
Yet this dream I never dreamed still came true. And now here I am in the middle of our run sitting atop a hill in Edinburgh. Only three performances left. Knowing the end is so near I am sitting and pondering what I will do with what I have seen in the last two months. From devising, to the master classes, to the theatre I have seen how do I take this home with me? As we say in our show, “We can’t go back”. We must move forward with our lives and keep a little piece of Scotland forever in our hearts. Soon it will be time to take our new knowledge and experience and use it to motivate and inspire our work in the future. We must forge ahead and as Cathy likes to say in her pep talk before the show, “Keep the energy up!”

- Chelsey Maus

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Enlightenment in Exhaustion

Everyday is the same, yet everyday is different; nothing is new, yet so many things have changed; you’ve reached the point where routine becomes so much more than everyday rituals. The life of an artist, as we’ve begun to clearly understand here in the theatre-filled city of Edinburgh, entails exploration and discovery…day in and day out.

Imagine waking up every morning, getting dressed, making breakfast (or finding a place to grab a quick bite), and performing the same show, in the same city, in the same venue, at the same time over the span of eleven days; after which you find yourself walking around the city everyday trying to see as much of the more than 3,000 shows as you possibly can before passing out on your bed from exhaustion at around 1am. So far, that’s been pretty “routine” here in Edinburgh. At first, I thought the idea of it all completely unrealistic. Why would I want to see more shows after performing the exact same piece of theatre every single day? After dealing with all the mental and physical “wear and tear” of the intense schedule in Glasgow (which for me as well as some other individuals usually meant 9am – 9pm school/rehearsal days), why would I want to exhaust myself further? It only took a few days here in Edinburgh to understand that exhaustion can lead to freedom and enlightenment.

It’s lying in bed following a warm shower after a long and intense workout at the gym; it’s the feeling after you’ve walked out the door of a rigorous and grueling course you spent hours and days studying and working hard at; it’s watching a child grow and reflecting on all the things you contributed to their upbringing, now to be proud of the person they’ve become; that’s the feeling. Learning and growing from each and every moment invested in an activity, no matter how difficult it became, has brought you to the point of deep reflection about the world and yourself. All of the tension and effort you’ve put in is now being rewarded with more than a mere accomplishment. It’s rewarded you with enlightenment.

Being in theatre, living in place full of theatre, and indulging in a breadth of different theatrical cultures daily has been nothing short of enlightening. In only five days, we’ve seen shows culturally and stylistically different; taking us from Brazilian song and dance, to the Scottish Referendum, to American rock music, to the arts of Asia, all the way to Greek Mythology, and more. Some have had fun with puppets, or been “awakened” by an experience with Dracula, and some have even had the pleasure of watching Shakespeare’s classics done as: a rock musical, as a fusion with Elvis Presley, and with one of the cast members completely and deliberately “impaired” (all on separate occasions). The vast expanse of possibilities has taught me to not watch a “show” when I see a piece of theatre onstage, but to see the world and a different part of it instead. Honestly, I don’t know how cheesy or unrealistic that sounds, but that’s how I legitimately feel at this point. Each and every time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a show, I’ve learned something about another country; been introduced to things I’ve never even heard of, and seen things I never thought even possible in theatre, or in life for that matter. I’ve been exposed to people being moved to the point of tears (either because of deep sympathy or extreme laughter) due to a particular piece on many occasions. It’s gotten to the point where this California raised, Asian–American boy has become interested in travelling the world not just to say I did it or to make a great story to tell the kids, but to learn something totally new and unexpected. That’s what theatre did for me, and that’s what theatre does for so many others in this world. 

It’s also been an inspiration to write. In all honesty, I haven’t seen a single show that I’ve particularly disliked which, believe it or not, could be seen as quite an easy thing with some of the bold and random show ideas here at the FRINGE. That just gives me confidence in writing a piece of my own; writing not only to share knowledge, but to gain it by exploring things I never thought to explore before.

As my thoughts come to a close, I’d just like to encourage anyone who hasn’t seen a show in awhile to do it. Just take the time. It doesn’t matter where or when. Just do it. It can even be a children’s theatre piece. You’d be surprised what you’d find. Look at a child and watch the fun he/she has exploring something new and taking pride in the things they’ve learned, whether it be about pirates and kids who never get old, or a romance between a bookworm and a transformed prince; lessons on love, family, and growing up. Take the time to see the smile on their face at curtain call; a smile that’s present because they’ve learned that hard work is rewarded and fruitful; a smile that exists because they’ve learned the joys of putting a smile on someone else’s face.

OR, just watch something more age appropriate for you and learn something. To each their own…


God bless
- Mathew San Jose

Friday, August 8, 2014

Scratch Performances for Creative Scotland

Theatre can happen anywhere, anytime, and in any form. Today during the final presentations for the Contemporary Scottish Theatre class, I found this to be incredibly true. I had the pleasure of seeing three scratch performances of devised pieces that were in no doubt a testament to how many talented people we have in our company for Forget Fire. From a feminist manifesto, to a trashy experience, to a questioning of grass, I got to see how creative and collective experimentation could lead to greatness. Each individual scratch performance had the through line of activism, which was surprisingly not an enforced theme. I find that incredibly interesting. Nowadays we live in a world where you see a lot of people starting to voice their opinions and speak out against what people think isn’t right. To see that reflected in a theatre setting with young artists is phenomenal. It got me thinking about how powerful theatre is. You can take an idea, nurture it, devise the heck out of it, and get a product that can be profound, funny, poignant, experimental, shocking, artistic, and just plain important to see.

Aside from the great performance work the groups did, they put an immense amount of time into a project that mirrors the process of actually putting up a devised piece. They filled out funding applications, got producers, wrote letters, and did it all while having rehearsal for our show (something I commend them greatly for being able to do). It just reminds me no matter how much you have going on, there is always time to step back and reflect on what you’ve done. Watching my fellow company members put up their “babies” they’ve been working on reminded me about how Forget Fire’s opening show is coming up soon and I can finally say our baby has come a long way!

-Jalon Matthews

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Not A Review - with @PeterArnottGlas, @CoraBissett, @Scuffette, @janisjoplinshow, @MarkFFisher + more

The company asked me to contribute a blog post sometime in the week that we opened. I spend so much of my time as producer writing about the show and explaining the exchange that it seems nearly impossible to contribute anything new to the discussion, so it was difficult to start.  However, with this blog we have encouraged students to pick a little nugget of material from their subject matter and expand on their personal interaction with that very specific aspect or event within the larger experience, so I figure I ought to do the same.

This summer was my second time co-teaching with Mark Fisher, who uses the craft of reviewing to trace a thread through contemporary Scottish theatre history.  We focus a lot on 'reviewing a piece on its own terms', using three questions originally posited in antiquity but brought together and made known by Goethe: What were they trying to do? How well did they do it? And was it worth doing in the first place?  I love watching students engage with these questions.  It forces them to examine our subject matter beyond their own personal tastes and theatrical interests.  In many cases it allows them to expand the reach of their interests as well.

Cathy Thomas-Grant, John Kielty, and Peter Arnott
accept a 2012 Scotsman Fringe First Award
for Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?
In that spirit I want to look at Janis Joplin: Full Tilt, created by Peter Arnott and Cora Bissett, two of my long time friends, mentors, and collaborators from my time in Glasgow.  I first met Peter when he was writing for me as an actor on the MA Classical and Contemporary Text course at the (then) RSAMD.  He went on to write Why Do You Stand There In The Rain?, Pepperdine Scotland's first commission, for which we won a 2012 Scotsman Fringe First Award and were shortlisted for a number of other honours.  I met Cora not long after Peter.  She was developing a piece about sex trafficking on a shoestring budget and was just gathering her first few funders.  At the time she was still figuring out exactly how she wanted to tell the story of Roadkill, so just as a favour and on the understanding that she had no budget for this, a few of us from the MA course went along and volunteered for a day of filming various conceptual bits for the play.  Some of these clips went on to become the harrowing wall-and-ceiling projections in the Olivier Award winning theatrical masterpiece.

Since then I have worked with each of them on a number of other projects of varying sizes in Glasgow and Chicago and have seen an awful lot of their work.  As a great admirer and student of their theatrical practices, I was thrilled to hear last year that Cora had plucked her own little nugget of The 27 Club (by John Kielty, another Pepperdine Scotland collaborator) and was working with Peter and powerhouse performer Angie Darcy to create a Janis Joplin biopic for A Play, A Pie, and A Pint.  On Saturday night I finally had the pleasure of seeing the piece - now in its expanded Edinburgh Festival Fringe form - and bringing the entire Pepperdine Scotland company along too.

Angela Darcy in Janis Joplin: Full Tilt
As I see it, Peter, Cora, and Angie set out to give us a window into the troubled life of the famous singer - and to do it in Janis' signature full-on rock star way.  Leave it to Peter's penchant for beautiful, politically poignant, and perfectly pitched text to accomplish the former end.  Cora gives us the latter goal, brilliantly done in her now-signature multi-arts rock-gig performance-spectacle style, drawing on all the many strengths of her hugely talented multidisciplined ensemble of performers and co-creators.  My mentor duo's piece soars, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with equal parts agit-prop Scottish Theatre tradition and harrowing personal tragedy.  It's thrillingly reflective of both artists' main strengths and favourite working styles.

One of my main goals with this exchange is to do away with the notion that educational theatre, or theatre by students in training, is always a kind of amateur approximation of what they will 'really' do when they graduate.  Something we always ask in the commissioning and creation process for Pepperdine Scotland is: what is the story that these students and this playwright can tell better than anyone else on the planet?  We try to treat the students as young professionals: their range of abilities and the refinement of their craft may not be fully developed yet, but there are things that they are more qualified to do onstage than the seasoned veterans whose names audiences recognise.  Similarly, I think Janis Joplin is a beautiful example of what can happen when a particular group of artists with hugely varied talents and careers succeed in telling the story they are most qualified to share with the world.

So you know how well I think the Janis team accomplished their own ends.  Was it worth doing in the first place?  Well Cathy, my boss and the Pepperdine Scotland Director, grew up on the music of Janis and her contemporaries.  I watched her jamming along to the music, revisiting her youth with great nostalgia throughout the show, and I watched her get a bit weepy as Janis left us.  In fact, many of her contemporaries in the audience did.  It didn't affect me and my generation in quite the same way - I only know one or two Janis Joplin songs - but it was thrilling to spend an hour experiencing a moment in history that was previously foreign to me.  And for those younger than me - our students' generation - at least one of them thought we were actually going to see Janis Joplin, so they had even less context for the piece than me.  But they all seemed thrilled.  They bobbed their heads along to the music, I think some of them were shocked by Janis' death, and they all left with a slightly new understanding of what is possible in theatre and how different art forms might share territory with one another.  Beyond that, I think across the generations the whole audience left with new thoughts and questions about whether 'then' and 'now' are really that different, and about what lessons we have yet to learn from Janis and her contemporaries.

If I was reviewing this piece, Peter, Cora, Angie, and Janis would surely get five stars.  But I'm not reviewing it.  That's not what I do.  And that's not what this blog is about. 
Not this year anyway. 
Though if you want some recommendations you ought to speak to Matt Davis, our hugely capable production manager and a 3rd time student on the exchange.  I think he's seen more theatre in the past four days than any Fringe goer I've ever met.  Maybe he'll blog a list of recommendations here soon.

Next task for me is to learn how to take my own oft-repeated advice and be concise.  Apologies for the long post.  Hopefully you enjoyed it anyway.

- Alex Fthenakis

Janis Joplin: Full Tilt
On at Assembly Checkpoint, 20.50
Through 24 August

Also at the Tron Theatre