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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, July 29, 2013

Yael Farber, Edinburgh Festival Fringe interview

Published in Scotland on Sunday
IT'S BEEN quite some year for Yael Farber. Twelve months ago, the South African playwright and director was fretting over Mies Julie, her reworking of the Strindberg play set in a post-Apartheid country where racial and sexual tensions still prevail. She was uncertain if it would strike a chord with audiences on the Edinburgh Fringe and feared the worst. "I had no idea at this point of the year," she says. "Three or four performances in we were still struggling to make the piece work in the venue. Slowly, we ironed different details out and the press started to arrive as we were starting to pull it together. Until that moment, I actually thought we were going to do quite badly."

Fate was on her side. Mies Julie was the big theatre hit of 2012, picking up five-star reviews, winning a Scotsman Fringe First and receiving invitations to play everywhere from New York to Finland. It is still on tour now, with dates scheduled in Canada, Hong Kong and Austria.

To capitalise on such success, the cautious thing to do would have been to return to Edinburgh with some tried-and-tested production from South Africa or perhaps Montreal where Farber is now living. The Fringe, however, is no place for caution. Not only is Nirbhaya freshly minted, but this time last year, the terrible event that inspired it had not even taken place.

The play came about after Bombay-based actor Poorna Jagannathan read Facebook comments Farber had made in the wake of the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was the 23-year-old physiotherapy student who was attacked by six men after she boarded a bus in Munirka, south-west Delhi, on the night of 16 December 2012. So horrific were her injuries that she died 13 days later, fuelling further the international outcry.

Jagannathan knew of Farber's experience scripting testimonial theatre, plays in which the true-life stories of the performers are turned into polished pieces of drama. The actor sensed that the anger aroused by Pandey's ordeal had created an opportunity. For the first time, women were speaking about things that had happened to them at the hands of men. It seemed to Jagannathan that the victims of sexual violence were ready to make their voices heard more widely. Her hunch was that Farber would be just the woman to help them do it. She invited her to India.

"We didn't know each other at all, but we knew our responses were both very deep," says Farber, who also won a Fringe First in 2000 for Woman in Waiting and a Herald Angel in 2003 for Amajuba. "Even with the best consciousness about sexual violence, you do develop a shell of protectiveness and numbness around the statistics. There's something about what happened to that young woman that just perforated that. The details bruise you and you walk around feeling it all day."

To make an artistic response seemed to be a matter of urgency. That's why, only seven months after Pandey's death, Nirbhaya is premiering on the Fringe. "Strategically, there are so many other projects I could have done, but when something like this comes along, you just have to put all vanity, all strategy aside. My feeling is, this time next year, we will have developed a strong reflex against what happened. My question is always, 'What will it take the next time?' It's a bit like the shooting of those kids in America. You think, 'For sure now, they'll get it about guns.' And when they don't, you ask yourself what will it take to break the sound barrier next time? The moment for that case is now. Already, indifference is rising, so there just didn't seem to be a choice."

Nirbhaya uses Pandey's rape as a way of contextualising the true stories of five of the seven performers. One of the women was a "dowry bride" whose husband and family tried to kill her. She bears the scars on her face where she was burned. None of the others had previously spoken about their experiences. By coming forward with their testimonies of sexual violence, they hope to end the feelings of shame that many such women feel.

It is, of course, charged material and Farber is sensitive to the ethical questions raised by putting it on the stage. "I absolutely expected the Indian press to ask why I, as an outsider, was coming in there and making a comment on a society," she says. "It's such a delicate thing to finesse. After the death of the young woman, there was definitely a neo-colonial response from people in the western countries. In societies that consider themselves more enlightened in terms of misogyny and patriarchy there is a reflex where we locate sexual violence elsewhere. So a story like this can become dubious because you can pour all the subtext of your own society into 'what Indian men do to their women.'"

It would have been understandable if people in India suspected Farber of being some kind of patronising missionary determined to save them from themselves. As a white woman who has created a lot of testimonial theatre about Apartheid, she is very familiar with the charge of exploitation and accepts that people have valid concerns. Putting real survivors on stage in front of a paying audience could be seen as, in her own words, "grief porn". The challenge, she says, is to make the audience witnesses rather than voyeurs. For all the potential pitfalls, however, she has found people in India to be surprisingly receptive. "There's no sense of questioning, but more, 'Thank God somebody's doing this.'"

In addition to the pressures of creating a show in six weeks (over-night writing sessions and all), Farber has had to cope with the distressing nature of the women's stories. This, though, has not been as traumatic as you would expect. "The piece is soaked in pain and tragedy, and it's their lives," she says. "But if you're talking about how you survived sexual abuse in your home because your brother, every time it happened, just looked at you and said, 'I know that that's happening to you,' that story can be about the love for your brother. Every one of those women in that room at some point has had that, otherwise they wouldn't be able to be in the room. We focus a lot on that. Also the women are extraordinary, vibrant, funny human beings and we have to bring that to this work."

It is the act of reclaiming their stories for themselves that transforms Nirbhaya from a statement of the obvious (sexual violence is bad) to something with political weight. "We know it's bad, but where does the guilt or the shame reside?" she says. "Where is silence encouraged so that the fact gets erased? Whose honour has been broken? Who has brought shame upon themselves? Yes, sexual violence is bad, but there is an intrinsic shame that comes with it across societies. It's complex to be a survivor of sexual violence because there are all kinds of conflicting emotions that are encouraged by patriarchies. It is a very profound way of controlling. By speaking, the women take a distance from culpability."

Nirbhaya, Assembly Hall, 1–26 August (not 12, 19).
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Made in Scotland, Edinburgh Festival Fringe profile

Claire Cunningham in Ménage à Trois Pic: Kenny Mathieson
Published in Arts Professional
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf

THE mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009. Call it coincidence, but Sansom is now the artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland.

It's surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It didn't help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it wasn't the only reason.

All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of Made in Scotland. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians.

It is supported by the Scottish Government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their "global competitive edge" and encourage international touring. The fund totals £3.2m in 2012 and 2013, of which £550,000 a year goes to Made in Scotland.

"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August," says Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."

Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's portfolio manager for festivals, touring and dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."

The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, artistic director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they're names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."

Mainland agrees: "The Made in Scotland programme has such substance to it now and it's become a thing that people trust."

As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and backup when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."

For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, portfolio manager for music and IP at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about, 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international market place."

The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests the scheme is working. Even companies not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in. It was very exciting; it genuinely felt like the world was White’s oyster."

With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, the company was able to respond quickly in the knowledge it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.

Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped established relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.

Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival, Romania," she says.

Such stories have impressed the Scottish Government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture and external affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."

Made in Scotland, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 1–25 August, www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
The mythology of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is all about the artists who arrived in the city as unknowns and left as international stars. It happened to Tom Stoppard in 1966, Stomp in 1991 and Ontroerend Goed in 2007. Only the other day, Laurie Sansom was saying how nobody noticed his Royal & Derngate production of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie until it played on the Fringe in 2009.
It is surprising, therefore, that Scottish performing companies have been slow to exploit the profile-raising potential of the world's largest arts festival. With notable exceptions, such as the Traverse which has built its reputation on its August programme, companies have been reluctant to take on the additional costs and competition of the Fringe. It did not help that the old Scottish Arts Council would not fund festival dates, but it was not the only reason.
We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make
All this changed dramatically five years ago with the arrival of ‘Made in Scotland’. A venture between the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland, the scheme showcases more than a dozen dance and theatre companies and, this year for the first time, a similar number of bands and musicians. It is supported by the Scottish government's Edinburgh festivals expo fund, which is shared between the city's 12 main festivals to help maintain their ‘global competitive edge’ and encourage international touring. The fund totals £2m in 2013−14, of which £550,000 a year has been awarded to Made in Scotland.
"There's such a wonderful diverse mix of arts industry professionals here in Edinburgh in August,” says Kath Mainland, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, which accredits nearly 900 professionals, a quarter of whom are from abroad. "Other countries have worked out how to make best advantage of those people and it's good that Scotland has done that too."
Anita Clark agrees. As Creative Scotland's Portfolio Manager for Festivals, Touring and Dance, she has been instrumental in shaping Made in Scotland over its first five years. "Pulling together a programme of work at the Fringe gives it more profile," she says. "A country can have a small presence at lots of different places across the world or pull that together and create a presence in Edinburgh. Because of the professional and media focus, they gain so much more by doing that."
The Made in Scotland programme is selected by a panel with expertise not only in the work itself but also in its likely appeal to audiences beyond Scotland. Among those adjudicating this year were Thom Dibdin, an Edinburgh theatre critic, and Mary Rose Lloyd, Artistic Director of the New Victory Theatre in New York. "The international panellists are really important because they are names other promoters will recognise," says Jon Morgan, Director of the Federation of Scottish Theatre. "It offsets that wonderful aspect of the Fringe which is its unpredictability."
As well as Made in Scotland's promotional work, companies benefit from the scheme's professional support. It provides workshops in networking and back-up when it comes to securing deals. "We're encouraging people to think more seriously about the international potential of the work they make," says Jon Morgan. "Helping companies, particularly newer ones, make the most of the Fringe, even down to how to approach someone in a room, is really important. This is not a guarantee, but it's certainly a good step up."
For musicians, the folk-based Showcase Scotland in Glasgow's Celtic Connections festival already generates £3m in bookings. Ian Smith, Portfolio Manager for Music and Intellectual Property at Creative Scotland, is not expecting Made in Scotland to generate that kind of money immediately, but he is excited about the potential to promote a broader range of musical styles to the directors of multi-artform festivals. "When you have people coming into your country to see your work, and it's of the highest quality, that's the first step to international export," he says. "And it's not one-way traffic. It's about 'You engage with us, we engage with you.' The Edinburgh Fringe is a great arts festival but it's also such an opportunity for our artists to be seen in a real international marketplace."
Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in
The evidence of the first five years, and the 57 Made in Scotland beneficiaries, suggests that the scheme is working. Even companies that are not part of Made in Scotland are starting to look at the Fringe less as a short-term financial risk and more as a long-term opportunity for touring and collaboration. Talk to previous participants and the knock-on effects are clear. "It opened up a whole new market to us," says Paul Fitzpatrick, Producer of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, which staged White in 2010 with the help of a £15,000 Made in Scotland award. "White got in front of artistic directors and leaders of organisations that wouldn’t normally find themselves sitting in a show for an early-years audience. It was a revelation for many of them. Following the Fringe, offers from venues and festivals around the world flooded in."
With help from Made in Scotland's onward touring fund, White was able to respond quickly in the knowledge that it could balance the budget on a technically complex show that plays to just 60 children. "Our tour to Australia and New Zealand was a great example of how a relatively small amount of money meant we were able to tour for five weeks making new relationships with new venues," says Paul Fitzpatrick. Since then, the show has clocked up over 500 performances in eight countries. It is fully booked until the end of 2014 and has been licensed to three different companies.
Scottish Dance Theatre tells a similar story. Its 2009 appearance in Made in Scotland led to two visits to Italy, followed by a reciprocal visit to Dundee by an Italian physical theatre expert. Subsequent shows in Made in Scotland helped establish relationships with the American Dance Festival and companies in India.
Performer Claire Cunningham, who is back with Ménage à Trois this year, toured to Germany, Poland, Italy and Ireland after her run in 2009. "As a result of appearing in these festivals, subsequent festivals and producers saw the work and invited us to perform the following year, meaning the work continued to tour to places such as the Sibiu Theatre Festival in Romania," she says.
Such stories have impressed the Scottish government, which is committed to continuing the scheme until at least 2015. "The Edinburgh festivals contribute more than £250m in additional tourism revenue to Scotland's economy," says Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. "Investing in initiatives such as Made in Scotland not only makes economic sense but gives Scottish performers the opportunity to promote the country's rich culture, heritage and distinct identity on a world stage."
- See more at: http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/266/article/exporting-arts#sthash.PBWYCzlS.dpuf
© Mark Fisher 2013
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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Anna Politkovskaya Yulia Tymoshenko, Edinburgh Festival Fringe previews

Published in The List
EVERY YEAR, Amnesty International gives an award to a play on the Fringe that presses the right artistic buttons and spreads the word about human rights. When the judges come to consider this year’s Freedom of Expression Award, two shows in particular will leap to their attention. Both of them focus on recent examples of political abuse against prominent women in Eastern Europe.

At Assembly Roxy, Ines Wurth is presenting Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?, a two-hander about the former Ukrainian prime minister imprisoned for an alleged abuse of office. Over at Summerhall, Badac Theatre Company’s Anna dramatises the case of Anna Politkovskaya, the campaigning journalist who was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment in 2006: an unsolved murder featuring all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

With her long braided blonde hair, Yulia Tymoshenko does not fit the typical image of a political prisoner. This leader of 2004’s Orange Revolution is both uncommonly beautiful and, being president of a major Ukrainian gas company, uncommonly rich. Neither of those details justifies the indefinite pre-trial detention in 2011 which the European Court of Human Rights recently called ‘arbitrary and unlawful’. The court is still considering whether the Ukraine authorities were right to prosecute her for signing a ten-year contract for the supply of Russian gas, allegedly without proper cabinet approval.

It is true that opinion is divided over Tymoshenko. Some think she is a profiteering businesswoman who brought her country to its knees for her own financial gain. Others see her as a victim of a vengeful political adversary in the form of the president Viktor Yanukovych. Either side, of course, could be right. ‘The big issue is that nobody really knows yet,’ says Ines Wurth, who portrays Tymoshenko.

The point made forcibly by Tymoshenko’s supporters, however, is that her imprisonment is politically motivated. In 2011, Amnesty’s John Dalhuisen said: ‘The charges against her are not internationally recognisable offences, they are attempts to criminalise decisions that she made in the course of her work. Poor political decisions of this kind – if that is what they were – should be punished by voters, not through courts.’

Having watched footage, Wurth believes the hearing was ‘extremely manipulated’. In a hot and overcrowded courtroom, the prosecution appeared to make things unreasonably difficult for Tymoshenko’s defence attorney. ‘He was supposed to read a 500-page document and prepare for the court hearing in two days,’ she says. ‘Yulia wasn’t allowed to be in the hearing, which is also something you don’t do.’

Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko? grew from a documentary made by director Jakov Sedlar before Tymoshenko was imprisoned. A US-Croatian co-production, the play imagines the politician not in solitary confinement but finding common ground with a fictional cellmate imprisoned for prostitution. Rather than take sides about the Tymoshenko case, Hrvoje Hitrec’s new play raises questions about human rights, particularly the treatment of women.
‘These kind of mafia cronies came from the Communist regime and it’s just a big boys’ club,’ says Wurth who grew up in Croatia and has witnessed male chauvinism first hand. ‘She’s a very attractive woman who’s very refined; she’s not a peasant. That’s why she’s really fascinating.’

Giving the play its world premiere at the Fringe is a way of reminding audiences how close to home all this is. ‘How can it be in the 21st century that people can treat each other this way and within Europe?’ Wurth says. ‘People talk about “Eastern Europe”, but Ukraine is a developed European country and this sort of stuff should not be happening.’

Badac’s Steve Lambert has similar ambitions by raising awareness of the murdered Anna Politkovskaya and campaigning reporters like her. It may be unfashionable to stick up for journalists in this post-Leveson era, but Lambert is full of praise for the job so many of them do. ‘What Politkovskaya did was just incredible,’ he says. ‘She went backwards and forwards to Chechnya, knowing all the dangers, but thinking these people needed to be helped and their stories needed to be told. There are some things that happen in the world that we must be informed about and these people put themselves in positions of great danger. There are journalists all over the world who every day are doing this sort of thing; and really, do we listen to them?’

His company, which caused a major stir at the 2008 Fringe with uncompromising Holocaust drama The Factory, is committed to exploring what ‘human rights abuses mean to the individual’. For the audience, that means not just watching but taking action. ‘Politkovskaya was angry that, although the stories of Chechnya and Russia were there, people weren’t doing anything,’ says Lambert, who has met the journalist’s sister and colleagues. ‘It’s not just about someone putting themselves in danger, there’s a responsibility on behalf of the public to listen and do something.’

As a human rights campaigner, the US-born Politkovskaya was a vocal opponent of Russia’s invasion of Chechnya in 1999 and a stern critic of Vladimir Putin. Brought up in Russia, she wrote books and articles that highlighted what she saw as ‘the death of Russian parliamentary democracy’. Having been subject to repeated death threats and surviving an apparent poisoning attempt, she was shot four times by an unknown assailant.

Playing Politkovskaya is the Shetland-born Marnie Baxter, who cut her teeth at Edinburgh’s Theatre Workshop. She has been closely involved in the script development and takes seriously the responsibility of portraying such a sensitive true-life case. ‘The more I read about her, the more in awe I am of her,’ Baxter says. ‘She was killed because she was so determined to tell the truth and determined beyond all reason to carry on with her work. She wouldn’t calm down and she wouldn’t back off and that’s why she’s not with us now.’
Anna, Summerhall, 0845 874 3001, 2–25 Aug (not 12), 8.30pm, £10 (£8);
Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?, Assembly Roxy, Roxburgh Place, 0131 623 3030, 3–25 Aug, 11am, £10–£12 (£8–£10). Previews 1 & 2 Aug, £8.


© Mark Fisher, 1997 and 2013
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Metamorphosis, Contemporary Legend Theatre, Edinburgh International Festival preview

Published in The List
WU HSING-KUO knows all about transformation. In the Edinburgh International Festival of 2011, he morphed himself into all the key characters of King Lear. In his idiosyncratic one-man interpretation of Shakespeare’s play, Wu tackled each part in turn, drawing on the techniques of Peking opera and employing balletic kicks, athletic tumbles, operatic wails and the most delicate of eye movements.

When it comes to transformation, there is no greater novella than Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, with its story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes to find himself inexplicably turned into a beetle. It is to this strange European allegory, published in 1915, that Wu has now turned as he heads back to Edinburgh with Taiwan’s Contemporary Legend Theatre. ‘Kafka is a thinker as well as an author,’ he says. ‘His philosophy has had a great impact in the East.’

In our late-capitalist high-pressure world, the image of someone changing from a metaphorical worker insect into the genuine article has particular resonance. The main reason people notice Gregor Samsa’s absence is because he’s late for work. ‘People of our generation tend to be slaves of economic society,’ says the actor-director. ‘In Kafka’s story, he speaks out for helpless young people and reveals their inner voice. He also asks, “what is existence for?” I feel my predicament is not unlike that of Gregor Samsa, attending to his family duties.’

As with King Lear, Wu takes a directly personal approach to the original. In Kafka’s fraught family relationships, he hears echoes of the sometimes humiliating father-son relationship he had with his acting teacher. It also makes him reflect on his late mother. ‘Because she passed away due to lung failure soon after my graduation, I deliberately arrange a pretty mother in my play to stand for youth and a woman that I love.’

The influence of Peking opera remains, although it is less easy to apply it to a European existentialist novel than a play by Shakespeare. In this school of performance, equal weight is carried by language, literature, dancing, fighting and singing. Wu also draws on his experience as a modern dancer and movie actor. ‘I still employ techniques of Peking opera which are my mother tongue. This work, however, has much space which enables me to bring creative ideas of dancing and visual images into full play.’

In keeping with the theme of this year’s EIF, Metamorphosis is Wu’s first attempt to make use of interactive technology. He has been collaborating with multimedia programmer YS Wang, and with the Quanta Institute of Technology which has provided him with options for recording, digitalisation and interactive performance. ‘I hope to stage technology with a humane aspect,’ he says. ‘In Eastern theatre, conveying philosophical ideas carries a lot of weight. Application of technology should be regarded as secondary. After all, The Metamorphosis deals with humans and actors are still the focus of our work. Technology, on the other hand, plays the roles of the dream world or subconscious.’
As an artist who routinely combines several disciplines, Wu sees technology as a great artistic opportunity. ‘It excites me tremendously. New and old theatrical languages integrate as they confront each other. I have to be extremely sensitive and alert in the creative process and it enables me to be closer to Kafka in spirit. It is a suffering that I enjoy.’

Contemporary Legend Theatre: Metamorphosis, King’s Theatre, Leven Street, 0131 473 2000, 10 & 11 Aug, 8pm; 12 Aug, 3pm, £12–£30.

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Airnadette, Edinburgh Festival Fringe preview

Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine
IT STARTED as a joke between friends. Instead of having a solitary air guitarist on stage, they asked, what would happen if there was a whole band of air musicians? And as well as miming to their favourite records, how would it be if the six of them also lip-synced to the dialogue from classic movies?

The result – a daft collision of mass-market sound-bites – turned this bunch of Parisians into an overnight success. As Airnadette, they had played only two gigs when French singing star Camille asked them to open for her at La Cigale, a 1000-seater venue favoured by Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers and David Bowie. "We did five shows in a row," says performer Scotch Brit, still amazed. "We were like, 'What's going on?'"

Her name, incidentally, dates from the time she wore a tartan skirt to do her Britney Spears routine. Scotch Brit also sounds like the domestic cleaning product Scotch Brite, which seems just about right for the band's pop-culture tastes. "When you are a kid, your parents tell you to stop watching TV, but we can say we were actually right," she says. "It's now our job. I spent so much time learning lyrics as a kid and my parents couldn't see the point. Now they kind of do."

Their initial good fortune stayed with them. Touring to the USA, they ran into another French megastar, Matthieu Chedid, who invited them to open for him at the 17,000-seater Bercy stadium in Paris. Now, they're talking to a top French producer about making a movie and they've set their sights on conquering the Edinburgh Fringe with a specially devised English-language show. "Every time we make a wish, it happens," she says. "We make crazier and crazier wishes and it seems to go on. We're having a dream life."

By accident or design, they've struck upon a formula that people love: a mix-and-match comedy constructed out of our guilty musical pleasures and the movies we love to hate. "For the audience, it's like a shot of energy," she says. "It's the best of pop culture cut up and mixed together to be the soundtrack of your life – then we make comedy by taking stuff out of context and creating absurd anachronisms."

Although they met each other on the air-guitar-and-hairbrush scene, their rock-god posturing is no more. "Air guitar is very boring because it's just one guy," she says, explaining that having six people on stage with such different tastes makes the very choice of songs seem funny. "We had Britney Spears, Queens of the Stone Age, Celine Dion and hip hop singers. Our characters previously existed because of air guitar, so we knew what kind of movies could be good to use; then we had the massive job of listening to the movie soundtracks and putting the show together like a puzzle."


Performing takes razor-sharp timing and concentration, but even after playing 300 gigs in four years, she can't wait to unleash it on Edinburgh. "It's a show that gives pleasure and happiness to people, so for as long as it goes on, we'll be very glad to do it."


WHERE & WHEN
Airnadette
Underbelly Bristo Square, 31 July–26 August (not 7, 13, 19), 8.50pm
From £10, Tel: 0844 545 8252

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Blythe Duff in Ciara, Edinburgh Festival Fringe preview

Blythe Duff at the CATS awards Pic Colin Hattersley
Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

FOR 21 YEARS, Blythe Duff was hardly away from our television screens. As DS Jackie Reid, she was the longest serving cast member in Taggart, itself one of the UK's longest-running police series. After such an innings, you wouldn't blame the East Kilbride-born actor if she decided to live off the royalties or accepted nothing but high-profile screen work. But that's not Duff's style.

Her first love is the stage and, in the past couple of years, this least starry of actors has been back on the studio-theatre circuit where she began. She has set up her own company, Datum Point, and turned in a series of top-notch performances in the most intimate of spaces.

In 2011, she was nominated for a CATS award for her starring role in David Harrower's Good With People in Glasgow's lunchtime theatre season, A Play, a Pie and a Pint. And in this year's CATS, she was named Best Female Performer for her role as a husband-killer in Rona Munro's Iron, produced by the tiny Borders company Firebrand.

"Don't get me wrong – my bank manager's face is tripping him," she laughs. "There will come a point when I'll have to go out and earn some money. I think it's just because I've been interested in the writers I've been working with and they tend to be a bit more studio. I've really enjoyed being part of the Traverse Theatre again and, now it's come round to its 50th anniversary, it feels right and timely that I'm going back to rediscover what I loved when I started out."

She continues: "I don't know that I could ever have sat back after Taggart. I like to work and I like to remind myself of why I enjoy the business. Does something inspire me? Do I feel creative? The reason I could continue to do Taggart for 21 years was because I had an input, so it kept me hungry to keep the character buoyant. It's about that creative process and that's the thing that still drives me."

It was thanks to her part in Good With People, which subsequently played on the Fringe and in New York, that she is back in Edinburgh this summer in Ciara. She and playwright Harrower, the author of Knives In Hens and Blackbird, hit it off so well that he wrote the new play specially for her.

"Good With People was the first time our paths had crossed," she says. "I had been in a bit of a Taggart bubble so I wasn't even massively familiar with David's work. Now that I have caught up, I can totally understand why everybody falls over themselves. To have somebody of his calibre writing with me in mind has just been lovely. He runs wee moments past me and says, 'Do you think she would say this?' It's nice that I've had as much input."

In this one-woman show, a centrepiece of the Traverse's Fringe season, Duff plays the grown-up daughter of a Glasgow gangland crime lord. Although he is now dead and she is pursuing a profitable career in her own right as a gallery owner, she is not able to escape her family's dark past as cleanly as either of them would have liked. It's as if Ciara is an embodiment of a city that has morphed from razor-gang central to cappuccino capital without stopping to reflect.

"David came to me and said, 'I want to write something about the changing face of Glasgow, and I want to tell it through a woman's eyes,'" says Duff. "She's rooted in a criminal past but she's at one remove from it. This is a well-groomed, well-healed, sorted business lady who understands her game and knows how to handle the world she exists in. Does that come from acumen or is it because of the way she's been brought up? To all intents and purposes, she has a very sorted life, but there's a lot of darkness that she has carried in a big Louis Vuitton trunk."

What Duff excels at is playing against expectations, creating a tension by expressing one emotion and behaving in a way that contradicts it. That could prove the key to unlocking a character who is so much in denial about her background. "You don't know you carry rage until that button is pushed," she says. "I remember years ago when I was younger and something happened that brought me to a rage and I thought, 'Oh my God, I didn't realise I was capable of feeling this.' I always think if you meet somebody in a really bad mood, none of us knows what's happened in that person's life and I always try and take one step back and give them the benefit of the doubt."

Will audiences be as forgiving to Ciara?

WHERE & WHEN
Ciara
Traverse Theatre, 1–25 August (not 2, 5, 12, 19), times vary
From £6, Tel: 0131 228 1404
© Mark Fisher 2013

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Cerrie Burnell's Magical Playroom, Edinburgh Festival Fringe preview

Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

THE LAST time Cerrie Burnell was in a play in Edinburgh she was visibly pregnant. It was 2008 and she had been cast as a nurse in The First to Go, a tough drama by Nabil Shaban about the relatively unknown Nazi programme to exterminate people with disabilities. "The character had a baby at the end of the play, so it was a big of an in-joke," she recalls.

This was before Burnell came to national attention as a children's television presenter with a disability of her own. Her right arm finishes at the elbow and that was all it took for small-minded viewers to complain to the BBC claiming she was "scaring" their children and giving them nightmares.

Happily, Burnell is too well-balanced to let such prejudice get her down. She is someone who is (as she should be) entirely comfortable with her body. "I've had it all my life, so I think about it as much as I think about the colour of my eyes or my big toe," she says. "It's just part of me and I haven't got time to consider it."

That's not to say the issue of disability rights is not dear to her. She thinks it's important to promote the cause of all minorities and was delighted to see attitudes to disability shifting last summer during the Paralympic Games. "I consider it in terms of my work, but I don't consider it on a personal basis," she says.

It is a theme she has returned to repeatedly in her work. Her first play for children, 2007's Winged: A Fairytale, was about a one-winged fairy. Her forthcoming picture book, Snowflakes, is about a girl who discovers she is "unique and perfect in her own way". And her new Fringe show, The Magical Playroom, is about a girl who wants to be a ballerina and is furious when she is told she has to wear a false arm for dancing lessons.

Premiering in Edinburgh before a national tour, the one-woman show follows six-year-old Liberty Rose as she rebels against this imposition, just as the nine-year-old Burnell herself did (she hasn't worn a prosthetic arm since). The little girl's only escape from the injustice of the adult world lies in the imaginative landscape of her toys.

"The Magical Playroom is a very different story to Winged, but it's kind of about the same thing," says Burnell, who stars in the play. "I'm in a really lucky position to have the CBeebies audience already on board – and when I say audience, I mean the mums and dads as much as the kids. Because I am a disabled role model (whether I wanted that or not), I want to use that in the most positive way I can by telling a story that hasn't been told before about a little girl with one hand."

She knows she is describing a very particular set of circumstances but the play, which is aimed at the over-threes, has a resonance that affects all audiences. "The real message is a universal theme that anyone can understand which is about disobeying the authority of your parents," says Burnell, whose daughter, now five, will be accompanying her to Edinburgh. "It's something every child goes through – and possibly every adult goes through if their parents are alive! It's about children being able to have autonomy over their lives and being able to make choices that are right for them. It’s also about the importance of listening to children – I hope it inspires the parents to be more confident to do that."

WHERE & WHEN
The Magical Playroom
Pleasance Courtyard, 31 July–18 August (not 14), 11am
From £7.50, Tel: 0131 556 6550
© Mark Fisher 2013

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Wooster Group's Hamlet, Edinburgh International Festival preview

Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

THE NEW YORK TIMES once said Scott Shepherd was a practitioner of "extreme acting". "It was a long time ago," laughs the Wooster Group stalwart when I remind him of the quote. "Maybe I've got less extreme with age."

There's no doubt the newspaper had a point. This is an actor who played every part in Macbeth in a one-man staging nearly 20 years before Alan Cumming had the same idea. More recently, Shepherd memorised The Great Gatsby in its entirety for a celebrated six-and-a-half hour performance.

By contrast, playing the lead role in Hamlet may sound like taking it easy. Except, with the Wooster Group involved, this is no straightforward Shakespeare. We're talking about the experimental theatre company whose production of La Didone six years ago in the Edinburgh International Festival managed to fuse a 1641 opera with a 1965 B-movie. The Wooster Group does not do conventional.

True to form, Hamlet is less a staging of the play than a staging of a movie of the play. In 1964, Richard Burton played the doomy Dane in a Broadway production directed by John Gielgud. At the end of the run, in a move that now seems 40 years ahead of its time, the company filmed the show with 17 cameras and, thanks to "the miracle of Electronovision", screened it for two nights only in 2000 US cinemas.

Now, director Elizabeth LeCompte has dug up what remains of that rare movie footage and used it as the basis for her Hamlet. Splicing the two things together, she gives us live and recorded Shakespeare at the same time. It means Shepherd has the task of playing Burton playing Hamlet, sync-ing every gesture and articulation with that of the great movie star.

"In certain forms of Japanese theatre you spend years meticulously copying the performance of some kind of master," says Shepherd. "In the western tradition, we think it's each actor's duty to bring some original idea. Their performance is supposed to spring from them as some kind of self-expression."

By working from recordings, the actor found himself freed from this expectation. "It's a way of getting beyond your own tricks, clichés and impulses," he says. "You're doing gestures because you've been instructed to. I've got to move my arm here now because that's what's happening in the movie. Out of that emerges a performance that you begin to understand and shape to yourself. Making your performance becomes a process of discovery as much as invention."

Shepherd can say this now, but it took time to get into the right frame of mind. His impulse was to play Hamlet in his own way, almost as a comment on how Burton played it. That, though, was too confusing to watch. "I thought I would put my performance next to his. I suppose I thought I could compete with him. But I soon learned that wasn't going to work and there was more to be discovered by finding some sort of collaboration with him. I had to learn how to channel the ghost of that performance from 50 years ago and build my performance on top of that."

Few actors would ever get the chance to study another actor's performance in such detail. For Shepherd, once he went with the flow and stopped thinking of Burton's style as old-fashioned, it has been like having a personal masterclass with one of the greats. "I learned to appreciate what he was doing and find those impulses within myself," he says. "It's kinaesthetic. By doing the movement, you begin to understand something that you don't understand by watching. It's an education for me and the group as a whole."

He hasn't started talking in a Welsh accent but he has felt Burton's influence on his work. "There's something that I keyed into about his confidence with the language of Shakespeare. With a lot of actors, you end up feeling their struggle to sell Shakespeare's expressions as natural. Burton didn't have that anxiety. I tried to learn that from him."

Some Wooster Group reinterpretations have given only a fragmentary taste of the source material, but this one does offer a coherent, narratively complete version of Shakespeare's tragedy. Bringing Burton back to life may sound like a gimmick, but there is method in the madness. Hamlet is haunted by the ghost of his father and, here, Shepherd is effectively haunted by the ghost of Burton. "A looming figure comes back from the grave to give him instructions that he doesn’t entirely agree with," says Shepherd, who has been obsessed by the play since directing it at college and "inadvertently" memorising it. "It may come as a surprise to connect the Wooster Group with this old Broadway play from the 60s but this is a genuine connection."

WHERE & WHEN
Hamlet
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 10–13 August, 7.30pm
From £10, Tel: 0131 473 2000

© Mark Fisher 2013
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Grid Iron's Leaving Planet Earth, Edinburgh International Festival preview

Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

CATRIN EVANS fancied doing a show about the future of our planet. She'd read an article by George Monbiot about the Earth being the ultimate disposable item. She thought that was an interesting premise for a play and wondered if she could tie it in with her obsession with Battlestar Galactica.

This was early 2010 and she was thinking small-scale. Perhaps it would be a one-man show performed in an attic. She got talking to the people from Grid Iron, the Edinburgh theatre company famed for its site-specific shows in airports, department stores and playgrounds. They liked the idea and encouraged her to develop it.

It developed and developed. Before she knew it, Evans was commandeering a major production light years from her original conception. Instead of a low-key performance for a few insiders, Leaving Planet Earth was now a flagship production in the Edinburgh International Festival. Instead of an intimate staging, it would now be performed against the monumental backdrop of the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in the former Ratho quarry, one of the world's biggest centres of its kind.

Isn't she intimidated? "This is were my dad's sports coaching comes in," she says, looking cheerful and relaxed as she sits in a Glasgow bistro. "He was a rugby player and when I was a youngster, he would always say, 'Play the game not the event.' He loves sport and, although competitive, he doesn't play for glory. The Edinburgh International Festival is, of course, an amazing opportunity, but if we over-think it and start playing for an imagined audience or an imagined idea of ourselves, then we'll kill it."

As her ambitions rocketed, she brought in Lewis Hetherington to work alongside her as writer and director. He too is staying calm in the face of their galactic challenge. "As freelances, we're working on so many projects of such different natures and all of them you have to equally honour," says the Glasgow theatremaker, who spends most of his time working on community education projects and small-scale fringe shows. "You have to bring the same integrity to everything. If I approach things with humour and creativity, then hopefully it will shine through in the work."

Far from being daunted, in fact, the two directors are thrilled by the possibilities opening up to them. "Science-fiction is a genre where you can ask big, existential questions in a playful, imaginative way," says Hetherington.

Evans agrees: "In sci-fi, the imagery is so appealing as an artist. The way in which a million years will pass or they'll jump many light years. There's something so exciting about expecting a reader to take that imaginative leap. You turn the page and you're on a different planet. Theatre can do that. Let's not be scared of making those leaps."

The audience of Leaving Planet Earth will be bussed out from the city centre and cast in the role of colonisers of New Earth. They have left behind an environmentally exhausted planet, bringing with them a hope for the future as well as fond memories of the old place. At the destination, the ground crew hope to have predicted the way the colonisers will adapt to this brave new world. "There are knowns that science can predict, but what are the unpredictable things like human behaviour?" says Evans.

To lend plausibility to the sci-fi conceit, Evans and Hetherington are collaborating with scientists from the University of Edinburgh Centre for Design Informatics. They have developed an interactive bracelet for the audience to wear in their guise as residents of New Earth. "They're looking at the wisdom-of-the-crowd theory," says Hetherington. "It's the idea that if a group of people all guess how much a rhino weighs, the mean average will be pretty much spot on."

For the audience, this will all add to the fun and the sense of being on a space-age adventure. There are serious aspects too, says Evans: "We're challenging some of those narratives about growth and about what individualism means, which is tied up in the question of how we treat our planet."

More than a simple green polemic, however, Leaving Planet Earth takes a broader look at how society functions. "The idea of throwing away a planet when you've used it up has taken on a metaphorical meaning about dealing with your past," says Hetherington. "How do you move forward and how do you get better?"

Whether or not the human race will ever really colonise another planet is something none of us is likely to find out. By raising the possibility, however, Evans thinks she can address more pressing concerns. "The thing we can question is our right to end up on another planet," she says. "The right to have everything is a big theme in society at the moment. I think art can challenge those assumed narratives that are being pumped out all the time."

WHERE & WHEN
Leaving Planet Earth
Edinburgh International Conference Centre, 10–24 August (not 13, 20), 8pm
From £12.50, Tel: 0131 473 2000

© Mark Fisher 2013
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