A Taste of Theatre: Developmental Storytelling
Developmental Theatre, or “taster Theatre” as I have come to call it, was an entirely new concept for me. With no script, a tight time schedule and only a Wikipedia account of the Greek Myth Eros and Psyche, I agreed to direct the play before my eyes had cast over a single line.
Eros and Psyche recites the meeting of heart and soul. Psyche, bound by a curse from Aphrodite, can never be loved by a mortal man, she is destined for another whom even the Gods’ fear. Hardly the monster that the Oracle has described, at least in appearance, Eros – son of Aphrodite – fills Psyche’s world with every luxury she could ever want, with one condition, she may never know his true identity. Psyche, too curious to know the face of the man she has fallen in love with accidently burns him with an oil lamp, scarring the skin across his heart. She has betrayed his trust and lost him forever. Mild Psyche must muster the courage to face Aphrodite head on and accept the trials and tribulations she throws at her if she has any hope of ever being reunited with Eros.
Aware of the characters and their importance in the play, I was able to begin casting as the script was being developed. Workshops were scheduled to bring the group together and to build on our knowledge of each character. We examined our own posture, our own mannerisms and what they meant, enabling us to determine aspects of character simply by the way we walk or hold ourselves.
The nature of each character in Eros and Psyche is somewhat fairy tale like, each harbouring their own quirks, their own insecurities. From character movement exercises we were able to highlight certain attributes by imagining how each character would walk, talk or react to those around him. Eccentric and playful Zephyr for example, would skip and bounce around the stage, fearful of being seen by the wrong person, while entirely controlled and confident Pan as the tale’s Storyteller, would roam the space on stage as and when he chose to do so.
It was important that the entire company built a shared language together, that we understood and agreed on each decision. We discussed the key scenes of the story and the equally important scenes the audience would not see, to ensure we were agreed on what precisely had happened. We stood together describing how we imagined the scenery to look, what sounds and smells would arise from each scene and soon we had all conjured the same world; as one we knew how the stage would look before we ever had one to rehearse on, complete with Aphrodite’s used wine glasses cast aside on the heaven floor.
Improvisation exercises were introduced to explore dialogue and contradictions in the myth like whether or not Aphrodite had planned the entire episode in order to teach Psyche and her son Eros the true value of love.
Despite its age, the values and lessons in love in Eros and Psyche are as ever present today, an aspect I chose to highlight in this production. In keeping with the mythical genre and traditional language the set was designed as such, like a story book containing the tale. The costume and action of the production illustrates the modern, relevant themes of the text.
The heavens are positioned upstage to create depth between the Gods and the mortals, and are further illuminated by mirrors literally reflecting Aphrodite’s power and vanity across the stage. A stark contrast to Psyche’s world downstage of leaves, twigs and rivers emphasising her humble beginnings. Lighting will play a significant role in this production conveying not only surroundings, but seasons, weather and water effects.
Opening up this production for the actors to give their input has made the ensemble stronger, allowing time to experiment with ideas and exercises and to take these ideas and present them to an audience.
I would compare this experience to that of the Traverse Theatre’s popular Words Words Words event. Having had two short pieces accepted by playwright Zinnie Harris who was in charge of the project at that time, I was able to hear the words I had written brought to life in front of an audience; Just a short snippet or scene to test the waters. The result was exhilarating and hugely beneficial; you could hear which lines needed further attention, which aspects struck a chord with the audience and, perhaps most importantly, the applause which followed. The confidence boost that reminds you why you applied in the first place, fills you with overwhelming inspiration to complete or progress with you story.
This production of Eros and Psyche, for me bears that same offer to the audience, the offer of a story with promise and a taster of things to come.
Eros and Psyche is one of three short plays which will be performed at the Granary in Leith on Monday 8th and Thursday the 11th of October.
Eros and Psyche was written by new writer Hope Whitmore and directed by emerging director Jennifer Adam, produced by David McFarlane at his launch of Edinburgh based Black Dingo Productions.
For further information on this play and the others involved in the production launch, click this link:
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