By Meraki Theatre
Niamh Adams, Rosy Addison-Dunne, Eleanor Cobb, Jodie Cozier, Yunique Enim-Adusei, Lauren Harris, Rebecca Hinde, Connor McClenan, Sam Pout, Kat Slaymark, Phoebe Stringer.
As a group, we found our collective interest in world-making and in sound and music. These shared enthusiasms drew us to the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The interrelation of myth and music was a perfect springboard into creating a submersive world experience for our audience. Our practical adaptation process began with an exercise devised by KneeHigh Theatre Company (fig. 5.1). We each wrote and shared our own personal connections to the myth. The common thread that emerged was the shared experience of grief and loss, and that Orpheus’ plight to exert control over his grief was relatable to all of us. Working from this as a foundation, we moved away from a direct adaptation, instead straying into radical appropriation. Taking symbolic and thematic components from the myth allowed us to explore our own personal connections to the narrative, ensuring we presented a truthful human experience. This ties in with our application of Baudrillard’s theories on symbolism in his book Simulation and Simulacra, as well as engaging with Warlikowski’s implementation of these theories in his adaptation of The Tempest. We attempted to demonstrate the artificiality of symbolism within theatre through the dissection of archetypal symbols present in the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
As suggested by David Bullen, we approached Warlikowski’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to analyse an adapted historical text, noting the theories that informed his adaptation (fig. 4.1). Through his exploration of Polish political history, Warlikowski’s work inspired our link to 20th-century grief. We were drawn to the performance’s exploration of Baudrillard’s simulacra theory, looking at his interrogation of societal symbols that fill the gaps of loss. From this we drew that the 20th century was not only a century of loss, but of grief and societal transformations.
We evaluated our initial aims and objectives (fig.4.2) and discussed the generational response to these moments of loss (as opposed to first-hand experiences) and instead began to think of the performance as an experiential tale of grief, whilst also considering how we could emulate Orpheus’ katabisis. Reading theory on performance as a liminal space (fig. 10.1) led us to Howard Barker, whose theories helped us to develop a perennial exploration of human truth. Within Barker’s Arguments for a Theatre, he claims that theatre should not impose a message upon its audience, but should endeavour to explore truth within the human conscience, allowing for freedom of interpretation that ‘insists on the limits of tolerance as its territory [and] inhabits the area of maximum risk’ (Barker 42). We aimed to allow our audience to experience the myth’s themes of grief and loss through their own individual exploration, which emulated Orpheus’ katabasis. This process developed our final research question: ‘In adapting the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, to what extent can we exhibit the truth of loss and pain within the human experience?’
Please listen to the audio files alongside viewing each image.
The development of music was driven by the vocalisation of grief, particularly through melodic soundscaping (fig. 7.1). Throughout the process, we experimented with tone and pitch, leading to a shifted composition which was executed through a canon of harmony. The crescendo of roaring vocals formed a collective voice, which demonstrated an emotional response to representations of death in music, whilst also depicting the act of trying to undo death through an engagement with musical theory such as the Dies irae.
We also decided to experiment with the Mexican folk song Llorona (The Weeping Woman) (fig. 10.2), a song about loss and love. Through translation we explored music as expression by singing in both English and Spanish. Alternating between languages allowed us to explore musicality as a language, as opposed to semantic expression, and how it affected the emotional response. Through the delivery of the performance we wanted to present music as a cathartic, external process of expressing internal grief. We sang Llorona in acapella with a slower pace that created a dark, ominous tone (Fig. 10.3) but also rehearsed it at a faster pace, accompanied by the guitar, which altered to a more joyful tone (fig. 10.4).
Throughout our process we ran workshops to explore movement, voice, narrative and devising practice. Using Anne Bogart’s The View Points Book to aid our understanding of the possibilities for physical movement and composition, we gained confidence in our use of movement and developed as an ensemble (fig. 3.4 and 14.1). Fig. 3.3 shows a workshop that explored Gustav Freytag building blocks of tension and fig. 3.2 shows a devising workshop that focused on making short scenes by introducing these different components.
Although each of the movement sequences we workshopped (as illustrated in the portfolio) weren’t used directly in our piece, it did create an opportunity for the group to explore their physicalities, giving us a better understanding of narrative whilst encouraging an environment that favoured experimentation. Figure 6.1 shows the results of a group discussion-based activity. We focused on music, character and scenography to unearth the ideas that we eventually moved forward with.
(Fig. 1.2) The written text was a response to an exploration of character, in this case the character of Persephone. The text aimed to investigate the symbiotic relationship between nature and death. The form of poetry was used to reflect the myth’s themes of art and song, which in turn formed the rhythmic text which aided in the creation of movement, for example fig.2.2. We also generated material via a hot seat of the character Orpheus (fig. 13.1). This formed the basis of the dialogue (fig.1.3), the monologue (fig.1.4), and also helped us in devising movement, as shown in (fig. 15.1).
Our costumes were inspired by Warlikowski, whose visual breakdown of his worlds is mirrored in the breakdown of his characters. We used suits (fig. 8.1) to create an aesthetic uniform style that formed geometric visual structures. The gradual buildup of chalk on the suits (transferred from the stage) mirrored how the internal experience of grief can affect and erode our external selves. The makeup too complemented this (fig 8.3), with bright colours contrasting the formal style of the costume, gradually smudging throughout the performance in the same way that the costume is affected by the chalk.
In the earlier stages of devising, movement served as a means of creating character. We developed Cerberus by using the fluidity of the body with three cast members, who entangled and contorted their limbs (fig 12.1). However, as our piece changed and developed, we moved away from the narrative and from the literal interpretation of character, and instead created material based on style and form. We wanted to develop a style of movement that retained our initial ideas of contorted shapes, but that demonstrated the physically uncomfortable nature of grief. For this, we were inspired by the highly stylised choreography of Bob Fosse. We found the dance piece The Rich Man’s Frug from Fosse’s Sweet Charity and used this as a springboard to explore our own creation of a distinct movement style (fig 3.1). The uncomfortable nature of the exaggerated movements allowed us to exhibit the feeling of discomfort (both in the physical and metaphorical sense) effectively onstage. (fig 11.1)
As the concept of an ‘underworld’ was an important part of our adaptation, we wanted to emulate the idea of entrances, exits, and points of transition within the world we were creating as a distinct part of the stage and lighting design (fig. 9.1). With the rectangular lighting rig suspended above the stage (fig. 8.2 and fig. 9.3) we aimed to create a motif, implying that there was a world ‘above’ this in both a literal and figurative sense. Using fresnels with shutters to create a corridor of light along the stage, we played to the idiom ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’, indicating the movement out of a state of grief and into acceptance, but without showing this movement from one state to the other overtly.
The chalk designs that would have been drawn onstage (fig. 1.1) primarily acted as an opening exhibit in which our audience was able to view the images and take meaning from them with no contextualisation. The drawings were taken from elements of a monologue written and performed later in the piece. These images came from the manifestations of loss and grief in the monologue, and the ideas that both permeate that scene and pervaded throughout the other ‘exhibits’.
Building from our inspiration from Es Devlin’s work, we wanted the stage to form a geometric shape, inferring a structured and formal setting. In designing a versatile stage with differing heights and edges jutting outward (fig. 9.2), we created a space in which the audience could traverse the performance area, which facilitated a variety of viewpoints so that each audience had a different experience.
Meraki Theatre aimed to engage critically with academic theory in order to fully explore our research question, and produce a creative performance that re-contextualised the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice through the human experience of grief.
Barker, Howard. Arguments for a Theatre. Fourth ed, 2016.
Baudrillard, Jean . Simulacra and Simulation. University of Michigan Press, 2000.
Bob Fosse, et al. SWEET CHARITY. USA, 1968.
Bogart, Anne, and Tina Landau. The Viewpoints Book : a Practical Guide to Viewpoints and Composition. 2014.
Bunting, Joe. “Freytag’s Pyramid: Definition, Examples, and How to Use This Dramatic Structure in Your Writing.” The Write Practice, 13 Jan. 2020, thewritepractice.com/freytags-pyramid/.
Sakowska, Aleksandra. “No ‘Happy Wrecks’ – Pessimism and Suffering in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s Adaptation of The Tempest by William Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Bulletin, vol. 29, no. 3, 2011, pp. 327–338.
The Tempest. By William Shakespeare, adapted by Krzystof Warlikowski, 2003, Rozmaitości Theatre.