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Tag Archive | "Elle Moreton"

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Q&A: The Paper Birds

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Laura Turner

Dynamic female company The Paper Birds comprises Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell, Creative Producer Elle Moreton and Outreach Director Kylie Walsh. After their first show, A Smile Fell in the Grass, featured in the National Student Drama Festival, the company formed in 2003. Nine years on, it is made up of three of its founding members, and makes devised, visual, physical theatre that often tells and prioritisies the stories and voices of women. Current show Thirsty is an exploration of the binge drinking culture in the UK and is currently touring the country. Jemma McDonnell details why the company decided to tackle our love affair with booze on stage and how it gathered material for this part-verbatim drama which fuses live music, sore heads and bruised knees.

What was the inspiration for Thirsty?

As big drinkers ourselves, Kylie and I were interested in the reputation our nation has for drinking and wanted to explore some of these stories in order to question why drinking is such a large part of our culture and day to day life. We had been reading a lot in the papers about women drinking too much. As women about to turn 30, we began to question our own drinking habits and ask, “When is too much?”, “Why do I drink?” and, “Is heavy drinking more acceptable for men than for women?” We wanted to explore these questions and the possible answers.

We set up a blog and on-line questionnaire and had lots of very honest people fill them in or send us their stories. We also bought a mobile phone, had business cards made and set up a “drunken hotline” – a phone number that people could ring when they had had a few drinks and leave us a voicemail.

Do you feel a sense of responsibility towards those who contributed their stories?

All the contributions were anonymous so nobody’s identity is revealed in the show. There is always a sense of responsibility when you are telling other peoples stories and even more so if this is in a verbatim format. Yes, we take this very seriously.

What is the performance style of Thirsty?

Thirsty uses a combination of live music, movement, imagery and physical theatre in order to tell its stories. The show straddles a number of theatrical styles as it uses performance and non-performance, it moves in and out of narratives and is fairly fragmented in its style.

Does the fact that you are a female company prioritising women’s stories affect the way you present your work – or the way it is received?

No, I dont think the reception or perception of the work is any different. The subject of binge drinking is of interest to both men and women, and is addressed as such. The fact that the work is made by women, so we are discussing this from our point of view,  should not isolate or exclude any proportion of the audience.

Do you feel binge drinking has become particularly associated with young women today?

Yes. First and foremost it is associated with young people, but there is also a tendency to link binge drinking with the working class, and of late in the media concerns about young women drinking too much.

We didn’t want to preach to the audience, we take a very honest approach and begin by confessing our own drinking habits. We received such a range of stories, some funny and harmless, some very dangerous and worrying. We present a range of these stories so that the show does not glamorise drinking or indeed condemn drinking.

I think theatre is a very powerful tool for social change. I know that sounds dramatic, but when we were touring In a Thousand Pieces, our show about sex trafficking, we would speak to people afterwards whose eyes might have been opened, whose attitude might have altered. This is change, right here. It might not be a massive movement or revolution, but it is a change in someone’s outlook and a change in their actions will follow.

You regularly deliver educational workshops. Is this an important strand of your work, to engage with young audiences?

Yes, since forming in 2003 we have been working in schools, colleges, with youth theatre groups and universities. Young people seem to really engage with the work, and as someone who started going to theatre at a very young age I think its important to acknowledge and encourage younger audiences.

Thirsty is touring the UK until 2 April. For more information and to book tickets, visit The Paper Birds’ website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Review Edinburgh Fringe: Thirsty

Posted on 29 August 2011 by Jake Orr

There are times when you can watch a show and understand what the theatre company has done, you can see their thoughts and intentions shimmering on the surface of their work. Now, this might not always be a bad thing – some of the worst theatre experiences are those that leave you befuddled by what you’ve seen with no context. Imaginative yes, coherent less so. The Paper Birds’ new piece Thirsty is a look at our obsession (or perhaps better to call it, liking) of alcohol and its affects. In doing do, the company (Jemma McDonnell, Elle Moreton and Kylie Walsh) has created a piece that seems inherently obvious.

As performers of Thirsty, McDonnell and Walsh attempt to portray what drunkenness is, what the relationships are like between people that are drinking, and also attempt to crack open the bonds that make The Paper Birds a collaborative theatre-making company. Thirsty is a devised piece, using verbatim text taken from drunken phone calls the company received during their devising process from audience members, friends and family. This is relayed, not so much as the first person, but more as an outside voice entering the performance space, voiced by Walsh and McDonnell. They speak of the phone calls, recite words written on the cubicle walls of the set (three identical toilet cubicles complete with moving toilet seats), and mix these with their own tales.

The thing is, this approach to performance delivery seems too exposed for my liking. I can see through the presentation of work and see the raw remains of their devising process. Whilst they state that they had people call them and leave them messages, the performing duo do this with a sense of persona, another tool out of the devising handbook. I’m not trying to knock The Paper Birds for its devising process, nor for its performance, because on the whole Thirsty is an enjoyable piece and the audience laugh and travel on the journey of drunkness with them. For me though, with every scene, and every device used, I can’t help but to think “Yup, that’s another tool for devising right there… yeah, there is another overused technique”. Whether it’s drinking glass after glass of water and repeating gestures, or revealing truths of McDonnell and Walsh’s friendship, I see the technique more than the performance.

Perhaps it is the influence of Kirsty Housley (of Complicite) and Wendy Houstoun (of DV8, Forced Entertainment) who have both collaborated on the project that has infused The Paper Birds with these very distinct performance styles. Either way, Thirsty seems for the seasonsed theatre-goer (and previous theatre maker) more about the various methods of making a performance, than that of the performance itself. This is, I’m sure, something that only I experienced, but it does cloud my thoughts on the production when looking back.

However, writing this more objectively and putting aside these niggling thoughts, Thirsty, as a new piece of work from The Paper Birds, is an enjoyable experience. The blended use of live music with the continuous drinking and storytelling, whilst repetitive at times, does propel the audience and the performance in a certain inevitable direction. As McDonnell and Walsh have water streaming down their dresses and the energy of performance wanes slightly, the emotive value of what they are portraying shines through. As people who drink, it is often ourselves who suffer the most: we use drinking to escape, to bridge the gap between reality and idealism.

In Thirsty, The Paper Birds blur the destinctions between what is true – a reflection upon themselves as performers/friends, and on the creative imagination. The verbatim voices that emerge from the work show the depth of experiences that people go through when drinking. As a whole, Thirsty won’t leave you craving a drink or two, but it might just make you think about some of the nights you’ve experienced, and how far this has gone to release the insurities within yourself.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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