Thursday, 13 June 2013

Not a load of Guff!

By Mhairi Gilbert - PACE Director -The Guffin

NT Connections 2013 thus far - has been great great in fact we find ourselves PACE bound for the big metropolis.

"Mr Brenton" called and we listened...

I suppose I've always had a slight creative connection to him - way back in my RSAMD training days my year group was once close to performing " Thirteenth Night" another oh-so clever piece of his writing; and when I saw the play choices this year (a host of great writers and plays for us to pick from) my eye was immediately drawn to the words - "The Guffin" and my drama school days 'almost' playwright - Howard Brenton.

It seemed artistically- we were destined to meet after all...

I won't lie- The connections process from 'page to stage' has been - challenging (but in a good way). It’s not always easy to find a play that fits your young, talented and in my case "Scottish accented” cast - perhaps something edgy - something unknown- something of a part for everyone and somewhere right to play it - all things I had to consider before committing to the text that would occupy us for our Connections debut year.

Ticking all the right boxes was never my strong suit but this time round I think I did it.

From the moment I found myself at the Directors' Weekend workshop back in November- with NT director Nadia and Howard himself and all the other interesting Guffin directors I met- I sort of knew I might be in with an artistic shout.

I just really liked this play from the start - I maybe didn't wholly get it but it certainly got my imagination working and that - for me - is always a great sign.

The Directors' Weekend (play workshop) process that the National run at the start of your Connections year is so useful for touching base with your creative drama instincts - the same questions came into my head as were explored both in the morning and afternoon sessions with the playwright and both Nadia and Howard kept asking us - in unusual and inspiring ways...

...What is the Guffin? How do you play it?

And in the end - what to your young cast- is it all about?

This is the baffling creative question I took back with me to Scotland - what is the Guffin all about? 

I knew the Guffin was a device to drive action forward but how it would appear was always going to be this particular Scottish director's challenge.

In the NT sessions nothing was ever fixed on that front - but not in a negative way - more of a positive incentive - that creatively speaking - "the Guffin" like the world - could be our Oyster!

Now oysters are clearly an acquired taste and convincing my cast to artistically try them was going to be tough but if it was to be a PACE Connections year to remember - we needed to taste something just a little bit different in terms of our approach - less production value more process - less show on the outside more meaning through the words ...and so our Connections adventure began and right from the read through my cast knew this wouldn't be easy but it certainly had the potential to be " out of this world".

January and February this year were months where we pushed the creative envelope with - workshops and discussions - rehearsals full of improvisation and wordplay - necessary cast laughter and moments of text frustration and on occasion ...the odd tear...

But isn't that what drama's all about? The full spectrum of human emotions all wrapped up in the fun of your dramatic play...

I can say truthfully we did it all with this one - and what was so fulfilling was we created it - together. We connected. Lights, Sound, Action ...we were a team.

Even down to our choice of delivery for our Home Venue performance. If our Guffin was perhaps a look at being human - then we needed 'to be seen' in doing it - from all sides with nowhere to hide - and that for PACE meant playing it "in the round” or rather 'in the square' for our Wynd Theatre church space!

Our Connections "actors" loved this - the intimacy and inclusion factor of the audience as part of the action driving them on to greater things...

We knew from the start our Partner Theatre - The Edinburgh Lyceum - may not give us the same ideal performance set up - but we figured we wanted to do it our way - at least on home ground.

When Anthony - our NT director - came to see the piece he seemed genuinely taken with our staging  and intrigued by our interpretation of the characters and text the cast were of course elated and ultimately relieved to have found their method of solving "the Guffin riddle " in little but a framed creative 'empty space'.

From my experience of involvement in Connections 2013- I would say that this is an amazing nationwide theatre festival for young people up - one which really levels the playing fields between all who take part - there is no geographic factor - no status - no competition element to get in the way - just the voice of great plays to unite talented youth in a common theatrical pursuit.

When we found out we had been invited to take part at the National's- The Shed this summer I think it made me feel very proud at being close to Howard Brenton's Guffin Voice - very often in Theatre you can feel cut off from things because of where you live and work and although we may just be a Youth Theatre from Paisley - we know we are the passionate heart of a creative organisation that believes anything is possible if you work hard enough.

We inspire so our young people aspire ...and being able to perform "our Guffin" on the National Theatre's “red " stage is just proof that if you follow your artistic vision through in anything-  then Connections can really work for you.

I'd like to thank everyone who has helped me realise this vision both at the National and at PACE and I would also like to extend my best wishes to the other Guffin Casts and directors who were with me on this creative journey. If you are anything like us you will know how something as simple as a ball can change everything - even down to who you are.

We hope be part of Connections 2014 next year - and I look forward to meeting other Connections Directors and companies in the near future.

Here's to great Summer Festival 2013!
To buy tickets for The Guffin or any other Connections 2013 play click here
To apply to take part in Connections 2014 click here 

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