Interview: Lee Delong @ the Brighton Fringe
Uncommon Comedy are bringing four shows to Brighton
The Mumble caught up with their director-creator
Hello Lee, where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi Mumble. Nice of you to invite me for an interview, thanks very much. I have been living in France for 37 years, of that about 15 years in Paris and now 22 years in a small village outside of Paris, in a little house overlooking the Seine. It’s very peaceful and full of birdsong. I grew up in wild, wonderful West Virginia, so I consider myself French (which I am) and West Virginian!
Can you tell us a little about what you do?
I’ve always been first and foremost an actress, but as a young actress, I had to supplement my income. I began to clown at university football games—learned juggling and unicycling and balloon making, then clowned at children’s parties. So when I moved to France, I was accustomed to being resourceful. I was limited largely because my French wasn’t yet good enough for the stage, leading me to expand my acting work into directing. And I love it, even though acting is my first love, and have enjoyed working on some fabulous stages in France.
I started to teach because of the war in Bosnia. I had worked in the Balkans in the years before the war, and I had many friends and colleagues there. I wanted to do something to help, and they said they needed teachers. (I was an actress, not a teacher. What could I do?) I had recently finished Lecoq School and I felt quite comfortable with the clown as a theatrical style and felt that it was suited to war-time needs. I began teaching clown at Akademija Umjetnosti, their National School in Sarajevo, then later took over their movement courses. The clown class became so popular that I am still teaching it, since 1994, and in fact often end up creating shows with my previous students.
In other words, to answer your question, what I do is act, direct, create, and teach.
How did you get into theatre in the first place?
When I was a very small child, I made up shows and characters to entertain my sisters. I loved getting people to laugh at my ‘boy who eats a butterfly,’ or my ‘fly stuck in the car’ routines. Then in first grade, I played Mrs. Santa in her eponymous show. I fell asleep in the chair after Santa left to distribute toys, as rehearsed, but I improvised her snoring quite loudly, which got lots of guffaws. I’ve never looked back. I did shows in high schools and community theatre, then studied theatre in drama school, then attended Ecole Jacques Lecoq….I’ve never known anything else.
Last year you were at the Brighton Fringe, can you tell us about the experience?
Last year, the wonderful Ralf Wetzel performed our Absolutely Reliable!, which is a collaboration born of one of my workshops. It started with just a little mask I had bought in a joke and magic shop in Paris, but when Ralf put it on, he became George from head to toe. It was remarkable. The mask is now much more elaborate, and the show has lived on many stages, and we were thrilled to be part of Brighton Fringe last year. I adore this city! I spent many Christmas holidays here and cherish the memories of walks on the beach and the pier. I once played here, Worstward Ho! by Samuel Beckett with the Gare St. Lazare Players. I love the energy of this place, and the Brighton Fringe is my favorite of all the many Festivals I’ve attended. It’s large yet remains friendly. And it’s in a gorgeous setting. It’s got it all.
This year you’re bringing reinforcements – what’s the story?
Ralf had the idea to bring several of my shows together for a tour. I have seven shows extant at this time, but we would need a fortune to get that going! However, Ralf is a miracle maker and he managed to organize four different companies with four different pieces to come under one roof for the first time in my theatrical life! It’s very exciting! Two shows from Croatia: Obligation with beautiful artist, Nikolina Majdak with whom I’ve worked since 2007, and Black Petra, a children’s show, my only one, with Nikolina and the fabulous Iva Peter-Dragan whose company Triko I’ve worked with for more than a decade. From Serbia, we have Stefan Ostojić, a truly gifted performer, with the solo, Lala, a delightful show. And of course, The Heist. Something for everyone!
Where did the idea for Uncommon Comedy come from?
The idea to do Uncommon Comedy came from Ralf, the title is mine. Uncommon Comedy because it is an uncommon way I have of working. I search deeply into each actor to find what are his strengths and weaknesses. I stretch and amplify that to create themes that emerge from the artist’s own accumulation of knowledge and observation. And whether the style is red-nose, mask, movement, dance, or comi-tragedy, it is physical theatre in a very pure form, usually without words, without set. I believe in the virtuosity of the actor. All you need is light and an actor….and music. I often use a musician who is part of the experience. He/she is on-stage, visible to the public for the whole performance. I like to create a soundscape that replaces the set and sometimes even objects. I like a creation that links directly to a public, that evokes joy, anger, tears, laughter….all the emotions that link us as humans.
Can you tell us about each of the shows?
I will give you a little text for each that I wrote specifically for Brighton Fringe:
is an allegory of the prevailing power of innocence, which mixes clown, dance, movement, and object manipulation. The live music on-stage enlarges the actor’s playing space and ignites the public’s imagination. This whimsical performance incites an interrogation of what one small person must do to combat catastrophe. With Nikolina Majdak, music: Lucija Stanojević, and the man in the suit: Mario Miličić.
features four full masks created and played by a single actor, without objects, without set, making the soundscape primordial. The multi-instrumentalist on-stage synches the high whistle of darting off a cliff, the moment of frozen silence, the whoosh of falling, the bam splat of landing….all these things that speak volumes in pictorial language. This piece is a lone man’s struggle to survive the repercussions of a pandemic. With Ralf Wetzel, music: Max Charue.
is pure red-nose clown. A solo virtuosity which tells a folk tale in a revisited version. In this piece, the music is the movement of the actor, though he plays several instruments himself, to tell the age-old story of star-crossed lovers who wring a happy ending out of a cruel destiny. With Stefan Ostojić.
is a red-nose clown duo for young public, which tells a story of initiation. Two girls, best of friends, get sucked into the cyber world, and must make an arduous journey to save themselves. The original soundtrack fills this world of monsters and battles and super heroines with a symphony of fantastical sound. With Iva Peter-Dragan and Nikolina Majdak.
Do they all get together sometimes?
They have never been all together at the same time, except on-line. This will be a first!
Why do you think solo shows such as yours have so much power in performance?
Not all my shows are solo shows, but when they are, the actor must be the motor. It is the actor we’re looking at and I want him/her to play like it’s the last day on earth. As I mentioned, I believe in the virtuosity of actors, without the ego. The public is the only partner when it’s a solo, so the link to the public must be incredibly strong. The public must believe that a truth is being spoken, and that under the laughter there is something to nourish your soul.
So you have 20 seconds to sell each of the shows on the streets of Brighton, what do you say?
Obligation: Come to see a delightful, whimsical allegory, with a masterful mover and incredible music!
The Heist: An homage to dispossessed restaurant owners everywhere! A very rare performance of solo-full-mask with music that absolutely delights!
Lala: This show is lesson in virtuosity by a red-nose theatre clown–not circus clown–an age-old tale told in a remarkable way!
Black Petra: Two red-nose clowns who are catapulted through a rapid-fire adventure! Unusual children’s fare!
What does the rest of 2023 hold in store for Lee DeLong & Uncommon Comedy?
For Uncommon Comedy….who knows? If we have someone interested in the whole package, we would be delighted to continue! This is, as I said, a first, and could be expanded to include three more of my shows, for the brave of heart.
As for myself, Stefan and I are leaving immediately following Brighton Fringe to attend Zagreb Clown Festival by Triko Cirkus Teatar, headed by Iva Peter-Dragan. We’re playing on the 12th May. Otherwise, I have a bit of TV to do in France with the wonderful Antoine Garceau who was on the Call My Agent team. He’s adapting Camus’ La Peste in a short series and I’m lucky enough to be a small part of it. I’m also continuing an animation series that I’ve been doing for two years: Xilam’s Chip & Dale: Park Life. In November, I’m honored to be teaching for Healthy Humor in NYC, along with some incredible clown masters. I’ll be directing a clown revisitation of Romeo & Juliet for the National Theatre in Sarajevo at the beginning of next year….And who knows what else will pop up!!
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Ralf Wetzel @ the Brighton Fringe
A rare solo mask performance will soon be in Brighton
The Mumble caught up with the actor
Hello Ralf, where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi Damo, I am a German expat, a mask & clown performer and a business educator. I live and work since 12 years in Belgium, where I grew roots in Brussels.
Can you tell us a little about the performer inside you?
Oh, he most likely always has been there, it only took me 40 years to discover him and to let him out. The discovery took place during a depression some 10 years ago. I was an academic, entering a business school. This specific environment was a huge challenge for me. Facing private challenges as well, I was down, when I was introduced to improvisation theatre and the red nose clown. That brought me in deep touch with my inner emotional worlds, and a very powerful drive to express myself grew strong. That’s when the performer stepped up. In the close collaboration with French/American actress, director and writer Lee Delong, the performer received his format, mainly by the serendipitous contact to theatre masks. Lee and myself worked on three shows, which made it to the Edinburgh Fringe, the Zagreb Clown Festival and even a TEDx stage just a few weeks ago.
You’re coming to the Brighton Fringe this year with a new show, what is it about Brighton that makes you want to return?
I came here last year with the solo half-mask show “Absolutely reliable!” and fell in love with the city and the festival. The festival is by far less of a madhouse like Edinburgh, you can develop contacts and networks much easier here, and sea salt in the air always attracts me.
After ‘Absolutely Reliable’ you have now created a whole new show. What was the impulse behind the change?
Oh it simply emerged from the confrontation with medical masks in everyday life. If you work in the area of mask theatre, the link is obvious. Masks hide parts of your face, while they are unveiling inner powers and energies, we are barely aware of. Masks change our behaviour. When the experience and power of a tiny realm, a niche of theatre work suddenly becomes a mundane phenomenon, of course you want to investigate what is happening. For the performance, one very interesting part was to explore what happens when you put a (medical) mask on top of a expressive theatre mask. The outcome is stunning.
Your new show is called ‘The Heist’, can you tell us all about it?
The Heist is an homage to all the pandemic-struck restaurant and small business owners of this world. The piece explores the plight of Steve, a restaurant owner, who loses everything, and it does so by employing comedy, mask, music, and movement. It is a solo full-mask show with live soundscape on stage, meaning, it’s visual theatre, without (almost) any spoken word on an empty stage. The masks elevate the emotional turmoil we all went through, and we barely have words for. Since there is only me as actor and four masks, I have to constantly change characters and their physicality. I jump, roll, tippy-toe, explode, collapse, dream, and agonize in rapid-fire succession, and that’s sheer fun. Lee as the writer and director of the show dissects in the piece the human struggle for survival and its inherent meaninglessness in an alluring, charming way. She contrasts the wordless sufferings of the masked life we all have been living with a heightened sense of poignancy.
Who will be supplying the live music?
The music plays a crucial part in this piece. The sound and the physical play are close and intimate partners, and both need to be in full sync to make the world of Steve come alive. We are blessed to have the wonderful percussionist Max Charue from Charlesoi with us. Since there is no stage set, Max provides the full soundscape of all the actions that I do in mask. If I open a door, throw an egg into a pan or blow up a safe in a bank, he makes you hear and therefore see it. It’s magic.
Who created the masks & how did they do it?
It was me who created 3 out of the 4 masks. It’s a highly intuitive process, where your hands practically follow intuition and instinct but not your mind, while the mind needs to be fully present. I learned making masks from Steve Jarand from Calgary and The Familie Flöz from Berlin. There are as many techniques as there are mask makers. But in short, you first form a face from clay, and then you apply either paper maché, leather or plastic on top of it and then you finish it with colour, hair, teeth, eyes. What sounds simple isn’t. Mask making is a true and highly intuitive, almost spiritual craft.
The Heist is being directed by Lee Delong – what is it like to work with her?
It’s an experience that changed my life. Lee is extraordinary in how she sees the gold in the dust, she recognizes them in the smallest cues. She looks through your levels of fear and all your shields of protection, in a loving way. With decades of experience as actress, director and teacher, she challenges you to the bones and kicks your ass hard. But she knows exactly where your boundaries are, how far she can push. I feel challenged but safe in her hands at the same time. That allowed me a developmental journey throughout the last years far beyond my imagination. I had no idea how far that would go. And The result is amazing to me, every day.
She is also directing three other shows at the Fringe, what is ‘Uncommon Comedy’?
Yes, she directed all shows in ‘Uncommon Comedy’. This mini festival brings highly visual, physical theatre without words to Brighton. The shows come from Croatia, Serbia and Belgium. They all employ mask, red-nose, movement, dance, music, and sound that speaks without words on a practically empty stage. In this world of moving stage pictures, Lee removed the words and replaced them with the power of purely physical expression and with the immense effect of sound and musical underscoring. With this, ‘Uncommon Comedy’ treats universal themes with rapid-fire action, image, and tons of humour. We are very grateful that the production of Uncommon Comedy is wonderfully supported by the Diplomatic Representation of the Government of Flanders.
How much of a role do you have with Uncommon Comedy?
While Lee is the artistic director of the mini festival, I am the producer, which means that all the management of the event is in my hands. From theatre contracting, coordinating the marketing and the linking to the Fringe organization team, looking for funding.
You have 20 seconds to sell The Heist on the streets of Brighton, what do you say?
The Heist is a rapid fire exploration of the emotional turmoil we all went through during the pandemic, and brought to the stage in a light, comedic, and truthful way.
THE OLD MARKET
The Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
25th November – 30th December
As you might have guessed the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh is my fave theatre in the whole world. As I entered the venue and found my seat, I was sat next to a chap called Tom. I recognised Tom. We had both reviewed a musical in Pitlochry back in 2014 – it’s nice to meet other writers. Tom is doing another 6 pantos next week.
The Brunton’s main theatre was packed with little people, Mums and Dads and Nannas and Grandads. Everyone was totally up for it – Sinbad is an all-singing, all-dancing love story packed with adventure, romance, action and comedy. All performers have been locally sourced, from The Brunton’s very own Dance and theatre company. the supporting dancers were all under 10 years of age and they all did a really good job. brilliant choreography was expertly performed. Sinbad has lots of audience participation with more “She’s behind yous” and “Oh no she’s not, Oh yes she is” than one could shake a stick at.
A pantomime dame called Betty (Sinbad’s mother), Cuddles the Cat, a Fairy Godmother and Rosie (who has a crush on Sinbad) join Sinbad on a cruise of a lifetime on the back of a whale. Because a wicked witch, who happens to be Sinbad’s future Mother-in-Law, is increasing rents in Fisher Row (boo!) So, they set sail across the Firth of Forth in search of fortune, and love… confronting mythical sea creatures in death-defying battles along the way. All brought to life with simple stage props, expert lighting and a very talented cast indeed.
With beautifully performed songs sung throughout this is fully engaging family fun. Every one had a very good time indeed. With a much-needed joyful ending, the whole audience was beaming with softened hearts. ‘Aye Aye Captain,’ Sinbad is glamourous and glitzy, the perfect antidote to the winter blues. So it’s all aboard the good ship Brunton… get your tickets now for a heartwarming adventure of a lifetime.
Sinbad is a winner.
Review: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Written And Directed by John Binnie
Cast In Order of Appearance
Sinbad: Calum Barbour
Cuddles Nine-Lives: Ross Donnachie
Rosie: Eilidh Weir
Moneygrabba / Pirate Queen / Island Witch / Roc Bird: Wendy Seager
Nurse: Isabella Jarrett
Betty Brunton: Graham Crammond
Villager / Sailor / Islander: Poppy Smith.
Orpheus in the Record Shop
October 13-15, 2022
Leeds is a wonderful example of a self-sustaining, modernizing city. The de facto capital of West Yorkshire, it’s bound to contain & attract a wide variety of talented performers – & of course the odd reviewer to check out what they’re up to. I’m in the latter category, & despite living in Scotland, I was heading down for the Burnley-Swansea game anyway (4-0, top of the league), so I’m like let’s check out the Leeds Playhouse while I’m nestling in the Pennines.
I’d never been before, & on entering for the first time fell instantly enamoured of the space. A proper Athenian ‘Theatre of Dionysus’, with steep’d galleries climbing tall into the cavernous auditorium, overlooking a spacious circular performing space. Yeah, it was great, & the acoustics were wicked. But so much for the tea-take – I think that’s what they call a bread roll in these parts -, what about the filling.
I love my Orpheus, me – he was probably the first western poet, c.1400 BC, & more than likely responsible for the original penning of the Cosmogonies, the Theogonia, & the wonderful Titanomachia. A couple of years ago I even visited the Greek island of Samothraki on some kind of Orphic pilgrimage, where the adolescent Orpheus was supposed to have been shown the lyre for the first time, strung by goat hair, which of course would lead to the empire of the guitar.
I am lonely
I need some serotonin
Somebody phone me
In 2022, however, the empire of the guitar is being challenged by such dazzling devices as the loop-pedal, & the way that the astonishing performer that is local lad, Testament, utilised this device meant the show did exactly what it said on the tin – Orpheus was truly in the house, presenting us with a truly Olympian vocal range with all sorts of stuff going on, from Gregorian chanting to hip-hop where he was rapping & beat boxing at the same time! I even thought of a new word to coin the magic; jawgawp, when you gawp at something with yer jaw hanging out – which I was doing!
All these audio skills are supported by a nifty script & some virtuosic musical performances from a small but tight-as-you-like ensemble of musicians. These came on to the stage one-by-one as the story & the intensity of the music developed, ending in an otherworldly jarring, sparring finale which had the entire audience ovating on our feet.
There’s comedy, there’s warmth, & there’s a proper natural insight into the mechanics of running a record shop. The substory of Testament’s dealings with DJ Vulture was an excellent narrative to plunge into in between the tunes – tho’ the love story not so much. Perhaps this was an allusion to the original Orphean Euridice story, where he tries to bring her back from the dead – in this tale she’s an absent ex-lover -, but it didn’t have the same impact as the rest of the play. Despite that, it’s extremely rare to get a blend of theatrical performance & live gig, where you feel as if you’re experiencing both sensations at the same time, but the hypnotizing mantra that is Orpheus in the Record shop pull’d the concept off magnificently.
Damian Beeson Bullen
Cumbernauld Theatre at Lanternhouse
24 September – 1 October, 2022
‘Bold Girls’ was a play on show at the Cumbernauld Theatre Lanternhouse, in the transformed complex. It is a 31 year old play, giving it a stunning success and obvious popularity. It has travelled the breadth of Scotland and far beyond as part of a fearless Theatre taking down censorship of both large and small proportions. The pleasure to be there was in a huge way a good sign of survival in the unbelievable position the world finds itself in at this time.
The play’s premier at The Cumbernauld Theatre was in a town very different today than it was then. Set in 1991 Belfast it has travelled internationally and to great success with sustainability that audiences have lapped up.
The Irish life of that time in Belfast stirred the Theatre into action, with such a lovely tone and accent, things seemed normal in conversation between the 3 family members (though things fell apart). The smart choice of cast brought a very incentive presentation with an organic quality.
The day to day life was tastefully injected making grounds for a story of survival that struck a painful note stirring feelings of compassion in an audience enthralled. The ‘Troubles’ pointed out as all the more potent.
The three characters had different stage appeal that went a long way into setting the right kind of scene. Written by the playwright Rona Munro after an experience there ‘under the troubles’ of which we shouldn’t estimate acts of depravity that communities lived through.
The lucrative stances of life between the girls came from the great negatives circling the times before there was a political will for peace and extreme violence was all too common. They sat together, made tea together but fiercely argued and fought with each other. Very much bringing the tensions of living during the times to the stage with a cutting, shaping and word smith talent that with strength put human fragility on par with the realities of it.
Families who were close were fragmented in a fearful environment that went about teaching the segregation and separation held on both sides as the one true way. Everything in this expert play was to enhance its sorry, crazy circumstance as it used Zen to place props and tables to portray normality alongside the bloody chaos.
It helps to a large extent to find a voice to express itself, then another, then another, Theatre is at its magical best as a tool for giving this voice so as to at least escape silence that the undeniable trauma had come about in the community as seizure after seizure.
The beauty of the play helped hit home the spirit of a need to protect but it is in a world where nothing could be done to alleviate and even halt the well known proceedings. The joys of discussion with regard to normal life, as it is a bold life, with three close ‘Bold Girls’. But the message consisted around the terrible tragedy of war or occupation, entre the stranger Dierdre (Katya Searle) a hard and mysterious role opened up, but only to a recognition of pain.
Nora (Pauline Goldsmith), Marie (Julie Martis), Cassie (Leigh Lothian) and Dierdre performed as an entourage of a sacred beauty and truth, with words of normality that directed the coming outrage incredibly well.
This was a very touching performance with writing to intercept an object nearly impossible to take. The joy was in the overcoming of the human will and spirit, but it was a world imbued with tales of painful cruelty, unfairness and looking back at the heart.
May we through dialogue find the necessary fact that conflict does harm to the greatest human being’s who survive and lives within dysfunctional boarders. I sensed a bond coming from these repeatedly wonderful actors who had a power to then from a most brilliant play stripped of anything but the lives that mattered most being driven down with hard to bear bearings and actions. That will not soon end because of the amazingly distorted actions in an issue that won’t be forgotten.
A well known and loved play, a play to show love being affected in its soft and pliable influence even in a world of threat, and a performance that makes such sense as to send out its message far into space, with a hope so tender as to make your heat full.
The People Woke Up
Scottish Storytelling Centre
29th Sept, 7.30
We were very warmly welcomed to the stunning play ‘The People Woke Up’ which was an evening organised by the Story telling company Ice& Fire. Working on the basis of its commitments to human rights Ice&Fire are successfully bringing trauma to theatre. In the evenings consort stories were shared as an international Belarusian presence were given a warm and supportive salute from Scotland who seem to be able to step in as a free speaking country which is a help in a big way.
Listening to these true stories of incidents in the ‘Occupied’ Belarus take-over, I found the influence and relationship between Belarus and the UK was of saving grace, urgency was the message. Human rights were focused in the use of theatre, offering great promotional potentials of travelling the globe.
The 4-person panel play of true stories in the events that happened in 2020. As the stories unfolded the message echoed through the room. The sold-out evening (thinking maybe it being better with fewer ears, minds and hearts to change) was to give Belarus a voice as it was hit in 2020 by the shift from democracy for a dictatorship when a rigged election brought about the rise to this elevated position that would last 27 years, for Alexander Lukashenko.
Living through nothing less than a dangerous environment, we realised that every important step towards reunion for Belarus cannot be done in one go after the currents of devastation that seem to have no end to. The force of flight has shown a light of hope for Hanna Komar who is a Belarusian Poet and an exemplary student on PHD status. Of all the four’s stories which were all true but those told by Hanna were of her own account, witnesses one and all.
Things are on this catastrophic level replacing humans with machine’s, unemotional and without mercy; The words of the play, asked for time to allow things like reflection and raising of concerns of very deep thoughts that have culminated into looking towards finding a manifestation for what was termed a collective healing. After being forced upon them it is now their time and place to free its people from the aggression of oppression.
The story goes; at first a great spirit arose in reaction during that year, but the feeling soon turned to the despair. The state of things setting the play to push for help. In the hope of freeing everything that Belarus is, Hanna’s incentive as an activist was suddenly devastated in her surprised realisation that things could go so wrong. It was her who, in a moment of the eye of a storm, noticed that ‘the People Woke Up.’ This evening created a small but soulful cry for all the action now needed with a new platform to express the real education that communities have found at the heart of shock.
This unrequested understanding on everyone’s face’s made possible for people and actions given a placed and time for a performance that had to be of strength to be amazed by, turning action into soothing talk about the disbelief that is now unavoidable.
Belarus sounds like a vibrant, richly cultured destination with a great many things to offer, but aid is now needed from the rest of the world but how do we go about it? At least this little simple gesture of a chance to share is a show of solidarity, to help herald a place in a bad position, but making things change was the highlight of this remarkable play.
An Interview With Hanna Komar
This week, Actors for Human Rights are bringing ‘The People Woke Up’ to Edinburgh – the Mumble had a chat with its creator
• Hello Hanna, where are you from & where do you live these days?
Hello. I’m from Belarus and I’m currently based in London. I came here to take an MA in Creative Writing on a Chevening Scholarship in September 2021. The idea was to go back home after the year, to bring all the new knowledge, ideas and experience back to my home country. But it’s not safe to return now. So I’m staying to undertake a PhD at the University of Brighton.
• As a poet, would you say there are specific themes or styles that are the key ingredients to Belarusian poetry & which other Belarusian poets do you like?
I think Belarusians are a poetic nation in general. We open up to poetry quite naturally when we encounter it, and we have a lot of great poets, including contemporary ones. Belarusian poetry is diverse, as it should be, I believe. Recently, women’s voices have become especially powerful and distinct. I can make a long list of names that I consider prominent, but sadly, by far not many of them one can find in English translations, and this is the main reason why only so few Belarusian poets are known to the English-speaking audience. Among them, of course, Valzhyna Mort is the most renowned. Julia Cimafiejeva is another important voice, and her English collection “Motherfield” is to be out soon in the USA. Kryscina Banduryna, a strong, uncompromised voice sounding from Belarus, despite all the risks which speaking out poses. These are obviously just a few, but they all have something in common: they write from a feminist perspective on the life in Belarus, reflective of its past and present filled with different forms of violence.
• How do you approach writing poetry yourself?
My approach to writing poetry now is different from what it used to be before the summer 2020. My poetry used to be personal, even intimate, even though it of course reflected the context, the time and place I was living in. Since 2020, I’ve mostly spoken about collective experience. As the repressions at home have been getting worse and worse, I’ve lost my own voice and my own words. I’ve been mostly documenting the collective experience, and I’m grateful for the existence of docu poetry – because it means that I’m not keeping silent, that I still have tools to give voice to those who need it. But actually, I’ve also started writing creative non-fiction, as it gives me more space to tell stories of Belarusians.
• How much involvement do you have with PEN Belarus?
I worked at PEN Belarus, now I’m a member. Of course, I follow their activities, they do very important work not only for the present but for the future. I’m also an honorary member of English PEN. Being part of the community helps to not feel alone and powerless when far away from home.
• Could you tell us about ‘The People Woke Up, what is the piece all about and what is your involvement with it?
It is a verbatim, which means that you hear the stories of real people told in their own words. Four Belarusians who have been affected by the post-election protests of 2020 in Belarus tell their stories – from the moment they got involved in the protest till present, and we can see them in development, how their lives and their personalities have changed, evolved I’d even say. These voices represent hundreds of thousands other stories.
• Can you tell us about the creative processes involved in making the show?
On my end, when I learnt that Christine Bacon, artistic director of ice&fire was collecting stories, I felt appreciative that in 2022, amidst all the horrible things going on in so many places in the world, and amidst the Russian invasion in Ukraine, someone didn’t simply remember about our fighting, but wanted to amplify our voices. I was interviewed for the script and then Christine invited me to actually read my own story out in Edinburgh. I feel both excited about it, because it’s a new interesting thing for me to do. I’ve performed my poetry loads, but never taken part in a script reading. At the same time, these are all painful memories, and going back to them time after time is not easy. Also, my experience feels almost innocent compared to the others, but I remind myself that if people want to hear it, then it’s meaningful.
• Who else will be performing the piece, and what has it been like sharing your experiences?
The other performers are also from Belarus, and they are also not living there. I haven’t met any of them in person yet, but I look forward to sharing this emotionally charged space of our collective experience.
• Have you performed in Scotland before and what do you like about the country?
I haven’t performed in Scotland before, although I have a little dream of performing my poetry in the Lighthouse bookshop in Edinburgh. And I would like to get to know Scotland better. I had a short tourist visit a few years ago, and I was excited when I heard a group of people in a pub in the village North Berwick speaking Scottish. I even asked to have a photo with them) I think we are somehow similar in the spirit. But also countries which have history of being colonised share some experience. That’s why artistic, academic and this sort of collaborations are so important between us.
• What hopes do you have for some kind the future of Belarus and your freedom of speech there?
I have hopes for a Belarus free from dictatorship and free from the omnipresence of the Russian colonialism in our lives. I know that when freedom of speech is possible in Belarus, it won’t make it a democratic country automatically, and I know there will be not only respectful debates but a lot of fighting over all kinds of things. But I also know that it is vital for humans to be able to speak. To think. To feel. And not be punished for it. A lot of problems can be resolved then, with the help of art in particular. Wounds can be healed.
• Please would you send us two examples of your poetry that you would be happy for us to publish?
These two poems I wrote in August 2020.
We couldn’t find you
that night on autodial
tones like batons
like rubber bullets
directed at you
130,131 . . . long tone
a morning face on concrete
kicked from unconsciousness
three days without food
there’s no answer
to all our
and red hearts
human body and memory
with our belief in the better
we rename the colours
fear, anxiety, mourning
loving, resistance and hope
when it’s over
i will help you paint
these bare walls
Minsk, August 2020
Women’s solidarity chains
there are no flowers
nor tears along the road
only the beeping
from the passing cars
i want to be my body again
neither red nor white or black
not the hands holding reproach
but bare feet walking on grass
i put on a thimble
and pet your hair
i do this to my fingers
imagine my heart
a living woman
neither a battle flag
nor a bud of hope
I want to hear my voice
I want my body back
i must never have
The People Woke Up
September 28th: Scottish Parliament (17:00)
September 29th: Scottish Storytelling Centre (19.30)
Eva Cassidy: The Story
theSpace – Surgeons Hall
Aug 24 – 26, 17.15
Fleming Hall lies around the back of the Space venue Surgeons Hall up South Bridge. The hall had a delicious sense in its lay out, seats sloping slightly to the stage below. On comes Elsa Jean McTaggart, returning to the Fringe, to introduce and celebrate the most gracious life and times of Eva Cassidy. In her life Eva had put an arm around the world with her music and personality.
Elsa hold’s Eva (who died tragically) in her heart as her most favourite artist of all time. Her love was evident on stage as she burst into the song ‘Songbird’, written originally by Christine McVie who played with Fleetwood Mac, but performed with a whole new wealth to the song.
Eva, whose footage was onscreen, would often cover songs she loved and through her multitalented harmonising made them into something quite different. Elsa stood out, with her voice a tale in itself, all was up as we considered Eva’s unbelievable vocal range Elsa had it covered through a great, rich, and saddest of times that perpetrated the story and the music of Eva.
Such a great heart was afoot, that gave the performance an edge and brought about a huge giving sentiment, with clarity and crystal clear guitar and vocal. She struck and pulled at the heart strings of all there, including herself and it became like a eulogy as we were guided along with Eva’s story from birth to the end, in an act that captivated, inspired and even set us free.
It was a melodic experience of music that conducted the world and stopped many heads who were blown away by Eva’s voice and talents on the guitar. She could find more harmonies than even The Beach Boys, her class and style blew away cobwebs and dissolved falseness all of which tuning through musical success.
And quietly we listened to Elsa gently, lovingly and heartbreakingly speak about her favourite star, to then sing with all the glory contained in Eva’s vocal achievements. Eva’s success looked like blooming into greater potential heights when she was diagnosed with Cancer, we listened with a sense of sympathy and honour.
I got all of this information from going to see the show, the well presented tasteful tribute and celebration. Eva’s sense of ethics also shone through in her life and when she left home things were looking good, she may have famously died before she sold but I really don’t think that affected the success of her life, being human. She was tried on this when the family moved school and she discovered poverty and great discourtesy, to her sadness and disbelief.
There is so much to say about this beautiful, exceptional, wonderful artist who touched the world and everything in it by learning to play music and express to a level rarely rivalled by any. But when you get to see this show called simply ‘Eva Cassidy: The Story’ all provisions were attentive to the stage that was filled with a big heart made bigger in the deserved praise in the way that this young musician was able to abundantly shape the world and everything around her. A harmonious story of rich, learned and stunningly beautiful music performed in the same degree.
1:2:2192 (Retribution Day)
theSpace on the Mile
Aug 23 – 27, 20.10
There seems to be a heightening in this years Edinburgh Fringe of the thing that matters most; the actual performances. We turned up to the Space on the mile for a very short (half hour) play called ‘1:2:2192 (Retribution Day)’ some kind of code for the apocalypse to come? On one level yes!
This was a two person play brought about in the hotel venue, the close and clean space had only a couple of rows of seats on three sides of the looming yet practical stage (floor level). For the purposes of clarity the scenario was a lawyer (an anchor to judge the characters) as they shifted from memory to memory shared by a couple seemingly in love.
They verbally danced together sang together argued together and finished each others thoughts. There was a kind of patience in the affaire using silence and thought as much as dialogue and action. But the action took its twofold place in the story unfolding all was not well in a remembered moment of abuse.
From that moment on the story hit the wilderness of self harm and life catastrophe. Hospital admission, diagnosis, revenge; onward was driven into their lives that we saw become more and more unwell. We were entertained with pain and severe mental illness being played and imparted.
I guess the length of the show, was put in place to heighten the surreal experience with even a few jokes placed here and there. The two managed a kind of consistency with lines written for thinking rather than to entertain or cajole.
They would often look out into the crowd and in the close (passionate) space it felt like peering into your soul, which was all this play was about, with dialogue as I have said of very upsetting terms. The word control really helped them steal the show in their great and ultimately destruction powers of it. They do get help but every time while it works in the beginning it becomes clear that getting better wouldn’t take place.
Taking the place were the dynamics, and a serious delusion seemed the fill the air almost like a fog. They finished very quickly but all that needed to be said was, unfortunately the brightly written well conducted moments of silence perpetrated could not save the two from their self harming anguish, a timely play perhaps but lets keep believing in hope for the future. Not over loaded with darkness but filled with terror.
Underbelly “McEwan Hall”
23 – 28th August @ 15.30pm
Within the busy and bustling Bristo Square is the Underbelly’s McEwan Hall which is playing host to the Dance, Theatre and Circus show by the Cirk La Putyka and Kyiv Municipal Academy of Variety and Circus Art called BOOM ! Coming together not long after the outbreak of war in Ukraine in 2022 these young artistic dancers and theatrical actors have a story to tell.. A talented 15 plus cast members take to the stage with silent effect.
With music that Tangerine Dream would be very proud of the earie yet enchanting sound fills the auditorium with a pleasant blanket of calmness.. Through the magic and dynamics of expressive movement the human spirit is present in each twist and muscle contraction. Moving from strength to strength this piece of physical theatre navigates the pearls of borders and the love of friendships entangled with emotions of hope.
Impeccable ground and air excellence provides the audience with death defying dance moves that enthral you with inspiration. Theatrical storytelling, dance and circus acts connect with incredible timing and are executed in an eloquent manner. Smooth like silk and rough like an uncut diamond this is a precious and inspiring piece of theatre. Through the creation of dance, messages of hope, love, family, despair, truth, connection, wisdom, fight and honesty are the ingredients that bind this show together.
Funny, as well as intriguing this generates a positive reception from an already captivated audience. Juggling, acrobats, gymnastics , diabolo, comedy, folk singing are all incorporated beautifully in this twisting bending and mending masterpiece. These young talented performer’s deliver a delightful but hard hitting well-choreographed story that deserves all the credit they receive… A must see at Edinburgh Fringe 2022.