Devising Frankenstein

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Emma Valente interviewed by John Back

headshot of Emma Valente
Emma Valente

Emma Valente’s THE RABBLE is performing Frankenstein at the Malthouse Theatre from March to April.

She spoke with John Back about the process of devised theatre-making and drawing all the pieces together for the stage.

Tell us a little about THE RABBLE.

THE RABBLE was formed in 2006 and is run by myself and Kate Davis. We have produced ten shows in this time. Kate and I call our shows an ongoing conversation between the two of us. We make theatre about subjects that are important to us. We hope to tell stories in a unique way, to give a voice to ideas and points of view that are often not heard or central. We mainly re-imagine classic texts and stories such as Orlando, Story of O, Salome, Picture of Dorian Gray, Cain and Abel and now Frankenstein.

Devised theatre is a relatively emerging style of making theatre. How would you describe it? Devising is a very different process to rehearsing a play. No one knows what is going to happen before you start. Things are so open because you are choosing your own narrative and actors can determine their own character’s journeys. Kate and I present a strong premise and a clear world/ design to the performers, but then we really work as a group to create the content for the show. It is a pressurised drafting process because you are writing bits of text as you go and scripting scenes on the floor.

What is the place of a playwright in the devised theatre world?

I think that the playwright takes a different form in the devised world. Often the “playwright” is a group of people. Sometimes it is just one person, who probably doesn’t call themselves a playwright. THE RABBLE is absolutely a group effort. We use original text that we’ve written, but we also use material from novels, songs, poetry, magazines, lists, we all collect and collate these materials. We also use lines that actors have made up in improvisations and sometimes I or an actor will write a speech, but language is far from the only component in authoring our shows. A lot of story is told through image and action.

Your pieces are often embedded with an incredible sense of the visual. What are your thoughts on the relationship between written or spoken text and visual imagery?

When I’m creating theatre I try to give all the elements equal weight. The writing is as important as the set, which is as important as the sound which is as important as the actors. Nothing should be an afterthought. Everything holds equal value. I also try to ensure that all the elements have their own dramaturgy – what is the story of the lighting, what is the story of set, how does it change throughout the piece? This is a way of trying to link everything together.

Do you gather a lot from your daily life in your own work? How much of the mundane works its way in?

I guess I’m always trying to translate the small moments that can be monumental. Our work has an operatic quality to it that may feel a little removed from daily life, but it is continuously inspired by personal experiences and relationships. Much of our work doesn’t contain language, so I’m often trying to work out how to communicate in silence. The shifting of weight, an eye movement, a shrug, a sigh – I’m always looking out for these signs, little moments on our faces and in our bodies that can be so telling.

I have always wanted to write for the stage, but I’m right at the beginning and I’m lost. Where should I go to give it a try? Write something! Make something! Put something on! It’s actually relatively easy to get something put on in Melbourne. You just need to find some people to do it with. The independent scene is very strong here and most people start out doing at least a few independent productions before they move on to the mainstage. I believe that you just have to try things out. Theatre is about a relationship with an audience, and it’s pretty hard to find out what your relationship is to an audience without one. So just give it a go. La Mama is one of the best places to do this. It is an incredibly supportive environment. They can help you find people to work with and they are absolutely happy to give newcomers a go.

About Emma Valente

Emma Valente is the Co Artistic Director of one of Melbourne’s most renowned independent theatre companies: THE RABBLE. She works as an author, director and designer.

About John Back

John Back is a Program Intern (Theatre) at Writers Victoria. He is on Facebook and tweets at @mrjohnaback.