As The Theatre Brothel opens this week at the Almeida Theatre, we interview Greyscale’s co-artistic directors Lorne Campbell and Selma Dimitrijevic about the evolution of the piece and the artistic process behind the development of Greyscale’s other works.
You describe your work as trying ‘to find the spaces in between.’ Can you elaborate on that?
Lorne Campbell (Co-artistic director): The company is made up of a mixture of artists; writers, designers, directors and actors. The process we work through is one that sits on the edge of everybody’s traditional roles. When a new play is commissioned, a writer, actor designer and director are commissioned at the same time so, although the writer is the author of the piece, all the other artists have a responsibility for authoring style and form, interrogating and helping to structure it all the way through. The Theatre Brothel also opened up the question of what the audience role is in the process and trying to give them some responsibility for contributing to the piece.
Is it a very different process from developing more conventional two-act plays?
Selma Dimitrijevic (Co-artistic director): Very. I think a lot of our work comes from wanting to do things that weren’t working for us in the more traditional process. For example, I started as a writer and what would usually happen was that a theatre would commission me and send me away to write a play. This would take a year or two and I would do it on my own, in my room and then the theatre would choose a director and designers and actors. So I found the process quite divorced.
Lorne: Yes.Selma and I were working a lot in new writing and it felt that everybody apart from the writer gets corralled into quite a reactive position because by the time you start work, an awful lot is fixed and it’s up to you as a company to understand that, realise and render it.
Selma: We haven’t done a show yet devised in the sense that we all pitch in and experiment and improvise and then someone writes it down. The writing is always one voice.
And do you do a lot of improvisation on the night?
Lorne: We create spaces within the performances to shape the outcomes but its amazing how different the outcomes can be without changing a single word. A Prayer is a show we’ve performed at a huge variety of spaces; from a seven hundred seat theatre down to a dressing room with an audience of ten people. What Will Judas Do? which we’ll be performing at the Almeida is the most improvised of our pieces. Each actor who does it improvises large parts of text and generates about an hour and twenty minutes worth of material which on any given night they perform about fifty minutes of, depending on how the dialogue with the audience takes them off into different things.
And what would you say to someone who is reticent or put off by the idea of taking part?
Lorne: The title Theatre Brothel came around for a number of reasons. There is a historical connection between the two and until relatively recently they were absolutely one and the same. We’re asking the audience through their first meeting with us to try and identify what it is they want. Why have you come to the theatre? What is the appetite which has brought you here? By opening that conversation up you’re opening a space for the audience to say to you: I want some beauty, I want a little bit of transcendence. I’m not saying our actors are prostitutes, but there is a bought and sold transaction with the audience and it comes with cost and responsibility to both sides. I think it’s very easy in a lot of theatre settings for the audience to come in and not offer anything. As an audience member myself I know I have been incredibly guilty of that. I will fail to make myself available to the experience and come out at the end and say ‘oh that wasn’t very good.’
The Theatre Brothel is not just going to be on stage it’s going to take over large parts of the building. What effect does this have on you as performers and also on the audience?
Selma: The one thing is that we try to shape each production so that it doesn’t rely on one space or configuration. It’s about finding the rules between the space and the show.
Lorne: It’s a question of how you make your audience safe within the environment and how your performer pitches and modulates their performance within that architecture.