Stacey Gregg

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Read full interview here.

Part 1: A Place to Think Communally

PC: What is theatre?

SG: The broadest definition of theatre, for me, is a place to think communally, where something live happens.

PC: What’s the role of the playwright in theatre?

SG: It’s been very changeable for me. I started out writing from a place of relative ignorance. I read a lot of plays but hadn’t seen a lot of theatre. There was a sort of dissonance between the work that I was writing and the work that was being programmed and commissioned. Then eventually, I wrote the most traditional play that I have ever written – Perve -and that was my first play. That was brilliant because it started my career, but it was also a weird process of having to undo something because that was all I was expected to write. So, I emerged as a certain kind of playwright and then I had to work out what kind of a playwright I wanted to be and how I wanted to work. I think that I’ve realised that I’m much more of a collaborative playwright now.

I actively try and write in a way that’s open – for better or for worse. I’ll never retrospectively disallow certain interpretations or versions of my work. That’s often built into the work: the stage directions are sometimes suggestive rather than prescriptive. I write things like, “maybe this happens.”

Also, the model of production is often quite fixed here: you write a play, it gets given to a director, there’s a couple of weeks rehearsal and then it’s on. That’s often not very fulfilling or satisfying or creative. Part of resisting that is moving into creating work where I perform it. It’s about being a bit bolder about ideas of control and authorship. It’s not something that I’ll do exclusively, but it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed, and I’ve benefited from as an artist.

PC: How have you felt bolder about ideas of control and authorship?

SG: It’s probably quite a subjective experience, but I felt subservient as a playwright at times. I started establishing myself as a writer and then started to perform, which is probably the wrong way around for most people. Then I started to direct my own work and then more recently co-directed Inside Bitch. It’s been quite a non-traditional, non-linear artistic pathway. That was, personally, about confidence as well and part of that is my personal journey to embracing queer in performance. Knowing who I am as an adult knowing what I’m doing, what I’m about, in general, as a human in the world has probably informed my confidence in terms of the work that I can make now or what I feel like I can share with an audience.

Also, I’m from a working-class background and even though I went to Cambridge, in some ways, that knocked me into feeling that was a big part of my identity in a way that it maybe hadn’t before. I’ve always been very vocal, but I think in terms of a sense of entitlement I probably took a little bit of a back seat for a while, also because I didn’t know how to enter the profession. There was a lot of learning and now I’m at a different point in that journey. Now the idea of creating solo work doesn’t scare me in a way that it probably did once, or, I couldn’t even conceive of what it was – what is live art? It’s been a really fun education.

PC: Has queerness, and the thinking around that, informed your journey towards the live art world?

SG: Massively, I think that there’s a great queerness that runs through the world of live art and contemporary performance more generally. We can see that in the mainstreamification or the appropriation of elements that have come from the queer scene and are now quite popular.

I’m from a very ‘non-arts’ background and I’ve often found myself at a really tricky-place of how to make work that is conceptual and intellectually challenging but also not alienating or inaccessible. I think it can absolutely be done. Of course, we don’t all have a responsibility to do that – I don’t mind going to see things that chew up my brain and aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I’ve always felt like I come at things sideways. The fact that I come from Northern Ireland, which is itself a place of great duality, has always made me approach things sideways. Or being from a working-class background in an industry often with an absence of working-class voices. All that massively informs the way I make work and what I’m drawn to.


Stacey Gregg is from Belfast and is a writer, performer and director for stage and screen. Her plays include Josephine K and the Algorithms (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2018), Scorch (Outburst Queer Arts Festival, Belfast, 2015; Edinburgh Fringe, 2016); Shibboleth (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2015); Override ( Dublin Fringe 2017, Watford Palace Theatre, 2013); Lagan (Ovalhouse Theatre London, 2011); Perve (Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 2011; BBC Radio Drama Award 2012) and When Cows Go Boom (Abbey Theatre, Dublin 2008).

She co-directed Inside Bitch with Deborah Pearson as part of a collaboration between Clean Break and the Royal Court in 2019.

Her solo theatre piece, Choices, was part of B!RTH, a collection of international plays that question birth practice and the cultural pressures that surround it.

She co-created an interactive web installation for CRASSH (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities).

Television work includes The Letter for the King (Netflix), The Innocents (Netflix), Your Ma’s a Hard Brexit (The Guardian/ Headlong), Riviera (Archery Pictures / Sky), Spoof or Die (Channel Four) and The Frankenstein Chronicles (Rainmark).

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Tim Etchells on memory

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

Two things. I’m interested in creating a structure or system that allows (within the space of an hour and half or two hours or whatever) you to learn the way that it’s working. In that structure or system you can then begin to locate yourself so that it becomes a world in and of itself that’s maybe looping or repeating or returning to certain things. Again, it’s to do with a piece not just being a parade of newness – it’s both new and repeating. In terms of memory, you’re remembering back to half an hour ago or you’re remembering back to fifteen minutes ago or you’re remembering back to an hour ago and it becomes a sort of system that refers you back to yourself in it.

The other thing that I think about is that often we work with improvisation in the making of things and/or in the doing of them depending on the piece. We have a real interest in performers not being able to remember. For example, in Bloody Mess John tries to tell the story of the big bang – the beginning of the universe – but he doesn’t know anything about physics so what he remembers of the big bang is just a home made, ‘down the pub’ version. I think we do that a lot. In Quizoola! (the piece with all the questions and answers) people constantly ask how a car engine works or what’s the plot of the bible, things that you can’t reasonably be expected to explain, but they do try. We’re very interested in the process of them trying to explain those things or remember them and articulate them in language. The failing memory is more interesting than a fully functioning one because you only get a partial version and a partial version is always more interesting than the full version – it’s got more holes in it.

Memory also links back to imagination and witnessing. We try to engage people in a different way and one of the ways we do that is to work with fragments. We like to work with pieces that aren’t connected so that the audience will have to do that imaginative work of joining them together. We pass on (almost) the job of imagining to somebody else. We’re about materialising a set of facts, events, things in the space and other people are the ones busy imagining. We’re more about putting some things there that they have to deal with.

 

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Tim Etchells on imagination

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This is an extract from an interview with Tim Etchells, Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment – read the full interview here.

My first thought is that I don’t have any! We make things by doing them. Our capacity to imagine in advance any of the things that we have made is extremely limited. Mostly what happens in the rehearsal process is that I will make a proposition or a set of propositions and something will happen in the space in response – improvisation, investigation through action. The responses also include the performer’s creative mishearing of what I’ve asked them to do. So it always, in any case, exceeds our ‘ideas’. In any process I’d say ninety per cent of what we do is trash but maybe ten per cent, if we’re lucky, is worth hanging on to. That’s how the work emerges. I’m very interested in this idea that the work comes from being in a room with people who are doing things – it doesn’t come from me sitting down at home and writing it – it doesn’t come from anybody drawing it – it comes from being in a room with bodies and action, argument, conversation and doing. It’s social. It’s material. It’s tangible. Text in our pieces tends to grow this same way too. There are a few of the performances here and there, where there’s been a basis in writing, but mostly text comes out of the room, it doesn’t get made separately.

We have a big habit of using found things, i.e. when you see Forced Entertainment’s work it’s not a question of “Oh my Lord, I would never have thought that such a thing was possible!” It much more like, “Oh my god, they’re doing that, I’ve seen that already so many times!” So Real Magic enacts a fragment of some very bad game show or cabaret routine and even if you haven’t seen it, you feel like you have. It’s generic. Off the peg. Very often, in the work, there’s a sort of redundancy, almost a lack of imagination at one level. I’m aware that in one sense we always want to do the most unimaginative and boring thing, not the radical, flight of fancy image. That sense of limit is really important in the work, it’s not orgiastic, free self-expression. The work is made in relation to our culture that’s already full of images and actions and we’re often picking them up and trying to animate them. There’s a limit, a language, a set of givens that we are negotiating.

If I’m teaching writing, I meet a lot of people who are obsessed with the idea that it’s about expressing themselves in a language that comes from themselves, i.e. writing is a kind of internal, deep sea diving process. By contrast I think of writing, at least in good part, as a process of repeating, echoing, speaking and passing through voices that come from other places. I think about the way that, when you speak, it’s hard to speak without your parents speaking through you, without your teachers speaking through you, without the movies that you’ve watched or the computer games that you’ve played speaking through you, without your friends speaking through you, without all the crap you’ve watched on television or the internet speaking through you. I have a sense of the person as a meeting point of other signals rather than just ‘themselves’ – my voice is mine, but it’s also a kind of switching station.

Bloody Mess. Photo by Hugo Glendinning

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