From Classroom to Stage
by Claire McPhillimy
Moving from studying theatre to actually making theatre is a jump full of revelations, potholes and small triumphs...
It is a situation that I find myself in just six months after completing the MLitt in Theatre Studies at the University of Dundee, as part of Twenty Something Theatre. Despite the difficulties, learning about all of the work that putting on a show from start to finish involves has been vital in creating a productive and appreciative relationship between my work as an academic and as a theatre practitioner in Scotland. It basically boils down to one question: how can I write about a play without fully understanding how it actually works onstage (and behind stage) in the real world? As a new company with a largely academic background, this is really one of our biggest motivations: to challenge our own preconceived notions of what theatre should be, and the opinions we’ve cultivated over the past five years of study. In doing so, we hope to find new ways of telling old stories that result in entertaining but thought-provoking theatre.
Our first production as a company is Hell Has No Fury, written by Rebecca Sweeney and based on the Ancient Greek character of Medea. As all three of us behind Twenty Something were in the same graduating class we encountered the play for first time together in a two hour tutorial, during which we were all completely captured not only by the story of this character but also by the way in which Medea has been portrayed throughout history. We are conscious of how she has been understood at different times, and in different theatrical productions where she has been used to make political points on varying societal issues- the position of women (the position of the ‘mad’ woman in particular), and even the advocacy of divorce.
In our own version we attempt to address the reputation that has been built up around the character, whilst also looking past it and considering the question- if Medea was in fact real and alive today, what kind of person would she be? For us, Medea is the voice in every woman’s head saying ’this isn’t right’ (albeit an extremely dedicated and single-minded voice). This discovery has been important in allowing us to respect the feminist understanding that we hope will form the foundation of our work as a company.
Even though we’re confident in our own interpretation of the character of Medea and her story, the actual practicalities of putting on a show are throwing up plenty of problems for us to get our heads around. And those teething problems (largely revolving around funding- welcome to
the world of theatre!) are helping us understand the written word and the character more; when you have no budget you get creative on how to really cut right to the core of what you believe and how you want to portray it. What we hope has resulted from the years of research, workshopping and planning behind our first production is a pared-back but succinct study of the character of Medea, and a deeper understanding of our own motivations as burgeoning theatre practitioners.