China Chats With Jed Murray

In this installment of China Chats, Jed Murray shares his enthusiasm for Made in China and the raucous, riotous rehearsal process. 

So this is my first time writing a blog. I actually had to look up the definition. Apparently it’s just like a public diary entry ... so here goes. 

I’m directing Made in China  by Mark O’Rowe! Who happens to be my favourite contemporary Irish writer. The mind boggles. It’s an outrageous script with outrageous characters in outrageous situations. What am I doing?!  Everyone involved is so clever! It’s all so complex!  There’s a seven page fight sequence with three men, an umbrella, a baseball bat and a WHAT!? A PROSTHETIC LEG!? Help!

Thankfully we’ve approached this beast previously. We know where it lives. We know it’s general shape and make-up.  But it’s important to me that we don’t just remount the same production as before.  I know that the guys still have most of the play buried in their bodies and minds, (it’s only been a year) and we have a four week rehearsal period, which affords us the luxury of exploring characters physically before revisiting the script.  So we had a blast, playing and fighting and being exhausted at the end of the day for the first week. Creating an intimacy and physicality that would, hopefully, seep into everything we did from then on.

And then I bust my knee. This is a Made in China/Corps Ensemble tradition. Last year Neill (Kilby) was operating on a dodgy knee also. But I find it difficult to sit down - I am always moving when I’m happy and I’m happiest when I’m in a rehearsal room with people creating shit. So I’m buzzing; I keep trying to get up and the lads keep on trying to get me to sit down! I think it amuses us all. (I hope! Hmm...)

Then we started focusing on the script. Wow! It’s just bonkers and bloody and beautiful. And with lovely rhythm and rhyming!  And it’s so complex, deceptively so.  So much fun to work on! It takes stamina and timing to do justice to this script.

Once we start putting it all together, the fun really begins. My knee is has improved enough to allow me to participate more fully, which leads to my favourite moment in rehearsals so far. I find myself (volunteer myself?) bent over with Kilby (Neill Fleming) smacking my arse as Paddy (Rex Ryan) spouts obscenities at me. Then they swap! In production this scene happens without an actual person onstage, but my actors lack imagination and said it would help them if I stood in for rehearsal purposes. ...  I swear.

So, one more week of rehearsals to go! Who knows what might happen!

Jed signing out!

China Chats With Hillary Dziminski

In this installment of China Chats, Creative Producer Hillary Dziminski talks about why Made in China is special to her and the challenges of producing a show. 

It's Valentine's Day. I'm sitting in an Insomnia, watching the weather turn progressively more grey and gloomy and making a list. This is the fourth list I've made today and probably the tenth list I've made this week, and it's only Tuesday. I'm the Queen of Lists. I make lists for everything. Of course, there's the standard To-Do lists, but then there's also grocery lists (cat food and treats, some kind of fruit because I'm dangerously close to getting scurvy), invite lists, venue lists, People to Call, People to Email (seriously, Hillary, respond to your mother before she calls Liam Neeson to hunt you down). The lists are coming out of me like poor Neill's breakfast -- you know what I'm talking about if you read the last China Chats post. 

  Cinderella . 18 years old. Mr. Winslow, if you're reading this, look at me now!

Cinderella. 18 years old. Mr. Winslow, if you're reading this, look at me now!

If you had told me in May 2014 when I graduated university with a degree in French Studies that I would move to Ireland and start work as a Creative Producer for before I turned 25, I would've laughed in your face. Producer. Sure. Theatre was a dream I gave up when the run of my high school's senior year production of Cinderella came down. My glory days of theatre ended when I took my final poofy-ball-gowned bow. All that remained of those days was my golden carriage necklace (thanks, parents!) reminding me that for a glorious, fleeting moment I really was a princess. 

Or so I thought. 

Enter the theatre gods/lunatics who changed my life -- Misters Rex Ryan and Edwin Mullane. I'd met Rex once or twice before at the Viking and, of course, had a massive crush on him because, duh, I saw him in his boxers in Pilgrim. And then there he was in his skivvies again in Made in China, albeit far less macho and alluring as Paddy, and I have to say I was a little bit starstruck by the whole thing. These guys were legit, seriously talented actors, not to mention they were approachable and totally willing to chat over a pint. After the show, in pink-cheeked admiration, I congratulated both of them (mistakenly calling Ed "Rex" in my flustered nervousness, even though I knew better -- sorry, Ed!) and sheepishly offered to help them out if they ever needed a hand with anything. Not long after that they were welcoming me to the Corps family, and I've never felt more a part of anything. 

Made in China was and is magical for me. Not only because that fateful post-show chat eventually led to me joining the Corps Ensemble, but because it was one of the most memorable productions I've seen to date. Don't get me wrong, I had seen incredible theatre before in New York, London, Vienna, but I'd never walked out of a show with such a sense of invigoration, of emotional buzz, of having been so absolutely riveted by something that wasn't a top-notch film. It was cinematically engaging in a way I hadn't known was possible in live theatre. It made me feel alive. 

It was also a show that challenged me. Prior to Made in China I hadn't been exposed to much violence onstage; I had certainly never been confronted with language that was simultaneously poetic and distressing. The intimacy of the Viking put these things right in my face, forced me to realize that though I had read many great plays, I had experienced significantly fewer. 

 (some of) My Dublin family

(some of) My Dublin family

Taking on the colossus that was Bug was a daunting and exhilarating first experience as a Producer. I learned everything on the fly (with tremendous professional and moral support from friends in the industry) but to be able to work on a show that I had seen and admired, that shaped my attitude towards Dublin theatre, that energized me to pursue a career I'd long given up hope for ... that is an absolute privilege.

So bring on the lists. Bring on the phone calls and emails, the sandwiches from boxes, and the running around town from studio to print shop to prop shop and back. I'm ready and I'm thrilled to be helping to create a tour of a show that I know will inspire the same feelings of awe and excitement and vitality in our audience members. 

Hillary xx

China Chats With Neill Fleming

In this installment of China Chats, indieFEST Best Actor Award winner Neill Fleming talks about his love of China, how he gets into a character, and his biggest rehearsal struggle. 

A strange, unpleasant thing has happened to me in both rehearsal periods for Made in China. I wake up one morning, and everything seems fine and dandy and then out of nowhere get struck with the worst case of diarrhoea imaginable. Pure pressure hose. Stomach cramps. Dehydration. Light headedness. It’s awful; normally I would never suffer from intestinal distress of any description. If something in my fridge is a day or two out of date, or smells ‘A bit Madonna’ (i.e. Borderline) I’m more than likely going to eat it anyway. Say nothing, lash it in a curry-- be grand. I have absolutely eaten things well over the week, possibly even ten day mark and suffered no ill consequences.

Then, I start rehearsal for China, get ‘bout a week in and all of a sudden, tectonic plate shifts, volcanic eruptions ensue. Kilby has taken up residence. Neill Fleming is only a paper thin mask, swept away in the foul flood that is The Kilby. 

There is internalization, and then there’s this. Subconscious. Fetid. Mephitic. Surreptitious.

I’m not much of a ‘method’ actor. I don’t generally spend a lot of time talking about and analyzing (pun intended) the character or go through a methodical process of character creation. I like to get in there, say the words, see how they make me feel, try to figure out how the character feels, say the words again and see how they sound then, listen to my director, play the scene with and for my fellow actors, milk it a bit, milk it some more, bring it back to reality and hopefully after all that messing and playing around, have discovered some things without really trying to, but more by experiencing what that has done. I usually don’t even bother reading the script before rehearsal starts -- finding everything out, especially the ending, at the first read through is a great joy.

I treated Made in China no differently. It started for me a good few years ago; myself, Ed, another actor, and a director sat down in the old Factory to have a read through. I’d never looked at it before I opened me mouth, but it just flowed out of me. Fluid. Feculent. Funny as fuck. The cadences and comedy were innate and natural, the darkness intriguing and terrifying. I knew these lads, had lived moments of their lives. Spent nights with mates just trying to wreck each other’s heads, and dying laughing because of it.

Most of all, it reminds me of a time in my life when going to the local row of shops to ‘Videolink’ to search the shelves for a kung-fu movie, or manga, that we hadn’t seen was Friday night. (We’d seen them all, but we still spent ten fruitless minutes every time scouring the five or six shelves labelled ‘Action’)

 I still know most of Invincible Pole Fighters, The Fearless Hyena, and Ninja Scrolls by heart, word for word, frame for frame.  I certainly was never ‘battering’ people for money, but I certainly knew me fair share of Snorkels, loved the film Serpico and most of all spoofed my face off with my best mates.

So it’s safe to say that Made in China has a special place in my heart. Apparently, it reserves a very particular place in my bowels also, and when I start to become the ‘permy cocksucker’, my body prepares in an extremely debilitating, painful manner. And when that is happening to someone else, it’s fucking hilarious.

China Chats With Rex Ryan

Hillary Dziminski, Creative Producer for the Corps Ensemble and upcoming national tour of Made in China, asks Artistic Director and recent Manchester Theatre Award nominee Rex Ryan a few questions about his process, character, and his biggest challenges. 

Do you feel you identify with your character? In what ways do you/don’t you?

I’m playing a young man called Paddy in Made In China. In many ways he is the purest character in the play and the other two characters fight for his loyalty throughout the story. I love Paddy. He is sensitive, caring and observant. He’s also crude, ignorant and frustrating at times. Like us all, he’s a contradiction. It’s my job to identify things within Paddy I understand, and that which I don’t initially understand I work on.

He is vastly different to me in many ways; his thought process/speed, accent, I imagine him to move totally different to me. He has a different body. I’ve become more relaxed recently with letting the character come through me naturally in rehearsals as opposed to grabbing at things. If you’re open, it will come.

What is the most challenging thing about Made in China for you as an actor?

It’s a beautiful piece of writing so it’s a pleasure to do it. I believe in the story too. The most challenging thing is probably the concentration that's required in performance. Paddy thinks totally different to myself and he often gets lost in his own thoughts while conversations continue on stage. So I need to get into his mental rhythms and stay there for a couple of hours while also being conscious of giving the story to our audience.

How do you feel that Made in China is relevant and resonant in today’s society?

It’s a story of friendship, loyalty, betrayal, parenthood…These are themes that transcend time from ancient Greek theatre, to Shakespeare, to our Dublin Noir thriller.

If we do it well, I hope the audience will see bits of themselves within the characters. I hope they will see them as complex humans, because they could easily be discounted as thugs, scumbags or simply stupid, when of course that is never the case. Life is in the grey, the unexplainable, the mystery of our ridiculous minds.

Perhaps that’s it? I’d like people to give a character they’d usually ignore on the street some more thought. I’d just like people to have an emotional experience with them…and I think today, more understanding and attention to human beings is sorely needed.

What feelings or questions do you hope an audience will take away from Made in China?

I don’t think the theatre is for ‘teaching’ or trying to militantly get a point across or to project your ‘concept ‘. We are so full of the energy and complications of life anyway that it’s enough for an audience to sit in a theatre with a bunch of characters they believe and have a visceral and emotional experience with them. A soulful experience that makes you think something that causes a stir in your soul that was asleep.

My favourite theatre affects you subconsciously 4 days later when you’re walking your dog…

The Corps Ensemble produced Made in China last year as it’s first production…are there any of the same challenges in preparing for this remount and tour? Are there any new challenges? What has it been like to revisit the script again?

We are lucky in that the script is so detailed, it holds up to a second rehearsal as you find so many more details in the story and also within your character.

I love Paddy too so I like jumping back into his mind.

And f*** me… the play is hilarious…we’ve laughed a lot.

Do you prepare for a tour differently than you prepare for a one-time run?

No, just the boring stuff. Logistics, vans, how much money do we need for dinner…does the hostel have a jacks?… is that a human head in the shower Neill? etc …

What is your favorite part of the preparation process for a show?

I love the chase of the character. There’s always one moment when something happens; a move, a thought, and you have him. It takes patience though, which I’m working on…

What I really love though is the performance. The energy.

And the fact you have to just let go at that point and see what the hell happens.

You have to trust.

Do you find it difficult to get out of the head of your character when you leave the stage or the rehearsal room?

Sometimes I’m wired and need to do a jog after a show or take 15 minutes listening to some relaxing music. Other nights I’m wrecked and just want my bed.

But if you’ve done the work, you should be able to sort of click in and out of the character when you need to.

Cast Catch-Up: Mary Murray

Welcome to the final installation of our five part series, Catch Catch-Up, where the wonderfully talented cast of BUG has shared their thoughts on the script, the rehearsal process, their characters, and everything in between.

  MARY MURRAY AKA AGNES WHITE

MARY MURRAY AKA AGNES WHITE

It's 9:30pm and I'm learning lines for act one, scene three. Then I remember that I agreed to write a piece for Corps Ensemble's Blog - and it's due for tomorrow! This is not convenient. There's only so many hours in the day and I really need to spend my time getting to grips with the script. Should I ask for an extension? No! If I don't deliver on this deadline, how can I possibly manage to tackle the beast that is 'Bug' by the opening in two weeks time? So here it is:

Why did I agree to get involved in this production?   When approached, I was informed that the playwright was Tracy Letts of 'August: Osage County' fame. I saw the movie version of this and at the time I remember thinking how incredibly dense the dialogue was. The characters were so well rounded and performed brilliantly by a spectacular cast. I could only imagine what it would be like to watch this particular drama unfold as a live theatre audience member. If this was his standard I had no doubt that 'Bug' was going to be a thrilling read. 

Why did I say yes?                                                                                                                              I fell in love with Agnes. I knew she'd be a huge challenge and a role worth playing, I checked out the members of the Corps Ensemble and their credentials. I noticed that they received rave reviews for their recent production of 'Made In China' by Mark O' Rowe. It was very obvious that they had fire in their bellies and a lot of talent. I also have a great fondness for the Viking Theatre. I performed my one woman show 'No Smoke Without Fire' here as well as 'Chancers' by Robert Massey. I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, so that was a big selling point. Many theatres have lost their personalities. They tend to close the bars immediately and oust the audience members before the actors have time to change out of costume. I really hope they reverse this trend. I feel it's so important to meet the public afterwards, to hear their views and show our appreciation for their efforts.

My Approach                                                                                                                                       The Oklahoma accent was top of my agenda. Once I was satisfied that I had a good grasp on that, I needed to delve into the world of stimulants. It's not a area I knew a great deal about. As a Dubliner I'm cognizant of our nation's epidemic drug misuse. It's evident all across the capital city, but I was only aware of it at surface level. Until very recently I didn't know exactly how to smoke a crack pipe, I didn't know what freebase was, I didn't understand why people drank alcohol while snorting cocaine; I questioned how a particular individual could manage to sleep given the information I had acquired. So many questioned answered, so many more to ask, and there's only two weeks left, and I need to understand paranoia and delusion and psychosis and how close is Agnes to R.C. and what exactly went on in Sakaka, and I still have to find time to learn my lines! 

Cast Catch-Up: Toni O'Rourke

Welcome to the fourth in a five part series, Catch Catch-Up, where the wonderfully talented cast of BUG will be sharing their thoughts on the script, the rehearsal process, their characters, and everything in between.

  TONI O'ROURKE AKA R.C.

TONI O'ROURKE AKA R.C.

CHAOS WILL ENSUE...

So you read the play. You think. ‘My god this is a good play.’

You go to the read-through and you think ‘What a kick ass cast. These people know their sh*t. This is going to be fun.’

Then you show up to rehearsals.

Day One: you learn how to smoke a crack pipe.

Day Two: you learn what happens to you when you have successfully smoked a crack pipe. You spend countless hours researching crack addicts and studying their meerkat endearing qualities. What makes these people tick?

Next thing you know; a week has passed and you know exactly how to smoke a pipe without burning your thumb, you know how to make a cocaine envelope, all the while you are praying no one stumbles across your internet history.

The next few weeks will be spent debating whether or not to get cornrows and whether or not I should invite my granny to this production.

Characters are starting to take shape, the story is beginning to unfold and a beautiful chaotic piece of theatre is being created.

One thing is for sure – there is plenty of craic in this rehearsal room.

 

 

Cast Catch-Up: Michael Bates

Welcome to the third in a five part series, Catch Catch-Up, where the wonderfully talented cast of BUG will be sharing their thoughts on the script, the rehearsal process, their characters, and everything in between.

  MICHAEL BATES AKA DR. SWEET

MICHAEL BATES AKA DR. SWEET

So you get the script. You know of the writer but haven’t seen any of his other work. He started out as an actor. He has won awards for his writing. His plays have been made into films. Successful films with big stars. So you’re expecting a well-made play with some snappy dialogue and engaging, performable characters. You start reading and yes, these are very performable, human characters with funny, smart dialogue but there’s a little more going on. Great. You’re interested in these misfits, these outsiders. Okay, these people are a little off kilter and the two central characters are not necessarily the type of people you would put together as a couple. Even better.

You read on and even though the characters are a little unusual you start to like them, you start to root for them. So you keep reading and more characters are introduced and it starts to get even stranger and more dangerous. It keeps moving further and further away from where you thought it was going. Then the character you are going to be playing enters this world and it gets even stranger. And so it goes. You finish reading the script, you fix yourself a stiff drink and try and digest what you just read. Yes, it’s a well-made play with edgy, articulate, fascinating characters. But it’s so much more. Above all else what strikes you is that it’s a searing study of dysfunctional relationships, the type of relationships where the love is a sickness.

Then you start thinking how the hell are we going to stage this play? Who the hell is this character that you will have to bring to life? What the hell was Tracy Letts thinking? Who is this guy? You do a bit more research and you watch a few interviews with Letts on YouTube speaking about his writing and acting and he seems quite normal, a little genteel, perhaps. Then you stumble across a video of him giving a presentation entitled How to Live a Creative Life in which he advises people to lie, steal and masturbate in order to be more creative. And with a wry smile playing across your lips it all starts to make a little more sense.

Cast Catch-Up: Rex Ryan

Welcome to the second in a five part series, Cast Catch-Up, where the wonderfully talented cast of BUG will be sharing their thoughts on the script, the rehearsal process, their characters, and everything in between. 

  REX RYAN AKA PETER EVANS

REX RYAN AKA PETER EVANS

REX RYAN -- PETER EVANS

Week 1 Rehearsal  

The heartbreaking thing about acting is you almost always end up throwing away 90% of the work you’ve done – it doesn’t fit into the rehearsal process, what the other actors are doing, or what the play has turned into after exploring it. The first week of rehearsals is a mercurial process of discovery…AKA a sh!tshow. 

The play we have chosen is Bug by an excellent writer from Oklahoma named Tracy Letts (you may know his two screenplays; Killer Joe and August: Osage County). Each play will demand a different approach from an actor and director so there’s no real definitive thing I/we do. There are some constants though. 

With Bug, there are a few immediate things that need to be considered and tackled and they will sort of dictate where the initial rehearsal time will be spent. Right off the bat there are some technical things I have to start getting my head around e.g. my character, Peter Evans, claims he is an ex-U.S. soldier who has seen combat in Syria. He is from a very remote part of Oklahoma, he was home-schooled etc. So I do the research on these specific things early so they can seep into me as we explore the play. 

This play also throws up other specific technical things like drug use, medication, physical pains and impediments that I like to acknowledge early, do loads of research on, and then forget about it and see if it sits into the character naturally. All the decisions about the character come from the text and are rooted in the play. I gather loads of clues and facts from the script such as what the character says about himself, specific stage directions, what others say he is, where has he come from etc. etc. If the writer is good, you will have everything you need in the script. Many of the decisions are made for you by an excellent writer. 

But it’s not a waste… all of this is like chipping away at a big giant block of marble until you have a sculpture that resembles a human, or-searching for a needle in a hay stack only to find there is no needle and the haystack is a pool of quicksand and you’re dead… 

I’m also a big advocate of learning your lines inside out, following the speech patterns the writer has given you, looking at your scene partner and just doing it. That’s really what it comes down to, and if the writer has given the character love, he/she/it will seep into you over four weeks and be real and honest and people will listen to you.

 

Cast Catch-Up: Edwin Mullane

Welcome to the first of a five part series, Cast Catch-Up, where the wonderfully talented cast of BUG will be sharing their thoughts on the script, the rehearsal process, their characters, and everything in between. 

  EDWIN MULLANE AKA JERRY GOSS

EDWIN MULLANE AKA JERRY GOSS

I first read Bug in April of this year as part of a lengthy selection process. It was a difficult job to decide on a follow-up to Made in China and though I was thoroughly relishing the task ahead, the novelty of reading several plays a day had started to rub off. All the plays had something in them: an interesting premise, some nice dialogue, a certain style or approach, but I had yet to read a stand-out piece of work, or a play that screamed a vital immediacy.

I remember my first impressions of Bug very well because I was so off the mark – “too American?”; “too naturalistic, too straightforward perhaps”; “Oklahoma setting might not resonate with an Irish audience, could be a very difficult to stage” etc… Such unfair thoughts gradually shifted to “this is quite unique actually”, to “there’s more going on here than I thought” and finally “wow, this is brilliant”.

And it really is. It has a seemingly simple premise – a coming together of two damaged souls and unlikely lovers,  – but beneath the surface there are deeper ideas at work. How far can you go to save a person? Is there a limit to what love can conquer? Can you really trust even those closest to you? And can you recover if the very fabric of your being, your DNA, your humanity, was pushed, stretched, smashed to pieces?

Part of the play’s brilliance is that it doesn’t present any answers.  I strongly believe that the very best theatre isn't always immediate- fragments, questions, themes, images and lines of dialogue that resonate with me for years after seeing an incredible production, usually creep into my own consciousness after a few days or weeks attacking me on a deeply physical, emotional or unconscious level.

As a creative team, Bug will challenge us to create this very type of theatre magic. Letts is a master playwright, and although he has wonderfully used language and imagery to conjure a complexity and mystery that resonates, our job also requires a dedicated pursuit into the layers of dark comedy and lightness that he has crafted deep into the pores of this fine piece of writing. I can honestly say that the audience at the Viking will never have seen anything like this at the Clontarf venue before - for such a visionary piece, it is also vicious and uncompromising. It is complex and dark, has a singular style and presents an unflinching view of human nature that some may find difficult to witness.

Perhaps this is what made it stand out from the rest of the plays – it is unconventional but totally honest, a similarity it shares with The Viking Theatre, a venue not afraid to take risks on the new and unfamiliar, and so supportive of our fledgling company with big ideas. We are a few days into rehearsals and even we don’t know where we will be in 3 weeks time. It’s an exciting place to be, not knowing exactly what will happen next. But when you come to see it I can promise you this: expect to be moved, expect to think deeply, expect to have moral certainties challenged and ideas about theatre upended. I don’t expect you will all like it. All I’d say is you have to see it for yourself.

Hello!

Hello and welcome to The Corps Ensemble blog! We just want to say a quick hello and let you know about everything that's been happening with The Corps. 

Recently we've expanded our Creative Team to welcome Joe Flavin, New Writing & Production Manager, and Hillary Dziminski, Creative Producer. We're delighted to have new members of the Corps Ensemble family. You can meet the whole Creative Team here: thecorpsensemble.com/creativeteam

On another exciting note, we've been working on forming a team for our newest project! It's been a busy few weeks trying to gather a whole crew of actors, designers, and directors, but we're looking forward to announcing the show and the team very soon. 

We hope you're enjoying our new website as much as we are! At The Corps Ensemble we know that we couldn't do what we love without your continued support, and we hope that our new site, along with our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, will help make our connections with you, our audience, even stronger. 

Until next time,

The Corps Ensemble 

xx