Bernadette Cronin (University College Cork):
‘Playing The Maids’: Collaboration, Innovation and the Actor’s Process
Playing The Maids is a newly co-created piece of intercultural theatre – a montage of text (primarily English-language, with some Mandarin, Korean, and Irish), psychophysical scores, choreography, and sound compositions. Working with director Phillip Zarrilli and dramaturg and playwright Kaite O’Reilly, an international ensemble of seven performers – a sound artist, a cellist, a Chinese ‘Madame’, and two sets of ‘sister-maids’, one Irish and one Korean – came together in Wales in September 2013 for the first phase of development of the work, which led to a work-in-progress showing at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff. A second development phase took place in Cork, Ireland in June 2014, and the resulting work previewed at the Granary Theatre, Cork as part of Cork Midsummer Festival 2014. A final phase of rehearsals followed in February 2015 in Wales, which led to a final scoring of what became the finished piece. The production premiered in Cardiff, Wales in February 2015 and went on tour to other venues in Wales funded by an Arts Council Wales grant.
As the title suggests, the piece relates to Jean Genet’s modernist classic The Maids, first produced in Paris in 1948. The intention, however, was never to stage a production of Genet’s play, but rather to create a compositional performance piece emerging from the nine collaborating artists’ creative responses to the play. Internationally renowned performance studies scholar and theatre director Phillip Zarrilli, announced to the team in the early stages of the process:
What I want to emphasize initially is that although Kaite [O’Reilly] as dramaturg/writer and I as director will be ‘outside’, we all share a mutual/collaborative responsibility for generating ideas, concepts, points of departure, work processes, etc.
After the piece had premiered and toured, a discussion took place about what next, and whether a version of the piece with fewer performers could tour internationally if time and funding constraints did not allow for an international tour with all nine artists. The outcome of this discussion was that because of the nature of the collaborative process the piece ‘belonged’ to all nine collaborators and that the work should only be performed by the full team of collaborating artists. In this paper I will critically reflect - from the perspective of one of the collaborating artists, (a Solange-figure) – on this collaborative process that characterized the developmental phases of the work in the studio, how ideas and entry points brought to the studio arising out of the artists’ engagement with Genet’s play translated in the process and found their way into the piece. There will be a special focus on how earlier shared collaborative processes, vocabularies and pre-performative training practices informed this creative process.