‘I want them to discover what makes them happy, pursue that which inspires them and do what they find really exciting.’
We interviewed Guillaume Pigé, Artistic Director of Theatre Re and director of The Woman in the Canvas, a co-production between Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company and Theatre Re, to find out more about the show and to hear his advice for aspiring actors.
This August, the graduate class of the Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company Two Year Rep Accelerated Actor Training programme will perform their devised ensemble piece The Woman and the Canvas at both the Edinburgh and Camden fringe festivals. It is very common, even essential, for graduating drama students to perform a final showcase at the end of their training. However, The Woman and the Canvas is the only performance listed in the Fringe guide as a co-production between a professional theatre company and a drama school. What are the benefits? What are the obstacles? We asked Guillaume to find out.
Where did the idea for The Woman and the Canvas come from?
The piece started out as a devising exercise for the students – how do you start making work from nothing? We used two very different movies for inspiration; 8½ by Federico Fellini and Hour of the Wolf by Ingmar Bergman. One of them is very Italian in style; full of colours, life and forms and in many ways grotesque and over the top. The other is much darker and Scandinavian, much more stark and a little bit gothic in places. The films present two very different but equally developed worlds, however they both deal with the same theme and in both cases, a simple storyline. It’s the story of an artist; in the case of 8½ he’s a filmmaker who is struggling to get inspiration to make his new film, and in Hour of the Wolf, a painter who is unable to paint, who goes on a retreat but eventually has to face his demons and confront his past memories. Both these movies have a very simple frame but explore it in very different ways. I left it for the students to discover that in world like that, it’s not so important what you say but how you say it. The how becomes the content of the show, which is true of The Woman and the Canvas
When was the show first performed?
The Edinburgh Fringe will be the first time The Woman and the Canvas has been performed in its current iteration. The piece started life as The Woman on the Chair when we did a first scratch performance at Fourth Monkey. It was about 55 minutes long and it was pretty much a draft of The Woman and the Canvas – it was all there but in the wrong order. All the characters were very messy and the story wasn’t very clear. It was still flamboyant like it is now, but it was a bit confusing. We didn’t really know the hierarchy between the characters: who was real, who was made up and who were the memories. We worked on it throughout the year and now we are ready to open!
What is it like working with acting students versus professional actors in a company?
It’s not that much different because I’ve been training these guys for two years, as Head of Movement at Fourth Monkey. We already share a common vocabulary, common expectations and there’s already an expected standard of work. In some ways, it’s great because everything is about the exploration. With the students we can explore much more, do more research and we don’t need to arrive at a result because it’s all about the process. It’s a learning curve for them, as well as myself and Eygló (Theatre Re Associate Director) as we direct it.
The research part of this project has been really exciting because there isn’t the pressure of coming up with a result. It’s been used more for the students to explore a process and the practice of working with Theatre Re as a company. I think the downside is that it takes more time for them to explore something fully because for them, they’re still in a training environment. It does take the students more time than it would for professional performers to arrive at an idea or to explore that idea fully. However one very exciting aspect of working with students is that we get to work with a lot of people. There’s 31 actors onstage which would never happen in the real world, but it offers this process a richness and the show is stronger as a result.
What do you see is the benefit of an ensemble piece?
One of the benefits is how we see ownership of the piece. Ownership is a big thing – it’s the students’ show and they are at the centre of it. For example, we wouldn’t be able to replace anyone because every character was devised with the individual in mind – it was created for them, by them, on them. It’s what they wanted to say and how they wanted to say it which is a big plus, because these are ideas that they really believe and that they’re really behind. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the actors don’t stop questioning the piece, but the questioning comes from them.
That’s the main thing about the sort of work that we do at Theatre Re, where the actor is at the centre of the devising process. It’s not the writer, the light, the music, or the director – it really is the actor who is the poet. That’s what is really beautiful about this sort of work: the actor is put back at the centre of the process, as opposed to more traditional theatre with a writer. For us, the actor comes first, and their craft is at the centre of everything.
What do you hope for the Fourth Monkey graduates as they start out as actors?
First of all, I want them to perform The Woman and the Canvas well. In this industry, something interesting happens if you’re an actor, because you’re constantly having to think about the next project. So before you have even finished your current show, you’re already thinking about the next. Obviously it’s important to do this because everyone needs to make a living, but I don’t think it’s very healthy if you’re not in the present of what you do when you do it. So I think the first thing the students should focus on is this. We’ve reached a point in the process where the director now needs to leave the room and it’s up to them. What I’m hoping is that we’ve given them enough so that they can take it further. Because at the end of the day, we can only take them as far as we’re going, but now they need to go further – it needs to fly. So hopefully they’re equipped for it and we’ll see what happens.
Aside from that, in their careers I want the Fourth Monkey graduates to discover what makes them happy, pursue that which inspires them and do what they find really exciting. Some of them will do screen work or theatre work, and maybe some of them will become theatre-makers in their own rights and create their own work. There are a lot of actors in this world and not many jobs, unless you’re extremely lucky and it works out for you. However, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it or you can’t be an actor or a theatre maker. It just means that you create your own work and put it on stage.
The Woman and the Canvas runs at the Camden Fringe from 16-26 August at the Monkey House.
Suitability 12+. Tickets £10 (£8 Concessions). Box Office: 0207 281 0360