Category Archives: romana testasecca

Scene and Heard Festival: Syrius

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If I had to describe Syrius with one only phrase, it would definitely be: the beauty in simplicity.

A sharp 20 min piece about a Syrian refugee on her unintended journey to Ireland presented by Rosebuds Theatre Company is indeed an awakening production. Through beautifully choreographed dance and movement Romana Testasecca tells us the story of Rasha, a young Syrian woman who is forced to flee her though beloved but self-destroying motherland in search of a more peaceful future.

A play like Syrius shows us perfectly how the almost complete lack of spoken words can sometimes even benefit and enhance a performance. One image equals one hundred words. We all live in the same world; we are all human beings who, when really want, can communicate with each other without the need for words at all. Protest banners, the white wedding veil, the headscarf, the tent, the paper boat… all these things are not only props or attributes that help move the story forward but they are also strong easily recognised international symbols.

Even though the actress does remain silent, towards the end of the piece there is an audio recording involved; the beautiful thing is that we can hear both Arabic and the English translation of it speaking almost simultaneously. It gives Rasha that little extra of being a real fleshed out person, even though she is just a generalised character. But the truth remains the same: there are hundreds of Rashas out there who have lost everything from their family and friends to the sense of belonging.

And if we want to be completely honest: there is a bit of Rasha in all of us.

Directed by Karen Killeen and choreographed by Stephanie Dufresne, Syrius is a play that isn’t afraid of challenges: be it in the structure of the piece or what lies behind the story. Rosebuds TC didn’t only create a touching piece of theatre, they brought the reality of today’s world into the art of performing. And isn’t it what good theatre is supposed to do: reflect the current situation we live in?

Syrius ran as part of Dublin’s Scene and Heard Festival in the Smock Alley Theatre from Feb. 24th to 26th. For more info about the production, you can read my interview with the woman behind it all – Romana Testasecca.

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Scene and Heard Festival: Interview with Romana Testasecca – Syrius

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Another day – another show. The second week of Scene and Heard Festival has already begun and we are talking human interest, international crisis and physical theatre now. All combined in one: SYRIUS, a new movement piece produced and performed by Romana Testasecca in association with Rosebuds Theatre Company.

In the interview below Romana talks about why she chose such a difficult subject as Syrian civil war and its effects on common civil Syrians; Romana also explains why she decided to present her new play as a movement piece rather than anything else.

SYRIUS will run for three nights only from Feb 24th to 26th in the Smock Alley Theatre’s Main Space. To book the tickets: http://entertainment.ie/show-/Smock-Alley-Theatre/Scene-Heard-Syrius/event-2789898.htm

 

Tell me a little bit about the piece. Is it your first solo movement performance?

1. We’re very excited to present this piece on behalf of Rosebuds, Karen Killeen and I (co-
founders) have never worked on anything like this before. The process has been very interesting and a real eye-opener. The piece is centred around the story of a young Syrian woman, Rasha, who is forced to leave her country. The piece starts just before Rasha takes part in a peaceful protest against Bashar al-Assad which leads to Rasha’s imprisonment. In prison she realises that “the Syria she knows has gone” and it’s time for her to leave. This is my first solo piece and I am very grateful that it will be taking place at Smock Alley Theatre main space to meet its first audience this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 6.30 pm. (24th -26th Feb)

What made you decide to create a movement piece? Why this genre in particular?

2. Movement is extremely effective especially when the subject matter is so difficult for us to talk about. In many catastrophic situations, like the Syrian civil war happening right now and the subsequent difficulties thousands of refugees are facing, people find it hard to express their feelings about it. It’s hard to comprehend, we say things like “there are no words”, we find it hard to process and vocalise painful news. When matters are beyond our control and we feel helpless it is hard to express our thoughts. Sometimes a visceral bodily reaction is all we have.

Who and how came up with the story behind the piece? Tell me a little bit about the creation of the piece.

3. The process started from an idea I had about telling a specific story of a refugee and the circumstances that led up to that happening. Conversations between myself and the director Karen Killeen gave a structure and arch to the piece. After a lot of research, we pin-pointed what was going to happen, section by section. We then brought in our wonderful choreographer Stephanie Dufresne. She shaped a lot of the movement for each section. We have never had a written piece. You can’t express movement on paper. There was a lot of filming and watching back and repeating over and over. Myself and Karen rehearsed and devised all in one.

What are the main elements that can be achieved through movement and sound that wouldn’t be as noticeable or as enhanced if done in a more traditional style (i.e. a play or a monologue)?

4. Different feelings bring about movement in the body. Sometimes thoughts are hard to elaborate through words. You can achieve a certain flow when you’re moving and that sequence of movements can mean something to one person and a different thing to someone else. People can interpret movement in different ways and that’s what makes it so interesting and unique. Movement connects a different part of us which is very rarely exposed.

The sound, designed by the talented Garret Hynes, is extremely helpful in conveying the message and feeding the narrative. The tricky part of abstract movement is that when it gets too abstract people don’t know what’s going on. When you are invested in the story and you’re creating it, you know what is going on so you feel it’s obvious. You aim to leave the audience as free as possible but you can’t give them too little either or you’ll lose them. It has to be balanced out and the sound provides a great equilibrium and serves as a guide for the audience. The audience then connects the visual with the audio.

What are the main challenges // advantages for you rehearsing and performing the piece?

5. The process is very free and liberating. There are no boundaries but if anything doesn’t work, we’re not afraid of letting it go or moving sections around so that the pieces fit together. It’s good to peel back and get to the core of what we’re trying to achieve. As a performer, you don’t always get the chance to move freely in the space and follow your physical instincts so that has been incredibly interesting to explore. I found it very useful to record myself and to watch it back with an objective eye. The challenge is assigning the correct weight to each part and moving coherently from section to section. The piece is abstract but it does follow a linear narrative, we have inserted voiceovers and certain moments in the story to give a little more context.

What would you like to achieve through the piece? What would you like the audience to bring home with them after the performance?

6. Ideally, we would love for the audience to connect with this story, no matter how far away it is from their own reality; SYRIUS is a universal story about losing everything you hold close, starting with your country. Geographically we are far from what is happening in Syria but that does not excuse us from being mentally disconnected from it. I’d like for the audience to reflect upon what is happening right now and ask themselves what we can do to help refugees. As a nation but also as individuals. These people need our help and all we have is our voice and our bodies. We have to use ourselves to speak out on behalf of people like Rasha. We have to welcome them in our countries. We have to give them a voice.

If you could describe the piece in three words only what would they be?

COLD , HARD , HOPE.

 

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The New Theatre: The Belly Button Girl

The Belly Button Girl, written and performed by Tom Moran, is a story about a twenty-something guy who falls in love with the cute barеутвук at his cousin Sharon’s 21st birthday party.

The story is simple and quite straight forward. Except, that it’s not. Set in, undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful corners of the Emerald Isle – Dingle Peninsula, this piece tells us a story of a guy who fell in love and wasn’t afraid to admit it to himself and to the others. In an age of masculinity and in a country when showing your feelings is still a dangerous and, mostly by choice and ever so pressuring society, unexplored territory (especially by men), this is a huge deal.

All throughout the 60 min piece not for second is The Guy scared to say what is really on his mind. The story is easy to follow and understand because it doesn’t come out as a pretentious overwritten piece but rather like somebody’s natural train of thought. Yes, it’s ridiculous at times, but it’s very truthful. Thanks to this, we forgive and even laugh with Moran’s character when he mentions some of the most unspeakable and unmentionable details of his dating the Belly Button Girl. Why would you say something like that? the audience might think. But then you remember, that’s something we all think about and there is nothing bad in saying the truth. It’s like Moran removed the filter that was holding the society’s daily courtesy talk routine and just poured it all out.

Another element that immediately attracted me to this play was the amazingly believable characterization. Every single one of them: from the main characters – The Belly Button Girl – to the smallest ones – The Massive Lad or The Sambuca Lady. It’s a very interesting tool that not many playwrights use: to identify characters by who they really are. Without too much description or an overload of names, I could easily picture all the characters in the play and know what kind of people they were.

Now to the setting. Dingle is a very attractive place to set a story. The furthest corner of the Irish land; anything can happen there. But Moran, once again hits the jackpot, with some very modest but easily recognisable imagery. If you’ve ever been to Dingle Peninsula, of course you would have heard about its main attraction: Fungie, the dolphin, who doesn’t show himself to everyone. And, even though being one of the most gorgeous places of nature and typical Irish landscape, there is very little to do on the peninsula.

I was also quite fond of the structure of this sixty minute piece. It finishes very much the way it had started. The circle has been complete. With the only difference that our main character – The Guy – isn’t the same anymore; he has grown up emotionally. And that’s what all the good stories are about: the characters journey on a self-exploration and self-development.

A tearing comedy with a somewhat unusual ending, The Belly Button Girl, directed by Romana Testasecca, is a beautiful piece of very touching and truthful theatre. Tom doesn’t use any props and there is barely any sound effects, the play is one hundred percent about  stripping down one’s own soul and sharing the experience with the audience.

The Belly Button Girlbrought to us by Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes Productions, runs in The New Theatre, Temple Bar until August 27th. It’s the kind of play that has all the potential to woe the Fringe (be it Dublin or Edinburgh) audience. A very refreshing piece of truthful theatre. For more info or to book tickets: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57bd6f62e9ebe%7C0 

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Interview with Romana Testasecca and Tom Moran

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It’s less than a week before The Belly Button Girl opens in The New Theatre. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to the play’s writer and performer Tom Moran and Romana Testasecca, who is directing the piece.

Just before we dive into the interview, I want to make a special mention. I meet a lot of creative artists and theatre makers, who are, of course, very proud of their creations. But Tom and Romana were so passionate and enthusiastic about their upcoming play that the fire in their eyes were so contagious I couldn’t bare the thought of keeping it all to myself. Unfortunately, not always such an amount of belief and passion about your own work can be transmitted through the screen; so, I decided to simply say it.

Now to the interview.

I sat down with Romana and Tom primarily to talk about Squad Theatre company and The Belly Button Girl. It’s interesting to note that The Belly Button Girl is being brought to the audience not by one but two theatre companies. Walking almost hand in hand, Squad Theatre Company and Intensive Purposes are as close as sisters. Being formed around the same time (and as recently as 2015) by a group of DIT Drama graduates, both companies have quite an extensive experience behind their belts, including participation in Scene and Heard festival. Always trying to work side by side but allowing each other enough creative freedom at the same time, the two companies focus on creating their own content. The Squad is a company with 5 core members (and more than ten in total), while Intensive Purposes is pretty much a one-man project. It was Tom’s decision to be separated from the rest as he wanted to have the freedom to work on his own writings. At the same time, Tom and Romana gave me a feeling of a close unity between the two companies, they are always there to help each other to produce and present.

Having already some experience in writing and performing, creating The Belly Button Girl took more than a year to be fully developed.  Starting as a completely different story, with a different plot and a different title, Tom’s inspiration for the play came while practicing yoga. To be more precise, in a downward-facing dog pose. Acknowledging that he might have not been the best yogi and always being pushed to the back of the class, Tom felt like he was not getting enough attention from the teacher. Thus the idea of a guy who falls in love with his yoga instructor was born. “But then I realised that the play wasn’t about yoga at all, it was about the relationship”, says Tom. And that’s exactly what was left in the second draft: the relationship between two human beings.

“It’s very unfiltered”, says Tom about the nature of the play. “He – the protagonist – is not ashamed. There is a lovely kind of confidence in just being himself. He just says everything the way it is”, adds Romana.

Always trying to mix things up, Tom admits that he likes his “comedies to be dramatic and his dramas to be comedic”. “Otherwise it doesn’t feel real”, says he.

But it’s never easy to be the writer who performs in his or her own piece. Tom says that he always knew he was going to be the one telling the story not only from the page but also from the stage. When asked which of the two crafts he enjoys more, he honestly answers “I have this bone in my body that if I wasn’t performing I would probably go a little bit crazy”. He also notes that writing has become a huge part of his daily life and he couldn’t imagine himself not doing it anymore.

Tom admits that music is a very important component of his writing routine. It doesn’t only influence and inspire him and his mood, but it also helps him to find the rhythm of the piece. Evidently having a very well trained musical ear, he counts the bits in every word and every phrase to make it sound right.

Just like in any creative task, being the writer of the piece you are performing apart from the evident benefits also inputs some challenges. One of such might be that the actor starts taking liberties and creative freedom with his own (well-penned and already brought to perfection) script. It’s easy to change a word or a whole line while it’s your own creation. That’s why you have a director who is there to help you master the performance.

Romana came on board only a few months ago. While Tom knew from the beginning that he was writing a play for himself, he didn’t have yet a person in mind to direct it. “She gave me the best notes on the play”, says Tom who enjoys working with Roman and admits that he gets really excited when the two creative opinions collide in the rehearsal room and they have to find a way to make the scene work for both of them. Also coming from an acting background, Romana says that she always respects the actor’s point of view and ideas about how a scene should be acted out. But it’s always a mutual decision and the director has the benefit of seeing the performance from the outside. It’s definitely a challenge to find the balance in between imposing yourself as the director and listening to what your actor is trying to communicate to you.

The Belly Button Girl isn’t biographical”, says Tom “there is a lot of me in it, but none of it actually happened to me.” Inviting people to have a look at his own experience, Tom quotes Mark Birbiglia: “If you are not telling your secrets, you are not doing it right”.  And that’s exactly how Tom wants to engage his audience. “That’s what good art is”, he says, “telling your secrets. And this is what this play  – The Belly Button Girl – is. It’s the most unfiltered thing. He – the main character – is so free and lovely, and so disgusting. This play tries to show every part of a person and every part of a relationship.”

Not hugely relaying on the set design or props, the play is as stripped down as the protagonist’s soul in front of an audience. “He is there and he is telling you his story”, says Romana. “There is nothing else. It’s this guy on stage telling his story”.

Both Romana and Tom want the audience to have a real truthful understanding of a human experience. In his play, Tom aims to show people that it’s ok to go through different emotions internally but it’s even more ok to release them to the outside world. There is nothing to be worried or scared about. Even if you are a man. Especially if you are a man. Because before being a man, you are a human being. “Comfortable vulnerability” is the beautiful term that Tom uses for it, “to be comfortable with your own emotions and showing them.”

Tom and Romana have big plans for The Belly Button Girl. It’s less than a week before the play opens in one of Dublin’s city center venues, but the talk has it that the play will be well up for the Edinburgh Fringe in the next couple of years. Described as an “Unflinching, romantic and personal” play, The Belly Button Girl promises to be truly epic! So start booking the tickets before they are gone. For one week only with one day (Monday) preview at the price of 12.50 EUR only: http://www.thenewtheatre.com/tnt_php/scripts/page/show.php?show_id=268&gi_sn=57b34ad04e5ef%7C0 

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