Mary and Her Daemon, created and performed by Dushinka Andresen (Norway) and Brendan McCall (USA) is a piece that was initially developed earlier this summer during a residency at AIZ Arts Laboratory in Latvia in August, and further developed at the Beenhouse in Sweden.
Within both locations, our language of theater was not shared with the other artists in residence, nor were anyone else from Norway pres-ent, says McCall. During their residency at AIZ, they worked alongside conceptual artists from Russia, Lat-via, Belarus, and Turkey. In Sweden, the other artists were from the field of dance, music, and improvisation. Brendan McCall states that this proved to be a reward-ing environment to work within, during the early stag-es of the piece, as it helped them to think outside the box of traditional playwriting, performance-making, and theatrical development. How did you come up with the idea for Mary and Her Daemon?
The initial idea or concept for Mary and Her Daemon arose out of practical matters, as well as adopting an idea from a friend & colleague. Because EFTN travels so frequently, Dushinka and myself wanted to create a piece that was small and “self-contained”. We wanted to create a new work that we could share easily in dif-ferent places that we travel to, as we tend to visit vari-ous places frequently with our work. Thus, we didn´t want to make something that had a large cast, or required an extensive de-sign element, or was site-specific. We wanted something that we could pack in a suitcase and bring with us.
How did you start building the content of Mary and Her Dae-mon?
It came from our colleague and friend, playwright Laura Lynn Mac-Donald (USA). She and I had been talking for a few months about adapt-ing various novels into plays, since last autumn (2010), when we were working together in Chicago with EFTN. Sometime in the winter, she suggested Dushinka and I look at Mary Shelley´s novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. I hadn´t read the book since 1990, and Dush-inka had never read it before. Most of our images of the novel were based on the numerous film adaptations of the book that have subsequently be made in the last century. We were fascinated to discover that the novel di-verged significantly from the cinematic adaptations that we had seen. Much of the book is epistolary, and there are multiple points of view contained in the story: Captain Walton, Doctor Frankenstein, and his creation, often referred to as the Daemon. Further, we became fascinated with how the novel was created in the first place–during a rain-soaked summer in Switzerland that Mary and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, shared with another poet, Lord Byron. Kept indoors and largely reading ghosts stories and ac-counts of the occult, the three made a wager on who could write the best horror story. This first novel by the young Mary Shelley is the only that was completed, and is of course one of the most famous in all literature.
In addition to the novel as a source material, the above historical framework for the book´s creation lead us deeper into the biographies of the Shelleys in gener-al–a fascinating and grim chronicle that includes a lot of premature death of family members–as well as the poetry and essays of Percy. This collection of written material–historical, poetical, prose–about the Shelleys generally and about the novel Frankenstein specifcially, formed the basis of our textual development of what would become our work Mary and Her Daemon.
How did you work in writing of this original piece?
Our dramaturgical approach to the piece is, I sup-pose in some regard, similar to visual art, like collage. In creating the script for the piece, we wrote fragments from the book, from poems, letters, essays, had this whole pile of scraps of paper with passages written on them, short and long. These would then lead us to imagine scenes between characters, as well as mono-logues. Without discussing it, we found that both of us were selecting passages about a number of similar themes: creation, knowledge & insight, nightmares, the artistic temperament. So we began creating the characters of “Mary” and “Percy”, as well as inventing scenes between “Victor Frankenstein” and “The Dae-mon”. By rotating who plays these roles, we hoped that we could create an original script that blurred the line between reality and nightmare, or between the bi-ography of these characters and the fictions they cre-ated. This seemed in keeping with the spirits of these people´s lives as well as their art. But also we found it satisfying to create a new play out of these found writ-ings by the Shelleys–we thought that this process was somewhat alchemical, and similar to what the Shelleys did that stormy summer in Switzerland.
What is unique about Mary and Her Daemon?
In terms of the performance-vocabulary of Mary and Her Daemon, this was influenced somehow by being in residence with all of these conceptual visual and choreographic artists for 3 weeks. Unlike theater, which often utilizes consistent characters and a nar-rative to create a fictional “world”, they operate in the abstract as a matter of course. They have a different way “in” to a new work, which might just be a sound, or a gesture, or specific kind of material. So Dushinka and I approached the creation of our piece in a similar way. We did lots of movement-improvisation, inspired by simple images and instructions like “creation”, or “nightmare”, or “birth”. We would then catalogue these, see how we would want to assemble them later, just like we did with the text-collage. Also, we incor-porated the scraps of paper with the passages written onto them into the style of the piece, which was a big breakthrough for us in terms of giving Mary and Her Daemon a frame, some kind of structure that an audi-ence could plug into. The paper trans-forms during the piece into different things–sometimes its paper, some-times they are fragments of thought; other times they are a blanket, or the ocean, or pieces of a waking nightmare. This helped us to organize the piece in such a way, both for ourselves as well as audiences, so that we could follow this journey which dances between real and imaginary, between historical fact and fiction. The showings that we have had of the piece so far–for Latvians and Swedes–has been very positive, with some even being moved to tears from the performance. Even though the piece´s language is very eloquent and poetic, almost like Shakespeare, audiences whose first language is not English are still moved by it. I think this is because of the other theatrical elements that we bring to it, in design and movement, that speak to the heart in a different way that language does. This is part of what makes theater so much more than the lines written on the page.
The piece is still in development. Dushinka and Brendan are developing it further at Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey) and the Greenhouse Theater Cen-ter (Chicago, USA) this winter, in preparation for the FEATS Fringe Festival in Antwerp, Belgium this May 2012. This is the first time Ensemble Free Theater Nor-way has performed in Belgium, and it´s the first time this festival has accepted a group from Norway to at-tend. He expresses his pride to accept this invitation, and to bring this work there in the spring time.