ED2021 Caro Meets ED2021 Theatre

Bianca Mastrominico and John Dean: Flanker Origami

By | Published on Friday 20 August 2021

The 2021 Edinburgh Fringe will be over before long, but there are plenty of shows beginning in this final week, and lots to see in both the in-person and online spaces. And lots of it is really exciting.

And that includes ‘Flanker Origami’, coming to you live via Zoom this week. It’s a show whose rather interesting moniker very much reflects its intriguing content. When I heard about it, and its creators, I was determined to investigate…

The show is the work of Organic Theatre, aka Bianca Mastrominico and John Dean. I spoke to them to find out more.

CM: Can you start by explaining to audiences what they might expect from ‘Flanker Origami’? Not sure it sounds as though it has a narrative…? Does it?
BM+JD: It’s a ‘home-specific’ show, so we are inviting our audiences to gaze, imagine, and be voyeurs of personal spaces in a real house.

More than a narrative, there is a roller-coaster of dynamics between our two eccentric alter egos Flanker and Origami, out of which emerges a darkly comedic and – at times – grotesque journey into the collective psychological drama of the lockdown. As is typical of our work, our performances are held a paper thin distance from us, so autobiographical material feeds into tall tales and our performances are political, in the way the personal always is.

Flanker and Origami are seen stranded on Zoom in their own house, transformed into a glittery domestic fantasy of spectacle. They get through the infinite time at their disposal via a couple game which is manipulative, tender and slightly disturbing, with no other escape than playing out preposterous online wellbeing routines, under the illusion of healing themselves and others.

CM: Are there specific themes you’re exploring through the show?
BM+JD: One of our starting points in devising was to consider how repeated lockdowns had made us mentally and physically vulnerable and edgy – what the captivity and fear of the unknown did to us as a couple of artists sharing the same home environment, and how this had an impact on our daily routines and mental well-being.

But we also wanted to focus on how the mundane can create wonder and the ways in which we have become collectively more creative with our domestic lives because of this acute awareness of time we had during the pandemic.

As we are revisiting these themes through unleashing two cross dressed and eccentric alter egos in our own house, we are also making manifest the absurdist behaviour we adopted in order to adapt to the circumstances.

There is also an intrinsic theme of what value and purpose theatre and creativity has without an audience to receive it, and the pivotal role of online engagement for both performers and spectators at this moment in time.

CM: Who do you expect to reach with this show? Who is it aimed at?
BM+JD: I would say a spectator who is curious about performances which push the boundaries of genre and style into a different territory on digital – which is not quite film, television, theatre, video-art or social media – but it can be a mix of all these. People who like to ‘discover’ work which is experimental in spirit but also theatrical and provocative, and very much alive.

For us ‘Flanker Origami’ is an ‘experience’ more than a show conceived for remote consumption or broadcasting, as it is created directly for a digital audience. It’s for audiences who like to be invited in and are keen to be co-creators online: there are offers to participate – discreetly – which can be taken or left as we don’t want to force the dynamic or make people uncomfortable.

Overall, we are inviting our audience to witness the human cracks behind a relationship based on endurance and survival, while appreciating how much creativity we all had to inject into our daily routines to cope and get through the storm.

CM: What made you decide to bring a show to the digital edfringe?
BM+JD: At the start of the pandemic we embarked on a process of digital adaptation of our live studio processes, developing new ways of playing creatively online which eventually led us to focus on migrating our original work onto a digital platform – in this case Zoom.

This first hybrid edition of the Fringe seemed the right place at the right time to experiment with a new mode of engaging with our spectators. It is also about being part of a local and international community of artists and theatre makers who are facing the same challenges and occupying a similar creative space between digital and in person, and who are keen to share and make theatre happen no matter what.

CM: The lockdown saw a huge growth in online theatrical projects. Do you think that’s something that’s here to stay? Do you welcome it?
BM+JD: The surge in interest towards working online is part of a bigger shift that marks a more conscious creative use of new technologies which the performing arts sector is starting to appreciate and embrace.

Digital performance has been around for a long time, it’s just that it had previously been seen as the ‘little sister’ in the industry, and something linked to technical developments which are more attuned to the cinematic because of the filmic nature of screens and devices.

As a company it is about learning new approaches and discovering the soft boundaries between emergency and innovation in our profession, so we are embracing it and have a project called Digital HotSpot which I will talk more about later…

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Organic Theatre? How long has it been in existence and what kind of work do you do?
BM+JD: We started working together in 2002 as an intercultural performance lab, devising and touring performances and workshops in the UK and internationally. We have performed in theatres, art galleries, museums, streets, barns, village halls and festivals, and taught in cultural centres as well as universities, colleges and drama schools throughout the UK and Europe.

Our processes are collaborative, interdisciplinary and based on extended periods of research, ongoing training and our personal artistic know-how. We strive to take creative risks and innovate our practice with every new project and our interest at the moment is about how audience engagement can operate – both live and on digital – in a way that opens up safe experiences of vulnerability and freedom for both performers and spectators.

Our work is generally devised – even when the starting point might be a play-text – and we like to break boundaries between definitions of what theatre and performance are in different cultural and geographical contexts.

In ‘Flanker Origami’ we dance, our performances are often physical, and there is a strong emphasis on using text which is improvised and then becomes the scripted part of our final performance. We like to create on our feet, through improvisation and repetition of the bits that make sense to us, so the resulting work feels somehow in-between art and life, and it is very blurred and organic in that sense.

CM: What plans and ambitions do you have for the company in the future?
BM+JD: We would like to develop a hybrid practice which will allow us to play with new media and technologies more, as well as developing performance work which can be experienced in person – as we used to do!

In the immediate future we aim at continuing to foster experimentation on digital through our latest project Digital HotSpot, a collective of artists-researchers exchanging and sharing bi-weekly in an online playground, which explores the potential of training and ensemble building through digital platforms.

We hope that these meetings will eventually provide participants with ideas or processes which can be developed further into creative outcomes. The collective also promotes networking and artistic support at the time where artists and creatives are putting their heads out of the pandemic hole, hopefully for good. There’s more information on our website.

CM: How has the company been affected by the pandemic? How did you get through it?
BM+JD: Like many other theatre makers, we found ourselves confronting personal questions related to the need of being creative, learning new ways of working and making the most of the constraints of being ‘at home’.

During lockdowns our artistic house became a golden cage where we consumed our domestic life again and again, trying to hold on to what was normal to us: performance making. With ‘Flanker Origami’ we are affirming the power of creative action over habits forced upon us by the health crisis and our home has now been transformed into an environment for hybrid experimentation and a digital stage.

We couldn’t have imagined an emergency that would have forced us to reconsider how we make, perform and meet our audiences, as well as how we live our lives, and ‘Flanker Origami’ is our joyous, dark and liberating response to the time that was lost to fear and shock.

CM: Do you plan to perform at the Fringe again in the future, either digitally or in the Flesh?
BM+JD: We are an Edinburgh-based multicultural artistic partnership and we are in continuous dialogue with the artistic community in Scotland and beyond. It will be interesting to understand how this first hybrid edition of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe might transform festival policies, also in view of creating a more sustainable way for companies to present and share their work with global audiences as well as with producers and press.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
BM+JD: We’d like to bring ‘Flanker Origami’ a bit closer to the public, getting them out of their house-theatre, and encountering people in unusual spaces in the city.

We would like to explore further the relationship between technology, performance and audience participation in a social setting. Witnessing that – despite the closure of theatre buildings – artists and audiences kept looking and longing for each other online was heart-warming and a very positive signal.

Perhaps / maybe this is a time where we recognise that theatre – anywhere in the world – is not just an industry or a physical stage, but a unique place for affecting each other, connecting and staying connected, one which we cannot take for granted if we want to generate new and perhaps more democratic opportunities for creative and cultural encounters in future.

‘Flanker Origami’ was performed via Zoom as part of Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: www.edfringe.com | www.organictheatre.co.uk