ED2018 Caro Meets ED2018 Interviews ED2018 Review Edition ED2018 Theatre

Ryan Napier and Courtney Oliphant: The Antiscians

By | Published on Tuesday 31 July 2018

My interest was piqued by the sound of this show from US based group The Apricity Project when I realised that its creators were inspired by the work of Scottish writer George MacDonald, pioneer of the fantasy genre.

The piece was written by Ryan Napier and Courtney Oliphant, who also perform in the play. I spoke to them to find out more about how they came to be using MacDonald’s story as a jumping off point, and why they made the all important decision to bring their work to the Fringe.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the show is about? What story does it tell? What are the primary themes?
RN+CO: The show is about a warlock named Watho, who, conquered by the turmoil of grief, keeps two girls in isolation. When the girls meet for the first time, they’re challenged by their differences and strengthened by their decisions to overcome them. The Antiscians covers themes such as grief, desire and the strengths of diversity.

CM: It’s inspired by the novel by George MacDonald, isn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about him and his work?
RN+CO: Yes, the initial inspirations of our show is from MacDonald’s short story, ‘The Day Boy and the Night Girl’. George MacDonald was a Scottish poet, author, and Christian minister, and was a major influence in the fantasy genre for generations, even becoming mentor to C.S. Lewis. MacDonald’s stories provoked our love for the fantasy genre; a genre we don’t typically see on stage outside of children’s theatre. MacDonald effortlessly exudes his knack for beautiful language and descriptive imagery in his works.

CM: Will we recognise the story in your show, if we’ve read the novel? How closely does your show resemble the source?
RN+CO: If you’ve read the novel, the story will be recognisable in a skeletal aspect. Though there are some themes and characters that stem similarity in structure, our story differs quite a bit from the ‘The Day Boy and Night Girl’.

CM: What made you want to use the story as your inspiration for the show? How and when did you come across it and why was it appealing as a source material?
RN+CO: We came across George MacDonald’s stories many years ago and both fell in love with his effortlessly magical language that is wonderfully transporting. We both have Scottish heritage and Courtney’s Grandfather used to read MacDonald’s work to her mother as a child.

We had never considered using MacDonald’s work as source material, until we began discussing the themes that we wanted to explore through a new play. We found ourselves desperate to discuss grief, friendship, racial reconciliation, and the necessary risks of love and life if you choose to live it. We realized early on that “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” gave us the perfect framework to discuss these themes that we felt were the necessary spine for our story, and the landscape needed to be able to sow seeds of hope and reconciliation.

Choosing a fairy tale structure also opened ourselves up to a larger audience, making our play accessible to people of any age, race, or maturity. ‘The Antiscians’ is executed through an enchanting fusion of verse, dance, and physical storytelling, with our spin on MacDonald’s heightened use of poetry and descriptive narrative.

CM: You wrote the show together, of course. How did that process work? Is it easy to work together?
RN+CO: We spent several weeks talking about the story and things that were important to us before we formally began to write. While the process was primarily fluid, we both learned to broaden our horizons and respect our different perspectives. We both respected the power of a play with a unique cultural voice as we symbolically blended our experiences as a black male and white female.

CM: You also appear in the show – how does being both writer and performer affect things? How does it affect the way things work with your director?
RN+CO: As writers, we had very strong conviction towards the objectives being pushed and it ended up really enhancing our character development process as performers. It did prove to be difficult during the workshop process however, as we became so self conscious and critical of ourselves hearing the words read out loud from others for the first time! In those early stages, it was also at times challenging to turn off the writer brain and let the actor brain take over. We had multiple meetings with the director focused solely on the story and script. By the time we entered the rehearsal process, we had prominently been in unison on all the fundamental themes and important messages we desired to convey.

CM: What made you want to bring the show to the Festival?
RN+CO: We felt really strong about premiering our play at one of the largest festivals in the world. As ensemble members of the 2012 Fringe First Award winning, ‘Why Do You Stand There in the Rain?’, we have witnessed shows carrying on life after premiering in Edinburgh. We were also aware that this particular story is universal and will excite and connect with an international audience.

CM: What’s the best thing about being in Edinburgh for the Festival? What do you like about it?
RN+CO: Being in Edinburgh for the festival is magical because it really reinvigorates one’s passion for theatre. You are surrounded by an abundance of people from different walks of life and parts of the world, yet despite the differences, everyone possesses the universal affinity for theatre.

CM: What shows do you plan to see while you are in town?
RN+CO: ‘The Abode’, performed by our alma mater Pepperdine University’s company, and ‘What Girls Are Made Of’ by Cora Bissett.

CM: What plans do you have for the show, moving forward?
RN+CO: Our plans are definitely to tour the show as much as possible. We really believe in the efficacy of our story’s ability to open minds and provoke conversations about empathy and understanding when it comes to embracing each other’s differences.

CM: What’s coming up next for you all, after this?
RN+CO: We are planning to develop another play as we promote and tour ‘The Antiscians’. Ryan is attached to a few film projects as an actor or producer and Courtney has several other writing projects in progress. We’ve also begun collaboration on a film project as well.

‘The Antiscians’ was performed at Greenside @ Royal Terrace at Edinburgh Festival 2018.