Interview: Antonia Georgieva Talks Aslant Theatre’s Debut Show MUSE

Aslant Theatre Company are packed and headed for the Camden Fringe with a show which looks back in order to look forward; to re-tell in order to tell anew… MUSE will play the Camden People’s Theatre 22nd to 25th August 2019 (tickets here) so I caught up with Artistic Director Antonia Georgieva to talk all things re-telling and new show MUSE…

Where, when and how did Aslant Theatre Company come to be?

As far as origin stories go, ours perhaps isn’t too glamorous. I started the company back in the spring. Making a theatre company to articulate shared artistic goals with my potential collaborators has always been something in the back of my mind, so one day I decided why not today? Since then I have worked on developing a network of like-minded artists and makers and working towards making our debut as a company.

Aslant Theatre Company is interested in producing both new works and imaginative interpretations of the classical repertoire. More broadly, we are conscious of who gets to speak, especially in literature or on stage, and we aim to give a voice to those who have been historically “aslant” and to show a different perspective on the stories that we know.

MUSE is Aslant Theatre Company’s debut production. What exactly drew the company to this piece and how does it reflect the company’s identity?

The company’s slogan – “Re-tell and re-member” – indicates our goal of revisiting the past. We want to make work that challenges the way we remember and tell history. We are asking ourselves how we can flip the dominant narrative, tell the untold stories of the past, examine the overlooked points of view, and retell the classics in a different way. In that sense, MUSE is the perfect debut piece for us. It sheds light on a woman from history that a lot of people might not know about or if they do, it’s almost as an afterthought to her male counterpart. The piece challenges the idea that the most noteworthy thing about Dora Maar is that she was Picasso’s lover and attempts to show her side of the story as both a woman and an artist.

The play centres on surrealist photographer Dora Maar and her relationship with Pablo Picasso. It sounds thrilling with hooks like a ‘dangerous game’ being played, Wartime tension and ‘the inherent violence of the relationship between artist and muse.’ How would you characterise the play in terms of genre and style?

The play definitely borrows from the time period when the majority of the action takes place – the period between the two world wars, a time of rising nationalist regimes and destruction, which also coincides with the peak of the Surrealist and Expressionist movement in art. Even though this is ultimately an intimate story about a relationship, there is certainly the sense of the larger historical context looming over the characters’ heads as they can’t ever remain indifferent to it. That said, this is not a period play. We are going for something more eclectic and symbolic in terms of style, something that gestures at a period in history that is sometimes beyond the bounds of language. The state of the world is reflected through the individual prisms of the artists and their own lives.

The subject matter has the potential to be incredibly intense. Is intensity the main goal and is there light within the narrative too?

Intensity has definitely played a part in the creation of this piece as it can be found in so many historical accounts of the time period and of Picasso and Dora’s relationship – there’s no way around it. This was an incredibly passionate and turbulent relationship that gave rise to spectacular art. At the same time for all this intensity to be believable, we have to also see the light first. We want the audience to be able to feel the passion and attraction between the central characters. We get glimpses of their happy moments as a couple – the time spent together making art or taking a vacation by the beach. Only then would the consequent tragedy feel earned.

MUSE promises to take audiences ‘on a surreal journey through time, colors, tears, and fragments.’ That’s a strikingly tall order – how are you approaching this in terms of performance style?

For this production we are exploring a more eclectic approach in terms of the performance style. I am combining elements of devising and will also be collaborating with a movement director to discover new ways to evoke meaning and lift the text off the page. I believe the script, which features poetic sections and a chorus, lends itself quite nicely to that approach.

The production explores the idea of the price paid by muses of artworks. Is there a message nestling in this play, considering the female-led nature of the company and within our loud current political climate?

The play explores the relationship between artist and muse as one in which the artist always takes and takes until his muse has been completely exhausted of her inspiring force. In plain terms, there is something toxic and emotionally abusive in such a dynamic, so the play really poses the question: is it worth it? The production ends on a strong note of female empowerment that certainly puts it in conversation with the current political climate.

As Director, you’re opting for a combination of ‘poetic form’, devised elements and original compositions by Timna Lugstein. Is it safe to safe that this production is more stylised and artful than grittily naturalistic?

Definitely. Stylized is one word that I would use to describe my directing and artistic vision in general, so that has certainly informed my approach to this production. There are scenes that will definitely feel naturalistic because even the greatest artists were mere humans and led normal lives, but the play is equally interested in what we don’t necessarily see in our everyday interactions – dreams and nightmares, visions, and the uncanny. In that sense, we are definitely going for a stylized feel.

As a new theatre company making your debut, what does the Camden Fringe mean to you?

The Camden Fringe is a spectacular opportunity to put work out there and reach new and diverse audiences, test bold ideas, and in our case also make our debut as a company. A festival like the Camden Fringe gives artists the space and opportunity to explore their practices and learn through experience. There’s definitely a lot of work involved in order to be able to make our own work, but the Camden Fringe organizers as well as our venue Camden People’s Theatre have been incredibly supportive throughout every stage of this process.

To close, in one sentence, why should audiences come to see MUSE?

See MUSE to learn about the life of an inspiring woman that has been misremembered by history and the destruction that follower her relationship with Picasso.

Now for the Quick fire, general theatre related questions

Who or what has inspired you most in theatre?

The work of Dead Centre.

Favourite theatre genre and why?

Something that I am currently quite interested in the intersection of classical theatre and adaptations. I think that’s the most fruitful way to keep rediscovering texts in contemporary practice.

Etiquette debates – worthwhile or futile? Where do you draw the line? It’s a hot topic.

The etiquette of theatregoers will almost certainly vary from culture to culture and from production to production and is constantly changing with time. I think we should be open to that change collectively both as makers and as audiences. Audiences are hardly ever treated as just flies on the wall anymore, so at the end of the day, as long as you’re not disrupting the performance or otherwise interfering with the actors’ ability to deliver their best work, I see nothing wrong with shaking up the theatre etiquette.

Do you have a best ‘the show must go on’ tale?

It has to be a tale from the time when I directed an outdoor, roaming production of Hamlet. It was our closing night. The 8 PM show was about to begin; the audience was gathered; the actors took their places for the top of the show and… it started raining. It poured all the way through Act 2 and at times rained so hard that it wasn’t safe to use our outdoor lighting equipment. The actors were completely drenched and we were bringing out hot tea when they weren’t on stage. It was an all hands on deck kind of situation. But the best part is the majority of the audience stayed till the very end!

If you could bring change in terms of opportunities in Theatre right now, what would it be?

I’m personally passionate about improving opportunities for young directors. There still seems to be a bit of an “ivory tower” aura surrounding the role of the director and assistant director, and those positions can seem quite inaccessible to someone who is just starting out, so I wish there were even more programmes and hands-on training opportunities.

So there you have it! Remember, MUSE will play the Camden People’s Theatre 22nd to 25th August 2019 and you can find tickets here. You can also find out more about the company on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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