Shannon Friday talking about Iphigenia 2.0
Theatre director Shannon Friday is speaking with me after what, for most was a lazy Sunday, was for her another day of hectic rehearsal. No weariness or fatigue is visible despite the arduous schedule of work she is undergoing. Iphigenia 2.0 is Shannon's master’s degree graduation production playing for six nights from January 31st at the Toi Whakaari Basement Theatre. Originally from Atlantic, a town of 7000 in Iowa, USA, she intended to travel to NZ and then on to Australia but an intended six months has become 5 years and counting. Now happy to call New Zealand home, Shannon explains she is very grateful for where she has ended up.
"Studying here has a lot of advantages compared with most theatre programmes in the states. A lot of schools have a very narrow focus and a set way of working. Toi Whakaari, working jointly with Victoria University, is different; it is more about finding your own way, seeking your own interests". Shannon's comfort in fluidity becomes more apparent when she tells me about her views on what theatre can uniquely offer audiences. Inspired by Elizabethan and Greek styles, she strives for a playful spontaneity in the performance, and interactivity between the performers and the audience. For Shannon this is what theatre can offer that other forms of entertainment cannot.
"For me, it's all about getting some people together in a room. I think theatre has gotten distracted in recent years by trying to be like movies. The audience sits there and are silent, watching stuff going on over there, which either reaches them or it doesn't. I really want something that does more than that". Shannon recalls past productions she worked on where the audience's mood and participation had influence on the direction of a play, for example, rooting for a hero, or condemning a villain. "If a play can move with an audience, that is when you really have something". Through a character’s use of eye contact and directly speaking to the audience, as well as the arrangement of the seats, bringing fluidity and interactivity to theatre gives it its unique liveliness.
How all this theory of interactivity and fluidity will take effect on the six nights of her upcoming production, I am expectantly anticipating. No doubt I admire Shannon's fearlessness and willingness to give up control. A play’s ability to not go to plan is something she embraces as a director. "With Iphigenia 2.0, it has been a lot of fun seeing the actors try new approaches to one task. There are some very precise movements in the play that could go wrong, and the element of danger excites the audience and performers. I want to leave some room for things to grow and change. The trick is seeing which parts can be allowed to grow and change, that can keep pushing people night after night, so each audience that comes in can then become part of that feedback."
Iphigenia 2.0, written by American Charles Mee, is a modern reworking of a Greek classic using a pastiche style of varying influences. Suitably described by an actor during rehearsal as having a lot of 'tone slap', "it's going along, then suddenly the scene switches, from a war zone, to say a dance party, and then to planning a wedding. That, I think, is really exciting for an audience, a lot of gear switching, with lots of new stuff colliding all the time".
Without spoiling too much more, Shannon tells me that in spite of the abrasive and awkwardly pronounced title, Iphigenia 2.0 has something in it for everyone to like. Whether you like dancing, witty rhetoric, sexiness, violence, irony, humour, sadness, it goes on. It oozes fun and variety. Shannon has the audience’s entertainment buds in mind, and she hopes they are willing to have their own influence on the show, in spite of the title.
Shannon was interviewed by Henry Wells
Iphigenia 2.0 is showing at the Basement Theatre, Te Whaea: National Dance and Drama Centre, from the 31st of January until the 9th of February 2013.
The tickets for Iphigenia 2.0 are available on the Toi Whakaari website: