Every day we send two performers who have something in common on a date, and see if the sparks fly. This is an extract from the interview.
Lynn Manning, star of Weights: One Blind Man’s Journey, at Theatre Workshop until 18 August. Maria Oshodi, of Effing and Blinding Cabaret, which was at Theatre Workshop for two nights earlier in the Fringe.
Maria Oshodi: Even the title of your show fascinates me.
Lynn Manning: It’s an autobiographical solo piece. I have a live musical accompanist on stage with me who also happens to be blind. He adds alot of flavour underneath my story-telling part. It deals with the day that I got shot and lost my sight, and how growing up in South central Los Angeles sort of prepared me for dealing with it. It’s drama and comedy, but also interspersed with poetry that either punctuates the story-telling or sort of transitions between different episodes in my life that I explore. But to your piece?
MO: It is autobiographical in some senses. Some of the sketches are based on our experiences of being blind, but we have twisted them to make them slightly absurd, very absurd actually! Comedy is essential. There are four of us so we have a perfect doubling up in the sense of numbers in the space. Sound is also very important in our piece. I imagine lighting is an important feature for your show but ours is totally in the dark. We are trying to use a state-not that darkness is a natural state for us- but taking the visuals out and really responding to the tactile and the audio senses to navigate the space, something that is natural to us to use. We use it as a dominant factor in our piece.
LM: I can’t wait to catch that, I’ll be on equal terms with anyone in the audience. They won’t get anything more than I get. In fact I’ll probably get more as I’m use to listening better!
MO: You’ll probably eke out some of the nuances that we maybe want to hide! But lighting is much more of a feature in your show, isn’t it?
LM: It’s used in ways to enhance and differentiate the different settings of the storytelling, to differentiate between poetry and real dialogue. I say dialogue because I play multiple characters so I have conversations with myself as several different characters throughout the course of this thing. I then use poetry as a straight break with reality. As with yours, sound is also very important. The storytelling is all underscored and we use everyday effects, such as sirens, to really create the mood. So everyone in your cast is completely blind?
MO: Completely. We try to be totally self-sufficent with the stage and management meaning we rely on each other for props and everything. It not only makes it affordable but sets a challenge that yes, we can do this. We have performed the show before in total darkness so we know it can be done. With completely new material for the Festival, it will be exciting to see how it works. We try to use the space in a way that we can really interact with the audience-almost playing with the dark and the relationship of sound and physical proximity with the audience. It’s still really all an experiment. How is your relationship with the audience weighted?
LM: It’s performance art – removed but intimate. It’s like I’m telling the story directly to the audience member. I try to perform it as if I’m talking to one person. It’s very gestural. I do a lot of things physically that certainly speaking to a person will say but I verbalise everything of true importance so the audience doesn’t miss anything. I paint a picture with the words. It’s not a show that really needs audio prescription or anything like that. That would actually get in the way as it is driving language from beginning to end. Music doesn’t play a huge role in mine. I dont’ sing and I’m sure the audience will be greatly relieved that I don’t try to.
MO: It’s interesting what you said of your interactivity with the audience and the storytelling. Being on stage for an hour and a half, it must be incredibly intense for you.
LM: Every time is demanding as every audience is different. Even those who have seen it before, I hope to hook again. I work very hard to bring the audience with me, which involves taking some emotional journeys myself to ensure they do. To make sure I’m delivering the goods, I can’t phone this one in. For you, it sounds like you use the element of surprise in the same way?
MO: We try to work with the elements, mainly that of surprise- Attempting to cover it in ways that sometimes are at a price to us as well! It’s exciting to try and walk this line between a conceptual piece based on the form of it marring the content, but also being larger than life, slightly surreal and really pushing the envelope in terms of disability- essentially using circumstances that might work against us, for us. We really play on that. There is no doubt further you could push it.
LM: Speaking of furthering, Weights is designed to travel. I can do it by myself, and have done, but doing it with my live musician, Gary, adds so much juice. It goes where I go, and I enjoy collaborating with new people. Is travel something your interested in?
MO: Completely. When I mentioned affordable, I meant that with it being portable as well. There is a liberty with that, a real sense of freedom and empowerment that you get as a blind performer-the ability to just pick your show up and take it wherever with you. Move to the next place and just put it down. All we need is someone to turn off the lights and we’re ready to go!