A Daily rehearsal Update with Daly
Jonathan Daly answers some questions about his upcoming production of A Day in Fairy Land. The production will be held at the end of September and again at the end of October. Keep your eyes peeled for details coming soon.
Well to be honest the initial answer as to why we chose to do a production about Fairies is quite simple… essentially because we were asked to do it hahaha! That being said we can go beyond the initial point and look at how we evolved our concepts of Fairies in order to make them unique for our production, and how this interpretation differs from the typical design and concept of fairies that we have come to know and understand in the modern sense of the term.
As we were asked to create a short performance about Fairies for families, but not given any specific guidance for how we were to create this piece, or indeed what material this piece should include aside from Fairies, we had an incredibly broad scope to work with and essentially a ‘blank canvas’. Now as a director this can be somewhat daunting and at the same time incredibly exciting, as a blank canvas can be the best and most challenging state of affairs for a director. I was able to be so creative, to be inspired by so many influences and essentially have free rein, but I also wanted the end product to remain focused on the theme and resonate with the audience. Furthermore the topic itself encompasses so many different elements and influences that initially it was difficult to think about how to ground the piece in one singular concept; everyone knows what a Fairy is, and many have grown up with Fairy stories. They’re pretty hard to miss. Especially with the popularisation of classic Fairytales by Brother’s Grim or Hans Christian Anderson by huge production companies like Disney. And to top it all off, unlike a set play with an established script, I was tasked to create an entirely new story and script, complete with a set of new characters.
In order to do this I spent a lot of time delving into traditional folktales and myths surrounding Fairies. As I did this I found endless resources on what Fairies were thought to be, of their natures, and their place in historical societies. At this point it is important to note that these influences didn’t stem from one singular source or cultural reference, as there are Fairy stories all over the world, so I was influenced by a diverse number of cultures that surrounded these stories.
For our production I have compiled a collection of Fairies from across the globe, all complete with their cultural contexts and designs that hearken back to their traditional folkloric natures. These fairies are very different from the sparkly butterfly winged creatures perpetuated by Cicely Mary Baker’s turn of the century illustrations, and opitimised by famous characters like Tinkerbell, which have bled into the human consciousness’ understanding of what a Fairy is. Rather our Fairies are both benign and malign, capable of wreaking great destruction and suffering upon those who wrong them, or those poor souls who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as blessing others with great fortune. However the unequivocal message from the vast majority of all these traditional folktales is that although Fairies are beautiful, magical, and wondrous creatures that can take you on fantastical journeys, they are also not be interfered with, and that, when faced with a fairy, the best thing for you is to be exceedingly polite and walk away. This is the angle that I have taken with our piece, a reinforcement of the old idea that no matter how good or kind a fairy might be (extra emphasis there), it is almost certain that after an encounter with a fairy, the person’s life will never be the same again having been irreparably changed forever.
Another large affect in the development of our Fairies was taken from the classical elements of water, earth, wood, wind and fire, which have not only been layered over the character’s costume and informed the way that they look visually from a perspective of, but has also been incorporated in their physicalities and personalities. That being said, I cannot deny that a big influence was my own upbringing and the tales and myths that I grew up with as a child. These tales were filled with Fairies and spirits that fuelled my imagination in my younger years, and it becomes very clear when looking at the text of the piece, which is written in a poetic style compiled from a series of poets primarily from England, Scotland, and Ireland, with some original writing provided by myself to fill in the gaps and form a consistent narrative.
Tell us about some of the amazing Poets featured in A Day In Fairyland?
The poets I used in A Day in Fairyland include William Percy French, William Allingham, Robert Burns and Robert Graves, Louisa May Alcott and many, many more, including some unknown authors too. When developing the script I used at least thirteen different poets, all of whom have written visionary works inspired by Fairies, folktales, and the natural world that simply leap off the page and transport you into a world of imagination. Many of these poets were clearly inspired by the traditional folktales of their upbringings, and the quality of Faerie bleeds through their works seamlessly.
These poets wrote a hundred or more years ago, and as such they offer a wonderful perspective on their historical traditions, lending an authenticity to their subjects that we nowadays aren’t often exposed to, or allowed much indulgence in. During these times, fairies and spirits lived all around in tales, songs, and festivals, and were both good and bad, and taken very seriously. So much so that the cultural context around them supported a devout belief in the existence of fairies and spirits, or at least in the possibility of such an existence, and many traditions about these creatures existed, which we have largely lost in our contemporary culture. For instance, the habit of leaving a platter of food or drink out as an offering for the fairies of the house to bless the residence with good fortune, and not incur the wrath of these home dwellers that may feel neglected otherwise, and so curse the inhabitants within. As a result the poets used in A Day in Fairyland all lend a traditional quality to the piece that enliven the folkloric nature, and open a link to this ‘old world’ that has relatively little place in our way of life today.
One particular writer, William B. Yeats, was instrumental in my process of developing the script. As his unique way of writing speaks of a time in which Fairies were considered an inseparable part of a person’s cultural way of life, especially in childhood. His influence and imagination of these fantastical beings opened a whole new realm of possibilities through which this script could take form. His romanticised style that presented Fairies as removed and spiritual entities, inspired by the cultural myths of the Tuatha Dé Dannan, hails an archaism and spirituality that no longer exists in the sweet cookie-cutter Fairies of modernity. His regard of these beautiful and melancholic spirits gave these beings a context, a sense of past and belonging within their native environment, and from it a sense of character and culture. They no longer feel two-dimensional, but are living creatures, and beg more questions about them. Where are they from? Where do they live? What do they look like? How do they feel? What do they think about themselves? And what do they think about us? All of these questions inspire creation for our characters in A Day in Fairyland, and are essential in the development of the narrative.
Why should audiences not miss this production?
This is a fantastical immersive production, which will offer audiences the chance to see a whole new world filled with magic, mystery, and wonder. It will ignite your imagination and transport you to a Faerie Realm filled with life and colour.
Suitable for all ages, families can take time out their day, and the bustling throngs of the city, and be entertained with a fantasy adventure in a secluded oasis of nature. Set upon a green lawn amongst trees and flowers in the beautiful rooftop garden of a very high profile venue, our story will take everyone on a journey of myth and folktales, filled with music, dance, and poetry.
This production is unique in that it is a site specific piece that has been especially designed to work with the landscape garden space, as part of the Hong Kong Theatre Company’s partnership with the venue. So it is a one of a kind performance that should not be missed!
So come and meet the Faeries, prepare to be awed and inspired, and welcome to a day in Fairyland!
Can you share any insights about the rehearsal process?
To be honest the rehearsal process has had to be extremely fast paced and focused, as we have had a relatively short amount of time to pull it all together, less than two months really. Also, as there are so many different elements and mediums incorporated in the production, music, dance, acting, it really has meant that I have had to be clear from the beginning about what it is I want to achieve with this production… there is really no time to be uncertain.
A way that I have chosen the piece to be rehearsed is by having all the elements that make up the performance rehearsed together in the space, and worked out together. A really important aspect of the production is that everything should be cohesive, not just with each dramatic medium, but also with the space, the actors, the costume designs… everything! This is really hard to do if each element is rehearsed separately, if the dance is rehearsed with the dancers, the music worked out with the instrumentalists etc. because when it is brought together we may find that it doesn’t cohere, and it doesn’t work. And we really don’t have any time to deal with a problem like that. We have to be able to iron out any issues as and when they come in each scene, and see every separate medium as part of a palate to create the picture that is the scene. Only then can we see if the scene works or not.
Another aspect of the play is that it flows from one moment to the next. It really isn’t that long, and so I wanted each transition to be fairly seamless; like a dream in which the audience can drift through. Therefore in rehearsal we go through each scene by laying out the bare framework first, that way we are able to set the majority of the action and have an idea of the running of the piece, the flow of its energy, character dynamics etc. relatively early on in the process. We then layer on extra details and more complex moments like choreography, music etc. after this skeleton framework of the scene has been established. This helps to maintain the natural flow of the scenes, and allows us to gradually build upon the complex elements whilst still holding on to the journey of the piece and not losing sight of where we’re going, or indeed where we’ve come from. This sense of flow is something that I really hope will show in the final performance.
For the development of the characters I wanted the actors to utilise their own creative expressions, but to also guide them into creating characters that adhere to the specific form and style of the piece. To be honest I have a very clear picture of what it is I want from the characters and the scenes, and the mood and the atmosphere that we will be creating for our audience. But it is the actors’ responsibility to flesh out their characters individually and bring them to life. In the process so far, I have seen some really interesting interpretations of the characters that I would never have thought of when pulling the script together, and it has been a wonderful surprise. I suppose it is endemic in the nature of creating a piece of theatre, that is comprised of so many different creatives working in the development of one production, that it evolves into something representative of all those separate creative parts. As the director it offers the opportunity to oversee the creation, but the form is never quite what is initially expected, and that is the excitement of theatre… it keeps you on your toes!
What are you most excited about with this production?
The thing I am most excited about with this production is the re-enlivening of these old spirits and Fairies that have come from all across the world, and to present them to an audience that may not have heard of or seen them before. Because of its range of international influences I am sure that a lot of audience members would have heard of one or two of these Fairies before, but I am relishing the opportunity to present a plethora of different entities before the audience, brought to life by the performers. As previously mentioned, there is less of a habit nowadays to share stories and tell folktales as part of a sociable activity, and a community gathering experience. So I am really looking forward to introducing these folktale figures to a live audience, and to hopefully inspire both the children and adults with our original Faerie Tale. From this production I hope to give our audience a taste of the Folkloric Faerie World that we don’t often get to see, to offer them a glimpse of a whole new world of myth and magic filled to the brim with fabulous and fantastical creatures. Hopefully the children in the audience will leave this performance sharing these Fairytales with others, and develop a thirst for the Faerie in an otherwise mortal world.