Emma Rice (2019)

Emma Rice

Figure 1. Patrycja Kujawska and Giles King in a definitely-not-Disney version of “The Red Shoes,” at St. Ann’s Warehouse. Credit; Marcus Yam for The New York Times.

Emma Rice is a driven, female creative, whose background as an actor heavily guided her directing practice. She established a liberating sense of freedom and simplicity early on in her career as she toured, delivering short educational episodes of work to school children across the country. For Rice, there is a clear division between those directors who have classically trained as actors and those that have not[1]. She clarifies that she has no opinion on what makes a better director, it is simply a distinction in background influences and experiences that the individual may choose to draw upon. Having acted for a decade, a decade of what Rice describes as, “self-development”, followed. Here she got to explore her interests, aesthetic style and processes to create work she was proud of. Free of judgement, Rice replicates this child-like influence in her approach to theatre and her latter work strives to craft an experience that gets audiences to instinctively reflect on an earlier, easier time in their life [2]. She encourages her audience to eradicate pre-existing stress and responsibility to engage with a simpler state of spectatorship all the while with the remembrance of juvenile ease. In order to accomplish this, a close relationship between a director, her actors and their audience is paramount to the success. In her collaborative works vulnerability is empowering and can be celebrated when all those involved commit fully to the process.

Considering Rice’s work in relation to development of the role of the director[3], I feel it is fair to label Rice as an Auteur director. This term has come to mean a director who lifts the play from its original context and settings to explore a fresh way of performing it. Rice respectfully clarifies that “plays are brilliant but not everything four hundred years ago is still relevant”[4]. She strives to create work that is for the contemporary audience and society. However, Rice would argue that she is simply a ‘Storyteller’ as opposed to a ‘Director’. Within this role, she is to channel her team down a path of excitement and intrigue. As a storyteller she is charged with the communication of the story, the emotions, and lessons that it holds.  A “custodian of the story”, she steers it to “the conclusion that the story and process itself, will ask for”[5].

Rice plays on the concept of humanity. When asked in an interview with Laura Barnett for the Guardian “Is there an art form you don’t relate to?”, Rice answered, “Opera… … it just doesn’t sound like the human voice”[6]. Human experience and emotion are paramount to a theatrical experience. She aims to give the experience of theatre in which the art and theatrical event is not separate to our lives. Audiences should not simply be passive members, but identify with and actively experience the emotion. The theatre is a place of introspective re-evaluation. Personal insight and anecdote is paramount in creating an honest piece of work. In her work at Shakespeare’s Globe, Rice claimed it was truly important to create a dialogue between audience and performers, that flourishes as the story and characters become more familiar. Rice’s entire career has surrounded what can be labelled as fairy stories or folk tales,[7] and the theme of using metaphor to illuminate life has been prevalent throughout. Kneehigh’s Cymbeline was particularly successful but similarly to critiques of Rice’s work it was said to highlight “Kneehigh’s cleverness as opposed to Shakespeare’s genius”[8]. Humans and our community are fundamental to Theatre as an art form and therefore Rice wants to create work that anyone and everyone can enjoy. Within her rehearsal space she cultivates an environment clear of “cynicism and pretence”, producing palpable energy to connect her team, the audience and the story. Actors inhabit the theatre space and world just like their audience, and acknowledgement of this asks for them to approach one another with respect.

The entire process starts with a ‘why?’. Numerous days are spent purely on the story’s and the company’s foundations. It is a ‘director’s responsibility to ask the correct questions that in turn will ignite avenues of thought her actors can further explore. She delves into the ‘why’; why she is directing a performance telling this specific story, why it’s being told to this specific audience and why is she using these specific actors. Linking back to the human aspect that presents itself throughout her work, Rice’s role is to propose questions that probe her team for answers that produce links with the stimulus that others can identify with. She works with emotions and situations that are shared throughout society. Rice asks her team to identify a sense of connection to their work. She forces them to own the material.

On the topic of storytelling, she states, “We tell stories because they matter and unites us. We are experiencing this together”[9]. Rice expects her team to bring a high level of energy and openness to the process – an attitude of willingness to try something and see what the outcome may be. After a rigorous selection process, she believes, any one of her team may hold the key to unlocking an aspect of the work that truly resonates. Rice takes an equalitarian approach in the rehearsal space, making clear that her team of actors, lighting technicians, musicians, design and stage management are all working together and all of equal importance. The show becomes “personal, not just to me, but to everyone that has worked on it”[10]. The evolution of the narrative is through trial and exploration; finding what clues stand out from the text and creating a chain of links is an exciting process. Following this Rice develops a ‘superstructure’ where herself and her ‘story servants’ learn the rhythms, peaks, and bellows of the story and create the Map (this can still be adjusted later on). If something isn’t working it’s not down to the actor but the provocation, and there is a choice to be made about whether something of worth could come out of playing with it further.

Rice’s particular aesthetic is that of allusive unity and completeness. She embodies the premise of the dialogue in her visual creative choices. Rice ‘cut her teeth’ at directing with Kneehigh Theatre Company[11] in Cornwall. As a particularly opinionated actress, she was encouraged to explore this vein in a familiar environment. Performing outdoors,[12] she developed an appreciation for nature and the resultant need for her directing style to be grand. This is something she has taken through all her works; “big audiences and epic pieces of theatre”. Her use of music saw a contemporary voice brought into Shakespeare’s greats and was seen as specifically controversial in her season of work at the Globe. However, Rice has never meant to appear disrespectful in transferring these stories into current day productions. Instead, she views it as a product of her artistic licence as a director. The society they were written both in and for is passed, so Rice looks to use art as a vessel to explore ideas and concepts that link both the original context and that of the present day. Her equal dedication to all aspects of the experience is prominent in Behind the scenes[13] of Wise Children’s (her new theatre company), promotional photo shoot.

Rice claims that the pivotal production in her career is the Kneehighs 30th anniversary “Red Shoes” piece. When Rice decided to produce the piece she was experiencing a divorce and felt a desperate need for freedom, which she encapsulated throughout the performance. In keeping with her style, she told the tale of the story with visually engaging set, lighting and prop choices. The use of red props of significance further adds to the scene’s embodiment of fear and danger as Rice herself states that, “The show takes the familiar, and renders it surreal and political, haunting and brave”[14]. Labelled as a “celebration of theatre”[15], Rice’s intricately detailed performances are the justification for her open and instinctive process.  “What’s most thrilling, still, about this show is that it can be read on so many levels: as a folk or fairy story about some magic footwear, as a parable about desire, or a spiky tale about women’s lives, or all three together and more”[16] once again explores Rice’s links with folk stories and the magical energy her productions exude.

Emma Rice is a visual artistic director and creates a sensorial experience; she investigates themes utilising a wide array of forms such as pictures, installations, songs, musical instruments, and dance; as seen in productions of Brief Encounter[17]. As actors they are “servants to the story”, they can’t simply read the text. Rice’s particular process for creating means that characters are born fully formed with deep lives and rhythms of which carefully interact with the real and falsified worlds. The principals and aesthetics of storytelling are notably present, forcing audiences to sidestep logic and observe deeper meaning. Her theatrical associations with humankind further confirm that her work is for anyone to enjoy.

 

FURTHER READING / VIEWING:

Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

Multiple authors, at The Guardian, Emma Rice: The Stage (4 February 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/emma-rice&gt; [accessed 20 March 2019].

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Figure 1:  https://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/theater/reviews/24red.html

Barnett, Laura, Portrait of the artist: Emma Rice, artistic director(February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/may/29/portrait-of-the-artist-emma-rice&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

Brantley, Ben , Dance-Struck Little Girls: Run! Run in Horror! (23 November 2010) <https://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/theater/reviews/24red.html&gt; [accessed 20 March 2019].

Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

Brown, Mark ‘The Globe’s Emma Rice: ‘If anybody bended gender it was Shakespeare”, Guardian, 5 January 2016

Cornford, Tom, ‘ The Editing of Emma Rice’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 27, (2017), 134-148.
Kneehigh Theatre Company, Making A Show with Emma Rice () <Welcome: Knee-high> [accessed 2 March 2019].

Maloney, Elisabeth, The Red Shoes (February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/aug/03/red-shoes-review&gt; [accessed 4 March 2019].
Pool, The, The Pool meets Emma Rice: The Director’s Cut (15 July 2016) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc1sRVtWpxw&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

What’s On Stage?, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter in the West End | First look (8 March 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJk6Ce5EarY&gt; [accessed 20 March 2019]

Wise Children, Making A Show with Emma Rice (December 2018) <https://vimeo.com/298461882 > [accessed 4 March 2019].

York Theatre Royal, Behind the scenes of Emma Rice’s WISE CHILDREN (3 September 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3MW7nmyc2o&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

Zarrilli, P. B., McConachie, B., & Williams, G. J., ’12: Director, text, actor and performance in the postmodern world’, in Theatre Histories: An Introduction, ed. by Gary Jay Williams(: Taylor and Francis Group, 2010), p. 517

 

[1] Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

[2] Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

[3] Zarrilli, P. B., McConachie, B., & Williams, G. J., ’12: Director, text, actor and performance in the postmodern world’, in Theatre Histories: An Introduction, ed. by Gary Jay Williams(: Taylor and Francis Group, 2010), p. 517

[4] Mark Brown, ‘The Globe’s Emma Rice: ‘If anybody bended gender it was Shakespeare”, Guardian, 5 January 2016

[5] Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

[6] Laura Barnett, Portrait of the artist: Emma Rice, artistic director(February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/may/29/portrait-of-the-artist-emma-rice&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

[7] Elisabeth Maloney, The Red Shoes (February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/aug/03/red-shoes-review&gt; [accessed 4 March 2019].

[8] Tom Cornford, ‘ The Editing of Emma Rice’, Contemporary Theatre Review, 27, (2017), 134-148.

[9] Emma Rice, The Essay: On Directing (February 2012) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01bw8hv&gt; [accessed 6 March 2019].

[10] Wise Children, Making A Show with Emma Rice (December 2018) <https://vimeo.com/298461882 > [accessed 4 March 2019].

[11]Kneehigh Theatre Company, Making A Show with Emma Rice () <Welcome: Knee-high> [accessed 2 March 2019].

[12] The Pool, The Pool meets Emma Rice: The Director’s Cut (15 July 2016) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zc1sRVtWpxw&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

[13] York Theatre Royal, Behind the scenes of Emma Rice’s WISE CHILDREN (3 September 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3MW7nmyc2o&gt; [accessed 7 March 2019].

[14]Elisabeth Maloney, The Red Shoes (February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/aug/03/red-shoes-review&gt; [accessed 4 March 2019].

[15] Ben Brantley, Dance-Struck Little Girls: Run! Run in Horror! (23 November 2010) <https://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/24/theater/reviews/24red.html&gt; [accessed 20 March 2019].

[16] Elisabeth Maloney, The Red Shoes (February 2012) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2010/aug/03/red-shoes-review&gt; [accessed 4 March 2019].

[17] What’s On Stage?, Emma Rice’s Brief Encounter in the West End | First look (8 March 2018) <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJk6Ce5EarY&gt; [accessed 20 March 2019]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s