Real gone kids - Architecting
This article is from 2008.
Fringe favourites The TEAM return to Edinburgh with a reimagining of Margaret Mitchell’s iconic Southern drama. Kirstin Innes caught up with them to discuss everything from Barack Obama to Scarlett O’Hara.
Picture the scene. A run-down little bar in post-Katrina New Orleans. Just like every night, the usual drunks and barflies hanging around: a passionate Southern nationalist; a faded beauty queen; a bitter Hollywood screenwriter; Henry Adams, the 19th century political thinker and historian; Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. Oh, and two venture capitalists called Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, making a fast buck off the rebuilding of a city . . .
No, you’re not dreaming. This is the premise behind Architecting, the newest work from the TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment), the polymorphous, multi-headed entity of passionate, young American theatre-makers who’ve been busily hoovering up almost every theatre award going on the Fringe since 2005. Their last production, 2006’s Particularly in the Heartland, riffed on The Wizard of Oz, upturning a New York businesswoman called Dorothy into a Kansas farmland, with abandoned Red-State children deputising for Munchkins and the ghost of Robert F Kennedy as her Scarecrow.
Architecting, as you may have guessed, dances around various versions of Gone with The Wind. However, to dismiss the TEAM’s work as yet more post-modern riffing on pop culture is to misunderstand completely. The appeal that these source stories have for the company lies not in the easy spangle of pop, but because they are stories, myths, that their country has told itself about itself. The TEAM are interested in America.
I caught up with the TEAM’s artistic director, Rachel Chavkin, and company member Frank Boyd, over a shaky Skype and webcam connection to their rehearsal room in New York. With me in The List’s Glasgow office was Scottish playwright and director Davey Anderson (Snuff, Black Watch, HOME: Glasgow), who is an associate director on Architecting.
It’s not as anachronistic a match as first it sounds: the theatre being produced by young artists in Scotland just now tends to make art of the minutiae of lives while the TEAM’s plays are intense, hugely ambitious pieces monitoring (and often criticising) the constitutional pulse of the world’s greatest superpower. But both Anderson and the TEAM hydra are sparky, politicised, tremendously articulate theatre-makers, under 30 and concerned with what’s happening right now; the way the things that countries do make their peoples who they are. And sometimes, it’s easier just to let them talk . . .
Rachel Chavkin: The starting point for Architecting was this: we were running Heartland at the BAC in London, and I think Jake [Margolin, long-time TEAM player] started talking about architecture and how the form of a building can affect the behaviour of its occupants. We began then to think about that idea of architecture as a parallel to our society’s infrastructure.
Frank Boyd: At the same time, we had these two source texts, Gone with the Wind and The Education of Henry Adams. Gone with the Wind is a piece of writing that touches on so many things that we’re concerned with now. The idea of nation-building, after the American Civil War; how does a nation reconstruct itself after a disaster with the money to be made out of that reconstruction, the ethics involved in that? And race. With the election coming up and the Obama campaign, race in America, is once again something right at the forefront of people’s minds.
RC: In Architecting, we have Scarlett O’Hara walk right out of the novel and become a contractor in 2008, who is making money off the rebuilding of New Orleans; practising disaster capitalism there. Gone with the Wind is now regarded as a totally dated, racist work; a popular eulogy, a piece of mourning for a society that is gone. It’s that act of mourning that is the crux for us, because we’re in mourning for my country right now, for the changes that have taken place there since 9/11. I think I underestimated the state of shock the country is still in. In Gone with the Wind and Architecting there are those individuals and cultures that get blown away, and those that are left standing while the wreckage falls about them.
Davey Anderson: And quite apart from that incredible character of Scarlett O’Hara, this absolute opportunist, this absolute survivor within society, the book has the idea of reconstructing America running right through it. America was constructed as a democracy from a great blueprint of a political structure which has possibly not always been built the way it ought to be.
RC: Architecture takes on many forms within this play. One of the central characters actually is an architect, trying to rebuild a neighbourhood lost in Hurricane Katrina, but we also use the figure of Henry Adams as an historian, essentially trying to build, retrospectively, a country’s history, just as Margaret Mitchell, in writing Gone with the Wind, built her own version of the Civil War. And these retrospective versions become the accepted versions, become people’s sources of information about their country’s history during those periods.
While they’ve never shied away from confronting this sort of theme, Architecting sees the TEAM’s ambition realised on a much, much grander scale, mirroring the epic size and scale of their sources. This is a far cry from the cosy Kansas homestead setting of Heartland. Architecting was originally conceived in four chapters and will still, in full, be about four hours long. Chavkin explains that they’re either going to bring a condensed, two-hour version to Edinburgh, or focus on only two of the four narrative strands; they’re not sure yet. Despite Chavkin’s constant presence as director (‘the editor of all these brains’, she calls herself), the TEAM work, write, devise and produce as a collective, and their productions can be continually in flux almost up until the first performance.
At one point during the interview, Chavkin says, ‘Well, we meet Henry Adams out the other side of the 20th century. We find him sitting in a bar in New Orleans, bottle in hand . . . ‘ while in Glasgow, Anderson’s eyes pop out of his head; this is news to him, despite his only having left the rehearsal room in New York three weeks previously. Anderson’s involvement in the play is the reason that the National Theatre of Scotland are supporting the world premiere of such a very American play in Edinburgh. He was formerly Director in Residence for the NTS, and established strong links between the two companies.
RC: Davey has brought a very different sensibility to the production, a very different energy. Our mission statement as a company is very American but the way we work - our style, our format - is European. I’m excited to see how Edinburgh audiences connect with this idea of reconstruction.
DA: America is a nation which, very publically, these days, reconstructs other nations, whereas in the UK we’d tend to deny that we do that, hide away all that shameful stuff about the British Empire. At first, I found it hard to think from the perspective of even a liberal American, and not see things from a European point of view. You know what’s been the most interesting thing about this project? Watching you guys reclaim American identity as a positive thing.
Architecting, Traverse Theatre, Cambridge Street, 0131 228 1404, 1-24 Aug (not 4. 11. 18) various times, £14-£16 (£5-11) Preview 31 Jul, 11am, £10 (£5).