Pupik: in Conversation with Yael Karavan and Naomi Silman, Part II
Claire Wearn's insightful interview with Pupik continues with the show's creators Yael Karavan & Naomi Silman, discussing comedy, visuals and the importance of community.
Pupik is at Tara Theatre next week, Friday 11 & Saturday 12 May part of our I'll Say It Again festival - a season of work by women artists. Check it out here!
You worked with various community groups in the making of Pupik. Why did you choose to go through this process when devising work?
Yael: Since moving to Brighton, where I curated a venue that was based in what is considered to be a ‘deprived neighbourhood’, I have felt the responsibility to include the community in my projects. I feel that the class system in the UK is so strongly ingrained that it often makes people feel excluded from the arts or that they don’t understand it. I believe that culture and the arts have in their very essence the potential to bring us all together through our basic humanity.
The theme of the show instantly led us to working with local refugee groups with whom we could exchange stories and experiences in these vulnerable times. We found the Hummingbird project in Brighton and had a wonderful experience running workshops at their Global Social Group with young people who have arrived mainly from Sudan and Afghanistan. In Brazil we had worked with groups of elderly people as the theme of the show also deals with ancestry, memories and life stories. We also came across a group of elderly people in Brighton as part of the Mazal Tov project run by Strike a Light, which was looking at similar themes of heritage. Working with older people who have dementia on the theme of memories was so powerful.
We received the support of Lancing College and managed to invite local schools to a youth-focused version of the show as well as giving workshops in physical theatre. These interactions have inspired us greatly. All of the above will feed into a booklet we are currently in the process of producing to accompany our shows.
Pupik uses humour throughout the show in a way that I think really helps audience to engage with sensitive narratives. Why is humour an important tool for you?
Naomi: Laughter is something we do instinctively, there is no rational process involved, it connects us to our emotions, to our inner organs, literally moves our bodies. For me the theatrical experience is often very passive. We sit there as audience members and often go into a rational, intellectual observation or dissection of what's going on, rather than having a more intuitive, visceral experience. I think humour helps us move away from that. Pupik is the first show that I have worked on where we have moved so extremely from comic humour to more dense, dramatic expression continuously throughout the show. Someone once described the show to us as an accordion in which we are continually opening the bellows, filling them with air during the more light, comic parts and then squeezing and compressing in the serious parts. So there is this feeling of breath, of opening out and then squeezing in as we look outside and then inside. I think it's quite a good metaphor for what we try to do in the show. It's also a big challenge for us as performers to do this and change the atmosphere so many times.
Yael and I also discovered when we were rehearsing that we worked really well together as a comic couple and neither of us had had that experience before, which was a wonderful discovery. We felt ourselves to be a bit like stand-up comedians in the midst of a very physical show and liked the challenge of trying to find our own kind of verbal humour, while at the same time, making it relevant to the culture and place we were performing in. That's a very long and serious answer about being funny!
Pupik includes a rich array of visual media including archive imagery. What is the significance of including photography in this work?
For me the visual aspect of my performances is an added layer of expressing and sharing the themes and content of the work. The use of photographs of our own ancestors to give context to the dresses we wear in the performance when incorporating our grandparents, is just another way of dealing with the themes of memory. We are all ‘wearing’ in one way or another - metaphorically and physically - our ancestors within us through memories, DNA, behaviours and so on. Photography was also one of the ways we researched the themes of ancestry and these were also ways to create a physical vocabulary for parts of the show, so the visual elements form layers that are organically intertwined into the process and the result.
Claire Wearn is a freelance arts manager based in Brighon.