News & Inspiration

National Convention of Youth Drama – Visual Language

Ramesh Meyyappan photoIn the run-up to the National Convention of Youth Drama, we’ve asked some of the workshop leaders for in-depth descriptions about what they’ll be offering this March at the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling. Next up is freelance theatre creator Ramesh Meyyappan who will be presenting the Visual Language workshop on Sat 24 March 2018:.

Who is your Visual Language workshop for?

 “This is open to participants with a keen interest in exploring visual narratives and the range of possibilities that it offers”

What’s going to happen in the session?

“The Visual Language workshop is an introduction to and brief exploration of how a visual theatrical language can work. Using traditional play texts as a basis for exploration, participants will have an opportunity to play with visual ideas and consider a myriad of visual possibilities within ‘storytelling’ to create a short visual narrative.

This will involve a process of deconstruction taking the text back to its bare bones, considering the basic themes, characterizations and narrative structures. This done the participants can begin to consider re-telling the narrative making use of a wide range of visual and physical styles from the abstract to the very literal”

How did you get started in the arts?

“I got into theatre, purely because of opportunities afforded to me in Singapore with Hi! Theatre and Dramaplus. I became increasingly passionate about theatre when I could see the power of the theatrical language. Language and having to explore how people communicate has influenced me greatly, the desire to be able to communicate in a universally accessible way has always been the challenge that keeps me going.  When I’ve been exposed to a piece of theatre, dance or film that has been able to say something to me on the same level as the person sitting beside me – even if their language is different from my own. I wanted to create work that does exactly that: communicate on many levels and to people from all walks of life. Recently I’ve talked at length about pushing myself and extending / developing my skill level as I strive towards developing an extensive visual vocabulary”

‘Snails & Ketchup’ – tell us more!

Snails and Ketchup was a performance I developed a number of years ago which was purely visual and included the use of aerial work. Since then I’ve developed two newer works – Butterfly, which made use of puppetry – and most recently Off-Kilter which made use of illusions and was a co-production with the Tron Theatre (Glasgow) and Theatreworks (Singapore). With each piece of work I create I like to identify a visual idea; aerial, puppetry and illusions were all new to me and I developed each skill set as part of the exploration – finding the visual vocabulary.

The central theme of Off-Kilter is the feeling of having an ‘off day’, how when our routines are changed we can become unsettled or ‘off-kilter’. In a – at times – light-handed way, I look at how one man deals with the descent into mental ill health, loss of identity and how we perceive him and ultimately how we might empathise with him. The initial idea was centred around the experience that many of us have of having an off day – I think like most folk I’ve experienced that type of day too. However, I wanted the Off-Kilter ‘off day’ to explore a day that had more serious consequences. I wanted to identify the isolation felt, the fear, anxiety, confusion, deep sadness and even anger.      

I think with Off-Kilter I wanted to offer a sense of the real stories and not over-dramatise these. I was hoping that audiences would identify with some moment experienced by the character as most of us have experienced not feeling ourselves. In terms of my own experience, things have happened in life that have triggered a host of emotions that were ‘off’ and needed to be worked through… I assume we can all identify with that”

You teach on the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA Performance in British Sign Language and English – can you tell us more about that? 

In terms of the BA Performance in British Sign Language and English course, there wasn’t anything here – in Glasgow, in Scotland or the UK – specifically for deaf. There was a growing interest in performing from a young group of deaf in the city and I was aware of this during a residency period with a theatre company here. At the same time I’d been asked to guest lecture / tutor at the Theatre School in Stockholm who were the first to provide a Degree Program specifically for Deaf. I’d talked much about what was happening in Stockholm and later folk from Royal Conservatoire of Scotland visited Stockholm and I think this was where much of their inspiration came from.

For my own part I was part of the design team for the degree course and design of a visual theatre module – that I continue to teach to the deaf students as part of the BA Performance in British Sign Language and English and also as a choice module for hearing students”

 What is your favourite play that you’ve seen, read or worked on?

“I don’t have a single favourite play that I’ve read or worked on. Sometimes when I read stories or texts, like most folk, I can see it unfold visually in the ‘mind’s eye’. This can at times go beyond that and I start to see visual possibilities and how it will look on stage.  I don’t read everything with a view to performing it but certainly if I’m considering a text as a performance I have to be able to see it a little visually while reading.     

I enjoy reading stories, seeing performances and creating work that speaks to everyone, that have shared and universal themes and ideas, that folk wherever they stay and whoever they are – class, race, gender, ‘ability’ – will get something from or will relate to.

The challenge and aim for me when creating work is finding the common ground, not just in the themes and ideas but also in the language. It’s about finding that shared language. Theatre has its own language and traditions. What I aim for is looking at that language, the visual one that exists and taking it one-step further, combining a host of visual ideas to create something that is universally shared and understood”

Ramesh Meyyappan who will be presenting the Visual Language workshop on Sat 24 March 2018 as part of the National Convention of Youth Drama at the Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling. Booking is open at www.ytas.org.uk/opportunities-for-professionals/convention-of-youth-drama