Sappho …. In Nine Fragments – An interview and preview with Jessica Ruano

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Second Skin Theatre opens 2013 with Sappho…in 9 fragments, a politically-charged and inspirational work about Ancient Greece’s first love poet, intertwined with a fearlessly romantic modern-day affair. The Second Skin theatre is the resident theatre company at Stoke Newington’s White Rabbit Cocktail Club and have set out to create “bold re-interpretations of the classics and challenging new work.”  Here director Jessica Ruano, talks about their upcoming production.

HH
You hail from Ottawa, Canada . How did you end up in good ol’ London?

JR
Honestly? I moved across the ocean for a girl. I’m sure Sappho would have been proud.

HH
How did you first get into directing?

JR
I was very fortunate to have attended a high school for the arts and specialised in theatre: my first directing project was the opening scene from a lesser-known Tennessee Williams play. I realised that it was in this role that I felt I was at my most creative. Most of my theatre work to date has been in Ottawa, and this is my directorial debut in London.

HH
Can you tell us what the story is behind Sappho…in 9 fragments and what made you want to direct a play written by Australian/British playwright Jane Montgomery Griffiths about an ancient Greek love poet ?

Jessica Ruano

Jessica Ruano’s directorial debut

JR
Sappho… in 9 fragments was written with the intention of giving the poet Sappho her own voice. Over the years, academics and critics have deconstructed her work, invented stories about her life, and adapted her poems to suit their own means. Partly because so little of Sappho’s work remains; we have only fragments. But this play is not only about her – it focuses on the women that she has inspired; the women that fall in love with her writing, that take comfort in her candid expressions of love and passion. When I read the play, I thought immediately of the actor Victoria Grove, with whom I had worked on Second Skin Theatre’s production of La Chunga last year: I was determined to see her in this role.

HH
Can you tell us about how you will stage this production and the set design ?

JR
Victoria and I have been using a scaffolding structure as our own personal Sapphic playground: ropes are weaved through and around the bars, like a spider’s web, so that Victoria can climb, swing, dance, and suspend herself within the structure. In the text, there is a great deal said about suspension, elevation, and the sublime, and we wanted to highlight this in the staging. Thematically, it relates to Sappho’s poetry being placed on a pedestal and out of reach, and visually… it looks absolutely stunning on stage. Our designer Ana Ines Jabares, came up with the scaffolding idea and managed to get the pieces for us.

HH
Can you give us any great directing advice you’ve received over the years?

JR
Find yourself an amazing creative team and always be open to their ideas. But always trust yourself to make the final call on any production decisions.

HH
What do you think of the state of theatre in East London ?

JR
Alive and well, from what I’ve seen! But we decided to set up shop on Stoke Newington Church Street because – although the neighbourhood is very unique, artistic, and vibrant – it was lacking a resident theatre company. To date, we have produced work in Ryan’s Bar, St. Mary’s Old Church, and the White Rabbit Cocktail Club, and the response has been extremely positive.

HH
As creative producer of Second Skin Theatre, what makes your company stand out from the rest?

JR
The driving force behind Second Skin Theatre is the company’s Artistic Director Andy McQuade, who has a knack for programming and directing powerful work that is darkly sensual, visually rich, and frequently provocative – often with a touch of the macabre. Also, we tend to produce work in strange and unusual spaces: our current venue is an underground dreamlike space, with secluded alcoves and Victorian-style erotic images on the walls. Brilliant atmosphere.

HH
What exciting projects can we expect from the Second Skin Theatre for 2013?

JR
Andy is in New York at the moment directing the premiere of a new play by Don Fried called Blood Privilege about the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who was rumoured to have bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youthful looks. In March, he remounts the show with a London-based cast and creative team. We also have plans to premiere a show called Phoenix, inspired by musician Nick Drake, and also written by Don Fried.

Sappho…in 9 fragments opens on the 16th of January. Purchase  tickets

information on the Second Skin Theatre Company please visit their site

About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.

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