Artist Pass // Ella Becroft

We catch up with actor Ella Becroft to talk about acting in a Red Leap show, the experience of making Dust Pilgrim, and what makes magic realism so special.


1. You’ve worked in a variety of roles for Red Leap Theatre in the past, what’s it like jumping in as an actor again?

I acted in my first Red Leap show in 2007 (Beyond the Blue), then went on to The Arrival and Sea, and now Dust Pilgrim. I also direct with the company, and was their Artistic Director Intern in 2013. I love performing with Red Leap - their dedication to building the ensemble for every show is such a great thing to be a part of. Devising a physical theatre show as an actor is incredibly challenging - we are physically, mentally and creatively working as hard as we can all day, constantly generating new ideas and finding visually exciting ways to show them. But it's really creatively fulfilling, and you feel a lot of ownership as an actor.

2. What’s the show about for you?

Dust Pilgrim is the story of a young woman who lives in a dry and barren landscape with her oppressive mother. Bones rattle in the walls and secrets are hidden in flying suitcases. In a bid for freedom the girl destroys her home and runs out into the desert, finding herself in a world of tricksters, angels, cages and traps.

We were initially inspired by the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his short story 'The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother'. As we began devising we found our own story - one that explores oppression, and especially the oppression of women, within a strange yet familiar world.

3. How did you guys make the show?

We did a two week workshop in December last year to explore the visual style and play with the story. The directors Julie Nolan and Kate Parker came up with a story structure which we began devising around. We then came back together in March to devise the show. 

We have generated so much material, and explored many different ways of telling to story. We started with some pretty classic Red Leap staples - paper, cloth, puppets, but then we launched in a new direction. 

The design team have been really present during our rehearsals, so their creative collaboration in the devising process has been really strong. Poppy Serano, our set designer, was interested in the idea of weight when exploring the theme of oppression, and the transference of oppression from one person to another, or one generation to another. So she brought in this system of pulleys and hanging sandbags on counterweights. It was a really exciting moment, as we came to a collective decision around zeroing in on this image and the sand itself. It meant we had to put a lot of things we had been playing with aside and remake the world within this language. It feels very different visually for Red Leap, and looks pretty incredible.

4. What is ‘magic realism’ and how do you guys incorporate this style into the show?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a master of magic realism. It is 'magic' firmly rooted in reality and the real world - or 'the technique by which certain details in an otherwise normal world operate according to exceptional principles' (thanks google). It has the ability to realise an idea in a heightened, non-naturalistic way, that captures the emotional heart of it. In 100 Years Of Solitude a character dies and blue flowers rain from the sky. In Dust Pilgrim the young woman Panuelo has a moth literally beating in her chest. Occasionally it comes out and flutters around until it is trapped again. Moths are creatures that are always looking for the light, so this moth becomes this actual representation of her secret hope for freedom. And it is a real literal thing, not an imagination or a dream. We use it to lift ideas, emotions and actions out of the mundane into a more visceral realm that has the potential to speak universally. 

5. Red Leap shows are known for their beautiful and unique visual storytelling, how do you come up with these visuals in the rehearsal room and integrate them all the way through to performance?

We work really physically, and always try to find a way to tell something visually before we use language. We start the day working on our chorus with physical exercises and games, and through this we also explore character and themes in the story. The physical languages we develop feed into the devised scenes we create. We are given a lot of devising provocations through the day, and we generate vast amounts of material.

As we delve into something, the cliche or most obvious choices that we will make initially get stripped away and we start finding more exciting ways of exploring things. For example, initially we had a sequence where Panuelo performed her jobs around the house, and they were literal things like doing dishes and beating rugs, washing etc. Once we pushed through that and found Poppy's system of pulleys, the tasks suddenly shifted into this exciting place that transcended the literal but captured the feeling we wanted to express. 

We dedicate ourselves to remaining curious, and keep exploring things until something exciting emerges. We then keep hold of all the material we make, shift through it to find the gold, and string it together to make a story. 

Dust Pilgrim - A Tale of Freedom
Jun 4 - Jun 13 // BOOK HERE

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