Monkey Motivation: RUCKLE Theatre Company
We are always keen to learn more about what our alumni go on to create after graduating from the Monkey House and to see how they are using the skills learned during their training as they navigate life as a professional performer and theatre maker.
A collaborative theatre company founded by two of Fourth Monkey’s Class of 2020 alumni, Emilie Largier and Libby Symons,
RUCKLE Theatre Company are a UK-based multidisciplinary fledging theatre company. Employing physical theatre as their primary medium, RUCKLE Theatre look to share those stories that often go unheard and uncelebrated.
As they begin research and development for their upcoming devised show, THE FALL, Emilie and Libby give us an insight into what inspired them to collaborate and form a theatre company, as well as where the initial idea for the project came from, the moments that have been particularly challenging, surprising or interesting, and the advice they would share with anyone who might be thinking about creating their own theatre company when they graduate from drama school…
Firstly, introduce yourselves! Tell us about your backgrounds, training and how the two of you met!
L: Hello! I am Libby, I hail from South Oxfordshire, I have a background in Marketing and before Fourth Monkey I trained at The Oxford School of Drama on a Foundation course.
E: Hi! I am Em, I am from France and, after a few months in Belgium, in 2015 I brought my suitcases to London and never left. I’ve worked as a Costume Designer and maker for years until I decided to retrain in drama and theatre making once in London. It’s funny, Lib and I don’t remember much being in the same training group at Fourth Monkey but our lockers were next to each other so we spent a lot of time chatting at our break.
L: Yeah, we actually both got involved in a show that performed at The Vaults Festival with Dank Parish after auditioning for them through Fourth Monkey. We were paired together and we have not looked back since!
(Image credit – THE FALL, Experimental Fringe performance 2019)
Can you tell us about the initial inspiration behind RUCKLE Theatre company, as well as what attracted you to collaborating with each other after you graduated from Fourth Monkey?
E: I always wanted to make my own work but quickly I realised I wasn’t interested in being a solo performer. I’m thrilled by Ensemble theatre. Starting making THE FALL confirmed my desire to create a physical theatre company, especially a multidisciplinary one. I’ve always loved work mixing media, text, dance, challenging the sense of space. I’ve studied cinema, went to art school then did my Costume degree hugely influenced by European cinema and theatre. I want to create work that would reflect that rich mix.
I often struggle to verbally articulate my creative ideas, everything is so visual in my brain, it can be quite frustrating but Libby gets me (ask her how she does that because sometimes I don’t even understand myself). We are really different but working together seems natural, smooth. I think our two brains and performers skills are a great artistic combo. Naming RUCKLE came from a desire to create a raw and visceral theatre. RUCKLE is a scream, a movement of revolt.
L: I can only echo what Em said but for me starting a theatre company wasn’t actually something that was on my bucket list. I’ve always seen myself first and foremost as an actor and the term “theatre-maker” didn’t naturally fit with me. However, after training with Fourth Monkey I realised it was something that I would be able to do, starting a theatre company felt like a natural fit for all these various skills that we’re taught. It’s meant I can merge together my more formal background with something much more creative and more free. Em and I are so different but we seem to always understand each other and I thought that made for a really exciting point of view. There’s a lot of things in this world that make us angry or that we’d like to change and I think this is a really exciting place to create from in a productive way.
(Image credit – Libby Symons, by Aks Huckleberry)
Is there anything that you have found particularly surprising, interesting or even challenging about working collaboratively and about creating your own theatre company?
L: It’s definitely been hard starting something when we are so raring to go after graduation but the whole world is still on “pause”. I really enjoy this sort of planning, admin-esque section but that side of it isn’t where my passion lies and so I’ve found it incredibly important to keep reminding myself about the reasons why we are starting this and what creative output we will be able to have in the future.
E: It’s a slow process. That’s where I struggle, but I think slowness is for the best. It’s really interesting to develop our own “theatre making” method. I’m learning to enjoy the process of research and brainstorming before coming into the rehearsal room. It can be challenging to not overthink when I feel we aren’t in the “doing” yet because not physically moving and making. But, as David Glass said, “writing is already a physical gesture”, therefore we are already in the “doing” of our creative process. Personally, I have to ground myself with that thought to calm down when I feel unsettled.
L: I’d also say the big surprises have been when someone suddenly gets just as excited as we do about the idea! I think we’ve benefited from knowing a lot of creative people who want to be involved and are excited about engaging in something new.
(Image – Libby Symons in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, directed by Ellie Jones)
Can you give us a brief overview of RUCKLE Theatre’s latest project, THE FALL, and its central themes? How have they evolved and developed over time?
E: During the Summer 2018, I started exploring work culture as a solo performer and presented a 20 min performance at Hackney Wicked, an East London Art Festival in Hackney Wick. I come from a family in which hard work was highly rewarded, it took too much space growing up and I really wanted to question our relationship with work and its negative impact on our lives. I wanted to shake the world shouting “open your eyes! what the hell is this!”. For me it’s political. Everything is. THE FALL is a criticism of the capitalist society we are living in.
L: For me it was how we could use theatre to challenge the very evident mental health stigma in the workplace. I’m interested in platforming these stories and creating something that does them justice.
(Image credit – THE FALL promotional image)
THE FALL started life as an Experimental Fringe piece during your training at Fourth Monkey – can you tell us about how you went about pitching the piece and what you learned from the experience?
E: Being selected for the Experimental Fringe and developing my own method with five performers was an incredible (and stressful) experience! I’m saying “stressful” because I had so much to learn and at times it felt like I didn’t have a clue of what I was doing or if it was right, but you have to keep trusting your instinct and your ensemble. I had an amazing cast, all so generous and bold in the room. THE FALL won’t exist without them. I started learning to embrace the uncertainty of the process. Directing feels like sculpting with clay. Molding ideas, refining or sometimes destroying them with an Ensemble who gives them shape and life. It’s beautiful and transformative.
L: I wasn’t involved in THE FALL during its life in Experimental Fringe as I had actually pitched a different idea that had very similar themes. This alone taught me a lot, my idea wasn’t picked. You’d think this was gutting but I had the chance to perform in and also assistant direct on another incredible show, Wish Cadets by Nim McQuin. I think the whole experience of Experimental Fringe taught us a lot about the meaning of ensemble.
In regards to THE FALL I knew from the very start that I wanted to be involved. It’s a story that feels extremely personal to me and I am extremely passionate about platforming voices who have experienced burnout or had issues with their mental health in the workplace because even today there is huge stigma surrounding it… and that angers me!
Can you give us an insight into the research and development process for THE FALL and how you have approached devising, developing and adapting the project so far?
E: For the Experimental Fringe, we’d worked through long and intense guided improvisation. I’m fascinated by a performer’s ability to create stories from barely nothing, sometimes just a shape, a rhythm, a word. I always came to rehearsals with a plan in mind, scenes I wanted to discover or characters to develop, but I’m excited to see how it will grow. I was guiding them through the exploration of what I’ve had in my brain letting them take my seed ideas somewhere else. It became a dialogue. They were embracing an exploration and I was completely tuning into their work observing anything happening in detail, responding to what they were offering and we were building on the seed idea together. Once an exercise was finished, I was asking them to write and share their discoveries. Slowly, we started creating characters and scenes until we had a 20 minute work-in-progress to share.
Now, Libby and I are in another phase of development in which we spend a lot of time reading books, articles, watching films, documentaries and discussing together. It helps to refine the project, find depth and relevance as well. We’ve started working with our Dramaturg, Jean-Daniel Peccolo, and are currently working on the story and the show’ structure. We won’t go to rehearsals from the same place in 2019. We have still a lot to discover in the rehearsal room but the framework will be different, way more structured.
L: Part of the R&D period we want to go into now contains lots of things not just in the rehearsal room, as Em has mentioned there’s lots of research and discussions not only between us but with professionals with expertise with Mental Health. We’re using surveys to reach out to people to hear their first-hand experiences and there’s a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into collating that information and ensuring that eventually we do these peoples stories justice.
E: We’ve been having amazing conversations with experts but also with individuals during a series of one-on-one consultations. We’ve been really moved by all the testimonials from everyone we’ve listened to and we can feel how much people want to share their stories. So many people suffered or are suffering at work and don’t feel they have a space to speak up. They are afraid to come across weak, but they are actually so brave. We’ve got more consultations pencilled in our agenda and we really want to organise a public panel discussion with the experts we’ve met so far. We’ve also launched our crowdfunding campaign beginning in April. If we reach or exceed our goal, we will donate 10% of the raised funds to Oxfordshire Mind Charity. Their work is vital, it makes absolute sense to support them through THE FALL.
(Image credit – Emilie Largier, performing Prostetic Gods by Dallas Wexler at Hackney Showroom)
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about starting their own collaborative theatre company?
L & E: Do it.
E: It’s going to take time but it’s necessary. I remember Guillaume Pigé (Theatre Re) telling us how long it can take to create our own work because there are so many components around a project. We are still really in the early stage of RUCKLE and THE FALL’s development but Guillaume’s words make a lot of sense now. It’s tricky because I am impatient, especially after a year of pandemic, I am boiling inside but I think it’s essential to not rush. Be ambitious, go at a good pace but stay steady. It’s good to learn how to walk before running. Enjoy each (baby) step!
L: Stay specific. Know what you want to make and know WHY you want to make it. Continuously link everything back to that why and make sure everything you do is informed by the why. It is incredibly rewarding to look back and see what you have accomplished so make sure you do this every now and then as it is very easy to forget!
(Image – The Fall, Experimental Fringe 2019)
Finally, how do you think your training at Fourth Monkey has inspired or influenced your work as a theatre company?
E: As Libby said earlier, the training taught us a lot about the meaning of the Ensemble and it will definitely influence RUCKLE’s future productions. Being taught by international artists and experimenting different theatre practices was a great treasure. It really allows me to explore the three-dimensionality of theatre like a Cubist sculpture or painting, with a sense of curiosity, a constant hunger to discover different art and theatre forms that would inform our work.
L: I have a bit of a running joke with myself that it’s ridiculous that I of all people trained at a physical theatre school, it’s never something I thought was ‘for me’. I couldn’t have been more wrong and Fourth Monkey taught me that, now I have RUCKLE. It’s inspiring to not be limited by an idea that you have placed on yourself or had placed on you when you were younger. I categorically would not have reached to form something as bold, physical and daring as I believe RUCKLE to be. Above anything else, my training at Fourth Monkey instilled in me a profound confidence that I am extremely capable at what I do and in who I am.
(Image – Libby Symons)
Learn more about RUCKLE Theatre Company.
RUCKLE Theatre Company’s Crowdfunding for THE FALL R&D.
Follow RUCKLE Theatre Company on Instagram – @ruckletheatre
Follow RUCKLE Theatre Company on Twitter – @RuckleTheatre
RUCKLE Theatre Company’s Emilie Largier will be leading a one-day masterclass as part of the EVOLVE Short Courses programme for Summer 2021. Physical Storytelling Lab will run from 10am to 5pm on Saturday 17th July at the Monkey House – learn more and book your place here.