Alumni Theatre Makers - Slow Death of a Lotus Flower
We love seeing how our Fourth Monkey alumni go on to act, make, move, collaborate once they step out into the industry as professional performers and artists, and we are always inspired to see them creating ensemble theatre with their fellow Fourth Monkey graduates!
Written and directed by Two Year Rep alumnus Benedetta Scuto (Class of 2020) and performed by an ensemble cast comprising fellow Fourth Monkey alumni, Slow Death of a Lotus Flower explores a surrealist clash between idealism and reality. Ahead of the show’s performances at London’s Golden Goose Theatre on 10 and 11 March, Benedetta shares an insight into writing and directing an ensemble piece of theatre, working collaboratively with members of her own graduating ensemble and her advice for anyone thinking about making their own creative work…
A French trans person leading a company that sells dreams, a hypnotising Portuguese life coach guru, a nameless man trapped in the pages of Dostoevsky and many more cross paths in a hotel lobby as they dance, debate and fight their way towards death. What happens when everything you’ve ever believed in collapses?
Firstly, introduce yourself! Tell us a little about your background and training as a performer and a creative.
Ciao! My name is Benedetta Scuto and I’m an Italian actor, theatre-maker, pianist and composer. Graduated from the Conservatory Vincenzo Bellini as a pianist and from the University of Geneva as a legal translator, I combine my hard-working musical and academic skills with my vulcanic Sicilian enthusiasm in life and performance. After working at the Grand Theatre de Genève with non-speaking mime roles in various productions, I decided to train as an actor in London where I completed the Two Year Rep course at Fourth Monkey. Slow Death of a Lotus Flower is my debut as a writer and director.
Tell us a little bit about your initial idea or inspiration behind Slow Death of a Lotus Flower? Where did it come from?
During training at Fourth Monkey, we had the assignment to write a short movie script. Inspired by my fellow actors, the characters started to come to life in my head and after the film project was over, I decided to develop the script into a play.
For anyone not familiar with the play, can you give us a brief overview of its central themes?
Slow Death of a Lotus Flower is about the clash between idealism and reality. It’s about dreams, fears, love at different stages of a relationship, self-acceptance and Dostoevsky. An inexplicable force washes through the lobby where the play is set and everyone who comes embarks on a journey to the abstraction, set in time rather than space. The plot unfolds itself through their emotions, rather than their actions. Each one is mysteriously doomed to face their fears and fight for their ideals, navigating long-lasting romances and new encounters through philosophical debates, comedic fights and bursts of passionate dancing. Stephanie Ressort from View of the Outside when talking about what Slow Death… was about, she said: “I could say more about the details of the play itself, but I won’t. This is a piece that needs to be experienced and not explained. Ultimately for me it was about the morality of selling hope, and the dangers of living a life driven by idealism and not love. I suspect for others it may be about something else.” 
I love when after the shows people come to me and talk about the script and what the play was about for them. I guess you’ll have to watch to find out!
Slow Death… features members of your graduating ensemble. What attracted you to working together as professionals after you finished your training?
I have been heavily inspired by my fellow actors during the writing of the script. For me, it was automatic to ask them if they wanted to be involved in it because I was writing the parts for them. It’s a choral piece where the six characters are all protagonists and share their stories. Having worked with the actors in different projects during training and admiring their work, I trusted we would have been able to connect, help each other and make this piece together, after drama school, as professionals.
Similarly, did you have any specific actors or ensemble members in mind when writing and creating the play’s characters?
Yes! I’d say all of the actors in the current cast were at the forefront of my mind. Romi, played by Matisse Ciel Pagès, was a great inspiration for me. As a cis-woman being able to write a non-binary character was a great challenge and a fantastic adventure. Since the short film script, I wanted to write a non-binary character for them who was portrayed as fully as all the other cis-gendered characters. In order to achieve that, we collaborated on the creation of Romi’s character and we had weekly meetings to grow a deeper understanding of trans and non-binary representation in arts, having difficult conversations on gender, broadening our perspective and taking risks in pushing the boundaries of trans representation in this industry. I was very pleased and proud to read in the review written by Stephanie Ressort: “ It was also refreshing to have a non-binary trans person in the piece and not have their gender identity reduced to a plot point, they are simply and beautifully who they are without any need to explain. Mainstream theatre has a lot to learn from young artists like these.”
I could talk about all of them, the Portuguese life-coach guru portrayed by the exhilarating Marco Teixeira, who wrote an original song in English and Portuguese which is performed in the piece and sings a classic Portuguese song which accompanies the characters through their journeys; Maria played by a heart breaking and vulnerable Clio Carrara; the Man Who Dies played by Louis Cruzat, and his unique melancholic fury, essential to the character. Ann, played by an explosive Meghan Mabli, volcanic and tragic at the same time. When a character was re-cast due to availability of the previous member of the cast (or lack thereof), I wrote more lines for the new actor whilst thinking about them, inspired by their work and fresh take on the character, for example, Jessica Mattarelli, regal and irresistible as Cathy when she stepped into the role.
Can you give us an insight into the process behind writing Slow Death…, as well as directing the piece once it was written? Was there anything you found particularly surprising, interesting, or even challenging about this?
Being the writer, director and producer of the play, it was natural for me to take the artistic lead in the room and I adored it. The challenge is to balance what happens outside of the room and the amount of work a producer has to do to make the project happen. It was challenging and incredibly empowering to be able to create something from a 30-pages script that has now been performed in different venues around London and in Dorset and to keep it alive on and off stage. Especially when living in London and doing a 40-hours a week customer service job. I think you need strong will and a great patience. But the result is priceless!
Similarly, how did the piece evolve and develop once the actors started rehearsing and working with your text?
The actors and their generosity in the rehearsal room was essential for the creation of the piece. I’m grateful to have collaborators who are willing to take risks, follow my lead and also speak up their thoughts and ideas. I want to try all the options and then I decide which one is best. I like them to create their own material through devising processes and then show it to me and we incorporate it. The fantastic work of the workshop facilitators and great actors and movers Emilie Largier and Amy Rushent was a fantastic way to boost the actors’ creativity and exploration of movement in non-conventional ways.
From Matisse Ciel Pagès on the process of working on the project: “Slow Death of a Lotus Flower is one of my first post-graduate projects and it has completely changed how I am in a rehearsal room and how much value I give to my experience and others’. The whole process of calling in Benedetta on my profound discomfort with Romi was an odyssey that I would go through 1000 times again. We really strengthen a profound respect for each other both as humans and professionals. It was such difficult conversations that we had to really master communication tools, patience, listening and a lot of creativity and courage. When we read the review by Stephanie Ressort both of us knew we had made a step in the right direction and that our whole vision of the craft had been changed. I will always walk into a room trusting myself and speaking up, knowing that it’s not selfish, it’s for the work and for everyone, from the creative team to the spectators. Romi is the first trans and non-binary character that I got, at 28 years old. And coincidence or not, it’s the first time I’ve fallen so deeply in love with one, that I try to really understand their circumstances, their thoughts. I feel a responsibility towards Romi, and my community, it’s a profound experience. It is so incredible to notice people’s attitude with me pre and post show. Something’s changed, they have been close to someone’s heart for an hour and they see me as a full human again. I don’t have the words.”
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about writing and directing their own material?
Don’t question the validity of your own words when directing your own script, come with strong ideas, try different things, even the ones that seem further away from your original one. Find collaborators who are ambitious, who disagree with you, who you admire and who challenge you. Make your actors shine. Make them fly on stage. I assure you, they can!
Ask for advice and follow your instinct. Have fun. To be able to direct my own text was a priceless joy for me. A miraculous act that requires generosity and high discipline.
Finally, how do you think your training at Fourth Monkey has inspired or influenced your decision to make your own work and creative opportunities?
Fourth Monkey trained us as theatre makers as much as they trained us as actors. I’m immensely grateful of having had the opportunity to be taught by astounding practitioners from different backgrounds such as Darren Strange, Magda Tuka, Poppy Rowley, Andrei Biziorek, Rich Rusk, Ewa Kolodziejska, Guillaume Pigé who were and still are a constant source of inspiration for me. Plus, I had the opportunity to meet my fellow cast members who are all driven by a deep passion for the craft and for ensemble work.
Slow Death of a Lotus Flower will be performed at Golden Goose Theatre on 10 and 11 March – learn more and book tickets
Follow Slow Death of a Lotus Flower for updates on oncoming shows and more – @slow.death.of.a.lotus.flower