Erin Brandenberg (Pelee) interviews TALYA RUBIN from
THE GIRL WITH NO HANDS
Co-devised/Co-written by Jodi Essery & Talya Rubin
Directed by Jodi Essery
Presented by Too Close to the Sun Productions
Featuring Talya Rubin
A cautionary tale about messages crossed, meanings lost and what happens when you can’t hold onto your own story. This unwaveringly risky dark comedy for solo performer and live musician is a re-visioning of a tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. “*****Unique and brilliant and not to be missed.” – Hour.
1. What was the first play you ever performed in?
I am not entirely sure, actually. I know that the first time I was on stage was in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest. My mother was in the play and I was four at the time. I thought it would be a good idea to sit on the stage rather than in my seat and to count loudly. I got poked sharply with a parasol and ushered off. A rather auspicious beginning.
2. What is it about the Grimm Brothers and this particular fairy tale, (The Girl With No Hands) that inspire you?
It was the tale that first grabbed me, rather than the Grimm Brothers themselves. It just jumped off the page and insisted that I tell it. It literally stopped me in my tracks. There is a quality to the tale that is so dark, so rich and so complex that I was sure it was ripe with material. And more importantly, it felt like a story I had to tell. There is so much in there about what it means to tell stories, how who we are is shaped by the stories we tell. And then there are all the layers about handless-ness and what it means to live dispossessed in the world and not able to hold onto what matters. I was drawn to the Devil and the idea of falling asleep by a river of forgetting and messages getting crossed. The feeling that someone or some force can come into your life and obstruct or thwart what is most important to you felt very meaningful. As well, I love the epic quality of this particular tale, the fact that it goes through so many twists and turns before any kind of resolution can be earned. It was only later, in the rehearsal room, that the Grimm brothers (particularly Wilhelm) edged their way in.
3. How has your show developed/changed since you first performed it?
The first draft of the show was much more convoluted than it is now! We got very caught up in the idea of a character who could not hold onto her own story and placed her as an unreliable narrator. In the process I think we got a little lost and could not hold onto the thread of meaning ourselves. A second working over yielded so much more clarity and richness of character. We limited the characters and told what we felt was truly essential to our vision of this story. The Girl With no Hands herself stopped talking in the second draft, which was a wonderful discovery. She is in too much shock to be as articulate as we had her the first time around. The Devil got to be much more of a showman as well, he has a great deal of fun in his wicked way.
4. What are the challenges of performing a solo show?
There is the understanding that you and the audience both know that it is just you up there on the stage. That is implicit in all solo work. As much as you can transform into anyone or anything, there is a singular body there and that is a kind of limitation. At the same time, that is also what draws me to solo work – its transformative power. It is up to one person to contain so much, to hold so much and to reflect that back to the audience.
5. What are the challenges of touring a solo show?
When things go wrong you have no one to blame but yourself. That is why I have an accordion player and my director/co-creator on board!
The accordion player was worked into our second draft and has been an enormous influence in the tone and quality of our storytelling and creation work. I always saw a live accordion player in the piece from the moment I read the story, but when it finally happened it changed things more than I could have imagined. An accordion can breathe and the presence of another live performer on the stage adds a lot of depth to what can transpire. Julia is an amazing presence, as well, she feels like someone who watches and sees all that unfolds up there, a kind of musician witness.
7. How do you negotiate between your roles as writer and performer and how do they overlap in the creation process?
In this piece the show became a total collaboration between Jodi Essery and myself. When you are doing devising work in a room with someone else, the line between who is the writer of a piece gets blurred. I came in with the core idea, the story, source materials, some objects, a bit of writing and a lot of questions, but from that point on I feel like it has really been about the two of us refining and experimenting and taking risks with the work. I think it is rather insane to try and write and perform a solo show entirely on one’s own. I far prefer the creation process in a room where the work is up on its feet where we are constantly surprised by what we are making.
8. I see you have toured your work around the world, what are your favourite countries/cities to perform in?
I think the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia is the best place I have ever performed. The Festival is massive, quite like Edinburgh and the audiences are wildly supportive of theatre.
9. What have you heard about Toronto audiences?
I have heard that they love their culture and are very discerning.
10. How did this project start?
It started with reading the tale by accident in a bookstore in Melbourne, Australia. There was at least a year of unraveling and sitting with the story after that. I knew I did not want to just retell a Grimm’s story, so I had to dig deep to work out what I did want from making it into theatre. I had just moved back to Montreal from some time living in Australia and got in touch with Jodi through the theatre company, SaBooge that she is the General Manager of. I was looking for someone who did devised work and had an interest in both text and physical theatre. And it turned out that Jodi and I have very similar sensibilities, so it all took off from there.