Behind the Scenes: Stephanie Dimitriou and ‘TESS’08 Sep 2015, by Interviews in
Ilana from Auslan Stage Left spoke with co-creator, co-director and dramaturg Stephanie Dimitriou about her upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival show, TESS. Alongside collaborator Leticia Brennan-Steers, Dimitriou and team have created a performance event, based on Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, about the systematic destruction of a woman.
Read on to see what Stephanie has to say about her her theatre journey, Tess’ story and working with an interpreter.
ASL: How did you come to be a theatre maker?
SD: I guess I’ve always been really interested in telling stories, ever since I was younger. That began through music and singing, and eventually grew into being involved in dance and the performing side of theatre. I was always a reader and a writer. As I grew, it all seemed to culminate in theatre, in this really live space. It’s so affecting, and effective. I think it’s about that to this day: me getting to tell a story, a story that can change, due to the socio-political or economic climate, and what’s going on which the world.
ASL: Tell us about your upcoming Melbourne Fringe Festival show, TESS.
TESS is a radical adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’. That was written in the late 19th century, and the original novel tells a really agonizing story of a woman through seven years of her life. She’s born and she’s fated to womanhood, and is continually punished because of that. She’s born in an impoverished part of the community and her father is a drunk, so she has to go to the market when he’s too drunk to go. Her horse and cart get in to an accident and the horse dies, and she’s blamed. Through a series of events, as she tries to make up for that, she’s sent off to a rich family, and is raped. Rape isn’t a term back then, so it’s her shortcoming for ‘falling in to the seduction’, even though she continually says no.
This is a framework for how we’re exploring our TESS: through Hardy’s original novel ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, and also through Roman Polanski’s film of the same name. The film doesn’t empower Tess at all: you just watch her life continue and it’s painful. Then the BBC turned Tess of the d’Urbervilles into a romantic love story, similar to their ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It’s through these three adaptations that we’re creating our show. We’re seeking to empower our Tess. The way we’re exploring this show is in an image-based manner, which means it is up to the audience to interpret, to really draw their own links between what we’re presenting. I think the images we’ve created are very raw and to the truth of what certain actions are, we don’t have stimulated sex in the show, but it’s the discovery of how to explore a rape without showing that. It’s pushed us to find creative and symbolic ways of doing that. The show doesn’t have a lot of dialogue.
ASL: What drove you to provide an Auslan interpreter for your show?
SD: As an independent theatre maker, I’m not garnered by anything that holds me back. I get to choose how I want to make theatre. I want to make sure that is a theatre that is open to everyone, and is not played to only a straight white male audience. I want it to be truly universal, and truly accessible. It was important for us that we start with Auslan interpreting. It’s already been widely used, I see it all the time, I always enjoy watching it, I often choose to go to Melbourne comedy shows on the night that they have the interpreter. It’s such a theatrical thing. It only adds to the performance. I don’t know Auslan, but it’s still exciting to watch. So it was important for us in making the show accessible to start with this. Who knows where we go for our next show, but if we start now I think it will become a permanent thing for me as a theatre maker. It’s continual awareness that I’m not just making shows for a small section of the community, I want whatever story I tell to be perceived by all.
ASL: What would you say to encourage other independent theatre makers to provide access to their performance for the deaf community?
SD: Absolutely do it. Auslan Stage Left has been so easy and eager to help make an interpreter work for you and your show. Auslan interpreting adds a whole other experience of ‘liveness’ to your theatre, and a whole other community that otherwise would be neglected. I’d encourage everybody to give it a go, I honestly can’t imagine a show it wouldn’t work for.