Deb Pugh tells us about “the rare privilege of being able to make work I care about”

Tell us about your own theatre-making practice.

I am a performer, director & practitioner, trained at the Lecoq school in Paris. My approach to theatre making is invariably a physical one, even if the end result is standing still and delivering a soliloquy the process is always physical, finding the shape/dynamic/material of the character, of the space, of the spoken word and how they all inform one another.

Tell us about your work with Theatre Ad Infinitum? 

I’ve been making work with Ad Inf since 2007. It all started off with ‘Behind The Mirror’, a bizarre love triangle between a man, his fiancée and his evil mirror reflection. It was a straight-outta-drama-school, throw-everything-you’ve-got-at-it, sweaty slapstick-a-thon, rehearsed in any space we could find and played out in a portacabin in Edinburgh through perhaps the rainiest August in memory. But in spite of the weather and the flyers, which quickly turned to papier-mâché people came, and people liked it so we carried on….

In the next show, ‘Translunar Paradise’, I was promoted from fiancée to wife but then promptly killed off within the first 15 minutes of each performance. Undeterred, I returned as the ghost of my wifely self to dance, mask and mime my way through this gorgeous, wordless piece for the best part of three years, touring throughout Europe and North & South America.

After so long in the warm, tender cuddle that was Translunar the only thing to do next was make Ballad of the Burning Star- an explosive, ferocious, dragged-up, sexy-scary tank ride through the Middle East which let me flex my high-octane mourning muscles along with every other fibre in my body. I have never been so fit in my life, which was a good job, given the skimpiness of the costumes. Then, just as we were getting used to the Middle Eastern heat, along came the icy, dystopian vision of the future that is ‘Light’, the graphic novel inspired, self-lit sci-fi in which I played genius scientist (naturally) turned rebel leader, Cassandra, on a mission to save the world from the nightmare she created.

How do you connect with the company and it’s (way of) theatre-making?

I love making work with Ad Inf. It offers me the rare privilege of being able to make work I care about with the most talented human beings I know who also happen to be some of my closest friends. Having two artistic directors with such different approaches keeps at bay any risk of stagnation- each new project is so different you have to keep inventing, keep learning, keep developing your craft.

How would you describe your experience in the creation of Bucket List so far?

Like having a big, stern word with myself. I can’t exempt myself from my culpability in the suffering of others if I buy shampoo/clothes/ chocolate from corporations who willingly exploit human beings, even when those human beings are really far away, and those products are so cheap, and even if those companies hide behind clever branding or package things in green and call them organic. I can no longer kid myself that I’m conscientious just because I recycle and I’ve never punched a dolphin, time to get smart.

What advice would you offer theatre makers at the beginning of their careers?

DON’T DO IT! Don’t do it. Don’t do it. You live out of a suitcase, 50% of your diet comes from motorway service stations, you’ve either no time or no money, whenever you go to parties people with proper jobs ask you too many questions and expect you to be entertaining. It’s not too late! You can still become a dentist!

…But if you still want to do it, be brilliant, the world doesn’t need crap theatre.

– Deb Pugh, actor, director & practitioner

An Interview with Amy Nostbakken…

Tell us about your work with Theatre Ad Infinitum? 

During my time with Ad infinitum I co-created, composed and performed the one-woman show The Big Smoke, was part of the ensemble in Ballad of the Burning Star and am part of the ensemble and musical director for Bucket List. The productions seem to get bigger and more ambitious as the years roll on, which makes sense. As you mature you realise what’s really important, what is worth fighting for…why do I make theatre? Because there is a story that needs to be told, a voice that is being silenced and I have the tools, I have the privilege, I have the platform from which to deliver it to a wider audience. We’re so lucky to be able to do what we do; I take it on as a real responsibility. Bucket List is a great example – Theatre Ad infinitum wants to fly a big whack of women from all over the globe to London, and we do not hesitate to jump on a plane, why? Because we have got to get this story out. It’s got to get out.

How do you connect with the company and it’s (way of) theatre-making?

The plays that Theatre Ad Infinitum creates can only be achieved through the devising process. They are collective creations. Even if it is a one-person show, it is written as a team, shaped as a team. The performers think like writers and directors, there is very little ego; all the energy is focussed on the work – the story we need to tell. We are all here in service of the story (so it had better be a really urgent, important story or else we’re all working our butts off and tearing our hair out for nothing). I do not know any other way of working. Well no, I know other ways, we’ve met, but I don’t’ much care for them. Creating within the confines of an inflexible script written by someone who is long dead, and then directed by someone who doesn’t have any interest in my opinions during the rehearsal process…is not for me. Devising is mad, it’s insane and horribly frustrating sometimes, but it’s also incredible, and hilarious and makes magic.

What are the important issues / What have you learnt during the research for the show?

Working on this show reminds me that we need to be brave theatre makers. Some of the issues we are tackling in Bucket List are terrifying because the stories we are telling are describing the lives of real people, living under horrific circumstances and we – you and me and every audience member who will see this show are directly connected to them. Admitting hypocrisy is scary. Naming names is risky. Taking responsibility is absolutely necessary.

This isn’t a fairy tale or a myth or an adaptation, this is a true story about how the rich take advantage of the poor, right now, today. And if you think you are exempt from this truism ask yourself who made the shirt you’re wearing or the car you are driving or the chocolate bar you bought yesterday because the odds are, if you didn’t research before purchasing, it was made by a child or an abused factory worker being paid slave wages in a sweat shop by a western corporation which was made possible by a treaty like Nafta or the new Trans-Pacific Partnership so that we can buy more crap that we don’t need at cheaper prices.

During this process I am constantly catching myself in my own daily hypocrisy. It requires a bit of re-wiring, to not only empathise with those who have it bad in a distant country, but to admit that I am contributing to their misery and declare that I will actively do something about it.

What advice would you offer theatre makers at the beginning of their careers?

The same advice I was given when I left theatre school – only do good work.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist?

Winning the Oscar the Tony and the Grammy. Oh wait that wasn’t me. Next Question.

What do you like to do when you are not making theatre?

Be in bed. With snacks.

-Amy Nostbakken, actor/musician, composer, musical director