This autumn, we are workshopping new show ideas with some incredible artists. Since we can’t do open rehearsals right now, we wanted to share some exciting insights online instead.
“I sang our wide country, the Caribbean sea.”
Director Elayce Ismail sits down with us to chat about Omeros, Derek Walcott’s epic poem, set in St Lucia. Elayce’s stage adaptation and production of Omeros was originally programmed as part of our 40th anniversary season in 2020, but was postponed due to Covid. Earlier in 2021, we commissioned four members of the original creative team, Paterson Joseph, Xana, Leian John-Baptiste and Elayce to respond to Walcott’s text. This week, they’re working with Gate Artistic Director Ellen McDougall and Associate Artist Rosie Elnile to explore these ideas.
Hi Elayce! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello. I’m a theatre/opera director and dramaturg based in London.
How is the workshop going? What are you working on this week?
Omeros the poem is an incredible journey through layers of beautiful language and astounding ideas, and the making of the staged version has become a real journey for us too – across the timespan of the pandemic, and also in terms of the concept of the production, which was originally going to be a staged adaptation, and will now become something with a very different form.
Being in a rehearsal room and opening wide the imagination to find a new and exciting way of bringing Omeros to life feels like a really creative way of unlocking its secrets for the new reality we’re living in.
Walcott’s line “I sang our wide country, the Caribbean Sea” keeps running through my mind: I love the expansive space it opens up, which feels a bit like what we’re doing in the workshop this week. Having a group of artists each bring their own interpretations to the project is refreshing and honest and adventurous, and finding a way to house all these ideas is a really fascinating challenge.
What is your favourite thing about workshopping a theatre project?
Being with other artists, sharing and building on each other’s ideas.
Why do you think poetry is so powerful on stage?
I think the power of poetry, and particularly Walcott’s, is in how much space it gives your imagination as a listener/reader to fly. He makes incredibly rich connections between ideas and images, and Omeros seems to have endless depths to explore.
Omeros is an epic poem. Do you have a favourite part?
There are so many bits of the poem that I love – from the story of the fishermen turning the tree gods into canoes, to the way the sights, sounds and smells of St Lucia are given life – you can really sense the land and sea in Walcott’s words. Nature is absolutely a dominant character in the piece and you feel mankind’s fragile, destructive and awe-inspired connection to it. This hits me more and more as I think about the climate crisis of our own-making that we’re living through, and with it both the cost to the planet and to every being that lives on it.