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Dante’s Inferno at The Rag Factory

18 December 2014 Tom Butler

"At the Rag, we don’t really see the point of ‘titles’ either - saying that, I have been jokingly coined as the VP of awesomeness."

If you’re looking for a theatrical experience with a difference then may we suggest you head over to the Rag Factory in the new year to see Craft Theatre’s production of Dante’s Inferno. London Calling were lucky enough to catch up with Craft founder and director, Rocky Rodriguez Jr, to find out what to expect!

London Calling: For those that don’t know the story of Dante’s Inferno could you give us a brief overview?

Rocky Rodriguez Jr: Dante’s Inferno is the story of a person that must travel through layers of hell in order to find salvation.

LC: There’ve been various productions of Inferno over the years, how does yours differ?

RR: Our Inferno focuses on the sins of a person in modern western culture; self-idolatry, material obsession, conscious ignorance for instance. We also take a look at ‘states of mind’ (stresses, insecurities, fearful thoughts), we believe to be common among people, these types of thought processes seem to trap the individual in a state of hell, thereby making them miss their lives. ‘You do not have to believe in God to be in Hell, Dante’ (From Dante’s Inferno: A Modern Telling).

LC: What is it about the Divine Comedy that makes such great theatre?

RR: I saw potential in Dante’s Inferno as a tight structure for a devised piece. I spoke about it with the ensemble, and we agreed. The practises we use in the space command a certain abrupt reflection on the self for everyone. We were focusing on ‘illusions’ we have in our perceptions and were discovering some really interesting things. Inferno, provides an appropriate framework to share our practice. I can’t begin to comment on why Divine Comedy makes great theatre - it is not just the poem that is important in regards to making great theatre - there are any facets to that like how any ensemble/director takes on the project.  

LC: You’re a resident artist at the Rag Factory. How much does the venue come into play when you choose which productions to run?

RR: I have been developing a performance programme that provides theatre/ performance makers an opportunity to create without the fear of losing boatloads of money on space. The Rag has been very supportive of Craft with subsidised rehearsal/performance space (and will be supportive of a company after Craft leaves the Rag) At the Rag, we don’t really see the point of ‘titles’ either - saying that, I have been jokingly coined as the VP of awesomeness.

I have been choosing pieces based on the participant’s rigour. The piece’s proposed must also be new work, and it’s a plus if the piece is too ‘risky’ for any other fringe space. As long as those things are met, I cannot justify not programming artists even if I disagree with their ideology. Who am I to say who and what cannot be performed at a grass roots level. Basically, if you prove to have the drive and the skill sets to pull of a series of performances; I'll programme you.

LC: What makes the Rag Factory such a unique venue in London?

RR: It is a non-profit seeking artistic venue that does not judge the work but does its best to harness/support/nurture work and artists of all mediums. Everyone that knows the Rag knows the space comes with certain ‘charms’. Currently, the Rag has 1 full time employee - this is part of the reason why they can offer cheap space, subsidised performance space and occasional free space.

LC: You’re also the founder of Craft Theatre. How long had you had the idea you wanted to run your own theatre company?

RR: I am one of those crazy people who felt the need for a life in the theatre from a very early age. I’ve made sacrifices for the medium throughout my life. Craft is the manifestation of all of my theatre exploits and research done over the years.

LC: A description of the theatre says the company uses cognitive neuroscience to aid performance. Can you tell us a little more about this practice?

RR: Cognitive neuroscience is part of what ‘grounds’ our techniques, but it is not the totality of our process. Each member of craft must be trained slightly differently because everyone has different upbringings/perceptions thereby they approach our work individually - the techniques must be adapted individually. Cognitive neuroscience theories seem to help connect the participating artist to the ensemble, to the rest of humanity, and aids our process of identity analysis/ deconstruction.

On the whole, we attempt to harness ‘pure impulse in a moment’ fearlessly, enhance our emotional reservoirs, and deconstruct our notions of identity/ time/ space/ culture. We also work with exhaustion. As a director, I am interested in the manipulation of space but through engaging the spectator’s perception.

LC: Are you the only theatre company who uses these rehearsal techniques?

RR: I can’t say who and who doesn’t use cognitive neuroscience or any of the other aspects of our practice. I do know, however, that no one will be doing our techniques in our way because I made them from practice based research over the years. Tireless demand for deconstruction, development, and rigour. We are a true ensemble with an individual practice, you will never see another piece like it simply because of how we make it, and how we train. Saying that, a few members I trained in 2011 are teaching some of Craft’s techniques in Denmark/Romania and will take a piece to Australia soon - but Craft’s practice has evolved so much it's impossible for them to be a pure representation of what we do and how we develop.

LC: What’s next for Craft Theatre? Do you have your next production decided already?

RR: The last two pieces we’ve made have been made through a devised platform. There are a handful of texts I’d like to play with, and we’ve got a strong, not to mention fully trained, ensemble ready to rock and roll. I’d like to do a few plays in quick succession, in a rep fashion, we’ll see, things change.

Dante’s Inferno by Craft Theatre is on at The Rag Factory from the 8th January until the 1st February. For more information and to book tickets please click here.

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