Grokk Teatru’s production of Mikħal swept the board at this year’s Malta International Theatre Festival earlier in September, winning Best Production Overall, Best Local Production; Best Director for Bettina Paris; and the Audience Choice Award. The production was also named runner-up in the Best Script, Best Actress (Mariele Zammit) and Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Borg) categories.
The Malta International Theatre Festival was launched in 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Malta Drama Centre. Now in its third year, the Festival offers superb opportunities for theatre practitioners from the world over to get together.
Grokk Teatru consists of Ruth Borg, Antonella Mifsud and Mariele Zammit. The fledgling company evolved when the three performers were refining their acting and learned the art of collaborative devising as members of the Teatru Manoel Youth Theatre, which forms part of Toi Toi, the theatre’s Education Programme.
In collaboration with Toi Toi, Grokk Teatru has so far co-created, scripted and produced PikuŻi, a series of Maltese plays for children; and also Tiċpisa, a physical theatre piece celebrating the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege of Malta.
The dynamic trio behind Grokk Teatru aims to create compelling devised theatre accessible to both young and old. It is with this in mind that Mikhal was created. Stemming from the word ‘ikhal’ meaning ‘blue’, Mikhal is a devised piece that aims to take a closer look at the human yearning to engage in meaningful relationships and to understand the world.
It is an idea conceived by Borg, Mifsud, and Zammit, and co-performers André Mangion, Stephen Mintoff and Anton Saliba contributed to the development of the of the detailed storyline. The actors’ notions combined with director Paris’s vision were what brought the whole together.
What are the difficulties you face when producing a devised piece as opposed to a more conventional form of theatre?
First of all it’s important to establish that devised theatre, as opposed to the theatre the general public is more accustomed to, is a form of theatre where the work does not stem from a script but through collaboration and improvisation between the participants. As Grokk, the format we usually follow is to have a number of brainstorming sessions about different concepts or themes we would like to explore. As this concept starts to take shape we then mould it into something more concrete, a story. This is a tough and lengthy process; however having a narrative provides us with a solid ground for experimentation. It sets off the most exciting part of the process: seeking different modes of delivery.
This process takes much longer than starting off your process with a script in hand. Changes happen all the time due to the nature of the work. However, this is a vital part of the process because the more material created in the beginning, the more work there is to build upon. Sometimes our ideas develop to a point where they are almost unrecognisable from the original intentions. Therefore, as much as it is important to believe in the initial ideas, sometimes you need to be able to let go of them in order for the piece to keep growing (which it will, until the very last minute!).
What does the success of Mikħal at this year’s Malta International Theatre Festival mean to you?
Mikħal has been exciting but also overwhelming at times. The debut of a company bring about lots of pressure because you don’t want to set off on the wrong foot and furthermore you know that your audience is coming with expectations. However we let that fear act as a stimulus to our creative process and we work intensely to breathe life into our vision. This is why our success meant that we have been nurtured and supported by our mentors in such a way that we are now able to do this kind of work for ourselves. It has made us realise that we have set off in the right direction. All this motivates us to work even harder and to keep growing both as a company and as individual practitioners.
What’s next for Grokk Teatru?
At the moment we would like to keep working on Mikħal, as we know that given more time, there is so much more to explore and develop. In the future we would like to create new work by delving into different styles and genres of theatre as well as collaborating with other passionate creatives to generate even crazier ideas!
Indulge was speaking to Ruth Borg, Antonella Mifsud, and Mariele Zammit