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Saturday, October 23, 2021

UC Davis welcomes fall Artist in Residence Lucy Gough

When UC Davis fall quarter Granada Artist in Residence Lucy Gough sits down at the Black Bear Diner, she says she is ready for a hearty meal: turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. “Is it really?” she asks, after learning that this is traditional Thanksgiving food. Hailing from Wales, Gough has only been in Davis – and the United States for that matter – for a month.

Here in Davis, her writing sanctuary has become the Granada Artist-in-Residence facility downtown. Gough is the latest participant in this quarter-long program that brings directors, playwrights, choreographers and filmmakers to Davis for teaching purposes as well as to create a work for public performance.

This quarter, Gough is putting on two plays called Hinterland and Mapping the Soul. Although she initially meant for them to be intertwined (titled Hinterland/Mapping the Soul), Gough and her assistant director Brian Livingston ultimately decided both plays would work better played separately.

At home in Wales, Gough writes in a commodious room overlooking vast fields with grazing sheep. “There are more sheep than people in Wales,” she laughs. When not writing in her room, Gough uses the old library in Albarisque – which overlooks the sea – as a writing sanctuary.

Gough described the plays as different forms of a similar story. One will be staged as classic live radio play, which Gough said is big back in England but has not made a name for itself as a medium in the states. After the intermission, they will stage the second of plays, which is a hybrid between stage and radio.

“It’s going to be a bit of a radio play gone wild, sort of an experiment,” Gough said.

Thematically, the productions brush upon the elusive concept of the soul in context with the imagination’s saving powers. Gough examines the multiple psychological forces that lead to attempted suicide, emphasizing fantastical thinking as a protective factor against melancholy.

“My play is trying to understand what brought the protagonist to the point of suicide while also trying to understand what would bring him back from that point,” Gough said. “My argument in the play is that once he has the facility of his imagination, he’s able to see past the sort of ‘nothing’ of his life.”

Since radio play taps directly in to the imagination, Gough’s decision to stage the production via this medium parallels one of her play’s underlying themes.

“I’m just fascinated by the imagination. I think it’s awfully under-rated and people are frightened of it,” Gough said. “But I think it’s an awfully powerful tool, because it can transform situations. Imagination gives birth to action. Even a thing like going to the moon, someone had to imagine it before it happened.”

Bella Merlin, chair of the acting program at UC Davis, describes the medium in which Gough is presenting her work as an interactive process.

“It works in vibrant dialogue with the audience: while the actors and the writer give 50 percent of the ideas, the audience conjures up the other 50 percent in their own imaginations,” Merlin said. “It is dynamic and exciting as a medium. Also, it allows you to hop from one location to another in a moment: from being a red blood corpuscle in a person’s vein to being the King of Persia in one fell swoop.”

Among the many projects on Gough’s repertoire is a theatre production of Wuthering Heights, which is about to go on UK tour. She is also writing for commercial and BBC television, has a radio drama Western Stars recording around Christmas for BBC Radio, and her radio play The White Hare has been commissioned for a film script. On top of all that, HBO and Fox have shown interest in her work.

When asked about “culture shock” between the states and her native land, Gough responds that the changes have been less a dramatic shift and more an amassment of minor differences. The cadence of speech, the cuisine, and the surroundings are three elements that Gough has been adjusting to in her transition. While in Davis, Gough will keep her ears and eyes open to inspiration for future projects.

“I’ve always wanted to write play about Jack Kerouac, and now that I’m here I feel like that even more lately,” Gough said. “I always thought, well I can’t, I don’t know his country, don’t know the culture. But now that I’m here, I feel even more inclined to do it.”

She says even though she is not fully familiar with it, she would still like to test the waters with a play about this epoch.

“That’s what literature is about – it’s about trying to understand why we’re here,” Gough said.

Livingston fully supports not only the work Gough is doing as a member of the program, but the vision she has brought to the theater community.

“I can only add that working with Lucy is a dream come true,” Livingston said. “Lucy has a stellar ear of sound and rhythm.  She is a great collaborator and delegator of responsibility to all the artists in the room and on the project.  She has a clear vision of the possibilities of what we can strive towards and accomplish as an ensemble here at UC Davis.”

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at arts@theaggie.org

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