Sappho on the ropes

Just trying out ideas for promoting the show on the Royal Mile. That area gets a little nuts during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with people shoving flyers in your faces constantly. So I thought I’d try for the quieter street art approach. If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

By the way, this is the actual rope we use in the show whereon Victoria performs all her acrobatics. So hopefully it doesn’t get too wet…!

Interview with Jessica Ruano in Female Arts

Sappho Artist's ImpressionSophieWho's picture

by Sophie Porter
 July 23, 2013 – 16:46
Painting by Tamaya Garner

1) Your current project ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ sees you working with actress Victoria Grove. How did you come together to work on this project?

She and I worked together over a year ago on another fantastic play called La Chunga by Mario Vargas Llosa. It was my first assistant directing gig in London. Victoria was devastatingly brilliant as the title character – a rough yet sensual Peruvian bar owner – and I wondered how I could convince her to work with me again. Offering her a role as Ancient Greece’s infamous love poet seemed to do the trick!

2) Your adaptation of ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ has received compliments and critical acclaim from some of Britain’s finest actors such as Simon Callow and Maureen Lipman as well as four star reviews! How does it feel to have created what critics have called a “masterpiece”? Did you know straight away you were working on something special?

I knew Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ script had power, and I knew Victoria had talent, and I knew our design concept had potential. But no, the success of this production was entirely unprecedented. Up until our opening night, we were incredibly nervous about how the show might be received. Forty five performances later, I still delight in watching this play: I am unabashedly in love with it.

3) Talk us through the process of adaptation. Where did the unusual and striking set design come from for ‘Sappho…’? What challenges did you face, particularly considering the density of the dramatic question (how do you tell a story from fragments?)? How did you overcome these challenges? 

It was Victoria who noticed the repeated use of the word ‘suspension’ in the script and pondered if there was a way for us to ‘suspend’ her in the air for the performance. Our keen designer Ana Ines Jabares Pita took that idea and soared with it, creating for us the most dexterous set of ropes and scaffolding I could have imagined. She scored an ‘Outstanding Design’ award for that one!

The set actually helps us tell this rather unusually constructed story. The structure (playfully nicknamed ‘Scaffo’) is a partner to Victoria, alone onstage, allowing her to weave her story almost literally.

Some of the writing is abstract, especially at the beginning, but I find it beautiful, and I love that the story unravels itself slowly. The line ‘How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps?’ reminds us that we don’t and can’t have all the answers, and we needn’t get all hung up on it, so to speak.

4) Do you think there is equality in the workplace? If not, why?

In a word, no. But statistics can speak louder than I can.

Men still dominate the theatre and performing arts industry. There are far more successful male playwrights and male directors and male producers, and plays about men are still seen as more ‘universal’.

So, among other things, one of my aims as a director is to produce plays by women that showcase meaningful relationships between women, and for these plays to appeal to a wide spectrum of people. Just to even things out a little.

5) Tell us about your career background; where did you train? How long did it take? 

I studied English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa, and I have an MA in Dramaturgy, which is essentially the study of theatre. I have taken a few classes and workshops in directing, but I haven’t directed much: Sappho is my second full-length production.

Primarily I studied theatre by seeing a lot of theatre. I worked as a theatre reviewer for several years and would attend, on average, three shows a week. I learned a lot from watching other theatre artists at work, and this year – in my mid-twenties with a bit of life experience – I felt ready to direct my own productions.

6) Your adaptation of ‘Sappho…’ has inspired other artists to create beautiful works after watching the performance – such as Anna Perenna’s poem The Shining Thread – what has been your favourite artwork inspired by your adaptation? 

Oh, Anna Perenna… her name in itself is a poem!

I can’t choose a favourite artwork, but I will reference a couple of others.

A 16-year-old Sappho aficionado from Scotland has written erotic prose inspired by the show. She will be attending the show with her father in Edinburgh next month.

Tamaya Garner, an exceptional artist and sculptor, attended the show three times in Ottawa and made sketches in the dark theatre. From those sketches (posted on our website) she created the most beautiful paintings, two of which were given to me and Victoria as gifts.

We are so lucky.

7) Do you have any projects in the pipeline; what’s next? Do yourself and Grove plan to work together again?

Glad you asked! I’m directing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It for The Rose Theatre on Bankside. We produced Sappho there in May, and I was delighted when they invited me back to direct another show.

I would love to work with Victoria again. But if there’s any sense or goodness in the world, West End directors will be fighting over her within the year, and I won’t stand a chance. Still, we’ve talked about remounting Sappho again when the next opportunity arises.

8) Do you have any words of wisdom/advice for anyone aspiring to become a Director/Theatre Maker?

Be smart. Be likeable. Be generous. Be frugal. Be passionate. Value everyone who gives their time and energy to your work.

9) What has been the best part of the process of bringing ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ to the stage? What has been your least favourite part?

This. This is the best part. We have a show that we’re proud of, and we have the luxury of changing things as necessary, of playing around with bits of the staging, and having a great time on tour. I also love being at the performances to witness the emotional responses from some people after the show… including the sheer joy of a seven-year-old who has just been told she can play on the structure for a bit.

Least favourite part? Balancing the budget. I hate dealing with money. Though it’s nice to actually be making some.

10) You were quite open about your feelings towards bringing the performance of ‘Sappho…’ back to your hometown (in Ottawa) earlier in the year where your friends and family would be… How did it go?

Yes, I’m always open about my feelings. It’s one of my riskiest qualities.

It went fine. It went more than fine: it was stupendous. We had sold-out audiences for almost every performance. We were awarded ‘Best in Fest’ and we were invited to stay for an extra week. We felt like rock stars.

11) Finally… Are you happy with your adaptation of ‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’?

I am thrilled. Get me some full audiences at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and I’ll be even happier! Especially since the playwright, the illustrious Jane Montgomery Griffiths, will be in town for the show, and I want her to delight in the experience.

But yes, happiness does not even begin to describe. I would happily tour this show for years and years. Here’s hoping.

‘Sappho in 9 Fragments’ plays at the Edinburgh Fringe 8th – 10th August.

You can find, follow and read more about the performance through these sites:
Twitter: @Sappho9fragment

Or follow Jessica through her website:

SAPPHO EdFringe Press Release

    SAPPHO plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 

Starring London’s “uncommonly exhilarating” (Exeunt Magazine) Victoria Grove

Inline images 1

Following two critically-acclaimed runs in London and a multi-city Canadian tour, SAPPHO …in 9 fragments by Jane Montgomery Griffiths, plays for three nights only at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, August 8, 9, 10 at 19:15 at theSpace Venue 45.

Within a secluded cavern, Ancient Greece’s first love poet laments her erasure from history, while a chorus girl named Atthis is seduced into a modern-day Sapphic romance.

Directed by Jessica Ruano and starring Victoria Grove, this production has garnered compliments from some of Britain’s finest actors, including Simon Callow, who called Grove’s performance “brilliant”, and Maureen Lipman, who proclaimed it was “the best theatrical experience I’ve had since The Book of Mormon”.

In Canada, the show was awarded Best in Fest and Outstanding Design at the Ottawa Fringe Festival and was held over for an extra week in the nation’s capital.

NEWS UPDATE: Jane Montgomery Griffiths – playwright, actor and academic who currently resides in Melbourne, Australia – will be attending the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see this production of her play for the first time.

★★★★ EXEUNT MAGAZINE          “Uncommonly exhilarating”

★★★★ REMOTE GOAT                    “Magnetic and mysterious, dominating…”

                  “Victoria Grove is extraordinarily talented”

★★★★ VIEWS FROM THE GODS   “A masterclass in acting and aerobics”

                              “Stunningly athletic and entirely sensuous”

★★★★ FEMALE ARTS                      “Written, directed and executed with passion”

Sappho …in 9 fragments plays at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in theSpace Venue 45 on Jeffrey Street, EH1 1DH, August 8, 9, 10 at 19:15. Tickets £12/10 | FB: Sappho…in 9 fragments | TW: @sappho9fragment

POEM: The shining thread by Anna Perenna

I love witnessing how this performance affects people in very emotional ways, inspiring them to think and create. Anna Perenna came to the show on recommendation from a friend of mine who studied Classics with her at Carleton University. She returned a second time with flowers for both me and Victoria, and shared some wonderfully insightful things she had observed in the show. Best of all, she composed a beautiful poem that she has permitted me to share on this website. Thanks for everything, Anna x

The shining thread

by Anna Perenna
to Jessica Ruano and Victoria Grove

The Moirai have a younger sister,
her name obscure, to keep another’s known,
her voice an echo making others heard.
Devoid of colour, she likes the brightest threads, most frayed, but unafraid,
and vibrant, all too short.
When they are cut, she picks them up and spins the afterglow of life,
a filament that stretches fate.

She chooses the outspoken,
the outnumbered,
the outcasts,
those who cast their own lot,
those who set fire to temples and hearts – a perfect cast for the drama of history.

Ghostly, spider-like,
she feeds the line back to her sisters, strengthening the tapestry
with a shining thread of memory.

And, interlaced with time, it reemerges
in dreams of distant lands in scents

in scraps of verse beneath Egyptian sands.

To her, this fourth fate, memory-spinner,
I pray for you,
whose shining thread is strung on every harp a woman’s heart

and Eros’ bow –
for you I pray, oh Sappho.


Sappho rehearsalIsis Sadek studied Spanish and Latin American Cultural Studies at the University of Ottawa and Duke University in North Carolina. She is now an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina. She attended Sappho…in 9 fragments twice when it played in Ottawa, June 2013.

How to write about Jessica Ruano’s mise-en-scène and adaptation of Jane Montgomery Griffiths’ Sappho …in 9 fragments? How to write about it when what still echoes in my head is, even more than the stories it tells and weaves together, the interaction between the multiple elements that convey these plots, all brilliantly put into play by Ruano’s direction, Victoria Grove’s stirring and nuanced performance of all characters and Ana Inés Jabares Pita’s set design?

The play could be summarized as the intertwining of two stories: that of Sappho the Greek poetess who speaks to us from the prison-house of historical oblivion, lamenting the relentless erasure of her voice by a host of “clever, clever men” who appropriated her persona in their art and literature only to silence her voice, and that of a present-day Atthis, a fledgling actress named after Sappho’s lover, who falls deeply in love with an experienced actress aptly named … Sappho.  
If this synopsis evokes the play’s revisionist thrust, it hardly scratches the surface of how this interpretation of the play rivets, entertains and challenges its audience throughout (and of why, the day after seeing it for the second time, its fragments are what still haunt me). Perhaps thinking in fragments can yield some critical insights. 
“How do you tell a story when there are so many gaps?”
The play begins with this question, thus foregoing the temptation of presenting the audience with a unified narrative (a whole) to illuminate the elusive Sappho’s life and work. Instead, the script is based on the conceit that combines two perspectives: the voice of the Greek poetess to whom His-tory has been cruel alternates with the voice of the present-day Atthis, who endured cruelty at the hands of her sapphic lover. Victoria Grove’s talents and the immense skill with which she harnesses them make this plurality of perspectives dramatically convincing and effective. Grove first embodies Sappho with such an expressive balance between assertiveness and vulnerability, as she both taunts her detractors and enlists our sympathies, using a tone so determined and a voice so deeply husky and rich that, as a friend quips, it makes Lauren Bacall sound like Minnie Mouse.
Our surprise couldn’t be greater, when, adopting a more North American accent and a softer voice, she performs the vulnerable Atthis, thoroughly seduced, full of longing and self-doubt. This device hinges on the actress’ talents and it is a testament to her acting that the facial expressions, bodily gestures and attitudes that express Atthis’ fragility end up highlighting the historical Sappho’s vulnerability. Conversely, our own critical understanding of Sappho is enhanced by our closeness to the enamored Atthis, who delivers some of the more humorous parts of an intensely stimulating script. The use of distinct characters to tell parallel stories generates both closeness and distance, as Grove’s Sappho attracts and stirs us, while her Atthis’ fragility and emotional transparency distance us from the poetess. 
Kinesis and the prison house of His-tory
The script’s fine use of language and its careful selection of poetic images prove to be tremendously evocative in re-creating remembered moments and places. Repeated in each plot, these poetic images create parallels and provide us with anchors. Yet if this use of language is in good part responsible for our involvement with the characters, the choreography and the set design stimulate our attention in different directions, challenging us to not rely solely on spoken language to extract the play’s richness of meanings, and grasp the characters’ complexity. Consisting of metallic bars bound together to form of the edges of the cube that, draped with white sheets at first, sustain the ropes from which Sappho hangs, jumps, twists, perches and cradles herself, and swings sometimes dreamily, sometimes furiously, the set design shapes Sappho and Atthis’ movement, also positioning them in ways that define their relation with their respective tormentor, whether cruel His-tory in the case of Sappho or Sappho herself for Atthis.  
Sappho rehearsal 2
In this sense, the set design and the choreography work together to create multiple possible points of flight from the verbal anchoring of meaning. The combination of light, shadows and reflections, as well as the swinging and balancing and perching express more intuitively than her words Sappho’s fragmentary, and precarious positioning *and* her power over Atthis, intertwining the public and the private spheres. The shadows and reflections of Grove’s characters and their constant movement also highlight the shifting, slippery nature of the play’s very enterprise at reconstructing this mis-recognized figure. While from each seat, one can witness a different visual spectacle produced by the interplay between light and shadow, Grove’s constant movement becomes equally if not even more expressive than the words she utters, as is the case with her fast-paced repeated flailing between ropes near the end of the play when, following their separation, Sappho confesses her love for Atthis expressing through movement how this love had imprisoned her. 
This synergy between the set design and the choreography constantly probes the limits of verbal language. For example, when Sappho accounts for her historical erasure in a memorable scene in which the sentences describing how her poetry and writing were burned and her voice extinguished are punctuated and linked with successive “POOF”s as the lights turn off and then on again. Together, these elements supplement and, in some cases, deepen the gaps that language and His-tory won’t probe or allow, as if refusing to “never prod a pebble on the beach”, to use an injunction that Sappho repeats throughout the play. 
Sappho rehearsal 3You’ll sink without a trace 
While during the first few minutes of the play, the script establishes as themes the gaps, fragments and holes that plague any attempt at storytelling, its use of the elements of theatrical form is cohesive. The synergy between the use of kinesis and the verbal/sonic and visual dimensions creates an entirely enveloping and involving experience, that stimulates different modes of perception separately, to then incite them to function in unison as we grow accustomed to this mode of perception or, even better, upon a second viewing of the play. Even more than what the characters will say next, we wonder where they will be next, how they will move and what this movement and positioning will express. Ruano and Grove’s collaboration brings to theater the intense and meticulously planned sensorial stimulation that this medium should provide at its very best. This is no small feat considering not only the quality of the script but also Sappho’s damning repetition that “you’ll sink without a trace”, once quoting her His-torians and then upon breaking off her relationship with Atthis.
Along with Grove’s twists, intonations, expressions and shadows, the brilliance of this play’s use of fragments to compose this story and its multiple sensory effects will stay with this reviewer for a long time to come. 

REVIEW: Capital Critics Circle

Review by Alvina Ruprecht

A poetic transgression produced by multiple voices, gives new meaning to Sappho’s writings in today’s world. This performance within a performance, spoken by the silken and sensual voice(s) of Victoria Grove, incarnates two [lovers], whose poetic expressions of desire and beauty produce a portrait of the writer, so misunderstood over the centuries. Through these voices who relate their own passionate encounters with a blinding object of desire, we move between Ancient Greece and the modern world, to the point where space, time, voices and the original texts blend and Sappho the legend emerges as an eternal force of enormous power.

Some of the language is magnificent. The staging is striking, even hypnotic as the poet/goddess first appears as a fluttering shadow, murmuring her incantations in Greek, seemingly a return to the platonic vision of reality as it is reflected on the wall of that cave. Plato is immediately transgressed as Sappho removes the curtains and reveals her physical presence to all, thus imposing her own revised image of reality, which is what we then see as the actress twists herself around the lengths of twine, as she moves between those imaginary spaces in time. Greatly enhanced by the set, by the lighting and by the sound design that brings us back to the origins of time, the sensual voice of this superb actress, becomes a presence that goes far beyond the text.

Sappho wins Ottawa Fringe Festival Best in Fest!

Amazing news!

Sappho…in 9 fragments has been awarded Best in Fest and plays one more show at the Ottawa Fringe Festival TONIGHT at 9pm.

Due to unprecedented sold-out performances, we have decided to extend our stay in Ottawa and play for THREE MORE SHOWS at the Arts Court Library on July 4th, 5th, and 6th at 8pm. If you haven’t yet seen the show or would like to see it again (and bring friends!), please visit Eventbrite to buy advance tickets.

Artist-sculptor Tamaya Garner attended our production of Sappho…in 9 fragments three times and has created beautiful paintings inspired by the show. Her artwork will be on display – and available for purchase – at every performance.


Thank you, Ottawa, for all your incredible support so far, and we look forward to seeing you this week xx

Sappho sketched

A few years ago, Tamaya Garner wrote me a message on Facebook. She wanted to make sure I had credited her husband Bruce for the photo of his sculpture that was the front cover of my little poetry book. And when my books were printed, of course I sent her a copy.

We continued to interact on Facebook, contributing to discussions, appreciating each other’s art, eventually expressing an interest in meeting in person. Yesterday we finally did meet when Tamaya – a sculpter and artist in her own right – attended my second Ottawa performance of Sappho…in 9 fragments at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. In her flowing white dress with purple framed glasses and a purple beaded necklace, carrying a sketchbook, she was instantly identifiable. And I liked her immediately.

After the show, she shared with me and Victoria many of the sketches she had made during the show. Victoria and I were blown away by how she had captured the fluidity of movement in the production. Here are some of her sketches, and a review to accompany them. I am so touched.

TamayaToday I went to Jessica Ruano’s directing work of art at the Fringe here in Ottawa at Arts Court. My first experience with the formidable talent of Victoria Grove.

I knew nothing of SAPPHO before I entered. I was captivated! hypnotized by movement on ropes and words spoken with a voice made for another world! Did I like the show?

I am barely retrieving my breath 2.5 hours post.

Was it the visualness that was reminiscent of sculpture moving?

Was it the simplicity of props that were so ingenuously used not to dominate but purely enhance every word and movement!? Was it being five feet or less from contact of eyes and poetry?


Upon leaving I had to run to a dear friend. I had to explain this pure excellence of art form.

The rain is now falling outside my window.
The rain has always been my comfort my friend.

I wish to go see the show every day this week.

I would gladly share this great show with any of my friends. If you want to go just email me or facebook me.

It will be your loss if you don’t see it.

Four more showings at Arts Court Library

Today at 5pm | Tomorrow at 8pm
Wednesday at 5pm | Saturday at 3:30pm

We are also playing for two nights only in Montreal. For advance tickets, please visit