Our Assistant Director, Chelsey Gillard, reflects on the work we’ve been immersed in on our last day in the rehearsal room….
Where to start?
Cosmic Fear certainly isn’t a text I would ever be able to begin to understand on my own. I always think of theatre as a team sport and thankfully this team is amazing! The first reading with the performers on Monday suddenly unlocked the frantic rhythms of the text and made it a much more tangible thing – a performable thing.
Exploring such huge and ‘worthy’ topics through Kay’s exciting mix of game play and discussion, has allowed the performers to stay free. One minute we can be discovering the horror of ship breaking in developing countries, the next earnestly discussing the impact of cow farts on the environment and then trying to embody the ridiculous gloriousness of Angelina Jolie.
The refreshing thing for me about Cosmic Fear is that there is no apathy. The characters within the play may have no idea what they are fighting for or how to achieve it but still they try. It’s certainly a recurring idea within the text, “It doesn’t matter. As long as you do it.” But of course you then get caught up again in the self perpetuating cycle of the whys and hows, to the point of re-establishing inertia.
Structurally this piece is genius in its imitation of that cycle of having a great idea and trying to passionately articulate it only to realise the cracks that lie within. The twists of normal conversation become the sections of the play – running away with enthusiasm only to be paralysed by paranoid fear.
This play has made me question what are we fighting for? Really fighting for? Of course we know that climate change is bad, the destruction of biodiversity is bad, natural disasters are bad. But what does this mean for us as the human race? Can Utopia exist and what would that look like? Do we need to reach rock bottom, the apocalypse or rapture before we can come out the other side? Or is life and death just the way of things in which the human race and even Planet Earth are only given a limited amount of time? And if we do strive for a better planet, to reduce climate change, who are we doing it for? Can one human being make a difference, what do our cultural leaders think and what are our governments doing?
Amongst these questions I’ve discovered so much this week; from the surprising fact that carrots are only orange thanks to selective breeding, to the radical views of Deep Green thinkers. Yet still I’m no closer to understanding what the play means. I’m hoping that one of you may be able to help me work it out. But I am certain that tomorrow’s sharing will be exciting, entertaining and make you laugh but also leave you questioning your own stance of the issues presented.
If you do leave wanting to take some kind of action but you aren’t sure how, here are a few ideas, judge them as you will.
Scattered through this blog post are some links to interesting articles we have discovered as a small part of our research. I hope you also find them in some way useful or at least entertaining.
And see you tomorrow, 7.30pm, at The Other Room, for our first scratch performance of this maddening play!
Haven’t booked your ticket yet? Book now!
We’re thrilled to be in conversation with Swansea-born, Cardiff-resident Tracy Harris about taking on the role of dramaturge for Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia…
In preparation for the work, and as we look at getting closer to nature and plan for the survival of the human race, we ask Tracy what five items she would carry in her rucksack on a hike through the woods:
1. A torch
2. A warm sleeping bag (I hate being cold)
3. Lighter (to make a fire- (I think I got taught once in brownies!)
4. Food and drink supplies
5. A map (not that I’m any good at reading them- but figured it may be a good chance to learn)
Tracy’s a writer, performance artist and filmmaker. Her plays include Past Away (Sgript Cymru) The Cloak Room (Sherman Cymru/ Mighty Theatre, Washington) and No Vacancies (Sherman Cymru) which has been commissioned by spinning head films as a feature film. The Reading, the short film she produced, was selected for the short film corner at Cannes Film festival. Along with Chris Rushton, she directed and produced the 9 part BBC Bafta nominated documentaries Swansea Living On The Streets and most recently Selling Sex to Survive about prostitution in South Wales. Her first one woman show Lost, Found, Stolen was performed at Sprint Festival at Camden’s people’s Theatre and Volcano Theatre. Her second show Bottled, developed with Greg Wohead and Justin Cliffe was at Experimentica, Chapter and Bristol Ferment. She is the recipient of the 2015 Creative Wales award, where she is researching and developing her practise in Documentary theatre and is currently working with Theatr Iolo on 20-16, a documentary theatre piece for teenagers.
We like Tracy a lot, and we want to guarantee her being able to work with us. So, with a matter of hours to go – pledge your support now!
We’ve started conversations with Spanish-born and Cardiff-based Moving Image Artist JORGE LIZALDE about our R&D on Christian Lollike’s play Cosmic Fear or the Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia.
From live projection mapping onto trees at Green Man Festival, to LED memory installations in parks, and video collaborations with dancers, Jorge is one of the most exciting and sought after artists in Cardiff making work using still and moving image. We’ve already started discussing multimedia ideas for the staging of ‘Cosmic Fear’, such as exploring its sit-com style and the actors’ creation of Brad Pitt’s movie using live video feed. But to guarantee him working with us we need to make sure we reach our Kickstarter target!
There is a growing interest in new plays from Scandinavia; theatre is catching up with TV and film. The Nordic Embassies recently hosted an event at the Free Word Centre, presenting an afternoon of performance and discussion around recent developments in contemporary drama from their countries, and Company of Angels are preparing for their Theatre Café Denmark in October. I recently caught up with CoA Artistic Director, Teresa Ariosto, to discuss our shared interest in presenting new European plays in the UK and to find out more about their model of working. What has become clear is Empty Deck’s position within this landscape.
I can quite firmly place myself within a younger generation of British theatre-makers who are influenced by new international theatre. Teresa, herself from Italy, has seen that interest grow over the past decade, as well as new British writing change since she moved here in 1998. When we talk, the same notions repeat themselves: the diversity of approach to themes and forms found in new European writing; expanding the British theatrical landscape; and theatre that is simply more stimulating.
In the translation or transposition of one country’s play into another, questions around “foreignesss” and assumptions about the reception of audiences seem to recur. Company of Angels have run ‘Theatre Cafes’ since 2003: events where translations of the best new European plays are selected between several host countries, and brought to life in each, in intimate café-style performances. In their first European project in 2007 something interesting occurred though. Between France, Holland and Estonia, 10 plays were chosen with the intention for each country to stage them all. Yet, according to Teresa, Holland and France’s selection of plays were predominantly about asylum seeking and immigration, which as a subject matter was deemed to be of no interest to Estonia. In the end, the four countries decided to split the plays up between them according to their own interests and what they believed would resonate with their audiences.
I have a strong belief in the universality of human experience, and furthermore I am convinced that sharing stories from other places can only be an empowering thing. At the Nordic Drama Now event, heated and passionate conversations erupted around Britain’s particular difficulty in attracting audiences to new international theatre. I have no idea if it’s the same situation in Estonia, but they’re decision to not stage a play because a political issue of another country could not be shared as a global humanitarian concern in their own, strikes me as a shame, if not narrow-minded. Are we narrow-minded here too? And what is causing this perceived lack of interest? If typical theatregoers, as it is often generally assumed, have such distrust of theatre that is ‘other’ in subject matter or in form, then it seems to me that the task lies with the producers, programmers and marketing departments to reframe the audiences’ encounter with contemporary international work.
‘The more local the theme of a play the more global it becomes’
Johan Storgatd, ACE Production, Finland (Nordic Drama Now)
In 2008, Company of Angel’s Café Sweden worked to a slightly different model than before. Under the commission of the Swedish Embassy, a committee of readers made up of British programmers, literary managers and artistic directors looked at a whole host of Swedish plays to investigate why they weren’t being produced and staged here. The committee’s task was to find 4 plays that they thought would capture the British attention. Teresa recounts their many discussions about how certain plays or topics were thought to not be ‘right’ for the British sensitivity: they would alienate, the form would be too ‘out there’, and audiences wouldn’t be interested. Again: are these assertions founded?
When thinking about introducing new international plays to the UK I find myself asking: should the transmission be a process of assimilation, where the play is re-worked or even adapted to let it speak to our more “British” sensitivities, or, should the work be revered and honoured in its “foreignness”, as an exemplar product imported from another country? – ‘Product’ being the questionable thing. A playtext in and of itself is never the finished product. Only through its encounter with actors, a director, designer, and other creatives does the text come alive. And what Company of Angels so interestingly facilitates is a space where a play can be brought to life across more than one country at the same time, where in every case that country’s own social, cultural, and political make-up, as well as the personal experience of the actors, will enter the fabric of performance and generate new meaning. This is inevitable. And it is this cultural translation that I find fascinating. If only Estonia had had the bravery to ask itself the imaginary question posed by the rejected French and Dutch plays of Theatre Café 2007: ‘What if people from other countries were trying to enter and make a home in your country?’
I feel more and more that Empty Deck’s role is to confront the assertions that new international writing doesn’t have a wide audience and home here, and to embrace and be an advocate for challenging narratives and formal experimentation.
In my reading of new Scandinavian theatre what was challenging was deciding exactly what my criteria for selection was. Andrea Ferran, Artistic Director of the recent Volta Festival at the Arcola Theatre, claimed that her programming choices of new international plays came down to those that showed formal experimentation. Teresa, at Company of Angels, looks for plays that are for or about young people and that come from Europe. In the end, the size of casts (aka finances) and the thematic inclinations of our partner venues provided me with my own parameters whilst reading through the variety of contemporary Scandinavian theatre sent to me. But I have also gone with my gut. I hope that Season Scandinavia will introduce audiences to a different and remarkable canon of work that exists from a part of Europe that, although may have become more familiar through popular TV series, still remains quite distant to us. I hope that as British theatre-makers we do the work justice when presenting it to the UK for first time, as well as make it our own, in discovering what the material expresses for us today.
Thanks to Teresa Ariosto at Company of Angels for her time in conversation; all those involved at Nordic Drama Now at the Free Word Centre; the conversations had at and around the recent play readings presented by Cross Channel Theatre and the productions at VOLTA Festival, Arcola; and the discussions that took place in the ETRN “Theatre Directions 2020” thinktank symposium led by Kent University. All provided rich provocations in the past few weeks on this topic!
Empty Deck presents a scratch performance of Christian Lollike’s Cosmic Fear Or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia on 30th October, The Other Room, Cardiff.
For more information and to help us work with the most exciting Welsh creatives check out our Kickstarter campaign here WE HAVE ONLY A MATTER OF DAYS LEFT!
We have officially entered the last week of our Kickstarter Campaign! As part of our daily countdown, we intend to bring you exciting updates from the team…
First up: We catch up with mover and shaker Sara Green, who is currently in rehearsals for Anita and Me at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
Any opportunity to crack out a box step and I’m there. In reality there’s two metal rods holding my spine in place and they -apart from ending my ballet career at the delicate age of 14- remind me daily of how wonderfully complex and able the human body is as well as it’s ultimate fragility. Dealing with a restricted body forces me to analyse physical expression to a level far beyond technical training and led to a postgraduate return to Laban. Now I’m continually finding new avenues in which movement can be a strong, insightful and instructive influence, from working with fashion designers and film makers to neuroscientists and Bhangra dancers.
Do you have a piece of theatre that you’ve seen that has stayed with you more than any other?
Six Women Standing In Front of a White Wall from Australian company Motherboard. I saw it almost 8 years ago at the Fringe, it did incredible things to the audience.
Which choreographer inspires you the most or influences your practice?
Charmatz, for his approach to and consideration of performance. I was lucky enough to help him prepare for his Tate Modern take over earlier this year and am now an avid preacher of his gospel.
What do you see as being the difference between movement, dance, and theatre?
Movement is a basic human requirement, dance and theatre are forms of expression, speaking in a spectrum of storytelling and aesthetics. It’s impossible to compare the three.
What’s been your favourite place to visit in the world and why?
A place in the Alps. I can’t be specific – I love it because it’s completely removed from everything.
What country is number one on your list to go to that you haven’t been to before?
Japan, one of the few countries I still think of as mysterious. But also because I’d like to learn at least one of the martial arts. I’m pretty sure they’re one of the key originators of performed movement.
What does Empty Deck mean to you?
An opportunity to work with a blank page and an abstraction. A wild ideas forum.
Find out more about Sara, her work, and her nearly 10-year collaboration with Director Kay Michael here
As part of our Kickstarter Campaign we’re giving away exclusive hand-knitted Scandinavian print snoods, for donations of £100 or more.
Get your mitts on these exclusive winter warmers, featuring the Empty Deck logo.
Hand-made by our web designer and endlessly crafty Bonnie Kate Wolf.
Thanks to Richard Davenport for the wonderful photography!
Then Silence at New Diorama Theatre
7th June 2015
Reviewed by Verity Healey
They are well matched, this trio of young men, they cling together like Vladimir and Estragon in a kind of absurdist whirlpool, that, like the live sound samples Josh Grigg loops for effects, keep coming at you again and again, each time a variation on a theme. At first though, they hang back on the edges of Denisa Dumitrescu’s black, dark stage, permeated with props painted in white. It seems like they don’t want to start, waiting in the silence as much as we are. But it’s a held, tense silence, punctuating what is to come before it has come.
There’s a great deal of this in Kay Michael’s UK premiere of Norwegian writer Arne Lygre’s Then Silence. It seems as important as the ten survival stories the men tell – more important perhaps: that gasp or breath of possibility before one of them commands or cries out in exhausted agony “A man at a distance of two other men” or “A woman at a distance of two other men” down the microphone, the signal for them to re-imagine the world. It is the silence in which any story can be told and the one that is (as the actors switch tense, narrative voice and relate stage directions) asks, over and over, why this one? Why now and why are these the stories that we relate, over and over, to ourselves?
The wonder of Arne Lygre’s writing is that he takes all that we know about storytelling, all that we can gather from its safe structures, into these little separate ten narratives and destroys them. We need stories to reassure ourselves about who we are, we tell them to give ourselves a sense of identity, to understand others, but Lygre takes away the symbiotic exchange between teller and listener so that we no longer trust. We cannot comprehend “Who is I?” or “Don’t I know what I am?” In fact, it is not up to the audience to comprehend or the characters themselves, but, we realise, through the power of the microphone, it is the storyteller who is the decision maker, the one who thinks, even if that story teller keeps changing. Whoever has the microphone has the power, whoever can shout the loudest has the power, whoever can direct the story has the power.
The actors themselves are like energised and passionate anthropologists, or hapless curators, male Scheherazades (at one point one character holds up a white box representing a man’s ashes as if Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp). The tension and connection between anthropology and theatre is made and explored.
Kay Michael’s interpretation is not naturalistic, though. If anyone had stopped and chanted “Zero, zero and zero” whilst looking out of a window with a telescope, they would not have been out of place. But this is a good thing: she strips back the comfort any sense of naturalism the stories may bring by minimising colour and light down to grey and dark. It is a deconstruction of any traditional realism that may be insinuated in the text.
Overall, the power of the piece comes from two contrasting elements: Arne Lygre’s sometimes haunting and emotionally invested descriptive dialogue exchanges, with Kay Michael’s fragmented staging and afterimages that defy total context, date, time and place. Her interpretation does not allow an audience to relax into the traditional forward movement of the story. Yet conversely, we are unbearably reminded of the present, of being.
All the cast give very physical, vigorous and committed performances. Peter Clements as the Brother is all stingingness and nerves and contempt. Peter Hobday’s One is caught between duty and fear. James Marchant’s Another is an expression of despair.
Then Silence’s last words and images are terrifying and engulfing. Neither Arne Lygre nor Kay Michael offer an appeasing answer to what has been witnessed onstage. It is an experience of contrary emotions and desolation with, at times, a dash of painful comedy.
Then Silence can be seen at The Other Room, Cardiff, 6th-23rd October 2015.