The topic of climate change is a pretty thorny one, and it’s a problem that we seem – as a global community – reluctant to face. Which is why my ears pricked up when I heard, up at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, about a play glorying in the rather eccentric name of ‘Cosmic Fear Or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia’, which deals unflinchingly with this very issue.
Our reviewer loved the show, and the conversation it provokes us an important one, so when I heard Empty Deck would be bringing it to the New Diorama, I thought it might be a good idea to talk to someone from the creative team behind it. I spoke to director Kay Michael.
CM: Tell us about the show – what happens in it? What’s the story?
KM: It’s about three flatmates struggling to talk about or know what to do in the face of climate change. At a complete loss, they decide that the only way to galvanise global consciousness is to make a blockbuster movie starring Brad Pitt that can compel the world into action. Their struggles along the way highlight our own contradictory relationship to such an existential and complex dilemma.
CM: And, er, what exactly does Brad Pitt have to do with it…?
KM: Well, he’s their Man of Action, their hero. He’s not dissimilar in their minds to someone like Leonardo DiCaprio; the celebrity Everyman that can speak to the world.
CM: What made the company want to stage this particular play?
KM: It’s fun, and challenging, and unusual. It’s a text that can be staged in so many ways, so we were able to create our own performance structure for it. That in itself has been a creative challenge that we wanted to take on.
More importantly perhaps is the fact that it’s a play trying to talk about something that many simply aren’t talking about, or don’t know how to talk about. It’s almost like we’ve reached a comfortable stalemate since the climate change conference in Paris in December 2015, and for the ordinary person this topic is not so much of a concern; it’s even become boring and tired. Yet, it’s arguably the most important issue of our time. We need to face up to it, more than we currently are.
CM: How did you come across the piece? Can you tell us a bit about the playwright?
KM: I was given the play to read by a literary agency here in London (IPR) who look after a plethora of wonderful international playwrights, many of whose work is yet to be produced on the British stage.
The playwright of ‘Cosmic Fear’, Christian Lollike, is an award-winning Danish writer, and he is known as one of the most progressive playwrights and artists in Denmark. His artistic drive comes from wanting to understand events, social trends and changes in politics and society.
He’s also the Artistic Director of SORT/HVID, a theatre in Copenhagen who claim to “move beyond borders and what you already know”. They “challenge your opinions and feelings, and take you places where uncertainty is the reference point”. We love that.
CM: Do you think it’s a show that could make a difference to the way people think about climate change? Does it have that kind of an agenda?
KM: Its only agenda is to get people thinking and talking about the subject, perhaps in a more active way than they might have done before. The trouble with climate change – and this is what the play explores – is that the only ‘enemy’ or ‘villain’ in this cultural story is ourselves. We are responsible for the increasing carbon emissions that are wreaking unknowable damage to the planet.
What that necessarily demands is behaviour change on an unprecedented scale. But that requires giving things up, and – as climate scientist Chris Rapley has spoken of in our conversation with him – it requires fundamental re-structuring of how the world is powered, financed and run. The task is mammoth, and we’re running out of time.
An audience member described her experience of the play as being like waking up after your morning alarm has gone off, running late for the rest of the day, with the alarm still going off all around you! It’s an urgent topic. There’s so much more we need to do: personally and politically. But we can’t force people to change their behaviour in the face of global warming. All we can hope for is that our audiences are left reflecting on themselves and their own action or inaction. The rest is up to them.
CM: The play had a run in Edinburgh this summer – how did that go? Had you taken a show to the Fringe before?
KM: We’re still reflecting on it, but it was a success in the sense that it enabled us to gauge audience responses to a play like this, talking about a topic like this. Audience numbers were good, and people came away from the play having gone through quite an impactful experience. It was the first time Empty Deck have been at the Fringe, though several of the company members have performed there before, myself included!
CM: Can you tell us a bit about Empty Deck – who is behind it, and what inspired you to set up your own company?
KM: Empty Deck was formed, about two years ago, by me and my two colleagues, movement director Sara Green and designer Denisa Dumtrescu. The three of us worked together on a Norwegian play by Arne Lyre that was selected for the Incoming Festival in 2015 and nominated for a Peter Brook Award and we have continued to work together since.
What’s special about our collaboration is that we all have a background in devising, so our approach to text and staging is incredibly collaborative and explorative, and that’s what keeps us going. We’re proudly international in our scope, with Denisa being from Romania, and our dramaturge, Lucy Coren, who we recently welcomed to the team, being from Canada. Cross-cultural collaboration is at the heart of what we do, with our first few projects inviting European playwrights to work with us in staging their plays in the UK for the first time.
CM: What aims do you have as a company? Where do you see yourself going in the future?
KM: Well, so far we have worked with writers from Norway and Denmark, and our aim is to continue working with a playwright from a different country each year, staging their UK premiere that can then go on tour. We’d love to take the work we do on those plays back to their country of origin, as that’s the interest for us: to explore the cultural differences and meeting points. We wish to develop a larger audience for international, and specifically European, theatre in the UK. As a company we also want to continue to develop our artistic practice, that takes inspiration from the international artists with whom we work.
CM: There’s only one chance to see ‘Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia’ performed at the New Diorama this week – do you think there might be more opportunities in the future? Do you have any touring plans?
KM: Oh, you never can tell. But yes, we have plans, and are in the middle of various conversations with future partners.
CM: What other projects do you have coming up?
KM: Some research and development on various new ideas are brimming away… Watch this space.
This interview was commissioned by This Week London.
Chris Rapley in conversation with Kay Michael
Two years after Duncan Macmillan and Katie Mitchell staged 2071 at the Royal Court, Kay Michael, the 2071 assistant director and director of Empty Deck’s Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia, caught up with the climate scientist behind the stage play, who co-wrote and performed it at the Royal Court, the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg, and the Beaux-Arts theatre in Brussels, Professor Chris Rapley…
KAY: A lot has happened in the past 2 years since 2071: COP21 and now Brexit. Where do you see us now in regards to our global and national response to climate change?
CHRIS: 195 nations signing anything is an extraordinary feat. And the COP21 climate agreement was a diplomatic triumph. Mixing with 40,000 people in Paris, all of whom were completely committed to making the world a better place and took it so seriously was a very uplifting experience. But the planet is indifferent to a piece of a paper, so now we have to deliver, and will they honestly deliver? The answer to that is still unfolding…. Brexit looked at first like it was a triumphant win for the sort of people in the UK who want to revoke the climate change act. In fact, given commitments by Greg Clark, the new Minister in charge, there is hope that the UK’s policies might become more ‘joined up’ and effective. More generally, around the world, what we fear is that politicians will delay or renege on their COP21 promises. Even if they deliver their national pledges in full, it will still only reduce what would have been a 4-5C warming by the end of this century – which would have been absolutely unimaginable – to around 2.7C. We need a huge scaling up and acceleration of action right now.
KAY: So is meeting the 2C guardrail impossible then?
CHRIS: 1.5C I think is impossible. We’re going to live it fairly soon. 2C might still just be achievable. So I think it’s a pity that post-COP21 the climate science community agreed to a request from the politicians to invest substantial effort looking into the difference between a 1.5C and 2C world. They’d be much better employed looking at the other end – at what a 6-8C world would look like, because that we really don’t know, and it’s still a possibility. In the UK the Met Office and others are looking at these high-end outcomes; it will be fascinating to see what they come up with.
The temperature numbers seem so small, but when you’re talking about global averages 5C was the difference between the last ice age and where we are now. The last time the world was 2-3C warmer than today there were hippopotami in the Thames, there was no ice at the North Pole. We’ve built our entire civilization based on the climate system we’ve inherited, not the one we are provoking. So its not useful saying we could just convert London into a city like Singapore to cope. It would cost; we’d need to rebuild pretty much all major infrastructure for example.
I think we’re likely to be heading well over 2C I’m afraid, sadly, and I don’t know what the world will be like. The direct impacts will be bad enough, but it’s the indirect impacts that will be the insidious part and we’ve already seen it with the Syrian refugees, 1.5 million of them being displaced due to drought between 2007 and 2010. So, climate change hits you directly, but it’s also a threat multiplier. You take the world, which is already a turbulent place, and it adds further really significant stresses.
KAY: Just hearing you now Chris, it fills me with dread. I understand your choices behind a neutral delivery for 2071, but what you’re saying now really captures the urgency of the matter…
CHRIS: Well we really should have got into dealing with all this 20 years ago, even 30 years ago. The world has moved much faster than we expected.
KAY: So we’re just not moving quickly enough to deal with the problem?
CHRIS: Well oddly enough, the way institutions move formally, in their normal mode is very slow, and they’re not matched to what we need to do. The strange thing that we’ve seen with Brexit is that the political world can invert itself in 24 hrs. So, under the right circumstances, unfortunately dangerously unstable circumstances, but nevertheless under the right circumstances, extraordinary things can happen. People can just rise up.
KAY: Do you think it will take a large-scale event to trigger that kind of action?
CHRIS: Well we’ve talked a lot about this in the past. Jim lovelock once said to me ‘half a million dead – that would wake everybody up’
KAY: But there are natural disasters occurring all the time…
CHRIS: Well, half a billion could cause society to disintegrate, but half a million captures people’s attention. He wasn’t advocating, he was simply bemoaning the fact that our history as a species suggests that this might be what is needed, which is so irritating because we do have capacity for rational thought.
KAY: After working on 2071 I was left thinking – well what on earth am I meant to do? I remember reading an earlier draft of the rehearsal script, and saw that what could be described as the need for a revolution was diligently crossed out…
CHRIS: I’m currently writing the Pelican Introduction to Climate Disruption and in it I’ve been right up front:
We need to transform how the world is powered, financed and run.
I talk very critically of free-market fundamentalists since, as pointed out by Lord Stern, climate change is the greatest market failure. I am liberated with the book in that I can say things that we decided not to say in 2071. Because we felt in an hour and a quarter, rightly or wrongly, we needed to keep the messaging really simple. We wanted to attract, engage and inform, and let the audience make up their own minds. We wanted to let the climate science tell the story of climate change. And maybe as a result our audience would then be inclined to read a newspaper article on climate change when they would have previously turned the page – they would become permanently engaged.
KAY: Well you certainly speak for me! Working on 2071 turned my life around. The question we’re trying to ask now with Cosmic Fear is — ‘What can I actually do?’
CHRIS: Well in 2071 we very lightly say what is already happening…
‘Many individuals have taken measures to reduce their own climate-related impacts by making changes in their personal, professional and public lives: installing solar panels; increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, vehicles and appliances; using public transport and avoiding unnecessary travel; changing diet and choosing to forgo activities that generate emissions.
They have encouraged changes to be made in their workplaces and written to their MPs.
They have sought to educate themselves about the issue and to talk about it with their friends, families and communities.’
KAY: And it’s a political as well as a personal thing…
CHRIS: Everybody can patrol their own conscience about their own lives. But in the end you realise that saying ‘every little helps’ isn’t very convincing because despite the fact that you bicycled here I’m afraid the planet isn’t really going to notice that.
[On the hottest day of the year, Chris has noticed my sweaty cyclist’s back…]
But you have an identity, a self-image and a set of values; and to be a human being who feels of value and worth you have to remain true to those values. So you should feel good about the fact that you bicycle. It’s a good thing to do, and other people would applaud it, but in many respects it’s about how you feel about yourself that’s important. It’s not good, for example, to continually feel guilty about yourself… When there’s a dissonance between the way you lead your life and the way you feel you should lead your life, that’s not good for you as a person. But in the end the planet is indifferent.
At your workplace, wherever you are in the food chain, you can make a difference, and I can give you a whole set of amazing stories of small, medium and large companies that have really gone to town on this [Which Chris then does]. What they find is that not only does it reduce costs due to the efficiency savings, but staff morale and productivity goes through the roof and staff turnover goes to zero. And the finance director suddenly becomes the champion and goes out and tells other finance directors you must do this – its transformed our company!
KAY: There’s a line in our play – ‘The changing climate is the outer expression of the inner transformation which has only just begun’… If we can transform ourselves in this personal way, then this will hopefully have an impact on the climate at large. Change starts from within yourself…
CHRIS: Exactly. I think that’s a really really important idea.
So many people feel isolated in the modern world, and what you find are movements growing like the transition towns. When you say to people ‘how does it feel to be saving the planet?’ – what they will mostly talk about is the feeling of community
– ‘oh yeah yeah we’re saving the planet but the main thing is that me and my neighbours really get on now’.
KAY: Well we’ve really taken this idea of community to heart. It means a lot to us as a company, and we want to reach out to others too whilst performing the show in Edinburgh, and either leave a legacy or build a certain momentum towards something.
CHRIS: It’s important to understand, when you sit back and watch the denialist blogosphere, that many of them feel the same way; they feel they’re the valiant defenders of what they have determined is ‘truth’, and they see what they’re doing as magnificent.
KAY – Do you feel that that community is shrinking though? Because my feeling is that the status quo now, especially since Paris, is that people understand climate change to be happening, the science is there.
CHRIS: Well there has been a rise in climate acceptance in the USA, but it seems to be much more to do with personal experiences of drought and weather extremes than with anything that happened at Paris. Although Paris might cement things… I think what’s happening is that the hardcore skeptics are becoming more and more entrenched, and they have to, as the evidence becomes more and more overwhelming. I think people who were previously mildly indifferent are being drawn into the camp where they accept that it’s real, but they’re still “climate ignorers”; they’re not actively engaged because they don’t know quite what to do about it.
KAY: And that’s a huge proportion of people.
CHRIS: Well yes its huge.
KAY: And that’s the group we want to be engaging with.
CHRIS: You know there’s an irony: climate scientists ourselves are probably some of the people who are most able and most practiced at disavowing the issue because if we confronted it we could fall to bits, because we really know what is at stake. We tend to intellectualise the problem – to deal with the planet as ‘an abstract object of study’ – the theoretical object in the computer model or satellite image.
KAY: Well yes, it’s almost unimaginable to know what the world will look like. Even if we were to get to net zero emissions the world is still going to change, and what does that mean?
CHRIS: Climate scientists try and provide the best estimate by building models that project into the future. A recent report on climate risk asked what is the worst that could happen, even with a probability as low as fractions of a percent? Answering that question can have a big influence on the strategy you adopt. But the science community tends to “err on the side of least drama”; we try hard not to be seen as alarmist, even if presenting alarming facts. The IPCC reports mention what a 1.5, 2 and 4C world would look like, and there’s one mention of a 5C world. But about higher temperatures, still within the range of possibilities, they are completely silent…
Even if we knew the science perfectly we don’t know what human beings will actually do, therefore there will always be some uncertainty. So the thing to do is to work backwards to see how long we can hang on to the present system, and then adopt an adaptive management approach, that takes into account how the future actually unfolds. So for example, the Environment Agency has a plan [TE2100] to protect London from sea level rise and river flooding concludes that
we have 15 years before key decisions have to be made –
KAY: 15?! That’s nothing.
CHRIS – Oh, sorry, we all felt that was rather good!
KAY – Really? 15 years to carry on business and life as usual?
CHRIS –Yes, for protecting London. What we’ve got is probably good enough to protect the London flood plain, upon which there is £200 billion worth of real estate, 35 tube stations, 8 power stations, more than 1000 electricity substations, 16 hospitals, a host of heritage sites, and a one and a quarter million residents. That is ok probably for the next 15 years, or a little bit longer. But we have to make a decision in 15 years or so, and then it will take 5-10 years to do something. If sea level rise accelerates we might even have to intervene early. What they have thought through is 3 schemes: light medium and heavy, which have estimated costs already identified…
… So you can believe that provided somebody spends something like £10-20 billion, London will be protected against sea level rise and river flooding up until 2100. But then you can ask: What is the largest rise of sea level beyond which you would give up on protecting the London flood plain?’ The answer is somewhere between 3-5 metres; beyond that the costs and civil engineering become so significant that you’d do better to give up. So you then say: How long do you think that could be? Well 10 years ago we would have all said it’s probably 1000 years from now, so it’s not insignificant, but its not in our remit to deal with. Now we’re worrying it could be 150-200 years or less if things go really badly wrong on the ice sheets, at which point you say well perhaps we shouldn’t be spending the £20 billion then if there’s a reasonable probability that we’re going to have give up the flood plain so soon. Maybe we shouldn’t be wasting our time, maybe we should be confronting it now and start redesigning, rebuilding London on the Chilterns.
… That is a serious question although not a comfortable one.
KAY – Well this is alarming, and you’re dealing with a reality that is soon going to transpire…
CHRIS: – Well you’ll have heard the analogy of putting a frog in a pan of water that’s slowly heated up and it adapts and doesn’t notice – and supposedly ends up boiled. But if you dropped the frog in when it’s hot then it would jump out. Imagine instead the frog sitting in the pan and the water is gently warming up and it turns to its science advisor and asks: What is my situation? And the science advisor says ‘Well give me a £100 million and a super computer and I’ll come back and tell you’. And he does that, and a few minutes later he comes back and says ‘Well, in 20 minutes time you’re going to be a few degrees warmer’. And the frog says it doesn’t sound too bad, I’ll stay where I am. If he turns to his strategic advisor and asks the same question the response will be ‘Well if you sit there long enough you’re going to die, so if I were you I’d get out now’. And that’s the whole point of the London example and indeed a myriad of other examples. Climate change is undermining the validity and legitimacy of many assumptions that are completely inbuilt into the way we are currently functioning, and people are slowly waking up to this. But things are on the move. Mark Carney saying ‘This is the biggest financial threat’ got a lot of people thinking about it and taking action like they never did before.
It’s like a novel, a detective thriller, that nobody’s written the end of yet. Are we going to make it, scrape through or will we continue to sleepwalk until its too late?
KAY: But there’s two narratives you’re talking about here: there’s adaptation and then there’s mitigation, and how much is being mitigated? Because as an individual that’s where I go ‘Well that’s where I could step in’.
CHRIS: Well that’s right, but now we’re seeing that the adaptation is really serious. We only have limited resources of intellect, effort, money and time. And now we’re having to split between two things when if we had acted prudently decades ago we could have focused on the one. What’s interesting is that many of the companies that have gone into adaptation planning have got an interesting story to tell. Many have global supply chains, they’re feeling climate insults already, but having pushed their thinking ahead into adaptation planning, they get to the point of saying the same thing: ‘Wow, we don’t want to go there, this is going to be devastating for our business.’ The adaptation exercises bring them back to mitigation: ‘What can we do to prevent this from happening?’ It’s a nice story.
KAY: But in what ways are they mitigating? Is it as simple as not relying on fossil fuels?
CHRIS: It’s a mixture of enlightened self-interest and a belief that they can make the world a better place.
[Chris then gives the example of Coca Cola who have reduced the amount of water they need to produce a drop of coca cola, as well as reducing carbon emissions from their bottling plants and transportation. These examples of using less energy save them money, but I can’t help but think we need to get onto the subject of rolling out green technologies ASAP if we’re to get off the fossil fuels any time soon!]
KAY: It’s amazing to see people in the business world engaging with climate change with that kind of zeal.
People like to feel like they’re making a difference, it makes people feel good.
KAY: That’s absolutely what we’re trying to cultivate with Cosmic Fear. It’s about climate anxieties, the anxieties that arise when you talk or think about this subject. So as a secondary – and just as important, if not more important – part to our project is ‘Cosmic Outreach’ – which is a space where we’re encouraging people to reflect on and engage with more sustainable modes of living. I’ve personally become vegetarian in the last 8-10 months, and am doing what I can to become vegan – these are the little things that I’m doing, and its about encouraging people to make the kind of adaptations that big business is expected to make. It takes some effort to get over the negative critiquing voices in your one’s own head though…
CHRIS: … and the assumption that your life will somehow be less satisfying; because its actually more satisfying. I agree. The more we can do to get us through that transition the better.
KAY: So, what do you think theatre’s role is with this topic?
CHRIS: I estimated we probably got to about 10,000 people in all the performances we did of 2071, and maybe double that if people talked about it and bought the book. But this is a tiny tiny fraction of humanity. I’m keen that whatever the theatre does, it finds a way of increasing its audience… It’s the greatest story of mankind’s history!…
The more we stir things up the better; that’s one of the things theatre is for.
KAY– Do you think theatre’s objectives of ‘attract, engage and inform’ that you set out to achieve with 2071 are still the same now?
CHRIS- Not necessarily. It may not be the priority to put the effort into now. The Royal Court, post-war, shocked society into thinking differently. It said you guys are sleep-walking and there are serious issues you have to confront. It’s the same story now, and is there a way theatre can do that still?
KAY: You’re relying on a seed being planted…
CHRIS: Yes, but then you have to offer the dialogue that follows. You need to have a guided dialectic. It’s a good question; you’re closer to it than I am.
KAY: To engage people interactively seems to be useful… So people can imagine the choices they can make…
CHRIS: All the work that we’ve been doing with psychoanalysts and neuroscientists says that if you frighten people you will get their attention but then there will be a big backlash because they will resent having been frightened if the threat doesn’t immediately materialise. And the problem with climate change is what’s been called ‘slow violence’. We react incredibly strongly to immediate threats but throughout our evolutionary history the best strategy for slow threats is to wait and see what happens … deal with it when it finally crystalizes and you can understand what it is. The problem with climate change is that by the time it happens it’s too late. There’s another 30-50 years of climate change in the pipeline. Even if we turned off carbon dioxide tomorrow we wouldn’t actually begin to see the climate systems’ trajectory change until about 2060/70. I wont be around, you probably will be. And of course that’s one of the problems with politicians that say ‘why should I risk my political career or become unpopular to do something which is political generations away?’ Well, because as a moral and ethical person, you have a responsibility.
KAY: You’d hope they think like that!
CHRIS: Well yes but it’s a lower priority!
KAY – On this topic, our actress Jessica Sian has this question for you: ‘Are there practical ways we can challenge the evolutionary psychology of only responding to immediate threat?’
CHRIS: There are examples in history where direct action has worked, take the Suffragettes for example, but an awful lot of what I see from those groups both in the UK and elsewhere is sadly misdirected. This is where theatre can come in – it can make people laugh and cry.
You can grab people’s emotions in their solar plexus and that’s what you have to do to get them to walk out of the theatre a changed person.
KAY: It’s interesting what you’re saying: the fine line between direct, almost sledge-hammering action and the more subtle approach…
CHRIS: You can be powerful and you can be subtle and achieve amazing things.
KAY: Sam Ducane, another of our actors asks: ‘How can we keep climate change at the forefront of the public’s mind?’
CHRIS: It’s about opening up the dialogue. Most people would prefer not to talk about it, because A, I don’t know much about it, B, it upsets me and C, because I’ve been told by the Daily Mail and Daily Express that its not an issue anyway – so go away. So making it a permitted subject is vital.
KAY: Yes, so it doesn’t continue to be a taboo or ‘fatigued’ subject…
Sam: ‘Are there clear goals we should be aiming to achieve?’
CHRIS: Pursue the ambitious goals that were set out in COP21. But the thing to do now is to hold the whole political class to its policies and commitments. The amount of effort it will need in the UK and Europe will be much bigger now since Brexit.
KAY: Sam: ‘Is there more the individual can do or is the problem ultimately so big it needs systemic change within major co-operations / governments?’
CHRIS: Well it needs all the above. We didn’t talk about political, and that’s the one I press home all the time. Write to your MP; keep up the pressure. I’ve been told by MPs its extremely rare if ever that they get anything in their postbag about climate change. This is politics. If we want people in Westminster to take it seriously, then the public have to keep on and on about it to them. A barrage of emails, demonstrations outside their offices… then we’d see a shift in their attention.
KAY: Question from Jack Gordon: ‘Where are we in terms of temperature now?’
CHRIS: 12 of the last 14 years have been the hottest on record; 2015 the hottest; and 2016 looks like it will be hotter than 2015. In the Arctic, which is very sensitive to temperature rise and where the temperature increase goes at twice the rate of the average of the planet, pretty much throughout last winter temperatures were consistently 10 Degrees C above normal, and 3 days before Christmas at the North Pole temperatures were somewhere between 20 – 30C warmer than normal and the ice was beginning to melt. We’ve not seen anything like this. Since then, surface melting on the Greenland ice sheets started early this year; and there have been three big bursts of melting since. In the Antarctic things are different and a bit more complicated. But in the Arctic it’s affecting the arctic peoples. They have ‘traditional knowledge’ that allows them to survive in their extreme conditions, but it’s now no longer relevant. The system has moved outside the bounds of their long experience and faster than anything they’ve ever known. They have never had freezing rain in the early winter before and this is leaving impervious layers of ice under the snow so the reindeer can no longer smell where the lichen and the fodder are, so they’re all starving. They were having problems with the modern world anyway and this is like a death threat to them.
It was a fascinating, illuminating and important conversation that Chris and I had, and I’m incredibly grateful for his time and reflections. In the hottest week of summer in London climate action has certainly not gone to bed!
Please see what we’re doing to continue the climate conversation in theatre here and for bookings of our four-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe, go here.
The book of the play 2071 – The World We’’ll Leave Our Grandchildren by Chris Rapley and Duncan Macmillan is on sale published by John Murray.
Available for £8.99 from all good booksellers and from Amazon
As part of Cosmic Fear at Bedlam Theatre, we’re running a programme of events all in the name of Saving Planet Earth!
Join us in food-based activites, walking tours, woodworking workshops and conversations with climate scientists and experts throughout the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August.
Events span across the month of August, please click HERE for event and booking details.
The programme has been put together by our Dramaturg Lucy Coren with the support of The Vegan Society.
Here’s a little piece Lucy has written on her work with Empty Deck in constructing this ‘Counter-Text’…
The Dramaturgical Notion of Counter-text: A Case Study with Empty Deck Theatre Company
by Lucy Rose Coren
The role of the dramaturg within text-based theatre is currently prescriptive and limiting. There are protocols that should be met, revolving around the axis of research and curation. Even when given priority on a production, the dramaturg is tertiary to the roles of director and playwright. Over the past decade there has been an explosion in literature around dramaturgy and its unrealized scope. Within text-based theatre, theorists such as D.J. Hopkins, Mark Bly and Erik Ehn have been writing prolifically on how uniquely a dramaturg can contribute to a production. Together their theories coalesce into a demand for “hybrid-authorship”, whereby the director, playwright and dramaturg co-create a performance. Even further, Hopkins demands a space solely for the dramaturg, to which the director and playwright are attracted but cannot enter without the dramaturg’s guidance called the “counter-text.” In this paper I will expand on these theories through my particular experience as a dramaturg for Empty Deck Theatre Company and their current production, Cosmic Fear or the Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia (2016). I will suggest that the practical application of co-creative dramaturgy posited by these theorists, exclusively enables a dramaturg to express the type of a creativity of which her role is uniquely capable.
When asked to define the role of the dramaturg within the theatre, Yale Co-Chair of Drama Mark Bly often refers his interlocutor to an essay called “Quantum Consciousness” by the contemporary science writer, David H. Freedman. The paper describes the life of a subatomic particle, which according to Bly, “serendipitously characterizes the life of a dramaturg in the ‘unrelentingly strange’ realm of theatre:
“Quantum mechanics is an unrelentingly strange theory. Among other things, it tells us that an electron or another denizen of the subatomic world tends to exist in a multitude of states all at once: it is simultaneously here and there, moving fast and slowly, spinning one way and the other. But at the moment the electron interacts with ordinary matter or energy–when it smacks into the molecules in a detector for example, or is bombarded by a beam of light–the disturbance somehow causes the electron to “choose” a single state.”
While a static definition is often demanded of a dramaturg, Bly encourages his students of dramaturgy to be always “bristling with multiple possibilities”; that is, to become a model of creativity, appearing to overlap with other artists and their duties. This type of redundancy, he says, often leads to an increase in creativity (Bly, 54.) Theatre-makers should approach a text “as if it were a new world, free of assumptions” (Bly 314) just as a dramaturg should be allowed to exceed the “bookish drudgery” so often associated with the role.
The 2002 conference of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas presented a similar theme articulated by keynote speaker Erik Ehn. “The best thing a dramaturg can do is co-create, to create a conundrum as problematic as the play itself”, he said. This challenge is at significant odds with the more common assumptions about dramaturgy as a tertiary role to the director and playwright. Rather, Ehn is encouraging a new wave of dramaturgs to “creatively engage in the production process to a degree that matches the engagement of the other collaborators in the ‘hybrid authorship’ of the theatre: playwright, director, designers, actors” (Ehn 6.)
With these names around him, drama practitioner and theorist D.J. Hopkins has pioneered the notion of counter-text as an alternative site of authority and creativity for the dramaturg within the theatre. Its goal is to liberate the dramaturg within text-based theatre from one of researcher to one of creative co-authorship. Counter-text is not a ‘text’ in the sense of a written or spoken script, nor takes the form of “another” play, nor offers anything like characterization or narrative (Hopkins, 2.) Rather, it is an alternative centre of gravity that “exerts influence over the trajectory of a production process.” Ultimately, it further complicates the text, and situates the performance within a wider cultural discourse. In his seminal exposition on counter-text, Hopkins refers to Ehn informally commenting that the dramaturg “creates a space that neither the writer nor director are able to enter; and to which they are both attracted” (Ehn, E-mail.) The counter-text is something that is by definition irrelevant; it is not confined by the script or bound by notions of traditional authorship. Rather it may precede or even exceed it, and provide not only supplementation but corollary (Hopkins 5.)
A Case Study
Counter-text has found recent actualisation through burgeoning practitioners, particularly those working in theatre and activism who reject agitprop expression for one that is more inclusive and objective. They have found that counter-text facilitates the complication of issues, rendering them less dichotomous and more fertile for debate.
London-based theatre company Empty Deck has embarked on a new project entitled Cosmic Fear which addresses the paralysis a Western public typically encounters when confronted with climate change. I am attached to the project in the capacity of dramaturg, and have implemented a counter-text I believe to be unique to its practice through a hybrid-authorship with artistic director, Kay Michael. I can conclude that counter-text enables text-based theatre to not only be immersive of the audience, but also unquantifiably extends its audience-impact.
The text of Cosmic Fear is written by lauded Danish-playwright, Christian Lollike. It is a veritable “panic-attack of a play”, which marks the anxious unravelling of a mind through characters A, B and C as it ruminates on the relentlessly changing climate, and the West’s inaction to undo their devastation. Desperate, A, B and C generate film scenarios where the world is saved by Brad Pitt against various environmental back-drops.
The counter-text was born after a discussion on a Bristol-bound coach bus to the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research when Michael suggested we had a certain duty-of-care to the audience, reflecting on the troubling nature of the play and how it abandons its audience in a state of anxious paranoia. The idea of a talk-back was thrown around, such as that exercised by the Royal Court Theatre with Katie Mitchell’s 2071 (2014) and a ‘Day of Action’ which included a series of workshops, discussions and lectures on how to affect personal change. We wanted more than this: we wanted action as well as discussion that extended far beyond the theatre house, and we didn’t want sensationalism. The normative framing of climate change was already so apocalyptic and guilt-sodden, we realized we had to return to primary research and build our framework from the ground-up. We were being compelled to conceive of a new type of radical theatre. So began my work on the counter-text, with Michael suggesting I check-in every week or so with my research and direction.
I grounded my inquiry in the empirical science behind climate change, as well as psychological and social studies conducted on the UK public which collated their opinion and sentiments on the issue. My research was heavily supplemented by the primary work and secondary suggestions of Dr. Stuart Capstick, a climate change psychologist at the Tyndall Center. I was surprised to note that while the majority of the UK public observed the truth of climate change, a larger percentage of that majority admitted their inaction, and a feeling of guilt. There were many testimonials of pressure with regards to work, time and finances , with outlets such as cycling or walking vs. driving as not a realistic option; as well as prevailing self-criticisms such as, “I do feel guilty, that I don’t take enough interest in [climate change]. I probably don’t do enough…I don’t do as much as I should.” At this point it became clear that while the majority of the public observed not only the reality of the changing climate but also their role in it, they did not possess the appropriate outlets or incentive to make sustainable lifestyle changes.
I then turned my attention to normative framings of climate change depicted in mainstream media, documentaries (both those who had gained popular traction and those which had not), and literature, finding particular aid in George Marshall’s rigorous book, Don’t Even Think About It. “I have found that everyone,” says Marshall, “experts and non-experts alike, converts climate change into stories that embody their own values, assumptions, and prejudices” (3.) What these framings manifest, and which are illustrated in the interviews conducted and data collected by Marshall, is what cognitive behavioral psychologists refer to as the three “maladaptive coping mechanisms”: avoidance, surrender, and counter-attack. These are natural reactions to the stories of climate change, that find actualisation in the points of view of climate change-deniers, guilt-ridden metropolitans, or even climate change-activists.
During our period of research and development Michael also attended a conference at the University of Warwick on activism , where she heard from speaker Jess Allen. Allen spoke about “slacktivism”, a long-relied on technique by activist communities to use social media campaigns and flyering as a means of public mobilization. At issue is that this technique has become tired and depersonalized, and important petitions or fundraisers join the “white noise” of the internet. As an antithesis Allen suggests “tracktivism” : walking with a small group led by a specialist who informs and converses with them about a particular issue. A method like this is mobilizing, informative and creates community. While modest in immediate effectiveness, this concept is capable of becoming far-reaching and powerful, as its message is disseminated slowly but surely through everyone it touches; it is the growth of a steady and sturdy network through direct and personal engagement. This model became largely informative to the execution of our counter-text.
In order for Empty Deck to produce something about climate change which was new, we would not be able to present it through one of its normative frameworks as these were self-contained and often resolved in maladaptive and ineffective behavior; rather, we would reveal it as a phenomenon, encouraging non-judgmental awareness of its occurrence in order to begin from a point of common neutrality. Furthermore, we would then present flexible, tangible ways for our audience to make a change to a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. What would be unique about our practice is that we would be presenting a multi-level outreach program for our audience based on the cognitive behavioral psychology method of ACT (Accept, Choose, Take action.) The maladaptive coping mechanisms of avoidance, surrender and counter-attack could be pre-empted by suggestions of alternative behavior and engagement based on the model of small building blocks eventually constructing something much larger. The magnitude of what must be changed on an institutional, federal and international level is paralyzing; but to observe one’s individual responsibility and agency is empowering. “In developed nations, almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions are tied to individual and household energy use” ; 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry ; in the UK around 15 million tonnes of food is thrown away every year. Almost 50% of this comes from private homes . While campaigning for our governing bodies to implement environmental sanctions is vital, our individual lifestyles are just as important in affecting change.
We now had the ethos of our counter-text: change on the individual level in realistic and easily-integrated ways. Our pilot would be the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where Cosmic Fear was gaining a full run with Bedlam Theatre after our premier in the Incoming Festival in London. With a generous grant afforded to us by The Vegan Society we had our budget. It was now a question of how to initiate our outreach program in a way that complimented our production run, and would appeal to our audience. It was time to creatively engage with our research.
My first instinct was to make direct contact with green partners in Scotland who could be interested in a skills exchange, such as bicycle repair workshops, vegan or vegetarian cooking, creative recycling or permaculture. My second initiative was to engage with green energy partners, ecologists, and national parks. Finally, I believed it was important to subsidize our activities with seminars that formally disseminated some of the research I had been conducting, so that our audience not only understood the how, but the why.
I approached a variety of partners in this manner, explaining our project and its goals. Over the next two months relationships were built between myself and a list of vendors and individuals; while disappointment wasn’t absent, by the time of the counter-text’s deadline a rich and realistic outreach program had been designed. Called our Cosmic Outreach, our program features:
1. Cosmic Cuisine: two vegan and vegetarian food tours around Edinburgh designed with the help of GoVeg Scotland, the Cruelty Free Guide to Edinburgh, and Ethical Voice for Animals. Our tour features ten different businesses, including Pumpkin Brown (an exclusively vegan restaurant new to the local scene), Juice Warrior (100% recyclable, organic and vegan certified cold pressed juices with nothing added) and The Caffeine Drip (a fairtrade coffee shop offering vegan baked goods.)
2. Cosmic Cafe: two seminars held in the cafe of Bedlam Theatre, the Fringe venue of Cosmic Fear. The first seminar will be led by Barbara, the director of GoVeg Scotland, a wonderfully generous and informed community who campaigns for and encourages the switch to a vegan lifestyle. The second cafe will be led by Dr. Stuart Capstick where he will discuss much of the research on which our counter-text is based concerning the psychology of climate change. Bedlam’s cafe also has a vegetarian and vegan menu available.
3. Cosmic Commune: an afternoon of connecting our cast to our audience, and held at Pavilion Cafe (vegetarian food and drink in The Meadows green space). The Cosmic Fear cast and crew will hold a picnic, open to the public to attend, with the invitation to join in in yoga and spoken word themed on the environment.
4. Cosmic Culture: Empty Deck has partnered with Green Aspirations Scotland in Tir na Nog forest, a “woodland-based social enterprise” leading workshops including basket-weaving, whittling and axe-craft. Ten audience members will have the opportunity to attend a half-day workshop on Introduction to Green Woodworking.
Utilizing the crucial research conducted by Michael and myself, by people such as Marshall, Allen and Capstick on effective activism, the counter-text promotes a community of immediate and open conversation, relinquishing the taboo around talking about climate change; it is informative and grounded in scientific inquiry, led by the expertise of Dr. Capstick; it is immersive of nature, enabling our audience to interact with the environment; and finally it is suggestive of a sustainable lifestyle that is realistically achievable. Intentionally modest and digestible, the counter-text for Empty Deck’s Cosmic Fear enables an unprecedented level of audience engagement outside of the text while simultaneously supplementing and extending it. The mechanism of the counter-text suggested by Hopkins has allowed me to creatively engage as a dramaturg with the text of play, while at once securing my role as crucial to its development.
Questioning Hybrid Authorship
Counter-text demands an equal partnership between director and playwright and dramaturg, alternative but no less authoritative and authorial. But while the process of rehearsals may be informed by the dramaturg’s counter-text, the final production may not. While the case study above illustrates a successful hybrid-authorship, often the counter-textual work of the dramaturg is subsumed or dismissed by the time of performance. This discrepancy may be understood as a result of two issues: that the traditional and embedded understanding of the role of the dramaturg is counter-productive to the notion of hybrid authorship; and Hopkins’ theory does not effectively assert the functionality of the counter-text to the quality of the production.
The function of the dramaturg has existed well before the profession itself had a name (Cattaneo 3) although its founding father is cited as G.E. Lessing writing the Hamburg Dramaturgy in the eighteenth century. Also understood as pioneers of the profession were English actors and managers John Philip Kemble and Harley Granville-Barker who reinvented the classical repertory and interpreted and adapted plays to reflect the taste of the times (Cattaneo 3.) Brecht became his own dramaturg, Polish scholar Jan Kott’s Shakespeare Our Contemporary influenced the staging of Shakespeare in a post-Beckettian world, and Kenneth Tynan’s work at The National bridged the gap between theatre and the UK public. In the 1970s Peter Stein at the Schaubuhne in Berlin evolved the concept of creative dramaturgy with Botho Strauss and Dieter Sturm, whereby the dramaturgs conceived and interpreted productions along with the director (Catteo 5.) In 1990 New Yorker author Tony Hiss wrote that the dramaturg is “someone who keeps the whole in mind” (The Experience of Place 46.) Marianne Van Kerkhoven wrote beautifully in 2007 that “dramaturgy is building bridges; it is being responsible for the whole. Dramaturgy, above all is constant movement. Inside and outside” (165.)
While this is a very selective and succinct summary of the development of the dramaturg since the mid-1700s, it serves in establishing the role’s normative framing: one that is subsequent to and contingent on the director and playwright. With perhaps the exceptional model of Stein, Strauss and Sturm, the dramaturg is typically understood as a research and curatorial role, providing relevant information to the director that will enhance the production, and connect it to its audience. However what the history of theory and practice around dramaturgy also indicates, is that it is a constantly fluid and developing role, flexible and contingent on the needs of the times.
Non-normative expressions of dramaturgical practice have been theorized before now. Theatre-maker Gregory Gunter has developed the process of “imaging” where source material is generated that expands and informs the text and its production. However, as he describes, “it remains secondary to the primary authority of the text.” Similarly Norman Frisch’s work with the Wooster Group is often relegated to one of “traffic cop who applies structure to the disorderly conduct” of all the collaborators involved in a production. While the role of the director has been liberated from the eclipsing authority of the playwright in text-based theatre, the dramaturg has yet to claim hers. Like Freedman’s subatomic particle, the dramaturg is capable of occupying many states simultaneously. It’s only when she comes into contact with the pre-established space of the director and playwright that her state is isolated and made static; her creativity is limited and her contributions curbed.
Co-creative dramaturgy as suggested by Bly and Ehn, and the counter-text described by Hopkins would appear the dramaturg’s means of reaching the full scope of her potential. To be permitted hybrid authorship, to be given flexibility outside of a text to “build bridges” between the performance and the culture in creative ways can only improve the dramaturgy of a production. The director and playwright recognizing the value of creative dramaturgy is crucial in taking that step toward a fuller and richer contemporary theatre practice. However it cannot only be the responsibility of those in authoritative positions to make that change, the responsibility must also fall on the dramaturg herself.
Hopkins’ counter-textual theory at once calls itself necessary and irrelevant (3) which must not be the case. If its aim is a hybrid-authorship, then the director or playwright cannot be in the position to overrule the alternative site of authority generated by the dramaturg. My particular expression of counter-text with Empty Deck compels both director and playwright to accept its incorporation as a means of further expanding the impact and outreach of the text. This was achieved however, by the dramaturg asserting the counter-text as inextricable from the integrity of the performance, as well as the particularly progressive mind of artistic director Kay Michael anticipating its scope. While Hopkins’ theory is progressive, he must set an example of assertion by deeming it vital to a production’s dramaturgy.
Outside of text-based theatre the concept of the dramaturg is suspended, often along with the other titles of director or playwright. Roles are fluid and hybrid-authorship is understood as inherent to the practice. Within text-based theatre however there is a hierarchy, but even this has been historically dismantled, as in the director claiming authority over the text in post-dramatic theatre. Now is the time for the dramaturg to emphasize her abilities in the evolution of theatre practice and the ground has been set for her by theories such as counter-text, co-created dramaturgy, and calls-to-arms by writers such as Kerkhoven and Trencsenyi. Evolution is non-linear and unpredictable, shedding non-function for adaptation. While the dramaturg’s characteristics of research and observation remain vital, it is only a matter of time before they evolve into something more functional. The theories of hybrid-authorship and co-creative dramaturgy enable theatre practice to remain relevant not only to contemporary practitioners, but also to a contemporary audience, bringing text-based dramaturgy into the twenty-first century.
Bly, Mark. “Bristling With Multiple Possibilities” in Dramaturgy in American Theatre: A Source Book. Ed. Jonas, Proehl, and Lupu, pp.48-55. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1997. Print.
Bly, Mark. “New Play Exploration in the Twenty-First Century” in Routledge Guide to Dramaturgy Ed. Magda Romanska. pp. 313-317. Routledge: London, 2015.
Cattaneo, Anne. “Dramaturgy: An Overview” in Dramaturgy in American Theatre: A Source Book. Ed. Jonas, Proehl, and Lupu, pp.3-15. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1997. Print.
Capstick, Stuart. 2013. Public Understanding of Climate Change as a Social Dilemma. Sustainability. 5, 3484-3501.
Capstick, Stuart & Nicholas Pidgeon. 2014. Public perception of cold weather events as evidence for and against climate change. Climate Change. 122, 695-708.
Capstick, Stuart & Nicholas Pidgeon. 2014. What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public. Global Environmental Change 24, 389-401.
Capstick, Stuart, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Wouter Poortinga, Nick Pidgeon, and Paul Upham. International trends in public perceptions of climate change over the past quarter century. WIREs Climate Change 2015, 6:35–61.
To cite this article: Stuart Capstick, Irene Lorenzoni, Adam Corner & Lorraine Whitmarsh (2015): Prospects for radical emissions reduction through behavior and lifestyle change, Carbon Management.
Ehn, Erik. “Stuffing for This Pillow: Dreamturgy recalled” [sic]. Keynote Address. Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Annual Conference. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 12 June 2002.
Frisch, Norman, and Marianne Weems. “Dramaturgy on the Road to Immortality: Inside the Wooster Group” in Dramaturgy in American Theatre: A Source Book. Ed. Jonas, Proehl, and Lupu, pp.483-503. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers. 1997. Print.
Hopkins, D.J., Research, Counter-text, Performance: Reconsidering the (Textual) Authority of the Dramaturg in Theatre Topics, 2003, Vol. 13(1), pp. 1-17 [Peer Reviewed Journal.]
Kerkhoven, Marianne Van. “European Dramaturgy in the twenty-first century: a constant movement” in Routledge Guide to Dramaturgy Ed. Magda Romanska. pp. 163-167. Routledge: London, 2015.
Marshall, George. Don’t Even Think About It. New York: Bloomsbury USA. 2014. Print.
Thanks to The Other Richard for their photographs taken on Sunday 3rd July 2016, New Diorama Theatre, at the Incoming Festival
Photos feature actors Sam Ducane, Jack Gordon and Jessica Sian
We have a large and proudly international team working on this show.
Our cast are:
Recent credits include: Data (New Wimbledon Theatre Studio), Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry (R&D, The Drayton Arms), St James’ RE:act (St James’ Theatre Studio), Breakneck (Play Theatre Company at The Old Red Lion) and UKIP! The Musical (Hell Bent Theatre Company at Surgeons Hall, Edinburgh 2015)
JACK GORDON (C)
Recent theatre credits include: Tis A Pity She’s A Whore (Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican/ World Tour), Tender Napalm (Southwark Playhouse), War Horse (National Theatre/West End), DNA (National Theatre) and Ant Street (Arcola Theatre).
Recent TV and film includes New Blood (Eleventh Hour Films/BBC) and Northern Soul (Stubborn Heart Productions)
Nominated for Best Actor for Love Me Do (Cardiff Film Festival)
Recent acting work includes Two Roads (Nuffield Theatre); Theatre Cafe with Company of Angles, and Elexion (Theatre503).
Jessica does consistent research and development work with at The Bush Theatre and her writing is being developed at the National Theatre Studio, The Bush Theatre and Southwark Playhouse
Read all about the creatives in alphabetical order below…
LUCY COREN – Dramaturge
Lucy Rose Coren is a Canadian-born theatre-maker and writer who has also lived and worked in New Zealand and France. She has spent the past year working for a Creative Europe-funded project on migration, as well as completing her MA in dramaturgy at the University of Kent. Her theatre company Live Others works with non-professional performers.
Recent credits include: Jeramee Hartleby and Ooglemore (The Unicorn Theatre); Chilcot (Battersea Art Centre); BU21 (Theatre 503).
Owen’s background lies in music production, having performed and produced bands from a young age. Having recently graduated with a BA in Sound Arts & Design, Owen’s work has been diverse and included; composing for a conference at the Roundhouse Camden (Unilever, 2013), scoring adverts for companies including Uniqlo & Disney and performing Noise Music at Corsica Studios.
Owen is currently performing and recording with his band Kudu Blue.
Her set and costume design credits include:
Orpheus and Eurydice (Platform Theatre), Then Silence (New Diorama Theatre), Leonce and Lena (Brockley Jack Theatre), Most People are Other People (Tristan Bates Theatre), Romeo and Juliet (Royal Albert Hall), The Tin Soldier (The Roundhouse Theatre), Deja Bluez by BirdGang Dance Company (Panarmonium Stage), Minions Collective in collaboration with Universal Pictures (Platform Theatre), Carmen (English Pocket Opera Company 2016 Tour), Madame Butterfly (Cadogan Concert Hall).
MATTHEW GARDNER – Stage Manager
Recent credits include: Stone Face (Desara Bosnja LTD/Finborough Theatre); The Kingdom for a Stage (Castlebar Productions); Snow White (Broadway Barking); Tim Key/Liam Williams (Invisible Dot LTD); Edinburgh Fringe 2014/15 (Pleasance); The One Day of The Year (Defibrillator/Finborough Theatre); Citizen Puppet Workshop (Blind Summit/RCSSD); Liberian Girl (Royal Court); Not What I Am (Dogs of War).
She works across film, theatre and dance, most recently movement directing a vignette for Radiohead with director Richard Ayoade. Other recent work includes London Fashion Week A/W16 and short film ‘The Entertainer’ starring Toby Jones.
Credits include: Anita & Me Birmingham RepertoryTheatre [Ass. Movement Dir.]; The Window Hope Theatre; Then Silence Empty Deck, New Diorama Theatre; Ages Old Vic New Voices [Assistant]; GHOSTS Shawn Soh; Embodied Mind Project Derek Jarman Lab; Sometimes There’s Light [Asst. Choreo] Moving Dust UK Tour; Animaled LSFF 14 entry; Then, Silence Tristan Bates Theatre; Late in the Day Reckless Moment Productions, Hen&Chickens Theatre; No Assets Spring Offensive
Previous directing include: Beyond the Blue, When Mr. Excavator Came and Ate All the Trees, The Monkeys and Hamster-Beavers had a bale (Omnibus Clapham), The Nighingale and the Rose (Etcetera), An Incident at the Border (The Albany).
Camilla also trained on Stonecrabs Theatre’s Young Directors’ Programme ’13-14 and teaches the youth theatre at Omnibus Clapham. She has just finished placements at Company of Angels and the Royal Opera House.
JOE HARBOT – SCRIPT SUPERVISOR
Playwright Joe Harbot is represented by Curtis Brown. He wrote his first play, Gathered Dust and Dead Skin, when he was just fifteen.
Since then he graduated from the Royal Courts Young Writers Programme and written numerous plays, including The Boy on the Swing (Live Theatre and Arcola), Memories (Southwark Playhouse), as well as a short film, Linked, directed by Jeremy Herrin, which was produced in 2007.
In 2013, Joe’s play Potholes had a short run at Theatre 503 and was longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.
PHILIPPINE LAUREAU – VIDEO DESIGN
Philippine is a set designer, costume maker and film maker from France. She trained at Central St Martins and designs various shows and performances using a range of media including installations, costumes, immersive performances, and videos.
Film making credits include: Event Designer for the Minions fashion show for NBC Universal, Central Saint Martins Theatre; Story boarder and assistant video mapping for Pete Wallace for a Sci-fi Event; Robotic costume maker and video mapping for Margot Laureau’s Performance
ballade champêtre in the Dockyard (Kent); Art Director and Production Designer, Set and Costume Designer for the short film Spleen 2.0; Assistant Film Maker for Louboutin exhibition’s special event in DESIGN MUSEUM
KAY MICHAEL- Director
Kay trained at Drama Centre London and read English & Theatre Studies at Warwick University. She is a founding member of curious directive with whom she has devised, performed and directed. In 2016 she was a finalist for the JMK Directors Award and in 2014 she was Trainee Director at Paines Plough.
Directing credits include: Pelican Daughters (Shakespeare in Shoreditch Festival, RIFT); We Are Nowhere.. And It Is Now (PLAY, Old Red Lion); A Local Boy (Invertigo, Pleasance); Property and Clarion (PlayWROUGHT, Arcola); True or False (Theatre Uncut, Arcola); Free Fall(Invertigo, Guildhall School of Music and Drama); The Lodger and Home (Oval House); Just One (Lost Theatre);The Nth Degree (Old Red Lion and Rosemary Branch); An Ordinary Spectacle (curious directive, Powder Blue Orthogonal Pavilion); Mercury Fur (site specific, Leamington Spa).
She was Associate Director on Offie Nominated Best New Play Clarion at Arcola and credits as assistant director include: The Winter’s Tale (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, The Globe Theatre); 2071 (Royal Court Theatre); An Intervention (Paines Plough, Watford Palace Theatre); Don Gil of the Green Breeches (Theatre Royal Bath; Arcola; Belgrade Theatre Coventry); Return to the Silence (curious directive, Pleasance); Othello (Veni Vidi); Tender Napalm (Southwark Playhouse)
Some recent design credits include: Persuasion (The Rosemary Branch Theatre); No Milk for the Foxes (Camden Peoples Theatre); Amy G: Entershamement (European Tour); Professional Supervision (UK Tour); Made in Britain (Old Red Lion); Hamlet (The Park Theatre); Manuelita (UK Tour); When The Fallen Sang (St.Giles-in-the-fields church); Knowledge of Angels (Shoreditch Church); Being Tommy Cooper (UK Tour).
A portfolio and full work history can be found at www.simeon.lighting
I can’t do anything about it anyway. So I might as well not try.
Sound familiar? Dealing with the anxiety of climate change and the destruction of the planet for the past two weeks has almost sent our cast into a paralysis. Cosmic Fear is all about three people trying to deal with this paralysis – three people trying to take action instead of just talking. So after a week of table work, highlighting facts and events in the style of good old Stanislavski, we’ve now moved on to do what might actually be the first step to personally save planet earth – experiencing the problem in our bodies. It seems like the only way we can really explore the weight of this issue is to actually embody it. Talking about it will just end in the team’s collective mental breakdown.
Director Kay Michael has been working with the cast on embodiment and exploring the game within the play through various exercises that have literally turned our little hub of Room One into an apocalyptic consumer-explosion. Costumes and props galore have been covering the floor for two weeks now, providing the actors with plenty of opportunities to play. They’ve created a superhero film trailer for climate change SAVE PLANET EARTH to cut to the core of the issues the characters are trying to solve. They’ve mirrored clips of Brad and Angelina in famous scenes, trying to replicate their tempos (Laban style) and qualities, creating the heroes of our Cosmic Fear. With movement director Sara Green they’ve explored how a mental paranoia can manifest itself through movement and personal tics. They’ve even created their own survival uniform for when destruction is knocking at the door.
The first week was all about dissecting this beast of a play. Digging deep into the issues most of us have ignored – things we all know but have stored somewhere at the back of our brains. The actors brought in images, research and videos and by trying to create a very real environment and relationship for the three, the otherwise slightly obscure structure of the text now makes perfect sense to all of us (or so we hope!). Kay’s work searches for detail and imagination, and with our brilliant cast members Sam Ducane (B), Jessica Sian (A) and Jack Gordon (C) what seemed like a hurricane of complex ideas is now a piece of performance that demands a presence in the room. With this process of fine textual detail and a vast physical exploration I feel this play is becoming something that will turn New Diorama and Edinburgh upside down. We’re two weeks in, and already marrying the physical exploration with the almost overwhelming research – one more week and our three paranoid Brad’s will be ready to give global warming a good kick.
— Guest blogger: Camilla Gürtler, Assistant director
Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia previews at New Diorama’s Incoming Festival on 3rd July, before transferring to Bedlam Theatre for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August.
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!