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.
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.
Niger Asije, Editor of the New Current caught up with Then Silence Director, Kay Michael ahead of our performance at INCOMING Festival on June 7th. You can read the full interview at www.thenewcurrent.co.uk
Hi Kay how’s it going, you all set for your the festival?
I think so! It’s the Saturday night before the big day; I’m sitting in my living room, with a cup of ginger tea, listening to Olafur Arnolds. Keeping it chilled.
Have you been able to get any rest between Then Silence and A Local Boy?
Not a huge amount unfortunately, no! A few weeks after A Local Boy ended I started working on Clarion at the Arcola Theatre, Mark Jagasia’s hilarious and dark debut play about the state of the British press. It’s good to have worked on a string of shows since January, but I’m definitely looking forward to a long summer!
The reaction to A Local Boy was fantastic, did you expect to get the type of reaction you got?
We were thrilled to get the reaction we did. I’ve never had a standing ovation on a first preview! We were very lucky to be opening the show in a college in Dartford, and so our first audience was made up of 16 – 18 year olds who absolutely the show. It spoke to them; it was in their language, talking candidly about things that related to them. I always knew Dan Murphy’s writing was very funny, but it was extremely heartfelt too, and so not only did it make them laugh, but it moved people too, especially the relationship between the mother and son.
What does it mean for you to bring Then Silence to Incoming Festival?
It means a lot. Then Silence is a risky choice. It’s a translation of a 2009 play from a Norwegian writer, who although is award-winning and really very well known in his home country, just hasn’t been heard of here. The production itself – as it is now – is unlike anything I think I’ve seen. It’s challenging. Both those things excite me as a theatre-maker, and I’m glad Incoming Festival are invested in at as much as we are. Empty Deck, my theatre company, are launching at the festival with this show, and we have big plans ahead, so we’re very excited to have the audience and support to begin our journey.
Any nerves ahead of the run?
Yes! I really have no idea how the audience will respond. I’ve been interrogating this play for two years now with my designer and a whole host of actors, and we feel we’ve finally come to something that really stretches the play and makes it sing. We’ve only had two weeks to put together what we’re showing on Sunday, and this is all a development process for a full production run in the autumn. I’m wanting feedback to see where we can take things forwards. It’s a big unknown at the moment, so yes: nervous but very excited.
Tell me a little bit about Then Silence what can we expect?
It’s a play that defies the ordinary logic of character or setting. 3 actor-characters explore 10 scenarios, trying to make sense of various situations human beings find themselves within, and as they do so they discover what it might mean to be ‘nothing’. Expect to be intrigued, confused, to laugh hysterically, to be distressed, stunned, and left feeling like you’ve lived through a hundred years within 70 minutes. (That’s something my designer said today after watching a run…)
What was it about Arne Lygre text that interested you so much?
His writing is just so different to anything I’d read before. He stretches time, splinters ideas of character and identity, and talks about epic themes such as disasters, bereavement, and existential crises. I’ve likened him to Jon Fosse, Martin Crimp, Pinter and Beckett in the past. There’s something very elusive yet extremely powerful about his writing; it touches a nerve.
What has been the biggest challenges you’ve faced with the show?
The play is riddled with challenges! The biggest has probably been in getting away from the need to answer the typical ‘Stanislavskian’ questions such as ‘who am I?’; ‘where am I?’, ‘what do I want?’, when analysing the characters and their situation. Pinning the play down in a concrete reality only imposes something onto the play which I just don’t think is there. The actors working with me on this have very much worked from themselves, which I am incredibly grateful for. It’s been very brave of them.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
Yes. I can’t remember the first show I saw though. (I remember the first gig I went too funnily enough). I acted a lot when I was younger, and continued even after university for a while, but I knew at that point I just wanted to direct.
What was your directorial debut like, a pleasant or stressful experience?
The year after graduating from uni I decided that I really needed to direct a full length play having done only short new writing, to see if I could really do it and if I wanted to seriously pursue it professionally. I was working off intuition for the most part in the rehearsal room, and was sure I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved it. I staged Philip Ridley’s play Mercury Fur in a found derelict flat in Leamington Spa, which was crazy really. We had to remove tonnes of used syringes from the overgrown garden and even a dead cat from one of the rooms before installing our own lighting rig and making it safe for an audience! I don’t remember it being stressful, just a lot of fun and adventure.
Looking back would you do anything differently?
Specifically about a show, or generally with where I’ve got to as a director? I suppose to answer both: No. I’ve made mistakes and ‘failed’ at times, definitely, but I’ve learnt the most from those experiences.
What 5 words best describe Then Silence?
Intense roller-coaster ride of experiences.
Do you have a favourite theatre quote?
Ahh I have so many quotes scrawled in note books, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head! That’s bad isn’t it. ‘Everything must come from the heart. Must be lived.’ I just looked that up – it’s Pina Bausch.
What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
To let go.
To up and coming directors what would be the best advice you would offer them?
To keep trying to make the work you want to make.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Then Silence?
The drive to keep on living as best as we can and to love with a full heart.
This interview was commissioned by The New Current. All content Ⓒ The New Current 2015.