Thursday, 19 May 2016

Hidden Dramaturgy: Gary Thomas @ WAF

Gary Thomas


Hidden is about the darkest thoughts we can’t always share with others, and the darkest places we can find humour.

We follow Sam through from his teenage years to his 20s to his psychosis following a police stop and search. He tries to make sense of it all as he successfully recovers, and goes on to lead an extraordinary life. Nothing is so tragic that you can’t laugh at it.

What was the inspiration for ‘Hidden’?

In 2013 I received arts council funding to write the first 30,000 words of my memoir and write a one man play. I’d been making films for the past 10 years and wanted to just concentrate on writing and theatre seemed the most appropriate medium to go with the book. 

I knew I wanted to focus on my own experiences of mental health issues for the play, particularly an episode of psychosis which I felt had so much in it to explore.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?

I met the Director Tom Latter through workshops he did with his company Sheer Drop Theatre. The first one I attended was where they read some of Hidden and everyone gave feedback on it. It was a really supportive and encouraging environment to be in, especially as I’d recently expanded it and hadn’t heard some of the new dialogue before.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I saw Finnish Artist Eija Liisa Ahtila work at Tate modern way back in 2003, it was really the first time I’d seen artist film and video like that and I was blown away. I left the gallery thinking ‘If that’s art then I want to do that!’ 

So I was lucky enough to be successful with a few arts council funding applications to make film installations, and worked with actors on those. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, my passion is writing and working with actors, so theatre seemed to be the next logical step.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?

Not at all actually, as I’ve directed all my other work (including previous versions of Hidden). But this is the first time I’ve worked with an other director – Tom Latter - and its been great to see that process happen. I wanted to learn as much as possible by watching Tom & Adam Donaldson (who plays ‘Sam’) work and I think I have. Although I will say it was slightly scary / strange when they randomly improvised a scene from my childhood (not in the script). It was quite accurate lol!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Gosh, I think I’m happy for them to have free reign on what they experience! The show is about mental health – someone who suffers psychosis following a police stop and search but its also funny. Ultimately I want them to follow Sam’s journey through his childhood to overcoming his mental health issues and the extremes in between, and maybe see that they can be in control of their own emotions, just like Sam got to be.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

The most important thing was putting aside the ‘literal truth’ (my own experiences) and realise this is a fictional characters journey, and to never forget the primary purpose of the script and performance is for entertainment. Which is why I wanted this new version to be funny, but also take it outside of my own life so I was free to expand it any way I felt. 

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?

Well, this is my first theatre piece, so I’m still learning about the traditions. When I wrote this (and my new play) I realise I’ve done some of the traditional stuff anyway. Its interesting because each actor has found the rhythm in the piece, and at the time I wasn’t even sure that’s how I was writing it! I just knew for each line the shorter the better. And give the actor freedom to come up with ideas.

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