Monday, 25 July 2016

Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Dramaturgy: Sophie Winter @ Edfringe 2016

Summerhall (Venue 26)
Aug 3-10, 12-21, 23-28 2.50pm

Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka_Dramaturgy DatabaseBumbag? Check. Luminescent shell suit? Check. Positive attitude in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges? Hell yeah! Inspired by real life stories, this is a frank, funny and open exploration of a topic that too often remains taboo: the challenge of overcoming anxiety. Join award-winning company on the button for this rollercoaster of a one-woman show, which channels the spirit of someone for whom no challenge is too big: Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I’ve had anxiety for the past 15 years and I decided that I wanted to make a show about it. I absolutely loved Challenge Anneka when I was a kid, and to play at “becoming” Anneka and adopting the structure of the TV show seemed a fun way of speaking about anxiety. I also loved how Anneka Rice was able to achieve so much and remain so calm in the most stressful circumstances – she seemed to be the antithesis of my own experiences of having anxiety.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
I co-run on the button with Ben Hadley (Ben’s directing the show). Through our previous productions we’ve had the chance to get to know some really talented people, and now we’re working with them again. Also, it just so happens that over half the creative team has had some experience of depression or anxiety. Given the nature of the show, it felt right to work with people who had first hand experience of the issues we’re exploring.  

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’ve always been interested in it – initially at school, and then at university. Then I came to London and started to work as an actor on and off, but I found I wanted more creative input in the projects I was working on. I started to research devising courses and that’s when I decided to go to Paris and train at the Lecoq school. I met Ben there and together we formed on the button.

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
This is a fairly recent development, but we tend to start by recording audio interviews with people who are affected by the topic we’re interested in. We started to do this in earnest with another project, Britain’s Got Tenants, which is about the history of social housing and the current housing crisis. We found that the perspectives of people who had a direct and personal response to the topic opened up a variety of interesting creative avenues. We did the same with this project, interviewing people who have experience of anxiety, OCD or depression.  Some of the interviews get turned into podcasts so that a wide audience has access to our research and the stories that people have kindly shared with us. In terms of creating the show itself, every production we make has a very different style or language: sometimes, like with this show, the “form” is the thing that comes first. Challenge Anneka just seemed right, and making the show then became about working back from there, to figure out why this idea appealed to us so much. Other times, the form emerges out of long conversations with the creative team about the best way to stage the material we’re interested in.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
One of on the button’s ambitions is to tell stories that go unheard and share new perspectives. Our hope is that people will leave our shows understanding different ways of thinking and seeing the world. In the case of Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka it would be brilliant if our audience felt less inhibited about sharing their experiences of mental health with other people, or empathised better with people who have experienced these problems. Equally, in this production we want to make sure that the theatre is a space where people can feel relaxed and at ease. Lots of people experience anxiety in theatres and our aim is to create an environment that is engaging yet relaxed, where it feels as though the audience are watching their favourite TV show live from the comfort of their own home.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
At different times in our lives, Ben and I have experienced anxiety when watching theatre - something to do with the lights going down, the quiet, being stuck in a space that’s difficult to get out of. We read a brilliant article by Harry Giles which inspired us to think about anxiety within the theatre, as well as looking at anxiety in a wider context. We have spent lots of time thinking about how to be mindful of our audience, while also challenging them at the same time.  We’re still in the process of creating the show, but at the moment we’re thinking about shared light, popcorn, and the uncanny power of Anneka Rice to put people at ease.  

Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
We trained at Lecoq, but we don’t really see that as a particular style or tradition: we’re very open to how we approach the work, and to who we work with. When we were in training, we learnt lots about making work as a group, and thinking about space and play and physical expression, stuff like that. With every new piece we make, we’re still learning about all of that and still enjoying how each process is different.

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