Northern Stage Title Pending award-winner Hannah Nicklin’s Equations for a Moving Body is a one-woman show about the physiology of endurance – when our brains tell our bodies to stop – and the psychology of carrying on.
|credit Nial Coffey|
What was the inspiration for this performance?
There are 3 beginnings for the telling of this story. The first is talking to Emma Frankland about duties of care, about what I should do with my urge to talk about the death of my friend John, a conversation about whether it was ok to explore this kind of thing in a story.
The second beginning was a Hatch: Nottingham scratch event looking for short pieces of work to exhibit. With Emma's conversation in mind I made a piece called Deadtime. It was a short 20-minute piece about losing a friend, my relationship to sport, how we think about time, how we occupy the space in our heads and the wholeness of our bodies.
A little later, in the spring of 2014, I was walking with my friend, amateur trampolinist, and also arts-type-person Rajni Shah. I was training for the 70.3 mile/113km middle distance triathlon, the Cotswold 113 around then, and I distinctly remember saying to Rajni, “I just wish someone would pay me to do sport for a living”.
Rajni paused, and then with that particular clarity she has, said “why don’t you then? Make a show about it?” I saw suddenly how Deadtime was also piece about the experience of the mind and body during sport, which related to my friend John, which related to my thoughts around why I had decided to do an Ironman (or ‘full distance’) triathlon.
The third beginning for the show was entering the idea (still called Ironman at this point) to Title Pending, a competition for substantial support (financial, mentoring, technical, space) to begin work on a new piece of theatre.
I won the Title Pending Award 2014, and with the support of Northern Stage, and that of Northumbria University, ARC Stockton, Camden People’s Theatre (CPT) in London, and eventually the Theatre Studio at Sheffield University and Carriageworks in Leeds I put in two bids to the Arts Council, and The Wellcome Trust, for an ambitious project that involved investing in a coach, training gear, research, time to train, as well as the making of the show.
I worked with Alexander Kelly of Third Angel, Simon Ward, a triathlon coach, and interviewed sports scientists and psychologists from the University of Northumbria.
How did you go about gathering the team for it?
The process was designed around the Outlaw. The full distance triathlon I eventually signed up to, which happened on the 26th July 2015.
We made most of the show before I attempted the Outlaw, and then with one day to rest, finished the material in the week following. The team was gathered from universities, coach recommendations, and from previous collaborations to build up expertise in being able to answer questions around sports science and psychology, in order to tell a story about endurance sport.
From February to October 2015, I worked with several specialists to make the piece of performance now titled Equations For a Moving Body. I worked with biomedical scientists and a sports psychologist at the University of Northumbria, and a coach to inform and prepare me for completing a long distance triathlon – sometimes known as an ‘Ironman’ (224km, or 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling and running).
I researched, made, and performed work in progress versions of the show in February and June 2015 alongside Alexander Kelly of Third Angel as collaborator (taking on a mix of dramaturgy, direction and design), I trained from February 2015 for and completed the Outlaw long distance triathlon on the 26th July 2015. There then followed two final weeks of making at Camden People’s Theatre, Theatre Workshop at Sheffield University and Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, with Alex.
Throughout the period of making I acted as both producer, and committed ongoing research and writing. I kept a process blog at ironman.hannahnicklin.com. Parallel to this process a film crew accompanied me to events and the Outlaw itself, and in February 2016 produced a 15 minute documentary responding to the same themes.
The resulting piece of theatre is an 85 minute piece of solo-storytelling.
Using the sports psychology theory of The Storied Self there are 3 ‘acts’ which tie together how I came attempt a piece of endurance sport, why I am interested in the challenge, and what happens to me along the way. It takes in the science of training, the journey through all of the sports, and the people I meet along the way. It centers around the idea of ‘solidarity’ – of the fact that every extraordinary achievement is made up of many people who have helped and coached and advised and supported along the way
How did you become interested in making performance?
I came through the quite traditional route of playwriting.
I discovered at the age of 17, reading Sarah Kane, that not all playwrights were dead white guys. I studied a Playwrighting masters, and via the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme started writing for the stage, but swiftly discovered that the page on the stage didn't suit the stories I was trying to tell, I moved into digital arts, pervasive theatre, video games, sound-art and installations, and then returned to performance - devised storytelling - when I found a story (A Conversation with my Father) that needed to be told, by me, onstage.
I found my practice is a means of discovering the form to properly represent the content. Which is why I make installations, games, sound work, performance, poetry, videogames, and more.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
My focus is on designing the process to answer a question, and then finding the form to best represent my findings.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that they will find a human and relatable story at the heart of an experience many people think is beyond them. I hope people are invited to think what 'beyond them' might mean. I hope that they feel invited think about the everyday solidarities that help us all do extraordinary things.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
we think carefully through means of exposing the construct of the story - as part of the structuring and sports psychology is around the important of story. Also the piece needs to communicate authenticity to emphasise how an ordinary person reaches huge goals. Design choices like live use of the internet to show images and places, and information, helps anchor the real-ness of me and the story contents. You see 'chapters' laid out along the floor on cards which I progress along and help prompt my structured-improvisation of the story. Details big and small help reinforce the work.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
I'm interested in telling stories at the heart of specific communities, verbatim practices, devising theatre, among others.