Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Dramaturgy in The Forest: Lucy Garland @ Edfringe 2016

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) 
Aug 22-25 10.30am
Trapped in lives filled with daydreams, Thea and Robin both crave an escape from their everyday routines. One day, they are drawn into the dark and mysterious forest and find themselves on an unexpected journey of self-discovery filled with surprising encounters and experiences that change their lives forever. An intriguing multi-sensory tale which immerses audiences in a world full of new sights, sounds, smells and sensations; The Forest is the unmissable new production from Frozen Light. The Forest is an adventure for teenagers and adults with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) and their companions.

What was the inspiration for The Forest?
Frozen Light create theatre for audiences with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) so the inspiration for all our work always begins with the desire to make pieces of theatre that are truly accessible for our audience.  

In terms of The Forest we wanted to create a show that was for an audience of teenagers and adults with PMLD but had a universal feel to it, so we decided to go with making a love story.  Before the development of this show myself and Amber were both feeling strangely drawn to imagery of trees and the sensory experience of being in a forest.  We wanted to re-create this on stage in an abstract way that would transport our audience to a familiar yet different world.  We knew that we definitely didn’t want to create a twee fluffy green forest so explored the torment in our main characters to influence the type of forest they would be exploring. Through following these characters on their journey into the forest and eventually to each other we wanted the audience to discover everything our forest had to offer, from forest shelters and food to the forest storm.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Amber and I run Frozen Light and have always performed in our shows.  Al Watts is our super talented musician and the third character in The Forest. We brought Al on during the development of our first show and realised what a great asset he was to the company.  Over his time with us he has showed immense skill when working with our audience and really understands the company ethos.  The Forest was a really exciting development for the company and we expanded our team. Kate O’Connor was the guest director on our previous show Tunnels and we wanted to work with her again on The Forest, we found her through The New Wolsey in Ipswich where we are an associate company.  We also brought on Stephanie Williams to design the set.  Stephanie and Kate have worked closely for many years and it is great to have a strong director, designer team. Dhugal and Dave are our technical crew and again we found this pair through the New Wolsey.  

We love our Frozen Light team and feel really lucky to have found such a wonderful group of artists who genuinely care about creating great art for our under-represented audience.

How did you first become interested in making performance?
As cliché as it sounds I always wanted to work in theatre for as long as I can remember.  I always wanted to be an actor but as I grew up I discovered that it was making theatre that really got me excited.  I love performing but there is nothing better than creating a show and having that lightbulb moment of how the piece is going to come together.  Throughout my life I have done a lot of work with people with learning disabilities and I loved working with this group of people.  When I discovered I could create theatre for this audience I was completely hooked.  

Was your process for this show typical of the way that you make a performance?
As a company we are always drawn towards strong narrative and our work always comes from a desire to tell simple yet intriguing stories for our audience. We have to balance this with creating a piece of theatre that meets the needs of audience.  In order to do this our work must be multi-sensory as people with PMLD interact with the world on a multi-sensory level.

Previously when creating work we started with the multi-sensory and built the story around this.  With The Forest we really wanted to use music and the setting to guide the development of the show.  We worked with the musician in the room from day one and with him being one of the central characters.  This was a new experience for us but I feel it really helped for the music to feel completely integrated into the performance.  Working in this way also developed multi-sensory ideas that I believe we wouldn’t have appeared without the music. 

We also began to play with how we present the multi-sensory items and how they can become integrated within the piece and create collective moments as well as one to one experiences.  We looked at puppetry and visual theatre techniques and integrated these ideas into the show.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
For many of our audiences this will be the first time they have ever been to the theatre.  During our previous tour 41% of our audience with learning disabilities had never been to the theatre before (and most of our audience were over 13).  We want to create a safe space where our audience can experience a piece of theatre that is appropriate for their needs in a theatre building (because theatres are magical places).  We want to challenge pre-conceptions of how people should behave in a theatre and let our audience dictate how we as performers behave to accommodate their needs.  We want to create a space where our audience are not asked to “fit in” but where we try to enter their worlds and accommodate their needs. We want them to experience everything theatre has to offer from the standard light and sounds to one to one interactions with characters and performers. Live theatre is so powerful and we can utilise everything the liveness has to offer when creating theatre for audiences with complex needs.

In The Forest we want our audience to feel like they are a part of our forest.  They will experience the smell of fire, touch the moon, be engulfed in a forest shelter and become part of a forest storm. We want them to become involved in the emotional journey of the characters and feel their loneliness, their sadness and their joy. The whole audience (people with PMLD, carers, general public) will experience the Forest through all five senses alongside personalized songs and signing.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
Due to the needs of our audience their experience is always at the heart of the development of any show. When working with audiences with PMLD we always find it is a fine balance between creating an interesting story but keeping unnecessary language to a minimum. People with PMLD have a profound learning disability and will have great difficulty communicating.  Many people with PMLD will have additional sensory or physical disabilities, complex health needs or mental health difficulties.  We have to consider all of these factors to ensure that we create a show that reaches the needs of our audience.
With The Forest we wanted to use the music to explore the emotional narrative of the piece.  We wanted to explore how extreme emotion (sadness and happiness) would affect people with PMLD. Music is intrinsic and reaches a part of the human condition that nothing else can.  We have noticed the profound affect it can have on our audience and with The Forest wanted to use this to shape the narrative.

Do you see your work falling within any particular tradition?
Our work is very difficult to place anywhere. I suppose we sit with a very small number of companies that create work for audiences with complex needs.  All of these companies come to the art from very different places and have different things they want to achieve for their audience.  

As artists we are really interested in any theatre where the audience isn’t passive.  Whether that is in a truly immersive piece of theatre, or something that just challenges your preconceptions.  We love devised work and are generally drawn towards shows with strong and beautifully simple stories. I would say that we draw on these traditions and discover how we can make these relevant to our audience.  Our work actually has a lot of cross over with immersive work and as performers we are open to immersive theatre practice could shape our show.  


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