Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Invisible Dramaturgy: Victoria Beesley

Terra Incognita with support from Macrobert Arts Centre 

Invisible Army by Victoria Beesley

Performed by Michael Abubakar, Dan Beesley and Rosalind Sydney

A new play about being alone and making friends; starting fights and falling in love; being invisible and talking to cats. 

Three years ago Robbie McGuire started becoming invisible.

It's not a big problem. It doesn't affect his day-to-day life. Mrs Gillespie still gives him detention, Sarah Hargreaves still threatens to smash his face in, and Mr Bartnik the shop keeper still won't let him forget that he owes 10p for a bottle of milk bought over a year ago. But Robbie has started noticing that people bump into him a lot in the street. 

That nobody ever really looks at him - they always look to the side or a metre behind, as though they're not quite sure exactly where he is. And this morning, the longer he looked in the mirror the less he could see of himself. And so begins Robbie's journey on a very weird day.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
It all began on a night out when I had a conversation with a woman who was caring for her terminally ill partner. She was explaining the frustration and difficulties of being a carer – earning enough money for the both of them, dealing with the bureaucracy of claiming benefits for her partner, the physical demands of caring for him and helping with his physiotherapy, the emotional burden of seeing someone you love so ill. At that time I was running drama workshops with a group of young people and knew that one member of the group was a young carer who cared for both of his parents. 

I thought,  ‘Flip! He’s having to go through all of this and deal with all these different aspects and he’s only 14!’ There are thousands of young carers across the UK all doing this remarkable thing without anybody paying much attention to them. I wanted to share their stories with a wider audience. I began working with the young people at Glasgow South West Carers Centre. 

They were very clear that the story we told shouldn’t be one of doom and gloom and that they didn’t want people to feel sorry for them. So together we decided that Invisible Army would be a documentation of both their experiences and their imaginations – that way it could be serious and  funny and sad and uplifting and silly, which seemed a more accurate depiction of who they are.

How did you go about gathering the team for it?
Scotland is so crammed full of talented theatre folk that gathering a team is always joyful. I like to work with people I think are better than me because that stretches me and forces me to up my game. 

I approached people whose work I liked and whose approach and style I thought would suit the production. We have a fabulous team assembled and it’s exciting to see where they’re taking the production. 

Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
​My work is always inspired by real life stories so my process often begins with interviewing and meeting people who will inspire the production. This process began with a block of workshops with young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre. These workshops were an initial exploration into these young people’s experiences of being carers, and I expected to follow up the workshops with more in depth interviews. 

But the young people I was working with were so energetic and playful that interviews seemed the wrong way of working with them – they wouldn’t be representative of their character. So I took a slightly different approach to usual and carried on collecting information and ideas from them in workshops – setting different exercises, asking them to devise scenes, to create new worlds, to design characters. 

It became apparent very quickly that these young people should be involved throughout the creative process because it was their show as much as it was mine so they have worked with me to plot the story arc and offered feedback on rehearsed readings of drafts of the script. They are also working with Rosie Reid (Drama Artist), Kim Beveridge (Film Artist), Kim Moore (Sound Designer) and Alice Wilson (Designer) to create an installation for the audience to experience alongside the production at the Macrobert. I can’t wait for them to see the full production!

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope the audience will experience the things I like most about theatre – a good story, great characters, twists, surprises, humour, heart. The show is about young carers, and I think it’s interesting and unusual to hear story about a young person who is responsible for an adult, but the show isn’t worthy. It’s the story of an adventure - imaginary and real world’s combine in the story making it familiar and surreal and dark and silly. 

There’s also live music in the show, with a musician onstage throughout the performance, and the story is told with text and movement so the audience should experience a show that looks good and sounds amazing.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
The show is aimed at teenagers and their families. Young people can be a tough audience – they’ll let you know if they’re bored! So the show has to be exciting. 

One of the great thing about having the young carers involved throughout the process of creating the show is that they are the target age group for the production so their ideas and feedback have helped us to create a show that they and their peers will enjoy. The show uses a lot of direct address, where the performers talk directly to the audience, and we have three great performers who will respond to each audience making it an exciting live event.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Scotland has a rich tradition of creating high quality and exciting theatre work for children and young people, and Invisible Army is certainly inspired by a lot of that work. 

The Imaginate Festival has also given me the opportunity to see
brilliant work from the rest of Britain and around the world which has undoubtedly been influential on my writing. So work by Catherine Wheels, Barrowland Ballet, Mess by Caroline Horton, Titus by Jan Sobrie,  Mouth Open, Story Jumps Out by Polarbear, have all made an impression. Scotland also has a tradition of creating personal, politically motivated theatre work about its people and Invisible Army fits with that work too.
Are there any other questions I ought to ask that might help me to understand the meaning of dramaturgy for you in your work?
I guess the only other thing you might like to know is how important it is for me that I interact with the subjects of the stories I’m telling, so the work is for them as well as about them. It’s  important that they have ownership of the show. The show is a celebration of them, a documentation of their story, and the production is made all the better for their input.

Sat 22 Oct  | Eden Court Theatre | 7pm | £7 | 01463 234234 | eden-court.co.uk

Mon 24 Oct | Platform | 7pm | £8.50/£5/£4 | 0141 276 9696 (opt 1) | platform-online.co.uk

Thu 27 Oct | Beacon Arts Centre | 7pm | £10/£8 | 01475 723723 | beaconartscentre.co.uk

Sat 29 Oct | Dalmally Community Centre | 7pm | £5 (includes food) | Tickets from Dalmally Post Office 01838 200915

Invisible Army is a new play by Victoria Beesley (My Friend Selma) which has been created in collaboration with young carers from the Glasgow South West Carers Centre.
Combining storytelling with movement and original live music, Invisible Army is a funny, moving, imaginative and charming insight into the life of a young carer.

Invisible Army is directed by Emily Reutlinger (director of Uncanny Valley - winner of 2016 CATS award for Best Production for Children and Young People); choreography by Tony Mills (Room 2 Manoeuvre); designed by Alice Wilson (Magnetic NorthPlutôt la VieVision Mechanics); sound design by Danny Krass (Royal Court, Traverse Theatre); lighting design by Elle Taylor; music composed and played live by Dan Beesley.

Victoria Beesley is Artistic Director of Terra Incognita. She graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2010 and since then has been creating new theatre productions inspired by real life stories. Victoria wrote and performed Terra Incognita’s first production My Friend Selma, which has been touring schools in the Highlands and the north of England since Spring 2014, and toured Scottish theatres in October 2015. Victoria also works on arts projects with a wide range of community groups, and has been developing Invisible Army with the fabulous young carers at Glasgow South West Carers Centre for the past year and a half. 

She has worked with companies including Stellar Quines Theatre Company, A Moments Peace, Scottish Refugee Council, Aberdeen Performing Arts, the Arches and Toonspeak Young People’s Theatre. 

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