Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Believers are but Dramaturgy: Javaad Alipoor @ Edfringe 2017

Javaad Alipoor presents: 
The Believers Are But Brothers 

A sharp, compelling and interactive new work merging stories of extremism, fantasy, reality and the digital age to examine a crisis in masculinity.
Part of Northern Stage at Summerhall, Tech Cube, 5 - 26 August 2017, 12:45 (13:45), 12+
Press preview: Thursday 3 August, 11:00 (12:00)

This urgent, multi-layered performance blends storytelling with the lure of digital technology, enveloping audiences in a world of encrypted instant messaging, webcam footage, online gaming and forums, to explore what drives men towards online and real world extremism.

My name is Javaad Alipoor, I made the show Believers Are But Brothers

The inspiration behind the performance was first and foremost the online presence of radical and so-called “extremist” groups like ISIS, and increasingly some of the far right.  I was really interested in how this online presence, fits into the rest of the internet, and its relationship to other ways in which the digital screen woks like a screen to project fantasies of masculinity onto.  

I wanted to find a way to play around with these ideas; how our bodies and spirits are shaped by what we repeatedly do online, and the lens of masculinity and political extremism, gave me a way to hang this on quite a big political question.

I think performance is a really crucial space for certain kinds of public discussion.  I think its often easiest to start with what kind of public discussion its not for.  I dont think performance is hugely useful in terms of pedagogy or education (saving a handful of really great TIE companies), and I dont think its at its best when it is about theatre as activism or an attempt to “change peoples minds”.  
I think TV and other mediums are better at that; partially because of the more passive nature of the audience experience, and the relation of that passivity to a deficit model of knowledge, and partly because of the much greater audience reach.   
This can be a really important thing (e.g. how the Superman radio series helped to bring the KKK down in the US in the 30s), but its not something we as theatre makers do best.  

But I do think there is another model of theatre in the public space as discussion, that probably owes as much to Brecht as it does to Artuad, which is about the specificity of what performance can do.  In that sense I think theatre’s role as the art that contributes to implication, provocation and revealing the sometimes invisible ties that already bind us is absolutely necessary to be focused on.

 Its what makes theatre specific.

I became interested in making performance as a kid really.   Its a horrendous cliche but Ive always really felt that capacity of story telling, music and elevated speech to hold a group of people, and to get things across to them, to have some sort of affective relationship with them, that regular speaking doesn’t.

 I had a play around with some theatre stuff at university, but whilst I had fun, I didn't really belong in that student drama scene, I felt very different in regards, ethnicity, social class, accent and so on.  After a few years doing more music, I came across the Asian Theatre School, and initiative funded by ACE at the time that supported BME emerging artists in Yorkshire, and got involved.

This show doesn't really fit my usual productions, as Im not usually a performer.  I tend to follow a writer/director way of doing things.  I begin with workshops and R&D often with community participants, and devise stories and material around a central theme or story idea.  We then tend to make the show with a mixed company of professionals and participants.With this show I had to find a different model becuase I wanted it to tour more extensively, so I found a co-director, and performed in it, taking the really cool ultra small scale work artists like Chris Thorpe and Selena Thompason are making as a jumping off point.

I want the audience to experience two things; the power and potential of the technologies and connections that we use every day, the way they shape us and our society; and the profound closeness and “hereness” of the biggest political international questions we face.  

I suppose the strategies I use to tray and shape this audience experience are in text, and in dramaturgy.  I try and use text to develop a language which moves from a more naturalistic place to something more heightened, whilst making it hints at the fundamental dramaturgical metaphor which will bring the crux of the moment of implication to light.  

Set against a political stage where the old world orders are collapsing, The Believers are But Brothers is the product of hours spent diving into an online world of extremists, police spies and fantasists. The piece scours the darkest corners of the web and delves into the minds of a generation of young men immersed in the online world whose actions are no longer confined to their desktops. Exploring the words and imagery employed by extremists across the political spectrum, fantasy becomes reality as young men travel to join ISIS, whole digital armies target prominent feminists online (Gamergate) and the dangerous anonymity of the internet takes form on doorsteps and the streets.
As Javaad explains, “I noticed that the propaganda pictures and the way online activ- ists pushed forward the views of groups like ISIS seemed very far from the way that the media had been talking about them; their aesthetic and language was all about Game Of Thrones, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty. What drew me in was the feeling that a lot of the most ’extreme’ political views, that we usually feel are quite far away from us, can be instantly accessed through mobile phones and laptops. As someone who grew up Muslim, I wanted to refract and retell these stories in the context that I think is crucial: that of a generation of young men undergoing a crisis of masculinity and meaning, and seeking a two dimensional fantasy version of themselves to give their lives meaning.”
Javaad Alipoor is a writer and director, and sometimes performer. He is associate director at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, resident associate director at Sheffield Theatres and the director of theatre company Northern Lines. His work comes from discussions and workshops with communities that don’t usually engage with mainstream theatre.

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