Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Fix Dramaturgy: Joe Sellman-Leava and Michael Woodman @ Edfringe 2017


Underbelly Cowgate (Belly Dancer), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JXThursday 3rd – Sunday 27th August 2017 (not 16th), 17:40

Internationally acclaimed, Fringe First winning Worklight Theatre, present a brand new ensemble show that examines the causes and effects of various addictions in society - from substance abuse to behavioural addiction.
Based on research and interviews with addicts, and the people who love or work with them, Worklight use their trademark juxtaposition of the personal with the political, the head with the heart, the micro with the macro. With an ensemble of three actor-musicians, Fix tells a story of three very different people battling three very different vices.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Our shows usually start with a question we can’t answer ourselves. With our very first show, How to Start a Riot, it was something like: ‘do people really lose their minds in crowds?’

For Fix, we’d been talking about addiction and asking why a significant number of people are addicted to certain substances and behaviours. The more we researched, the more we interviewed experts on the subject, the more questions we had so we felt it had the potential to be a really compelling process and an exciting show.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely! This is what sets theatre apart from
things like film and TV because its very nature involves going into a public space and sharing an experience with strangers. Discussion becomes much more likely. Even though public discourse is able to happen instantly and globally with online media, the nature of it is very different. It can easily stray into hostility.

We took our previous show, Labels, to a rural venue in Cheshire recently, and the session afterwards was really vibrant - people who might never have spoken otherwise were in conversation that would most likely be quite ugly online! Wherever possible, we always try to do post-show discussions when tour our shows, to try and capture some of this energy while its fresh.

How did you become interested in making performance?

There’s the excitement of creating and collaborating, but for us it’s the potential that creating performance offers to investigate and provoke. We both studied drama at Exeter University, and each got to study very different kinds of practice. Worklight was formed after graduating, and we quickly found that devising new theatre was a way of delving into topics that we otherwise might have overlooked. 

There are so many fascinating things about the world and, whilst you can’t create a show about every single one, making shows is an amazing way to learn more about some of them.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

We love collaborating, and bringing together teams of people with very different skills. For Fix, we started by interviewing support workers and professors, working in the field of addiction, as well as people in various stages of recovery. We then went through several phases of writing and practical exploration of that text, which evolved into a first draft of the script. Working with our director and dramaturg Katharina Reinthaller, this has been redrafted again and again. And we’ve all been meeting regularly with the composers for the show - Lisandra Mendes, Gustave Robic - to discuss how the music is taking shape, and it’s role in the piece.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes and no. Yes because it’s searching for answers to specific questions, with an interplay between science and theatre. It juxtaposes questions of the head and the heart, the micro and the macro, and that’s been a feature in all our shows.

Where it differs is, firstly, in the role of music, which hasn’t ever been as integral to our previous work. Whilst not a musical, we want Fix to have a real sense of rhythm and musicality throughout. Also, this is the first time we’ve written or devised something where at least one of us hasn’t also performed performed, so it’s a new venture in that sense.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Partly we’d like them to feel they’ve been invited into a support group meeting, or an addiction clinic. Addiction feels very removed to a lot of us. Statistically, we’re all likely to know someone who’s affected by it - even we aren’t personally - yet it’s often not discussed. We want to place people in the heart of the experience, and make it feel intoxicating: exciting, dizzying as well stark and sad.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We the wanted the audience to surround the performers, and to create the potential for the audience-performer relationship to blur in places. We thought a lot about the right space for the show, with this in mind, and Underbelly Cowgate’s Belly Dancer seems like a great fit.

In terms of creating the feelings of being intoxicated, or being totally absorbed in something, we’re looking at the role music can play in this. The idea is that it will work hand in hand with the text, to create this feeling of highs and lows - the chaos that addiction can bring to people’s lives.

The use of music within Fix is an integral part of its storytelling. The language is full of imagery about the brain and the body and the music makes the experience as sensory as it is cognitive.

In developing Fix, Worklight have spoken to academic experts in the field, such as Behavioural Neuroscientist Dr Femke Buisman-Pijlman, as well to those who work in addiction counselling. They have also interviewed people with a range of different addictions, in various stages of rehabilitation which has strongly influenced the production.

Co-writer Joe Sellman-Leava comments, It has been fascinating to learn more about how our brains reward us for things like eating, by releasing feel-good hormones, and how this changes if you become addicted to a substance or behaviour. The show asks if we all have the capacity to develop an addiction, and the role things like smart phones might play in this.

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