Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Dramaturgy They Are Secretly Building: Proto-Type Theater @ Edfringe 2017

'A Machine they're Secretly Building' is a piece of new writing that charts a course from the Top Secret secrets of WWI intelligence through to 9/11, the erosion of privacy, Edward Snowden and to the terror of a future that might already be upon us. 

Summerhall, Red Lecture Theatre. 14.40 daily from 15-27th August.

It speaks up, speaks out, blows the whistle and lifts the veil on the insidious machine of surveillance, exploring crucial contemporary debates around personal freedoms, information and the tensions between government and citizenry.

Proto-type Theater, 'A Machine they're Secretly Building', an interview with Andrew Westerside, Co-Artistic Director of Proto-type Theater.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

I remember very clearly reading the Guardian stories about the Edward Snowden leaks and followed them really closely. It seemed more and more unreal to me, with each passing day, that western democracies were indiscriminately spying on their own citizens in such a brazen way. It really terrified me, and I was even more troubled by how easily the general public were giving up on the stories. I was worried by the ‘nothing to hide’ argument, and how easily terrorism was being used as a pretext for an infrastructure that would have a profound (but mostly invisible) effect on how we live our lives. We all felt we had to use the platform we had – theatre – to do something about it.

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

Absolutely, because theatre lets you see things in a human context, in a broader, historical context, and in the context of the future. What A Machine tries to do, more than anything else, is to make sense of government surveillance a part of a historical narrative, and outline the dangers of what happens if we let it continue. Having that performed for you, rather than reading it or watching it on film, puts it in the most immediate context possible, and you can feel the urgency that comes with it. That’s the same for any kind of performance dealing with urgent social issues – the theatre makes you feel that impact in a very unique way, and the more ways we can open up a space for discussion the better. So it’s not an either/or thing – it’s a both/and. Read the books, read the articles, watch the performance, listen to the interviews.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I knew I wanted to do this when I was sixteen (!) My A-Level tutor gave me a book about the Wooster Group and from the moment I read it I knew there was only one career I was ever going to be interested in. That was 17 years ago…

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

Truth, transparency, and veracity. It was so important that the show felt like the absolute opposite of everything it was trying to expose – so there’s no lies, no bent-truths. Everything we tell you is real. It happened or is still happening and that can be very unsettling. There’s only one moment in the show that ‘speculates’, and that’s right at the very end – it’s obvious, too, because the performers tell you it’s happening.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Yes and no. We’ve always made work that’s very precise, in some sense rhythmically or compositionally driven, or engaged with technology. A Machine does all of those, but it’s the content here that’s something of a radical departure for us. We’ve never made a show that’s so directly connected to a real world event or idea before, let alone one that has a very explicit political agenda. 

So while it fits in some ways, it’s like using the machinery we already have to try and produce something different (which is really exciting to do).

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Something of a wake-up call. Ideally we want the audience to leave feeling a productive mix of fear and fury – we want people shocked and riled enough to feel like they have to do something or tell someone. we want people to be aware, and to educate themselves and others. The first job of dismantling a system as insidious as this is to let people know that it’s there. It’s also a good show, too (!) It’s got pace, humour, sadness, empathy, beauty – all of the things we look for in cultural experiences.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Chronology was super important. There’s so much impenetrable information about state surveillance and its place in our history that understanding the process of getting from where we started to where we are is really crucial – when you can see it in that broader historical picture, you can make more sense of it and hopefully be able to see, much more clearly, the effect it might have on the future.

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