Sunday, 4 June 2017

Dramaturgy for the end of the world: Rachel Briscoe @ Edfringe 2017


13:45 (14:45)

2-27 August

(Not 9 not 14 not 21)

Answers from Rachel Briscoe
creative director, fanSHEN and director, Lists for the end of the world

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Honestly? I make a lot of lists. Mostly ‘to do’ lists but other lists too. There was a day I was really pissed off about something and I needed to stop being in a bad mood so I wrote at the top of a page in my notebook ‘Things I’m sick of’ and made a list. It got me out of the bad mood – but then a couple of days later I came across what I had written and found it really funny – there were really political big world event type things next to things like ‘my haircut’ and ‘winter vegetables’. 

I started wondering if it would be possible to make a whole show of lists. I was quite skeptical at first – working with the rest of the company, we did little try-outs with lists we’d sourced from friends. We quickly realised how engaging the lists were, how they gave a sense of the person who’d written them, how they showed up common humanity and how ridiculous we all are. 

And also that the show had the potential to be both very funny and really poignant.

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

Sure, so long as it is a discussion and not a one-sided lecture. I’m really sick of theatre that beats you around the head with one idea. What I really like about Lists is there are so many voices in there; it isn’t a traditional play so we haven’t had to resolve everything into one narrative drive/ thesis and anti-thesis. It’s a genuinely polyphonic piece – with really contrasting outlooks in there, because we sourced the lists from all over. 

So for example, the list ‘Times I felt free’ has quite a lot of answers that a typical liberal theatre audience might give – things about traveling, swimming, having just passed an important exam. But it’s also got different voices – like a young man from Stockton: ‘when I passed my army selection’. 

For a lot of people that’s the antithesis of free but for him, it was opportunity, a ticket out of a place that held little hope for him. In a weird way, the list titles are a playful and elegant way of discussing the hows and whys of human existence – without being anywhere near as heavy as I’ve made that sound!

How did you become interested in making performance?

I don’t know really. I guess I love images and words, and performance brings them together. The stuff about ‘liveness’ gets talked about waaaaay too much. I disagree that a bunch of strangers sitting silently next to each other in a darkened room is a shared experience by default, but I think some performance can have the effect of bringing people together – which I’ve not really ever experienced in a cinema. So I guess performance gives a combination of tools that I find very exciting.

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

So every word in the show is sourced from a list that someone has given us. While we were making it, every day we had a daily list title that we’d put out there on social media, and people would send us their responses (they’d also read and comment on each others’). 

When we were in residency at a theatre, we had a postbox in the café with hard copies of the daily title, so people could fill them in while they were waiting for their coffee. We’ve also done workshops of various kinds and made an installation at a festival where we collected lists. 

Then we took all these bits of paper into the rehearsal room and played with ways to animate the content – for example with music, so some of the lists are sung. It’s been a lot of fun – and we feel really privileged to have been able to play with contributions from over 300 people.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Most fanSHEN work is co-created with the audience in some way – so the audience playing within a structure we’ve made, or responding to some invitation or provocation from us. We’d be unlikely to make something in isolation, without any creative dialogue… I think that kind of work would feel less rich for us. 

There’s also usually a mixture of big ideas and trashy, funny stuff: we’re as interested in neuroscience as we are in bad Saturday afternoon 90s TV. We’re pretty passionate about the idea that performance can be experimental without needing to be elitist.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Oh god, all the emotions! It really is a show that goes from poignant to laugh out loud funny and back again in a minute. I also think it’s a really hopeful show – because people are wonderful and contradictory and bizarre - and the lists show this. There’s a lot to be worried or depressed about right now – it’s easy to lose sight of the moments of human kindness and beauty, which many of the lists reveal. I think a bit of joy and hope could come in handy right now.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
You mean, what’s the dramaturgy of piece that has neither characters nor one narrative?! I think we worked a lot with rhythm, tempo, visual picture and contrast within these categories. We thought about what the audience’s relationship was to each of the three performers – and what their evolving relationships to each other were. 

We plotted moments that might be sad or challenging to hear – and made sure we were also putting in sections that were upbeat or funny near to them. I guess for us, dramaturgy is putting things together in a way that gives them more meaning than they’d have as individual elements. So we’d try putting things together and ask ourselves, does this have more meaning than the bits do on their own. 

We made a lot of material – and then cut quite savagely. But I think you never quite understand a show until you’ve seen a good few audiences experience it… so ask me at the end of Edinburgh how effective those strategies were!

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