Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Pixel Dramaturgy: Clare Bayley @ Edfringe 2017

Metta Theatre

Pixel Dust
Assembly Roxy 
Aug 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25, 27

This August, as we look back on 70 years of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Metta Theatre is looking to the future with two new plays exploring digital identity and our often problematic relationship to screen technology.

World premieres Pixel Dust and Wondr both star esteemed TV and stage actor Simone James at Assembly Roxy. The plays are part of Assembly's ‘FuturePlay’ a curated season within the Festival exploring all things digital.

Venue:  Assembly Roxy, Upstairs / Central / Downstairs, Snug Bar, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
When you are young, part of growing up is about trying out different identities to see if they fit. But now with the online world, you can literally invent different personas and reach out to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. So I was interested to explore what this means when you’re trying to figure out who you are, and whether it can help or hinder the process. 

The whole question of young people and the internet is a very live one at the moment - there’s a lot of moral panic around teenagers being addicted to screens and all the dangers of the virtual world. As a parent myself I’m often anxious about these questions. So it was great to be able to talk to some very authoritative scientists to find out more about the actual research findings. Which are very different from what the Daily Mail would have us believe!
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
It’s a brilliant space, firsty because it is an empathic art form, and so you can take the debate into much deeper and more meaningful territory than you can in any other discussion space. It has an ability to externalise internal impulses, and confront people with their feelings and prejudices. And secondly because it is a public space - the audience has to physically be there, and sit in the dark with their thoughts and emotions next to other people having similar or different responses. Then they can go off into a bar and talk about it over a drink.
How did you become interested in making performance?
Predictably, at school and at uni I wanted to act. But I’ve always been a writer, really and wasn’t any good at acting. Then I realised that what I wanted from the acting was the collaborative nature of theatre, and I could get that as a playwright. I pity poor novelists and poets who have to spend all their time alone and never get to work in a company of actors, or with directors, designers & stage managers.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
It’s been a lovely process, starting with a lot of research on my part, talking to young people, scientists, parents and - inevitably - researching online. We were then lucky enough to have a week’s workshop to try out ideas, both in terms of the dramaturgy, and the technical aspects such as projections and the use of screens within the show. Throughout, we wanted to challenge people’s preconceived ideas, especially about the ‘evils’ of the internet. This included confronting my own prejudices quite a bit! There are dangers, certainly, for all of us - but there are also huge benefits.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
My work is usually informed by research - I used to be a journalist so I’m interested in responding to the world. But for this play in particular I then tried to forget the research, and write in a way which was true to my character, Ella, rather than trying to push any particular message. I’ve never written a  solo show before - to be honest I’d always been a bit scared to. But I recently co-wrote a book about playwriting, Playwriting, A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion, with the playwright Fraser Grace. He wrote a brilliant chapter on writing a one person play so I felt I was ready for the formal challenges!
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope it will be a beautiful and moving piece of theatre which will make people think again about their relationships with screens.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

There’s nothing more boring than watching somebody engrossed in a screen. But there’s nothing more engrossing than the internet. So I had to find ways to dramatise the allure of cyberspace, while not letting the audience completely off the hook about getting sucked into that world and forgetting about the real, live, present world we are in.

Clare Bayley
Playwriting, An Artists’ and Writers’ Companion, co-written with Fraser Grace, published by Bloomsbury.

Of Pixel Dust, Clare Bayley says: ‘Like everyone I enjoy, resent and depend on the screens in my life in equal measure. As a parent I rail against but collude with the hold they have over our teenagers. So it was very salutary to be able to interrogate the question with the benefit of dispassionate science - the results were surprising.’

No stranger to the stage, the versatile Simone James is thrilled to be tackling two such challenging roles - In Pixel Dust she plays Daniella - a 15 year old schoolgirl escaping online to avoid her real-world problems. ‘I feel blessed to have the honour of bringing these thought provoking and culturally relevant plays to life. It’s such a welcome challenge to simultaneously tackle two such different and complex characters.’ 

Metta Theatre have developed both plays in collaboration with Oxford University’s Dr Andrew Przybylski award-winning Science Writer and Guardian Correspondent Professor Pete Etchells - both Psychologists whose work explores the impact of screen time and gaming. The project is supported by a Small Arts Award from the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. They provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. www.wellcome.ac.uk

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