Saturday, 22 July 2017

Scribble Dramaturgy: Andy Edwards @ Edfringe 2017

Andy Edwards and Amy Gilmartin present


Assembly Roxy Downstairs (Venue 139)
3 – 27 August (not 15, 22nd)

Winner of the 2017 Assembly Roxy Theatre Award (The ART Award), Scribble is a piece of new writing about mental health and supernovas from Andy Edwards, directed by Amy Gilmartin.

Ross is studying for a PhD in cosmology. He's interested in science, the universe and how
stuff works. Bran flakes, anxiety and gravity. The smallest moments in history. The largest events in the universe. 

Ross can’t stop thinking about her yellow shoes. He is standing on the brink of a black hole; an event horizon stretching into eternity and gone in the blink of an eye.

Ross has a scribble in his chest.   

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Scribble draws a lot of inspiration from my own experiences of ill mental health, particularly focusing on patterns of obsessive thought and compulsive action. This lived-experience was really the gateway to a more sustained period of research into OCD.

I’m not particularly clear why I felt compelled to write Scribble, beginning as it did out of a compulsive response to a particular obsessive thought I was experiencing at that time – and that I had been experiencing for a while. It was a written a little bit in the first instance out of illness, out of a need to do something with a thing but not knowing why or even what that thing was. 

I had a desire – and this desire was unhealthy and misguided in lots of ways – to write it out, to sort of get rid of it in some way, to put out into the world what had been something I had felt unable to speak about before. The healthy side of that desire was that I wanted to relax the grip on these thoughts, thoughts I believed to be incredibly dangerous, and find a way to not worry about them so much.
I was a bit at the end of my tether with keeping quiet about what was going on in my brain. The more I researched OCD and reflected on my own experiences the more it seemed apparent that there might be something useful about sharing that experience of reaching the end of your tether, both for myself of course but also for other people experiencing similar patterns of thought, or for anyone who has ever had to have a relationship, including a friendship, with someone who was going through a period of ill-mental health.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 
Yes I think so. That’s not to say it isn’t without its problems, by which I mean that the space in which those ideas are discussed is as contested as any other space. Performance doesn’t exist apart from the world in that way, it’s not neutral in any sense – there are structures that mean that certain kinds of work get made and certain kinds of work don’t get made, for example. 

That’s a little vague but what I mean is that yes it is a good place to discuss ideas but that the terms upon which that discussion are held are something that needs to be continually challenged and questioned. There’s nothing inherent in performance that means it is a good space for discussing ideas from the off I guess.
I suppose my approach to it as a performance-maker is that it is useful to work out what performance can’t do, what it isn’t useful for. Certain mediums, especially digital ones, are much better at reaching wider audiences for example. So I suppose performance is useful if the type of discussion you want to have is of a certain type. 

That type is still pretty broad but at least in the work I make I find performance useful because of its immediacy, that it happens in the same time and place as its audience. That immediacy is useful but then I can imagine a lot of contexts where that immediacy is totally unhelpful.
With Scribble we’re definitely interested in that meeting between audience and work as it happens within the same time and space. There’s a discourse that will happen outside the room - we do hope that people feel engaged enough by the work to speak about it afterwards - but with Scribble our focus is on the conversations that are happening in the room, in the performance, in the moment. 

Specifically the work focuses on a dialogue that is happening between me and Amy – where we are negotiating our mental health in relation to each other – and that meeting between Scribble and the audience. Both these conversations are both produced by and produce each other too. We’re interested in what this approach might mean for how we talk about mental health in the present tense, about how those acts of speaking and listening occur in the moment.

How did you become interested in making performance?
I’m not particularly sure to be honest. I didn’t really engage with theatre that much when I was younger but I started writing at a fairly early age. I remember wanting to write film scripts but then realising I didn’t have the resources to pull that off. So a move into performance sort of happened and I started writing for that because it was much cheaper to do, and then I did a bit of acting, a bit of directing and got super hooked on it as a student at Edinburgh. 

Having Bedlam Theatre on the doorstep was a huge help, a building to just muck about with was a great resource which I definitely didn’t appreciate enough at the time. After that I fell madly in love with dramaturgy and I’ve been banging on about that quite a lot recently…

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
Possibly one of the most interesting things about the approach is the manner in which the most recent draft (draft forty-nine) of Scribble was written. 

The work was first developed under the Playwrights’ Studio Mentoring Programme with Rob Drummond as my mentor. 

I wrote a lot of drafts during that period, mostly hunched over a laptop and mostly on my own. The resulting work had this slightly contorted slightly self-abusive tone to it. I experience some emotional difficulty as a result of my current state of health and find myself lapsing into patterns of obsessive thought and compulsive action. 

That illness really bled into how I first wrote Scribble, and right up until me and Amy presented it at the Traverse Hothouse I was still in this mode. It wasn’t a great way to work for me.
After we won the award I got a fair bit worse, as I really didn’t want to go back to that method of writing. I really wasn’t in a place where it was healthy for me to work on my own – and the work that would have emerged would have been pretty crap I think, too self-involved, too chasing its own tail. 

So I and Amy met up to try and resolve this and as a minor solution we started writing the last draft together, in the same time and space. This process was pretty fluid, sometimes I’d look at the laptop by myself and Amy would do admin (or bang on about Mad Men), sometimes we’d go to Greggs and chat about the work on the way there and back and sometimes we’d both sit at the laptop or I’d get up and perform what I’d just written to her. 

It was exactly what I – and the work – needed; it opened up some breathing space, gave the work a real lift. 
There’s something really poisonous about the notion of the lone writer crafting their masterpiece on their own, or at least, I find it a really fucking horrible way to go to work each day in that way. It probably works really well for some but I’d much rather be a writer on my feet in a room with other folk in it. Writing with Amy, breaking out of that obsessive state, lightening the load and – perhaps most importantly – not trying to make a masterpiece but just trying to make a piece, was a smart move.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Before sitting down to write this play I hadn’t written anything that resembled a play text for a significant amount of time. I had just finished a trilogy of ecographies, maps constructed through language that documented and re-performed a durational journey aboard the Glasgow Subway, a conference on heritage at Timespan Arts and
an exhibition at GENERATORprojects in Dundee. 

Beyond that I was regularly collaborating with a Nottingham-based choreographer on a duet of improvised text and dance called the ground, the highest point. All these works were primarily about how language relates to the world, about how language positions and affects speakers and listeners. So my artistic practice at present is pretty linguistic-orientated on the whole I think.
Scribble fits into that in lots of ways I think. I was curious when starting out writing to think about what the language of obsession and compulsion might sound like, about what it might mean to write OCD – what a dramaturgy of OCD might look like. That’s there in the language, there’s a good deal of repetition and minor linguistic variation, and at a structural level too.
Mental health – which is a pretty vast topic – is something I’ve written about before. The last full length play I wrote, anchor was based on my experiences of hypnotherapy and I’ve written short pieces of work about OCD before. 

I’ve also volunteered and worked in the context of healthcare too, so it’s a discourse I’m invested in from multiple positions.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?
That’s a difficult one to answer I think, partly because what the audience experience is governed by so many factors that aren’t within our control. But I suppose what we’re hoping the audience to experience in some sense is the affective quality of anxiety – how it feels to experience obsessive thought patterns, and how the experience of particular thought patterns commonly associated with OCD can make someone feel incredibly isolated.
Hope is important too. Scribble is a work with a lot of hope I think, that carries itself quite lightly at certain moments. We want the audience to experience that lightness, a lightness that emerges through conversation, through listening and speaking, through making attempts to understand how each other are feeling. That’s really important to us. We don’t have much in the way of answers – we’ve no guidance for solutions apart from some signposts to people who might -  but we do have a good deal of hope. It’d be great if the audience experience that.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
One of the most interesting strategies that Amy is using to shape the audience’s experience of Scribble is to introduce an element of liveness to the work. There are two
roles in the work, Alan MacKenzie plays the central character Ross and there is another actor in a supporting role. 

This supporting role will be played by a different actor every day, who will be reading the script for the first time on stage in front of an audience. We’re really excited by this idea because no one will know what’s going to happen next in Scribble, the work will be different from moment to moment, performance to performance. 

This strategy isn’t us reinventing the wheel, not at all - there’s a long list of work that has employed a similar mechanism – Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is probably the most famous example. Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree too. 

With Scribble though we’re interested in how this mechanism might help perform the idea that our mental health changes every day, as well as reflecting the fact that experiences of ill-mental health cut across the whole of society. The end result will probably be a little messy, it won’t always work and things are bound to wrong. We’re really excited by those mistakes and miss-steps. 

That feels really important to making a work about mental health, and it certainly rings true with my own experiences.

On the hope front Scribble has at least two jokes in it, so that’s a good place to start, we think. They’re both nicked from Tim Vine – and he’s always making people laugh.

Based on experiences both real and imagined, Scribble is an exploration of the complexity of obsession and compulsion and supermarkets.

The production is a two-hander and the creative team are taking an innovative and ambitious approach to casting the play by featuring a different actor playing the supporting role in each performance. As a piece of work Scribble is never finished because the treatment of mental health is a continual, ongoing process. Every supporting actor will be reading the script for the first time on stage, with no rehearsals. This is in response to NHS statistics which show that approximately 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime.

For the creative team this approach has two aims: firstly to represent the changing nature of individual mental health on a daily basis, and secondly to represent the range of people affected by mental health problems across society by working with actors from a variety of backgrounds. The performance will be different every day because our mental health can be different every day.

Scribble was developed last year under the guidance of Rob Drummond (Bullet Catch, In Fidelity) when Andy was selected for the Playwrights' Studio Scotland Mentoring Programme. Development of the script was supported by the Tom McGrath Trust, and an early draft of the play directed by Amy was presented as a rehearsed reading at the Traverse Theatre’s 2016 Hothouse season for emerging Scottish talent.

Scribble is supported by The ART Award - a brand-new Award funded by Assembly Festival for developing Scottish performance companies in the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Twitter: @scribble_play
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