Thursday, 3 August 2017

Babel Dramaturgy: Colby Quinn @ Edfringe 2017


LOUD // IN BABEL
 by COLBY QUINN
dir. Anastasia Bruce-Jones
12:55pm 14th - 19th August
TheSpace@NiddrySt (Upper), Niddry Street, EH1 1TH

It is 2057 and the world’s population has reached 10 billion. To prevent unsanctioned births, British law states that no male and female can be alone together in a private place. In an abandoned house, on the edge of town, Thomas and Isla break away from the rest of the party...
An abandoned house on the outskirts of Bristol. A group of young, would-be revolutionaries break in to start fires and drink liquid steel. The party quickly becomes raucous.
Upstairs, Thomas finds an old bedroom, dusty but with shafts of
evening light filtering in, and prepares a surprise for his girlfriend, Isla; their first proper date, alone. A heart-warming love story begins; two young people held apart by a law which unjustly assumes the sexuality of heterosexual relationships finally live out the most intimate and fragile of human interactions – they discover what is like to be alone with the person you love.
As they talk – about the city, about university, about their families and, seemingly constantly, about the way their lives have been affected by the new law – they are able to begin revealing the depth of their feelings for each other.
But romantic excitement turns to recklessness for Thomas as they steel themselves with alcohol. The political becomes entangled with the private once again, as Thomas’s frustration and revolutionary fury build, fuelled by the discovery of a box of photographs which tell a story of a similarly persecuted couple. Thomas’s idea of rebellion, sexual intercourse, in a world where even a father and daughter can’t be alone together, isn’t Isla’s.




WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS PERFORMANCE?

I really like one night stands. There's something really exciting about being in such an intimate situation with someone you hardly know. But I don't like having sex on one night stands. It's just a line I draw. Some people have a real issue with that.

It seems to me that every time I've found myself in a situation where a guy - and I say 'guy' because it always has been guys, girls in my experience haven't been this way - has pushed the boundaries of consent, and I've told them to stop and explained to them that they were beginning to do something that was non-consensual, it's always ended up being me who comforts them. 


Me who comforts them? What the hell?
Because I guess it is upsetting, thinking that if the person you're on a one-night-stand with wasn't outspoken, or sober enough, or aware enough of exactly what it is she wants (or doesn't want), you could easily have ended up raping them. But I think we can agree that it's a hell of a lot more upsetting to have it the other way round.

I had that image in my head for a few weeks - the victim comforting the person who has pushed their boundaries - and LOUD // in Babel emerged out of that.

IS PERFORMANCE STILL A GOOD SPACE FOR THE PUBLIC DISCUSSION OF IDEAS?

Well, in this case, I'm not really sure that's the question we need to be asking.

I went through school with absolutely no discussion of consent at all - this is nothing against my school, it's a good place that really cares about it's students, but it's not in the curriculum and - worse - it's just not in people's minds. 


There's no culture of talking about consent. The only formal education I've ever had about consent was a half-hearted two hour
workshop at the start of my time at University, run by students who had barely more experience than I did. Sure, I had a few afternoons in school when I was taught how to put a condom on a cucumber. Frankly, these days, that's worse than not good enough.

The only place I ever see ideas of consent and - even more rarely - the difficult case of rape happening within a loving and consensual relationship being discussed is in performance and the very fringes of the media, in edgy, low-budget dramas and YouTube documentaries.

As a writer and director, performance is the way I express my ideas. It's the medium through which I naturally filter and express my experiences. I guess that makes me lucky, because performance is one of the few places which *allows*, and more importantly, validates discussion of consent. Performance is absolutely necessary as a space for the public discussion of ideas.

The question we need to be asking, though, is why is performance so necessary? Why is performance the only place I can be sure of being heard when I say that I have taught myself through experience how to prevent my own rape?


HOW DID YOU BECOME INTERESTED IN MAKING PERFORMANCE?

I think it was when I saw Trevor White play

Hotspur in Gregory Doran's 'Henry IV: Part I' and I realised that really great performances are about saying something totally new.

In White's portrayal, Hostpur was an autistic man, wholly dedicated to his ideals, on fire with passion, leaping across the stage (I swear, four feet high sometimes) and compelling the audience with every ancient word he spoke. He never said a single thing that hasn't been said a hundred times before but it was electric and modern and totally fresh.

IS THERE ANY PARTICULAR APPROACH TO THE MAKING OF THE SHOW?

Not exactly a particular 'approach' - we're not going to rehearse everything in complete darkness or with our hands tied behind our backs or eating only rice and beans - I don't believe in directing gimmicks. But as with rehearsing any show, there are going to be unique challenges that require unique solutions.

For example, Isla and Thomas (the characters in LOUD // in Babel) get drunk through the course of the show. Given that their particular level of drunkenness leads to both of them losing a degree of control and doing things that they probably wouldn't do if they were sober, it's important for Toby and Beth (our actors) to feel that particular level of drunkenness and how it affects their decisions as characters. 




So we're going to do a rehearsal where we run the show and they actually drink the amount of alcohol the characters are drinking - in real time. And I'll record that and then we'll watch it through the next day. But the recording is sort of secondary, it'll help with slight physical things, but no-one wants to watch actors pretending to be absolutely smashed, so it's not really about that. It's more to feel how that lack of control works on the characters; makes them quieter or bolder or gives them that little voice at the back of the head that whispers 'this is bad, this is really bad'.

Instead of a particular approach, it'll be exercises like this. What I focus on is getting the actors' heads fully inside the psyche of their character, thinking and feeling as they do. After that, things come naturally.


DOES THE SHOW FIT WITH YOUR USUAL PRODUCTIONS?

Not exactly, but then it's been a pretty crazy range so far. I've directed 'Love's Labour's Lost' (a quirky Shakespeare comedy) set in modern-day Cambridge, 'The Duchess of Malfi' (a revenge tragedy) using physical theatre and 'set' (if you can call it setting) inside the subconscious dreaming mind of society itself, 'Birdsong' (Faulks' WW1 romance) in a pretty faithful way and I'm currently writing a short-film about two student film-makers who think they're Arthur Rimbaud. There's no real pattern here.

What I think is important to me is that audiences feel a connection - some significance to what is happening on stage, whether that's because they've been through similar things themselves or conversely because they are being made to feel something totally new. It's that sense of connection that will keep people coming to the theatre, keep young people interested, and prevent the 'dying out' of theatre that the arts world at the moment is so afraid of.

WHAT DO YOU HOPE THAT THE AUDIENCE WILL EXPERIENCE?

Emotion. It's as simple as that.

What I find interesting is that when you go to the theatre or the cinema, you know that what you're seeing is not real. And yet, you feel it more strongly than reality. I've had people tell me they love me for the first time and felt far less emotion than when Jack and Rose kiss on the prow of the Titanic. It's a sort of condensation of reality.

People go because they want to feel something, and that's exactly what I plan to deliver.


WHAT STRATEGIES DID YOU CONSIDER TOWARDS SHAPING THIS AUDIENCE
EXPERIENCE?

We've got a lot of cool ideas about this; we're planning to give some audience members t-shirts which, without revealing anything about the twists of the play, have quite an important role in a big reveal.

We're also using people's voices within the play itself, so we need some volunteers to read some sections of writing for us. So, if you want to actually be in an Edinburgh show, come to us!


LOUD // in Babel, an original piece of dystopia from Colby Quinn, is a powerful insight into the dangers of a voice going unheard. Through the funny, touching and fast-paced dialogue of the two would-be lovers, the play challenges our perceptions of freedom of speech, consent and the implications of silencing a voice.

LOUD // in Babel is structured around a new and very different concept, which poses multiple problems for both the characters and the audience to grapple with. The unique concept of the play frames the issues of the present, focusing on a hypothetical future which amplifies the fears of today without parodying them or using already well-worn Orwellian tropes overtly. 

The play challenges the audience by placing them inside a space which is controlled by laws which have a fundamental impact on the way the characters have lived their lives and understand communication. 

Through the play, the audience realise their own comparative freedom, the delicate balance of the private and the political and the terrifying consequences of this balance being upset. The play itself strikes an unsettling and deeply affecting balance between romantic comedy and political drama, which drives the pace and creates a Nick Payne-esque emotional struggle. 

This rejection of standardised genre expectations holds the audience to account for their own problematic expectations of romantic relationships in theatre and western culture more broadly and reflects the darkly ambiguous position created by voicelessness within the play. The theme of voicelessness itself creates an intriguing crux in a form which is built around dialogue, asking questions about the existence and position of free speech, which are reminiscent of Sam Steiner. 

The production uses simple technical effects to create powerful images, building to an exciting technical reveal at the end. The play builds around difficult ambiguities, which come to their climax in the question of sexual consent in a loving, consensual relationship. It is a play which will spark conversations and debate among audience-members, something that lies at the heart of Fringe theatre.


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