Friday, 11 August 2017

Broken Dramaturgy: Thomas Sellick-Newton @ Edfringe 2017

45 minute theatrical ‘in your face’ spectacle, Broken Episodes, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. 

Broken Episodes is an immersive Artaud style of performance written and directed by Thomas Sellick-Newton, artistic director of Atmostheatre, and co-written with Sam Hands and Mark Actinson. This 45 minute theatrical 'in your face' spectacle, integrating both ‘spectator’ and ‘performer’, makes its first Edinburgh appearance 17th - 19th August at Greenside Venues @ Infirmary Street.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

In my work I am incredibly interested in the role of the audience/spectator in theatre. I’m interested by the sense of control and power you can have over an audience especially in areas of popular theatre. I wanted to create a piece that swaps those roles around. I wanted to see if you could create a piece where the audience/spectator became the performer and the performers became spectators to their own art. Hence came ‘Broken Episodes’ which is a narrative constructed on an audience rolling a dice to decide the experience they have. This matched with my belief that the world is unpredictable- both beautiful and yet so frightening. This is reflected in the six scenes I have written that the audience have the potential of seeing. Each scene represents a social issue that has been contested and debated about throughout history.

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

I believe so because it’s displayed in a practical sense. It’s raw and showcased in a physical way. The audience will see the issue being discussed quite literally ‘right in front of their eyes’. You can connect with something better if you see the pain or euphoria for yourself. There is a real magic about theatre. How it brings people from all backgrounds and ways of life together. The way it educates and creates empathy for groups of people or an issue that had none originally. 

Through this craft and platforms such as the fringe and other festivals around the world, people can feel safe to debate and have an opinion. It reinforces the importance of free speech and democracy. Not everyone will have the same opinion but that’s what makes theatre one of the most powerful tools to produce public discussion because through different interpretations real change and genuine help is properly debated and distributed.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I was severely bullied at school, so much so I had to come out of school for a while. Theatre became a form of escapism for me. I started making theatre at 16. It became something I could use to express and filter the pain and anger I was feeling into a positive passion. I always use a sportsman analogy. Like a rugby player goes into a match looking to use his frustration into the tackles he makes to the opposition players. I use this every time I write or perform. 

Every action or emphasis on a word when I perform is me pushing that self- doubt and pain away forever. I don’t think I’ll ever push it out completely. You never forget the things that loom over you like a shadow but that’s why hopefully people connect a lot with my pieces because they are unfiltered and real. After I came out of my studies I started to develop a real passion for performance art because I could write and perform actions that were very symbolic of my past and it wasn’t ‘acting’ it was me on a stage letting the action manipulate me not the other way around. It was very therapeutic for me. 

All my pieces I have made since I was 16 have been passion projects. I need to be able to have something that makes me have an opinion to be able to write ever since. Theatre was never just a job for me, it’s always been a need and it is ingrained within me because in a sense it saved my life like faith or any other institution do for someone else.

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

I wrote ‘Broken Episodes’ 5 years ago now. It started of me developing the concept of an audience picking the scenes they’re going to see by rolling a dice. I started with that foundation- after every scene they see they will pick another one until eventually they will see the total of six scenes. It was about justifying why I was doing that. I concluded because I wanted to see how an audience would feel about having that sense of power and control over a piece they needed to physically pick the experience they will see. Then I wanted to have a look at what those six individual scenes were going to be about. At that time and very much at this current time as well I was frustrated with the lack of movement in equality for different social groups and issues. 

The answer to this lack of movement was always “look how far we have come.” I agree that It’s important to remember how far we as a world have strived for equality for all people. I believed it was important to still show that we are only one foot on the ladder and that we still must recognise that we must not be content with little battles won but we must be concerned that in 2017 we are still hearing stories where people are being scapegoated, persecuted and killed for the fact that they are homeless, homosexual, of a different race or religion or that their a certain gender, transgender, transsexual or non-binary. 

I constructed the six scenes to address individual issues such as poverty, the ideology of feminism, women, homosexuality, race and the environment. I was worried however that the piece had two very different journeys in what it was about. So the individual narratives of each scene are cleverly written so when the audience pick each scene, a grand narrative will start to emerge from the individual scenes they pick. Creating a unique experience for each audience. It will be a totally distinctive, original and objective performance every day we perform it.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

‘Broken Episodes’ is different to my other productions in the sense that it is a much bigger project than I’ve done before. I usually write pieces built for one person that is more verging on the style of performance art. This piece is to delve into transporting the imagery and real emotion from my work in performance art to the theatrical stage. This has had an effect because what people will experience in “broken Episodes’ is unfiltered, powerful and intense. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience will feel free in the space to interpret it how they want to. I want them to come away with an opinion on the people’s stories they see in front of them. I want them to come away with the belief and understanding that they have one life and they are in control of it and that they can achieve anything and make their dreams a reality. I want them to engage with the material in their own unique way and to have their own personal experience when they are in there. ‘Broken Episodes’ is genius in the sense that every single audience member will have a different role within the space whilst integrated with the performers. I want people to embrace that because I know this will happen in other pieces but with broken episodes this concept is exaggerated. Where the audience decide to stand, do and say will create their understanding of ‘Broken Episodes’. The audience will hopefully learn a lot about themselves while they watch ‘Broken Episodes’. They will experience what it is to be truly human and the beauty in being all the same yet totally different. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

‘Broken Episodes’ staging is a way that we did this. When creating the concept, I wanted to make the staging unorthodox thus creating a promenade staging to make it so the audience would be on an equal if not more important than the performers themselves. By creating a promenade setting the audience would be integrated in with the performers thus immersing the audience completely within the environment that the performers create around them. The audience picks the scenes which creates the environment and moulds the interaction they have with the performers. Lighting, sound and smell is another way we create the experience. The audience will be surrounded by light and sound and different smells attached to an individual scene they pick, creating a truly immersed and engrossing theatrical spectacle all around them. I then realized that I had gone as far as activating four senses from the audience so therefore I wanted to find a way where I could add taste, so I have put some edible flowers that certain audience members will receive as a gift for rolling the dice to choose the next scene. One audience member will also be given a video camera per performance and will be told to film the performance however they would like. The video camera will then be collected at the end of every performance. We will then have a range of different video recordings from different audience members to see completely different perceptions of ‘Broken Episodes’ from different performances of the piece.
Broken Episodes is unlike conventional theatre, the structure and narrative is completely decided by the audience. With a total of six unique scenes that are performed whilst surrounding the audience with light, sound and live action. The six scenes are specifically designed to immerse the audience requiring them to question, engage and debate: what is reality? Each audience will experience a different performance, testing their belief that they have the power over the performance by constructing their own, but is this really just a paradox? Does the control lie in fate, chance or randomness?
“It’s not something you watch, it’s something you’re part of” says writer and director of Broken Episodes, Thomas Sellick-Newton. Thomas starting acting professionally at the age of 16. Now an associate practitioner for LAMDA and the Wilson Gallery he has written works in performance art, as well performing as ‘TF debut artist’ at the 2013 ‘Tempting Failure’ festival with his performance, sure to test an audience, ‘Am I Perfect Now!?’. Thomas has also performed in the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony but is now taking his own creation on the road to Edinburgh.
Thomas is also the Artistic Director for Atmostheatre which was set up in 2013 originally for the sole use of Theatre in Education in national schools, using a variety of workshop templates to increase self-esteem and confidence. However, it grew and began to embrace experimental professional works from its many influences.
Catch Broken Episodes at Greenside Venues @ Infirmary Street in the mint studio between 17th - 19th August.

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