Monday, 29 January 2018

Dramaturgical Butterfly: Jessica Innes @ Manipulate 2018

Directed by Jessica Innes

Saturday 3rd February, Traverse Theatre. Snapshots 5.

A Shadow Theatre piece about the pressures of conformity for young women in society

Director/Performer – Jessica Innes
Performer – Paul Barnes
Performer – Philip Kingscott
Soundtrack Designer and Musician – Lewis Maxwell Bigham - Glassmasterer

Social Butterfly is a 6-minute showing of a combination of scenes from the development of Behind The Screen. Shorter versions of some of the scenes created so far will be shown. This is a development from Social Butterfly’s first showing at the Diploma in Physical Theatre’s Showcase. Social Butterfly focuses on the pressures of fitting into society that are emphasised through Social Media.

Using Shadow Theatre, Projection, and Puppetry, Behind the Screen is an exploration of how our relationship with Social Media can have an unexpected impact on our relationships with family and friends, and how we view ourselves. Follow the story of a teenage girl finding self-confidence behind the screen of her phone. However, as her perceptions of reality become blurred by Likes and Emojis, she succumbs to the power of the Social Media Puppeteer.

Behind the Screen is a new show, supported by Summerhall through a Residency Development Week; “Virtual physical theatre artist Jessica Innes, will spend a week with Summerhall to develop Behind the Screen, a show exploring the effects of social media on teenagers.”

What was the inspiration for this performance?

The creative idea was influenced from a presentation by Jon Ronson at the Lyceum Theatre, 2017. He was speaking about Mental Health – following from his book The Psychopath Test – and he was highlighting aspects of modern life that can have an impact on our mental health. This led to research of Social Media following reading his book, and its relation with mental health. 

During the Science Festival in Edinburgh 2017, Social Media was a popular topic. For a generation who are so used to watching everything on their phone/computer screens, it was evident that there was a better way to get the message across than using dialogue heavy scripts. 

How do you feel your work fits within the remit of the manipulate festival?

“Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival is produced by Puppet Animation Scotland. Puppet Animation Scotland champions visual theatre, puppetry and animation in Scotland and supports artists and organisations who engage with these artforms.”

Social Butterfly is visual, physical, and includes puppetry. The piece uses a combination of traditional and contemporary Shadow Theatre, with projections. To create this show, I have used skills gained from the Diploma in Physical Theatre course and from attending workshops with Curious School of Puppetry, Fabrizio Montecchi (Teatro Gioco Vita), Norbert Götz, Tortoise in a Nutshell, Smoking Apples Theatre Company, Théâtre du Soleil, and receiving private training from Vision Mechanics. I also received mentorship from puppeteer, Rene Baker.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

I believe the most effective way to inspire people is through entertainment. Performance can take an unbiased approach to an issue and use real experiences to portray ideas and themes, which I feel is more proactive. Meeting characters and watching their journeys allows an audience to feel involved – feeling happiness for a character’s achievement or empathetic for character’s heartache. 

These feelings towards people in these situations can make the theme or idea inspire discussion because it connects on a greater scale than reading in a newspaper.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I have always enjoyed performing – ever since I was a little girl. It is not only a fantastic journey to portray somebody else, but storytelling can have such a huge impact on people that it is so rewarding. Working in theatre and having the opportunity to meet so many practitioners was a great way to learn how to make theatre. 

The Diploma in Physical Theatre course at Summerhall really taught me how to create work and this was where I started to explore Shadow Theatre. I am now returning to lead a workshop in Shadow Theatre to the current students. I have been inspired by so many companies; Les Enfants Terrible, Punchdrunk, Frantic Assembly – to name a few, and wanted to learn the skills in making a production.

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

This show is completely visual, so the approach to the creation of the show is a lot slower than approaching a text. A storyboard is so important to create when doing visual and physical theatre. I started by researching images to do with Social Media and came across the artist Luis Quiles, whose illustrations are incredibly powerful. As Shadow Theatre uses a lot of imagery, creating moving images has fueled the rehearsal process. 

My approach as a performer and theatre maker is to play; be open-minded and try as much as possible. Over only a few months, the piece has gone through several transformations – always retaining the same story – but having a range of different music, bodies in and out of shadow, narration, and elements of Clown. In preparation for a development week at Summerhall, the style of performance was decided and the scenes/sequences became more rooted; Bodies in Shadow with Shadow Puppetry, with no language. During the development week at Summerhall, the approach was to focus on developing material already made rather than creating new material – there is such a thing as too many ingredients!

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

My experience is predominantly as a performer, and this is my first production as Director and Performer. I have explored a range of themes and stories in my previous work – ranging from a Shadow performance of an extract of Heracles to an immersive production of Trainspotting

I have worked in a variety of genres from Short Films, to Physical Theatre, Comedy and Drama on both stage and screen. The work I most enjoy is exploring current themes and issues.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

It is the aim of the show to teach young people how the use of Social Media can affect someone. This show will also highlight to any audience member who does feel affected by Social Media that they are not alone. I hope that the imagery will inspire a more cautious approach to Social Media, and that the audience are not only engaged with the magic of Shadow Theatre but are made more aware of Social Media’s impact on Mental Health. 

However, this show is in no way designed to alienate anybody, or to disgrace Social Media as it is a wonderful invention when used safely!


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