06 Jun 2017

Making it Matter

Post written by: Erin Walcon

We have inherited a story, not of our making.

We are waking up inside it.

We have to deal with the consequences of someone else’s plot.

We have to live it out.

Last night at our DYT (Doorstep Youth Theatre) rehearsal, we talked about how we can make The Woods story matter to us. How we can ensure that it is urgent and important, essential to be told. How we can make it ours.

This was an important discussion, and one which will help us to steer the direction of the piece as we start to construct it properly. There are 6-7 songs in various forms of completion now… and some narrative devices which we keep circling back around to again and again, which is always a sign of something sticking.

Our process with this show is going to be different, I think. Usually, we devise our way in, constructing the narrative through play. This is a great way to co-construct the story, but it is slow, and often tangential. Full of whims and sidesteps, mistaken paths and discarded characters. This process is full of dabble.

I don’t know if it’s the global news, or the state of the UK at the moment, or the looming general election, or just the barometric pressure in the air, but it feels like there’s a sharp urgency to the work right now. Like we don’t have permission to just tell a simple fairy tale. Like we don’t have the freedom to dabble.

I’m a little leery of this sense of urgency. You can’t really make a co-constructed piece of theatre without dabbling playful experimentation.

Last night, when we asked people to pair share with each other about themes in the story which matter to them, I could feel the seriousness in the room. These are serious times, and we all know it. Here’s what they said:

  • We need to see past the ‘beast’ in others. To peel back the layers and understand what’s behind. How do we speak about ‘Otherness’?
  • Chechnya and gay rights. Unspeakable barbarism, in our time. Like the Holocaust. But happening now. On our watch.
  • Disgust with the ‘people in power’ who inhabit the rooms where decisions are made. A sense of disquiet and lack of interest in engaging with them. A total despair looking at the situations they are creating. A hunger for leadership.
  • Why does it feel like we’ve lost our narrator? Where has our storyteller gone? What do we do if the plot feels overwhelming and no one seems to be in charge who we can respect?
  • The false dual binary of choices which lead to Happy Endings. The artificial nature of how black and white (and false) this is. The necessity of forging and choosing your own path, amidst the grey uncertainty. In the hinterland. In the space between right and wrong.

I’m struggling to see the playfulness in these strands. I think we all are.

But the irony is, much of the content we’ve generated so far has been quite funny. I think it’s more moving when the lightness sits next to the darkness. For example, last night at rehearsal, a group of 5 young men (Ryan, Dan, Ashley, Joe and Yule) worked on a song called Its Your Fault round the piano. This is a song which the princes will sing when they are transformed into pigs. It’s comedic. The lyrics are absurd and silly.

Meanwhile, across the room, Hugh and Al and I were talking about how the Child Storychanger might kill the character of Jack off. Immediately, at the start of the second half. And we launched into a long discussion about what we would do with the body. This was a serious artistic discussion about a plot twist, and as we were giggling about the notion of the mother sweeping the corpse offstage with a broom, I was reminded of images I’ve seen in the news over the last two years of refugee children. I was caught up in a wave of unexpected grief (still giggling, living at the seam between the lightness and the darkness, between the seriousness and the playfulness) struck by the notion that Jack’s Mother (nameless as she is) might never know what happened to her son. That she might be confused about why his story ended, unexpectedly and too soon. That the greatest tragedy of all might be that no one cared, because it wasn’t their child.

We all laughed at the idea at the end that we might literally sweep Jack under the carpet. To hide him away, and pretend he didn’t exist. We’re still playing with this idea.

I don’t know what will stick.