‘Trouble’– Theatreofpluck bring stories of NI’s LGBT community during the Troubles to the stage

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After 5 years of development, wrangling with production concerns about funding and creative concerns about how to honour over 46 interviewees’ stories within theatrical limitations, I was thrilled that Trouble finally had its world premiere at The MAC as part of 2015’s OUTBURST Queer Arts Festival (the only 10-day multidisciplinary queer arts festival in all of Ireland, which I co-founded in 2007 with a team of many queer artists who’ve worked tirelessly to grow it to its success today, nearly 10 years on).

Jane Coyle’s 4 star review in the Irish Times of TheatreofplucK‘s production (directed by Niall Rea & Anna Newell) cited it as ‘a chilling and challenging piece [that] shows how far equality and gay rights have come in NI– and how far is left to go.’ Chris McCormack called it a ‘provocative performance installation’ in his review.

Audiences described it as:

“Compelling and moving.”

“Fantastic. Lots of reminders about how far we’ve come. Great that our stories have been captured and shared. “

“Everyone should be made to see this. School syllabus!”

“That was totally amazing theatre. I never say that.”

“Really interesting and informative content. Good range of performers/interviewees, men, women, different sections of the community and a good age range. “

WOW. Back in time and very very moving. You captured the times brilliantly.”

“Very emotive performances, I am a bit dumbstruck to be honest. Still very true in today’s world too. Thank you for that, feel very privileged to have seen it.”

“Excellent performance. Innovative mixed theatre piece. Dynamic and inspired way to tell such an important and often invisible story. Needs to go out round the north and wider afield. Tender, shocking, funny, uplifting, beautiful, brave – very clever and creative again from Shannon Yee.”

In December 2015, TROUBLE transferred to Belfast City Hall as a video archive installation, celebrating ten years since the UK’s first civil partnership ceremony there. Despite this initial progress towards equality, today Northern Ireland remains the last place in the UK and Ireland to enact the same-sex marriage legislation.

photo 2Trouble is dedicated to PA McLaughlin, Sean Morrin, Peter Quigley, and all other NI LGBT activists the community has lost over the years; as well as the 46 contributors who kindly entrusted me with their stories. Research, development and production was made possible by support from the Arts Council NI and Belfast City Council.

And March marched out the door…

I can’t believe I’m sitting here at the tail end of March, a month that at its outset was full of carefully laid out plans, including many a blog post about what I’ve been working on. I’ve assembled them into one single blog post here; my apologies about its haste…

1) WIGGLEGIGGLE  with Replay Productions, co-produced by Nottingham Playhouse,

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‘WIGGLEGIGGLE’ at Nottingham Playhouse, keeping company with Anish Kapoor’s ‘Sky Mirror’ sculpture

IMG_5996had its UK tour in Nottingham, The Egg Theatre in Bath, and finished at The MAC in Belfast this March as part of the Young At Art’s Belfast Children’s Festival 2015.

(if you’re wondering how on earth a poetry slam show for 3-5 year olds gets made, check my ‘Early years, cognitive schema and poetry slams‘ blog post)

 

 

 

2) The Lost Martini, with Accidental Theatre.

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‘The Lost Martini’ cast and director discuss story, structure, and character development via endless post-its that are moved (and moved back)

 

My official title was ‘writer/co-devisor’, but as the play was set in an underground jazz cafe in Belfast and immersed the audience in a whirlwind of the 5 characters’ stories at once, and they could hop between stories as they like, at times I felt writing the script was more like herding cats on multi-lane highway. The process was refreshingly democratic, with the cast creating text through improvisations and the creative team creating narrative shared within the 10 room set. There’s more about the process and creatives involved on “Post It Walls and Guitars” on the Accidental website.

3) I’m mid-way through an Arts Council NI-supported residency with music and dance company, Assault Events in Cardiff,  grappling with how oncurrent development of text, movement and music in devised work can be developed concurrently, rather than one or two of the disciplines leading the process with the others being tacked on. It’s been fascinating, challenging, thought-provoking and exciting, with a wonderful group of dancers to work with (courtesy of Arts Council Wales).

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Sophy Smith (composer) shares character theme tunes she’s written while watching the dancers, based on each dancer’s specific movement improvisations.

 

4) …and finally, I’m gearing up for the biggest project of my career to date, Reassembled, Slightly Askew. You may have read a thing or two about it on this blog already…

Here’s to spring!

Final ‘Reassembled…’ focus group feedback

Reassembled… has gone through a lengthy development process; from April– December 2014, over 75 people from the medical, arts and community/voluntary sectors heard sections and and provided their feedback in small focus groups, mostly at the MAC (Belfast).

Some of the most recent participants work for Stroke Association (NI), Royal Victoria Hospital, South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Accidental Theatre, and the MAC. I also had the unique experience of testing a section at the British Association of Neurological Nurses Conference in Manchester (Oct 2014), with Colin Williamson, Head Injury Nurse at the Belfast Trust, who is one of the biomedical advisors on the project, and was present throughout my time as an in-patient in Ward 4F.

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Testing ‘Reassembled, Slightly Askew’ at the British Association of Neurological Nurses Conference with chairs, not beds

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One participant opted for the carpeted floor

“Time flies in.”

“Helps you to empathise with the patient experience.”

“The staff [in the hospital] were extremely attentive and caring in meeting Shannon’s needs. it was insight to be part of Shannon’s journey.”

“I want to bring the whole team in and say, ‘You think you know what it’s like but your don’t.”

“A great teaching tool for families.”

“I found the experience to be extremely insightful…the sounds were amazing, very realistic. I did feel that I was inside Shannon’s head, trying to make sense of the world going on around me. Great piece of work–thank you.”

“Will make me think about the environment and noises, how I speak and communicate with patients.”

“A real eye-opener.”

“We do it day in and day out, but do we explain enough?…would alter what you tell someone…”

“You can never know what it’s like…you feel like you’ve got a tiny bit of understanding…”

“Found the continuous noises bombarding–very different from what you experience as a staff member”

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The artistic team meets (L to R): Paul Stapleton (sonic artist), Stevie Prickett (choreographer), Hanna Slattne (dramaturg), Matilde Meireles (sonic project support), Anna Newell (director)

With production of the immersive sonic artwork nearly finished, the focus is now on securing Reassembled… into galleries/theatre spaces for the general public and training settings for biomedical professionals to experience the finished piece throughout 2015.

 

This development has been made possible by a Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award and an Arts & Disability Award Ireland.

Focus group feedback to ‘Reassembled…’ (Sept 14)

The development of Reassembled, Slightly Askew continues, with one more focus group held this month, in the same format as the one held in May:

Participants completed a baseline evaluation about their knowledge of neurology, acquired brain injury, psychoacoustics and binaural microphone technology, brain injury support services in Northern Ireland, and if the arts can be used as an effective approach in training for biomedical/health & social care professionals.

They were explained the terms of play, so to speak–if at any point during the audio experience, they wanted to stop listening, they could remove the headphones. They retained an element of control in the immersive experience in which they were lying down in hospital beds, eyes covered with eyemasks, ears covered by headphones. They were also told that while the two short audio samples from the current full draft was being played, they would be supervised, but not stared at.

After the two separate audio samples were played, the participants were gently woken one by one, and invited to return to the discussion table in their own time. There, they revisited their baseline evaluation, made additional comments, and a short group discussion was facilitated:

“The use of the sound technology was impeccable. I have never felt more in this situation before, especially the part where Shannon is being washed in the hospital. I truly believed that I could almost feel it myself! Amazing work!”

“I found this very powerful Shannon—it raised questions for me that I haven’t thought of— why do they have mirrors in lifts?? I was very struck by this I felt like the piece clearly conveyed the powerlessness.”

“I believe this is an excellent tool as it gives an understanding as to what feels like to have an acquired brain injury; the confusion the frustration etc, I felt at points I was experiencing the journey myself”

“Having also spent 3 weeks in the high dependency unit of a hospital in the past year, I found this quite traumatic. While your specific injury was brain-related, have you considered its impact on other types of illness”

“How can I find out more?”

“How did it feel for Shannon waking up in the hospital to foreign Northern Irish accents”

“It is mesmerising, hypnotising”

“Overwhelming—almost like getting soaked in a tidal wave”

“I do feel taken out of myself and vulnerable”

“Very personal piece of work. headphones transport us to her ‘world’/condition, could happen to any of us at any time, need to know more about these issues”

This feedback will be given to the artistic team and inform the next stages of revision as we move toward completion of the final draft before the end of Dec 14.

Reassembled logosShannon Yee is a HATCH supported artist at the MAC from 2013/2014.

No longer a ‘recovery’ but a ‘reassemblage’

For a few months now, I’ve been contemplating how fitting Recovery is as a title, nearly 4 years on from the project’s initial conception. I always described the project as Recovery: my process of being disassembled and reassembled, slightly askew, particularly for the numerous funding applications I’ve written over the years to secure support for the project.

Similar to the actual artwork, all those years ago none of the artists involved knew what was ahead.  I certainly didn’t know what my process of pulling myself and my life together would be like, nor did the neurosurgeon, nurses, occupational therapist, neuropsychologist, physiotherapists, or my GP.

I now think that Reassembled, Slightly Askew captures main trajectory of the piece more accurately. That titles gives space for the fact that I now have a disability, which I must manage and won’t recover from. ‘Recovery’ is a word that originates from a medical model, and does not acknowledge the reality of disability, particularly a hidden one of an acquired brain injury. There are some aspects of my brain injury I may never ‘recover’ from; this is itself a personal journey that has not been an easy one to acknowledge and own (¡Viva la siesta!). I am, most definitely, reassembled, and most definitely, ‘slightly askew’. The place I was at before Mr. McConnell opened my head is not a place I can ever recover and return to.

This renaming, or clarifying, is timely, as Paul (sonic composer and sound designer) has recently finished the first full draft of the entire piece after months of development and reworking with the artistic team, guidance and feedback from the biomedical advisors, and recording with professional actors in the Sonic Lab at SARC (Queens University). It’s an exciting benchmark which propels us forward towards the 2015 tour.

‘Recovery’ sells out at Pick N Mix 2012!

What a fantastic weekend of new theatre to be part of! And how fantastic that ‘Recovery’ TOTALLY SOLD OUT! There was a great buzz about it, which leads nicely into its month-long residency around the corner at Arts & Disability Forum‘s Gallery space where it will be from 14 June (launch night 6-8pm) until 11 July (Gallery opening hours: Tues-Fri, 11am-3pm; free admission)

(Behold, biosensory-artist-in-the-role-of-nurse, Jiann who was just amazing!)

Image of nurseAnd some feedback from the 50+ people that came to the show:

“Stunning experience…brilliantly realised.”

“Brilliant. I think every medical/nursing student should listen to something like this so they can really understand what goes on with patients.”

“Unlike anything else I’ve experienced or gone to.”

“I became aware of how many people suffer from brain disease and yet I think of it as rare.”

“Like getting inside, right inside, somebody else’s head.”

“Recovery was a really moving an affecting experience. Great work.”

“My palms were sweating and my heart pumping!”

“I want to know more on her road to recovery.”

“Honest and direct. Hope this show travels!”

“Was that all REAL?”

“A privileged insight into the thoughts and sounds of a ‘very sick girl’.”

“I really liked that this was an individual experience, one person at a time in the hospital room setting.”

“Immersive, troubling, follow-able but challenging, beautifully constructed…”

“Quite relaxing in a strange sort of way…”

“A roller coaster ride of emotions.”

“So well done and I wish you the very best with the show. Curious to know more.”

“Powerful, moving, emotional, informative, funny!”

“It was an intense experience that really immerses you into another world. I loved the fact your senses were heightened further by the fact your eyes are covered and you become totally encompassed in the story. My body definitely responded to what I was hearing.”

“I really liked that I was asked about whether I had experienced anyone close to me having been affected by stroke, etc. It instantly connected me with the piece. Being in the hospital bed and having the nurse really put me in the story instantly.”

“This is a stellar piece of work.”

“Wow…just WOW…”

So what’s next for Recovery? Funding applications.

Pick N Mix was a fantastic opportunity to test out the technology and the dramatic conventions we established in the studio for the first quarter of the story, the ‘being disassembled’ part (courtesy of the ADAI grant). The remaining three-quarters of the story, the ‘reassembled, slightly askew’ part, has been mapped out with the team so we are ready to get back into the studio to explore and produce it.

Another area we’re excited about that we haven’t explored yet with the technology is the paralysis section of my time in the hospital– how can sound and its vibrations be used to re-create my experience of being paralyzed down the left side of my body during those first few weeks post-surgery? We have some ideas….!

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