With our ‘Summer Sublets’ residency at the West Yorkshire Playhouse having drawn to a close, now seems a good opportunity to reflect on the material we made, evaluate our style of working, and determine where to go from here.
Being a relatively new company devising a brand new piece of theatre (and in case that seems too feasible, across three different cities), we have been getting together for Research & Development weekends on average once every 4-6 weeks since January. Through this period we had come up with an overall concept of ‘Generation Y’: essentially looking at people of our generation who have been told throughout school, college, university, that they can be anything they want to be; do anything they want to do…only to come out of education and find that the employment market is heavily over-subscribed and the only jobs going will likely leave them feeling over-qualified and under-fulfilled. From here, we started looking at the idea of ‘ticking boxes’ and the impact that social media has on this. Securing a job, finding happiness in a relationship, buying property, getting married, having children; the pressure to achieve these things by a certain age and of course make sure they are carefully documented through a rose-tinted Instagram filter.
Amongst these milestones we also identified (not without the help of our Facebook feeds of course) the common denominator of ‘completing an extreme physical challenge’ as a box which is currently being ticked by so many. From 5ks to marathons and triathlons to the Three Peaks Challenge: things to which we could all relate, each of us having undertaken a physical challenge of these sorts recently. Incidentally, one of our R&D weekends fell just after Emma had attempted a 20 mile run, in training for the Edinburgh marathon and being witness to the pain and the struggle she was going through at the time, we couldn’t help but question why we put ourselves through these things. Is it really all for the sake of raising money for charity? Keeping fit? Or is it down to something greater; something more internal…wanting to be part of something, feeling like we need to prove ourselves, substituting failure in other areas of our lives with achievement in something over which we have control? We became fascinated with finding answers to these questions, so, laying a temporary focus on marathon-running (which seemed so apt at that moment in time) we began researching, reading and interviewing runners to collect the stories that sit behind the numbers on chests.
Remaining faithful to our simplistic storytelling style, the material we developed during our Summer Sublets residency allowed us to share the true stories of real people alongside those of our own, keeping ourselves fully exposed as the theatre-makers; exploiting poetry, movement, props and live music as punctuation of and transitions between stories. The rehearsal space and time committed was so valuable in allowing us to play without any real pressure, develop our style and learn how we best work as a collaborative team. Devised theatre doesn’t happen instantly, of course – it is about experimentation, research, challenge, and being open to the unexpected. We had decided to create material around the idea of ‘the marathon’ to give us a focus in amongst such a broad subject matter. We’d had no idea that we would become so intrigued by the topic or that it would open up so many other avenues.
What has become glaringly obvious, however, is that 26.2 is already about so much more than just marathon-running.
Images credited to © mattsim.co.uk