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Day 1 The Journey
Artificial Dramaturgy: Jon Welch @ Edfringe 2015
Blogspot Q and As from Jon Welch, writer of ‘Spillikin – a Love Story’, showing at the Jack Dome at 5:10, throughout Edinburgh.
GKV: What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Jon Welch: This definitely began with an object: many thousands of pounds-worth of actual humanoid robot, made by a Cornish company called Engineered Arts.
Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
Beginning to question that strategy quite strongly now. No, actually, it was sort of suggested by a very lovely venue, the time was right, and as a company, we couldn’t not. The whole shop-window thing. Also the subject matter – Artificial intelligence and dementia care are very very relevant at the moment.
What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
Well – they can expect to see a robot. And some actors. And a story. It’s about an older lady with Alzheimer’s being kept company by a robot, into which her late husband has sort of uploaded himself. So it’s about love, humanness, memories, identity (and the fragmentation of it), leave-taking, loss (there are laughs). I hope the audience will think about and feel any or all of that.
The Dramaturgy Questions
How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
I work closely with the co-artistic directors of the company, who are its designers. And the story develops in concert with their input, so there’s an ongoing dramaturgical process. The relevance of it is in starting the collaboration process as early as possible. Collaboration is everything.
What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work - have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
I’m old-school. I like stories. I like spare and efficient writing. And a broad reach that tries not to be cheap. It’s graft. The hard stuff is revealing character through dialogue and plotting - those traditional page-turner elements that look easy, but aren’t. I want people to care about the characters after the play is over. Abstraction and spectacle come second and have to be earned.
Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?See above. But in writing terms, if the premise comes easily that’s a good sign. Everything after that is a hideous, often depressing mess that has to be endlessly tidied up, blind alleys, false dawns, and the poison of post-rationalising. But the rule is – write. Anything. No matter how shit. Or embarrassing, or irrelevant. You can’t improve on something which isn’t actually there to be improved on in the first place.
What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work?
Well, without an audience there is no point. But beyond that the audience have paid to have a story told. Provided that they’re human, that should be enough. I acknowledge that there’s often an indefinable chemistry between a piece, a performance and the communal ‘personality’ of an audience, the unknowability of which creates the repeated tension and excitement that makes theatre worth sticking with.
But if work requires creative input from the audience to have meaning, (e.g. if a piece is so abstracted as to mean everything and nothing) then they should be paying to go on a course of devising workshops. Or we should be paying them.
Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
That’s a tough one. Maybe – at what point does it feel safe, or worthwhile, to let another person’s dramaturgical input into the room. Often it will feel like never. But it will almost always turn out to be earlier than you thought. In theatre it’s not about you. It’s about it.
One of the most interesting aspects of developing Spillikin, has been the opportunity to have conversations with people who know a lot more than we do about the world of robotics. We have felt very lucky in having been so enthusiastically supported by Engineered Arts in particular, our primary collaborator and provider of Raybot (aka Robothespian), our robot lead. Check out their website for more information about this remarkable company:
Through the connection with Engineered Arts, we have been also able to reach an amazing range of university research departments around the country, to provide a sounding board for ideas and to be a first audience for early drafts of the play. We'd like to introduce you to some of these people in future posts.