Drama for the Time of Emergency

Advanced seminar on playwriting
Teacher: Simon Stephens ,
From 09/07/2017 to 15/07/2017
From 11 am to 2 pm and from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm
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Course description

The participants in this seminar are authors recommended by collaborating institutions.

Edward Bond had a car-crash on a motorway in the UK in the sixties. Bond, one of the most important playwrights in Britain since the Second World War, recounts that while he was trying to control his car and save his life he was astonished by the clarity with which he saw his immediate environment. The details and the colours and the sounds that surrounded him were clearer to him as he stopped his car from spinning than he had ever known them. He controlled the car. He went on to write the defining plays of his time. He retells the anecdote because of what he learned. He says that it is in the same state that he was driving that writers should write. He calls this state, “emergency time”. Emergency Time is the natural state for writing and the natural state for acting and the natural state for theatre, he suggests. When we make our work we should see the world with that clarity. It is the state that drama exists in. The stories we tell should be stories set in such a state. We should create the psychosis of emergency in our plays so that our audiences can experience that psychosis in their theatres rather than in their lives.

The English word emergency fascinates me. It’s meaning is surprising. While it is usually associated with catastrophe or urgency it doesn’t actually mean any of those things. It suggests a state in which something is starting to appear, something is starting to emerge.

Our emergency services, our police-department, fire-department and paramedics have a job to respond to things which are starting to emerge. A fire is emerging from a building, a heart attack is emerging in a human, a crime is emerging in a street. In this sense the playwright’s job is to react to and dramatise the appearance of new states.

I think our culture is operating in a time of emergency. Throughout the world crises are starting to emerge. A new President of the USA has emerged, more defined by hysteria and narcissism than by experience and has surrounded himself with extreme right wing ideologues; throughout Europe a politics more polarised than for decades has emerged and the idea of democracy is coming under intense scrutiny in the continent that developed it; terrorism and tyranny emerging throughout Africa and the Middle East are making entire nations uninhabitable and leading to the mass movement of people; the power in the world more than ever seems to lie at the whims of the Russian President and the Chairman of the Peoples’ Republic of China or at the demands of leaders of the multinational corporations and international banks that were at the heart of the global economic collapse in 2008 and are directly contributing towards encroaching ecological instability.

Fundamental Enlightenment tenets seem to be thrown into question. Facts appear no longer relevant. Expertise has emerged as no longer trusted. Evidence appears to be no longer necessary.
I am fascinated by how the playwright should make sense of such a world.

Should we be tenacious in our defiance of the new right wing or sceptical in the face of an overly hysterical reaction on the left? Should we react with the trigger speed of the US President and try to claim the agenda back from his like or value the importance of slowness and thought, searching for stories in the tectonic plates of our culture rather than on Buzzfeed? Should we insist upon the urgency of evidence and fact or try to own the deeper strains of narrative that the right wing seem to have owned? Should we celebrate with defiance the cities and the ideals of liberal democracy now so widely dismissed as the concerns of the “metropolitan elite” or acknowledge that liberalism and democracy are irreconcilable and instead try to make sense of the disaffection of the post-industrialised redundant?

In all of this how can we work with and aspire to the clarity of vision that Edward Bond talked about experiencing in his car crash? Are playwrights unique in thriving in times of crisis? Are emergencies our meat and drink? Can we make drama charged with the urgency of emergency in what feels like a global Emergency Time?

Simon Stephens

The guest playwrights of this edition are Emanuele Aldrovandi (Italy), Florencia Caballero (Uruguay), Emilie Génaédig (France), Asta Honkamaa (Finland), Thomas Köck (Germany), Albert Pijuan (Catalonia), María Prado (Spain),  Somalia Seaton (England), Yann Verburgh (France) and Hank Willenbrink (EEUU). All of them have been recommended by international theatres and centres. They will send in advance a short play on the subject. These plays will be translated into Catalan and presented in the form of a staged reading by l’Obrador d’estiu’s Resident Company. The readings will be open to spectators.

Within the GREC 2017 Festival of Barcelona.

Simon Stephens

Simon Stephens’ plays Fortune, Light Falls, Maria, Fatherland, Rage, Heisenberg, Nuclear War, Song from Far Away, Birdland, Carmen Disruption, Blindsided, Morning, Three Kingdoms, Wastwater, Punk Rock, The Trial of Ubu, Marine Parade,  Sea Wall, Harper Regan, Pornography, Motortown, On the Shore of the Wide World, One Minute, Country Music, Christmas, Port, Herons and Bluebird have been translated into more than 20 languages and produced all over the world. He has written English language versions of Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind; Odon Von Horvath’s Kasimir and Karoline (titled The Funfair); Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House; Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull and Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. He has adapted Jose Saramago’s Blindness and Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime for stage. He has presented four series of the Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast. His book “A Working Diary” is published by Methuen. Simon

Stephens has been an Associate at the Royal Court, London and Steep, Chicago and a board member of Paines Plough. He is a Professor of Scriptwriting at Manchester Metropolitan University and an Associate Professor at the Danish National School of the Performing Arts, Copenhagen

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