Beautiful design R&D

In November we had a three day design R&D to embed the creative captions and audio description as an integral part of the show. I was bowled over by how lovely it all looked, when I played back a video of a short run through after the R&D.

A beautiful chalky sketch projected onto brown set in a theatre. The drawing is of Sophie, wither her hair up.

plain theatre back wall set surface projected with chalky type font, with a speech bubble that says 'hey!' and half the captions show, saying like I'm testing whether she is really deaf.'

Laura Hopkins, the designer, asked me to bring in my old comics and the magazines and zines I wrote for back in the early days when I first worked as a writer, artist and and performance artist. These provided inspiration for a comic book theme to the early part of the show. Joshua Pharo designed the captions projections.

Adrienne Quartly worked on the sound design, including some great ideas developed with audio description consultant, Michael Achtman. Producer Kendall Masson (who is from the USA herself), helped me with my American accent, to help me mimic the automated voice I sometimes hear when using a Phonak streaming device. Recording this voice, helped clarify a moment in audio description terms, and really added to the emotion and drama in that moment of the scene. I was excited about this.

Watch this short clip on vimeo to see what we came up with in three days! I am delighted to be working with such a skilled and talented creative team, who are immensely dedicated to embedding access for D/deaf and blind people, within the show design.

Huge thanks to Unlimited and The New Wolsey Theatre for funding this design R&D and to The Bush for giving us the R&D space.

We are booking our first tour now – coming in January 2020!

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Digging into the drama

rehearsal room.jpgThe energy in the R&D room was different this week. On Friday evening at the end of a run through, the dramaturge and director encouraged me to tap into my rage over the weekend and write a new prologue and penultimate scene.

When I went home as always I looked at the notes I had scribbled, I realised I had not asked a question.

I emailed and said do you mean for me to tap into 2018 rage now? Instead of leaving off in 2014? Yes they said, write it from the rage of cyborg Sophie today. I said that will be dangerous. They said it will feel dangerous and frightening but we encourage you to go there and we will be there for you.

For me this directive meant there was some major “transference” going on by Monday and as I followed through with the very real rage, the demands I began to make of the R&D, risked derailing the show. It would make a lot of the process and some of the already created elements untenable as they stood.  It would bring me into conflict with the creatives who were trying to realise my story.

I kept going with it. For me it was not a game. I had suddenly realised that the road to triumph with this piece meant I had to argue for things that would ultimately mean a breakdown of a collaboration and a crisis for the director to say the least.

They wanted to park the new discoveries I had made until after the R&D, partly because we were quite far in with our previous path, but this made me more angry because of being so angry. So instead of playing the long game and feeling hope that I could subvert things through collaboration, my weekend anger had driven me to despair and if I did not make my new idea happen now, I knew the despair and anger would spiral, it would mean I had lost control of my own story. And the whole point of this piece is for me to take ownership of my story.

Fortunately as well as being a now furious performer, I am also the writer, and after a day of a kind of tug of war in which the team tried to protect my play from the apparent wrecking ball of my rage I went home to continue being angry. In the morning, I was still angry, even after breakfast and coffee. I began banging my cup down on the table and talking.

Then I began to write.

What you will see on Thursday to Saturday is not me banging a cup down. But you will see the beginnings of what has grown out of the team pushing me to tap into my rage.

It has always been a funny play but after seeing am early sharing video I was struck by how it was too funny. I had not written in my anger. Even when I think I have been totally furious in a scene I can see it is not angry.

So if I have learned one thing in this process it is that if you think you are being angry – chances are you are holding back a lot still.

Sometimes if you want to achieve something good it must come from sticking to your guns and debating and disagreeing with each other.

The day after the rage I was still angry, but it was a day of laughter and play.

Today I am excited.

Rehearsal room secrets: What is nothing?

A black and white image of Sophie taking a selfie photo in a rehearsal room mirror, standing underneath a skylight. Sophie's expression is serious and contemplative.
Ovalhouse rehearsal studio.

Today I spent the morning with dialect coach, Elspeth Morrison, and voice coach Sarah Case. Elspeth took me through a scene with a 1940s posh character, and we also looked at my Liverpool accent (Typetalk operator) and a Scottish accent, and we solved a few glitches in my minicom/Typetalk scene. I suddenly remembered that minicom calls end with both parties typing or saying SKSKSKSK.

I have no idea why SKSKSK never crossed over into general usage. I am bored of signing off emails with ‘Best Wishes’ and ‘Kind Regards’. In future all people should end emails with SKSKSK.

If you don’t know what a minicom is, or Typetalk or SKSK, don’t worry. The team and I have discussed much we explain deaf tech to parts of the audience who are not aware. Things will mostly fairly self explanatory and if they aren’t, then this is part of the art of the piece, in that scenes will often land differently with different audience members.

Since last week, I have had a new sound map on my cochlear implant processor, and today I found that when I am projecting my voice, the automatic gain control on the new level programs was momentarily dampening the volume. That is what it sounded like anyway. So I switched back to one of my old sound map program, where I have a wider IDR and high, loud levels and that did not dampen my loud, projecting voice. I hope I can get used to my new sound map. I might get some adjustments made in a few weeks time.

First up in the afternoon, I spent some time with awesomely talented and experienced sound artist, Adrienne Quartly. Adrienne decided to make one of the environmental sound effects using my voice. This led to Rachel Bagshaw the director wondering whether we could do that for some more of the sound effects.

Rather than rehearse this week or worry about the shows, we are investigating the script in a playful way. The team spent a good deal of time discussing what nothing is, as opposed to silence. Then we looked deeper. Rachel told us all to make our own nothing. Adrienne’s nothing sounded very close to my lived, auditory nothing. Rachel’s nothing left me feeling lost and falling. Lucia Tong’s nothing was repetitive and ended in calm and release. Tamar Saphra’s nothing was crossed out. My nothing was uncomfortable and involved an office chair.

We looked again at the time line we’d mapped on the wall yesterday, and how ‘nothing’ sat in each section.

Then it was time to play with what we’re calling the Jon Ronson scene.

Rachel got me to do the Jon Ronson scene with everyone sitting close to me round a table. I had to read it intimately instead of doing it angrily like I was doing on Monday. Then Rachel got me to do it again, more performatively, in a way we both describe as defensive and comedic, and then see where that got me. It was unsustainable – and unsustainability got me to a more interesting reading of the scene. It felt like it got me a closer to achieving what I was aiming at with that moment.

I’m very grateful to everyone for agreeing to work with me on this. Come and see the scratch performances at Ovalhouse 12-14 July.

 

 

 

Pulse 18 Podcast with TRANSCRIPT

We promised you a transcript of Sophie’s podcast from the Pulse 18 Festival. Here it is!

DAVE Hello and welcome to the Pulsation Podcast, coming to you from the New Wolsey Theatre as part of PULSE18 Festival. My name’s Dave and I’ve been speaking to some of the acts who showcase their work here in Suffolk over the week. On Friday the 1st of June, or Suitcase Day as it’s known at the Pulse Festival, I was joined by Sophie Woolley and her producer Kendall Masson pretty soon after Sophie had performed a 20 minute segment of her show, ‘Augmented’, over at the New Wolsey Studio. Sophie’s show, and the story behind, it is really fascinating. And Sophie is intelligent, sharp and with a great sense of mischievous fun about her and I really enjoyed speaking to her. I however was a bit of a bundle of nerves and jaw-droppingly unprepared so I apologise in advance for that, but, we settled into the conversation a few minutes in and by the end I found myself having to hold back the torrent of questions that were firing in my mind about her neurological experiences. Sophie did go on to win the Suitcase Prize at the end of the day, which I was really pleased about and which I thought she thoroughly deserved. Anyway, I hope that some listeners will gain insight into her work through our nervous conversation.

[Funky music plays]

DAVE Right hello, Sophie, welcome to the New Wolsey Theatre and Pulse Festival.

SOPHIE Thank you for having me on Pulse Radio.

DAVE We haven’t even got a name yet, if you can suggest names for this… we’re on ‘Pulse18cast’…

SOPHIE [imitating a radio DJ voice] This is Pulsation FM.

DAVE  Pulsation, oh my god. You’ve hit it (laughs) Okay, so yeah, your show, ‘Augmented’, we’ve just come from and I thought it was amazing, I really enjoyed it, I think the themes within it seemed to have a little bit more importance than most theatre productions do, because it was a point being made about your own life with regards to lack of hearing and suddenly having your hearing turned back on. It was educational for someone who doesn’t know what that was like, so I found that really interesting, and your descriptions of it were amazing. At what point did you develop an idea that you wanted to take your experience into a theatrical production?

SOPHIE I’ve been trying to do it since I was switched on. I actually tried a different version of this, at Pulse in 2014, and it went well, and I thought, actually, this – this isn’t right. I’m going to start again. And so I went back to the drawing board and even though it’s about me, ironically, it’s taken me a while to find my voice, the voice for telling this show. And I guess because it’s a huge transformation in identity from going from hearing to going deaf to becoming a deaf cyborg, I guess it’s going to take me a while to get my thoughts in order. So it’s…yeah, so it struck me as something quite huge that I needed to tell people. And I knew they couldn’t understand it—

DAVE It really comes across as you wanting to tell people this experience that you’ve had and the situation. Could you give us a little bit of depth about the timescale of the story? Because you said it was a return…

SOPHIE Yeah, so in my family we have progressive hereditary deafness and we sort of grow up hearing and start losing our hearing in our teens, so my [ancestors] go all the way back – deaf and my mum and my sister, we all went deaf, and we sign and speak at home. I call it dual heritage – dual heritage deaf and hearing world – and so in the full show, I start as a child, and I was going to be the hearing one. That was what I was told by the hospital, so I didn’t expect– the whole journey was quite strange going deaf because the whole time I was going deaf, I was not going deaf, because the hospital told me I was not going to go deaf, and so even though it was becoming more and more obvious to everyone, I was doing the classic denial thing that people do, when they go deaf. And then we’ve got the period of the play of adaptation, where my writing and performing career is taking off…and I show bits of writing, I kind of plagiarise old plays and put them in this play and (laughs) then reusing lines. So we show how I’m kind of adapting, and trying to sort of keep that ball up in the air and it kind of comes apart in a scene when I’m in a room for a few hours with Jon Ronson, signing books. And I can’t wait to share that at the Ovalhouse sharings, and all of that. And then there’s the bit where I’m switched on. And there’s a science fiction feel to the piece, cause immediately when I was switched on I felt, wow, this is like being in a science fiction novel – I’m living inside a Philip K. Dick book. This is living the dream. This is brilliant, so I wanted people to feel this. We haven’t directed it yet, but we’re getting there.

[SPOILER ALERT! SKIP the blue text if you want to avoid show spoilers…]

 

SOPHIE So the person who’s telling the story to the audience, is actually from the future. I’m from the future and you’re all still living in the past, unless there are people in the audience who have implanted and they’re also from the future. So I’m trying to convince you – you know when you see in science fiction stories that someone’s come from the future and no one believes them – that I’ve got something to tell you! I really have to tell you something crucial!

DAVE That’s amazing…

SOPHIE And I think in future hearing people will implant. Yeah.

DAVE You think that in the future hearing people will implant just anyway into their brains, cause I’m really down for that—

SOPHIE  You doubt that—

DAVE No I’m down for it, I want it to happen, when you were saying—

SOPHIE Because you saw me on stage bluetoothing music directly to my brain!

DAVE I thought, this is it! I thought, my god, I want Bluetooth directly to my brain

SOPHIE Yeah I think it’s – yeah, I’m glad you believe me. So it’s working. The show is working. I’m recruiting hearing people to – you know you’re going to lose some residual hearing when you implant

DAVE That’s fine–

SOPHIE It’s worth it. [laughing] You know before the show I had my phone switched to Bluetooth before I went on stage and, uh, the postman was outside my gates in London and he actually called me and I was trying to get him off the phone, he was saying I’m trying to get in. And I was really worried he was going to phone me in the middle of the performance.

DAVE So have you got a microphone in there as well so can you do – or do you have to do it through a phone? So you haven’t got like a little mic in the implant as well that you could literally just be…

SOPHIE Well I’ve got a mic on the external processor that pick up external sound. I wear a com-pilot pairing device when I want to Bluetooth music to my auditory nerve and so that’s what I use, but I can Bluetooth it from any device with Bluetooth if I’m paired. And if someone phones me. I didn’t have it on flight mode, so the postman or anyone can phone me in the middle of the show. It’s some tech thing that the stage manager is going to have to sort out with me.

DAVE (laughs)

SOPHIE Or I can just take the call…

DAVE wow, that would be pretty cool doing that in the show anyway.

SOPHIE Yeah, I was trying to explain to the postman I was just going on stage, but he just wanted to be let in.

DAVE So, that’s one of the messages isn’t it, that be aware that this is going to be your future, that you will be phoning people up and they’ll be literally in the middle of walking on stage, or doing something creative, and you can have instant access to one’s auditory nerve – that’s pretty cool –

SOPHIE Yeah, suddenly in your head there’s a voice saying (in electronic voice) ‘SOPHIE—IS—CALLING’ [laughter] And you press a button and you hear Sophie in your head.

[Spoiler alert OVER]

 

DAVE So how long ago were you switched back on, as you like to describe it? How has the process been for creating this piece of theatre? How long has it taken?

SOPHIE So I…well I wrote I draft about two years ago, and then I spoke to Sarah Dickenson, dramaturg, and she set me some exercises, because I was quite fearful about telling my truth. Because of the politics of this story. Um, and I didn’t want to tell a story that was oppressive to people who can’t implant. So she got me to do some exercises to tell the story I wanted to tell, and I was trying to find the language that wasn’t oppressive, and then I realised that I was just going to use the language that I thought of when I was first switched on, which I thought was, quite offensive really, I was quite shocked I was thinking in terms of certain words, and I’m just going to own those words and subvert them and then try and reverse the stigma that I was feeling inside myself. It was a complex thing—

DAVE And was that a stigma from deaf culture…could you elaborate on that a bit more please?

SOPHIE Yeah, well I was a successful deaf person and when I kind of was just thinking, wow, well I’ve got my life back, it makes you think, well hey! You had a life. But it felt so [inaudible] to me. I’ve got me back, the one in my twenties, and she wasn’t finished. I became someone else. And that’s – it felt very shocking to me at the time. And this year I applied for funding with Kendall Masson my producer, who’s here—

DAVE Hello Kendall!

KENDALL Hello!

SOPHIE – and we got Unlimited’s funding to do this first stage of the R&D, and we’ve been working at Ovalhouse—

DAVE How long did it take you to get the Unlimited funding? What’s the process for getting an Unlimited grant?

SOPHIE So you apply for an expression of interest in the autumn, it’s R&D funding and then they shortlist people and then you make the full application.

KENDALL Yeah I think the full application was the end of January and then we found out at the beginning of March, mid-March. And that was the original R&D.

DAVE Okay, so fairly quick.

KENDALL Yeah, it was quick and then I think what we’re going to go for the full production is to do a bigger commissioning fund that they have, so hopefully they’ll support it in its next stage.

DAVE So what are the plans for it? Where do you want it to go with it, where would you like to see this end up?

SOPHIE Um, I would like a long London run and I want to publish the play and I would like other deaf actors to perform it in future, and I want to tour nationally and internationally. I think that’s the plan.

KENDALL Yes!

DAVE That’s a great plan!

SOPHIE Then, AUGMENTED the movie, maybe. And then –

DAVE The ‘Augmented’ VR experience…

SOPHIE Yeah, yeah somebody’s going to loan me a VR pack… [ed: Sophie means a sub pack not a VR pack]

[laughter]

SOPHIE So I’ve been really well supported by Ovahouse and Poplar Union. I also did a week’s R&D at Sheffield Crucible, they gave me some space to work with a brilliant sound designer called Lee Affen on the dance track that I worked with choreographer Martyn Garside. Then I work with another movement director at Ovalhouse last month, and Rachel Bagshaw, a brilliant director, and Adrian Courtly doing sound design. So we’re playing with ideas and we’re going to do some more experimenting in July and 3 scratch dates. It’s the weekend when Trump comes to London, that’s how you remember when Augmented is. So, Trump after party. Trump, riot after party…

DAVE Trump, riot, after party, I’m well there….

SOPHIE At Ovalhouse…

KENDALL 12th to 14th of July at 7:30pm at Ovalhouse.

SOPHIE And it’s all captioned with palantype.

DAVE I’m gonna be there, unless I’m in the back of a van somewhere…

[laughter]

DAVE Thanks so much for talking to me, I wish you all the best with your show, it really was fantastic and I really recommend anyone goes to see it.

SOPHIE Thank you.

DAVE Yeah, it’s really really good. It’s lovely stuff.

SOPHIE Thanks for having me on Pulsation FM.

DAVE (radio DJ voice) Pulsation. For the Nation.

[laughter]

ALL Thank you

[Funky music]

END

Sophie Woolley on The Pulsation Podcast at Pulse18 Festival

We’re getting ready for our next sharing of Augmented at Ovalhouse in London in July as part of their exciting FiRST BiTES series.

In the meantime, here’s a podcast with Sophie and producer Kendall Masson talking about the making of AUGMENTED with Dave from the New Wolsey Theatre, at Pulse a few weeks ago.

We hope to get a full transcript up soon, but in the meantime here are a few short excerpts from the podcast:

SOPHIE:  “The journey of going deaf was quite strange, because the whole time I was going deaf, I was not going deaf, because the hospital told me I was not going to go deaf, and so even though it was becoming more and more obvious to everyone, I was doing the classic denial thing that people do, when they go deaf. And then we’ve got the period of the play of adaptation, where my writing and performing career is taking off…and I have to keep that ball in the air, and it kind of comes apart in a scene when I’m in a room for a few hours with Jon Ronson, signing books. And I can’t wait to share that at the Ovalhouse sharings…

“And then there’s the bit where I’m switched on. And there’s a science fiction feel to the piece, because immediately when I was switched on I felt, wow, this is like being in a science fiction novel – I’m living inside a Philip K. Dick book. This is living the dream. this is brilliant, so I wanted people to feel this…the person who’s telling the story to the audience, is actually from the future. I’m from the future and you’re still living in the past, unless there are people in the audience who have implanted and they’re also from the future. So I’m trying to convince you – you know when you see in science fiction stories that someone’s come from the future and no one believes them – that I’ve got something to tell you! I really have to tell you something crucial.. And I think in the future hearing people will implant…

“Before the show I had my phone switched to Bluetooth before I went on stage and the postman was outside my gate in London and he actually called me and I was trying to get him off the phone, he was saying I’m trying to get in.. I was really worried he was going to phone me in the middle of the performance…”

Come see AUGMENTED at Ovalhouse, London 12-14 July at 7:30p.m. More info and (£5) tickets here.

Augmented wins Suitcase Prize at Pulse18!

 

Wow! We won the Suitcase Prize!  Suitcase day happens every year at Pulse Festival at the New Wolesy Theatre in Ipswich.

Sophie is awarded her prize by James McDermott. The prize is a suitcase and a giant cheque.
James McDermott hands over the suitcase. Sophie must keep it for one year and then return to Pulse to perform her show.

“The Suitcase Prize challenges theatre makers to think in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. The 10 participants compete to win £1,000 by presenting a 20 minute scratch which can be transported on public transport! Yes, literally in a suitcase!”

 

Sophie holds giant cheque for 1000 pounds.

Sophie with Judge, Jo Mackie. Sophie holds cheque and suitcase.
Sophie with judge, Jo Mackie.

Thank you to everyone who has attended our sharings and contributed feedback. It feels like the sound and movement ideas are coming together well so far. Thanks to producer, Kendall, for operating sound! Thank you to Unlimited for funding the writing R&D and to Ovalhouse and Poplar Union. Now I will write a new draft of the script.

The full length scratch performances are on 12-14 July at Ovalhouse. Tickets are a fiver in advance and eight quid on the door. The performances are palantype captioned and in the downstairs accessible theatre.

an old fashioned suitcase covered in show flyers.