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Pamela Carter in response to Tristan & Charles July 2010

I like freak shows (and this links to some Janice Kerbel pieces which I think you already know) and anatomy theatres.

I'm interested in language acquisition and how Victor had to be taught to want things he'd never previously needed in order to civilise him: sensitising him to cold so he would dress etc. In 21st century terms, Victor had to be taught to be a good consumer to make him part of society, to make him economically useful. And I guess it's this that I've also been pondering, and how Victor/Itard's story has relevance to me in the here and now and not just as a historically interesting, intellectually stimulating investigation.

I was fascinated by both the programmes and the ensuing discussions about the BBC Scotland documentary The Scheme and Pat Kane's reaction.

Stories about 'freaks' (think the Bodyshock series) are always compelling: is it porn? prurience? a need to understand human nature by examining those 'natures' that lie or a pushed to the very periferies?

So I think our Victor is a 21st century feral boy. I think he might be a media phenomenon. I wonder what he'll have to say when he learns how to speak.

I think some scenes / ideas might need to be mediatised or framed as that kind of watching. The audience - maybe it's their watching which is also under scrutiny?
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Tristan and Charles - July 2010

Over the last month we have had French architecture student Alix Fournier on placement and she has been working with us on all our projects. We explained Wild Life to her and asked if she would like to do some research and develop some thoughts about the project – here are her thoughts:

Link to Gotlib’s comic on Truffaut’s movie L'EnfantSauvage.

What is a wild child? It’s a child who grew up out of the human society, far from a human model and social relations.

Etymology of “Enfant sauvage”: infans, the one who doesn’t speak; silva, woodland.

Using the wild child’s return to mankind to underline worst aspects of the human society would certainly link the play with contemporary issues. The example of Oxana Malaya gives a good idea of a mediatic, voyeuristic, treatment of the story of a wild child discovered nowadays:

Humanity/animality: It seems that animals have an instinct, an a priori behaviour peculiar to their species; an insulated animal could grow and develop properly, whereas a human is born unfinished. A child acquires language and reflexive skills through contact with others.

The only way for a child to be conscious of himself (Ego) is to be confronted with others (Alter Ego)

Maybe the audience could somehow contribute to build the play just as society contributes to build an individual human? To be not only a voyeuristic witness.

Instinct/learning/heredity/transmission: what does it mean to be part of society? Working together for a global survival? Producing knowledge to improve mankind? Victor’s story is the story of an education: once caught the child is not free any longer. Although he was the subject of experimentation, he at least didn’t undergo exploitation and exhibition in human zoos that some did (e.g. the Hottentot Venus)

Senses: as they are the interaction between our environment and our selves, it’s interesting to see how our senses, which we might suppose to be the most natural part of us, are in fact educated.

For me, the work of Snohetta on perceptual displacements and some of Olafur Eliasson’s work interrogate this education of our perceptions. Victor was not deaf and could see correctly, but the abstract language we use to communicate with was of no particular use for him.

I was also thinking of Robinson Crusoe and the way his story is the opposite process - how a person left on his own loses what makes him a human. Also, Richard Long’s work when he moves natural elements to a place definately unique to mankind: the museum.

One more thing relating to senses: as Itard’s work with Victor is an attempt to wake up the child’s senses, I wondered if the set design could be based on a material. Our educated senses link materials with feelings and ideas: sand for example, which not only reminds us of the circus and beaches, but also evokes its own sound, smell, touch. The work of Magdalena Abakanowicz with textile and fibres interest me a lot. Her sculptures called abakans are something between gigantic clothes and powerful expression of a material.
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Wild Life - Assistant Director Jonny's thoughts

I’ve been thinking about the philosophical side of Victor’s case and I thought I’d share a few points which are interesting to me.

Victor’s case is an almost perfect (real life) example of a theoretical philosophical concept – man in the state of nature, existing without laws or society.
We could easily compare Victor to Rousseau’s (“noble”) savage – a solitary being, living a wild existence barely distinguishable from that of an animal. In Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (published in 1754) Rousseau proposes that man in the state of nature led an innocent and peaceful existence, which was destroyed by the development of society and “corrupted needs” – the need for leisure time, luxury goods etc. This connects to Pamela’s point about how Itard teaches Victor to need things he previously managed without, and how Victor needs to become a good consumer in order to become a useful member of society. However, Victor also differs from Rousseau’s savage in two interesting ways:

• The savage “desires only food, sexual satisfaction and sleep”. However in Victor’s case, the question of his sexual appetite is trickier, as he doesn’t seem to comprehend these desires in the same way he does his appetite for food.

• Rousseau believed that “one species is intended by nature for the food of another”, and that man in the state of nature, though compassionate to other humans, would prey on non-human animals for food. In Victor’s case, the evidence suggests that he didn’t eat meat while he was living wild. Taking this into account, Victor seems even nobler than Rousseau’s hypothetical savage, as he doesn’t kill animals for food.
Victor’s case resonates with certain arguments by the contemporary philosopher Peter Singer. Singer discusses the difficulty in finding a quality that universally distinguishes humans from animals (as moral justification for killing them for food). If we base this judgment on intelligence, one could argue that certain animals are more intelligent than (e.g.) mentally disabled humans, which complicates the argument of whether it is morally acceptable to eat meat:
“Philosophers who set out to find a characteristic that will distinguish humans from other animals rarely take the course of abandoning these groups of humans by lumping them in with the other animals. It is easy to see why they do not. To take this line without re-thinking our attitudes to other animals would entail that we have the right to perform painful experiments on retarded humans for trivial reasons; similarly it would follow that we had the right to rear and kill these humans for food. To most philosophers these consequences are as unacceptable as the view that we should stop treating nonhumans in this way.”

What interests me is how the ethics of eating meat becomes very difficult when taking into account boundaries of human and animal intelligence. Arguably, Victor sits on this boundary, exemplifying these philosophical questions: “what is the moral distinction between killing an animal and killing a human of very low intelligence?” and “what is it (if anything) that makes us different from/above animals.”
If Itard had any awareness of Rousseau, he surely didn’t consider it or agree with it. Itard grew frustrated at not being able to teach language to Victor, or to fully “civilize” him. If he had taken a more philosophical perspective, he might have found Victor to be a sophisticated, perhaps morally superior being. I like the idea of an outsider making us reassess our values, obviously Itard didn’t respond to Victor in this way, but perhaps the audience might?

I’m sure much of this is familiar territory, but hopefully useful in some way.
Peter Singer’s All Animals are Equal and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality are available online.

Jonny Rogerson
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Wild Life - Script Development

The script development day on Wild Life took place in a room at The Canon Mill, the building where Magnetic North has its office. There for the day were me (director), Pamela (writer), Vicki Lidelle and Liam Brennan (actors), Jonny Rogerson (assistant director), Harry Wilson (sound designer), Dani Rae (producer), and joining us in the afternoon (due to travel complications), Simon Wilkinson (lighting designer). Designers Tristan and Charles couldn't join us as they were in the States, where they have a number of projects underway.

The day started with a brief intoduction to the project for Vicki and Liam and then a read through of the script as it stands. We then discussed the script and our reactions to hearing it. It may sound strange, but hearing a script is a very different experience to reading it. Even though the words are exactly the same, the effect is always different and you hear new things - an inflection or phrasing will suddenly shed new light on a character or on the meaning of a line. At lunch time, Pamela and I discussed what we wanted to ask about in the afternoon - script development days can have a number of purposes, but we had decided in this case to focus on people's reactions to the characters. Pamela was concerned that the characters might be too lacking in sympathy and wanted to get a sense from the others of their feelings about this.

One of the biggest changes that has happened to the play over the past two months has been the change in the way the boy is represented. We ahve always been aware of the potential problem of having a 12 year old as a central character - how do you solve the logistical problems? A real 12 year old means chaperones, limited working hours etc etc - not impossible, but more complicated than an adult; casting an adult means finding a theatrical solution to the very obvious fact that the actor is not 12 but 21 (or whatever he is). Pamela unwittingly found a solution by deciding to have the character of Victor only appear on screen. I say unwittingly because she arrived at this by thinking about how she wanted to tell the story, rather than because she was thinking about how to save the director a headache. This opens up a lot of possibilities, particularly as Pamela explained that she saw the play's exposition as following the stages of a pregnancy (which also explained something about the characters of Dave and Daisy, the two adults). With impeccable timing, Simon arrived in time for the final read-through of the play and asked a question that had not arisen earlier (he kindly prefaced it with the phrase "I'm sure you've already thought of this...", which is usually a warning that you haven't) - his question was could Victor be played by different actors at different times?. This opened up a less literal way of treating the character of Victor, and indeed the possibility that he is a figment of Daisy and Dave's imaginations - a sort of strange wish-fulfilment rather than an actual child.

At the end of the day, there were more questions raised than answered, but finding the answers are the next stage. At this stage of a production, I always have to remind myself of a story about Albert Einstein: when asked what he would if he had 60 minutes to solve a problem that would save the world he said that he would spend 55 minutes working out what the correct question was, and then only the final 5 minutes would be needed to answer the question. In theatre, however, rather than there being one question, you generally find that one answer just provokes another question.

Nicholas Bone
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Wild Life - Rehearsals

Rehearsal blog: Nicholas Bone

Week 1

We started rehearsals this week. The first day is always strange as it is usually the first time that everyone working on a project comes together in the same place and so there's a bit of a first day of term feeling in the air.

In traditional manner, we all introduced ourselves and then heard the script - this was a new draft so it was the first time this particular version had been read. Some scripts sound exactly how you expect them to when you hear them read aloud, but Wild Life works differently outloud compared to how it is on the page. This is a good thing, by the way, in case you were wondering. It means that it has been written to be spoken. The new draft has refined things and made its thrust clearer, but one of the best things was hearing the audience of 12 or so people laughing. You sometimes forget about the humour in a play when you've read it endlessly, analaysed its structure, pored over it for ideas to draw out, moments to highlight etc, so it was wonderful to be reminded of this. At one creative team meeting last year we had started by reading the script out - I had played Dave, while Harry (the sound designer) had read Daisy and I remember that, as I was reading it, I was thinking "oh, it's funny". This may seem curious but preparing a play for production is a curious process.

Anyway, the play is funny, though serious in intent, and one of the tricks will be to manage the shift from the lighter early part to the darker tone that starts to develops half way through. This is not easy to get right - make the humour too broad at first and the audience won't buy the shift (or think it's still supposed to be funny), make it too serious too soon and you miss the complexity of the writing.

So here we are, two days in and feeling good so far - we have some re-writes to look at tomorrow (tweaks to the first part in light of work we've done so far) and an afternoon voice session with Ros Steen. The phrase "voice coach" does no service to what Ros does as her work is about connecting the actor to the text in a truly vital way. I shall write more about her work as rehearsals progress - right now I need to do some more prep for tomorrow.

Week 2

It's Wednesday in week 2 and today we finished the first phase of rehearsals. We have been examining the script in detail, working through it scene by scene mining it for information and, in particular, looking for the events and intentions. Events are moments when something happens that affects all of the characters present in a scene in some tangible way; intentions are what one character wants to do to (or change in) another character. Characters' intentions change at an event, so by working through the play and mapping these out we create a path for the characters through the play. We've also spent time examining everything we know about the characters - facts that are stated within the text, or things that can reasonably be surmised - and also what we don't know, providing us with a list of questions to research during the rehearsals.

This stage of the process is quite slow and deliberate, but it means that we all share a common view of the play and understand how it works. As this is a new play, the process also helps the playwright make adjustments: tweaking lines, moving things around and generally tightening things up. I find the presence of the playwright essential at the start of rehearsals; it means the actors can ask questions, query lines, and get a sense of how the writer 'feels' the play. In the case of Wild Life, Pamela has been doing some re-writing in rehearsals (usually smaller things like editing lines, or changing words), while doing other more substantial re-writes in the evenings. Re-writes are then printed and copied in the morning ready for the day's work. Working on a script in the rehearsal room turns things up that were maybe not apparent before (on Monday, for example, we swapped two scenes around and found it helped the progress of the story work more effectively).

The work that we finished today means that we now have a well-honed script so tomorrow we start on the next phase, which is to find out how it works physically. From now on we will spend most of our time on the marked-up floor (with taped lines representing the edges of the set) and much less time sitting with scripts at the table.

For this stage of the work, I tend to use a method I first came across when I was working as an assistant director in the 1990s. A development of Stanislavski's later work, it involves the actors improvising the scenes around the previously plotted intentions. The idea is to free them from trying to work with a script in their hand and so enable them to find the physical life of a scene more easily.

Week 3/4

We're now coming towards the end of our fourth week of rehearsals. This week we moved to Cumbernauld Theatre (where we'll open the production and with whom we're co-producing). We're rehearsing in the studio, which is in the part of the theatre that has been converted from a row of workers' cottages. The studio has been created from three cottages so is quite long and narrow but has beautiful stone walls. We're only few steps away from the main theatre and so are able to pop in during tea breaks to see the progress of the set. Yesterday afternoon we had some time on stage looking at positions for the furniture and discussing the costumes - Tristan and Charles (the designers) had some concerns about the colour of one of the pieces of furniture, but otherwise things seemed to be in hand. In the rehearsal space we have been working our way through the text, finding the physical life of the scenes and sometimes modifiying the intentions we had defined in the first two weeks in the light of what we discover. Rehearsals often have a sense of one step forward, two steps back as, at each stage, there is a new obstacle to overcome. At first it is the play itself - it needs to be mined for information and understood; then it becomes the scenes as you work at them in closer detail, uncovering details to incorporate and clarify; then there is the stage when the actors work entirely without scripts and, for a few days, rehearsals become about trying to hold on to what you have found previously while the actors try to embody their line-learning with the shape you have previously defined. Finally comes the stage where you refine everything you have already done and try to incorporate all the technical aspects at the same time. Each stage moves the play forward, but you sometimes have to work hard at holding on to what you are ultimately trying to do. Rehearsal is being in a constant state of negotiation - hopefully conducted with pleasure and a sense of purpose - as you try to connect all the different threads together in a way that reflects the entire team's work.
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J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....