Bruce Gladwin is the Artistic Director of Back to Back Theatre, who bring Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes to Battersea Arts Centre.
Weaving a narrative through human rights, sexual politics, and the projected dominance of artificial intelligence, Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is a sly theatrical revelation inspired by mistakes, mis-readings, mis-leadings and misunderstanding, Shadow reminds us that none of us are self-sufficient and all of us are responsible.
The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes is a story about a public meeting, the type of meeting you would hope to happen in a certain kind of democracy. How do we come together to make decisions that are in the best interest of a civic society? This is a play about individual and collective responsibility.
Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes, directed by Bruce Gladwin, is at Battersea Arts Centre 19th – 22nd October.
The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is coming to BAC, what can you tell us about the play?
Three disability activists hold a public meeting about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence only to discover their own prejudices and bias are the biggest obstacles to saving the world.
The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is a story about a public meeting in a community hall in Geelong, Victoria, facilitated by individuals who identify with disability. These meeting founders are budding activists, who have come together to warn the greater community about the impending threat of Artificial Intelligence. It is an intentionally vague amalgamation of fact and faction, which questions how can we come together to make decisions that are in the best interest of a civic society? The shows performers are also its co-authors and dramaturgs.
What inspired this production and what was the process for writing it?
The creative development and making of the playscript began in 2015. The catalyst for the work was a highly disturbing New York Times article about 32 men with intellectual disabilities who had been liberated by The Department of Human Services after working 35 years in an Iowa based turkey processing plant, eviscerating turkeys, in slave like conditions. This disturbing article was the catalyst for conversations with the cast about workers rights, disability activism and exploitation of marginalised members of society.
The process of creating the playscript can be divided into three parts -1. Collecting, 2. Sorting, 3. Drafting.
The majority of our process is spent collecting ideas. Our main tool for the creation of content is improvisation but also includes discussion and research. Improvisations by the actors are recorded and transcribed. Discussion between the actors and director are recorded and transcribed. Research via the internet, books, films, magazines, TV shows, interviews and random discourse is documented and forms a part of the collective list of ideas.
Transcripts of improvisation are sorted and relationships and connections are made between scenes and emerging themes. Individual character journeys and narrative arc is considered, the actor’s relationship to audience and the form is developed. Hundreds of hours of improvisations never make the cut, we seek an economical and efficient script. The actors have great instinct to what works or does not. We return to improvisation to resolve holes or find greater efficiency of language or concept.
Once an assemblage or draft is completed, we read and rehearse. New drafts and changes occur in real time in the rehearsal room and supported by further improvisation and transcription. The project was selected by Sundance Institute and underwent workshopping and dramaturgical feedback at Sundance Theatre Lab at Mass Moca in 2017.
You’re also directing, what have you found to be the biggest challenge with a production like this?
It was a real pleasure working with the cast on the creation of this work over a three year period. We worked closely and intensely, all the collaborators giving generously to realise our creative goals. Unfortunately, two cast members (Sonia Teuben and Victoria Marshal) died while we developed this project, obviously there is a great loss in not having their physical presence in the performance.
The company is also taking steps to help with accessibility, tell us a little more about that?
Back to Back was established around the time of deinstitutionalisation in Australia, where people with disability were finding themselves transitioning out of antiquated care… At the crux of our business is our ensemble, who are employed and given the scaffolding to excel in their careers and forge a presence in the art world.
This model of providing a supportive yet challenging environment works, and we advocate for all people with disability to have access to this. In SHADOW, the screen adaption of this play, we expanded this archetype: It was a screen-based project rooted in community collaboration, creating genuine employment for people with disability.
An integral part of this was a series of paid internships for people with a disability in roles both in-front of and behind the camera, working alongside and partnered with a team of film professionals, which flipped the statistics of representation of people with a disability in the screen industry on its head. There is much work to be done for equality and representation, but this is our start.
What have you enjoyed most about working with the cast?
Casting is not determined once the script is completed, the actors who are also the co-writers are where we begin and the production is built around them. It’s a long and satisfying creative journey working with the cast. They are amazing artists that continue to push my own creative practice.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes?
This work can be a soapbox for the performer, but it can also be a crucible for some quite complex concepts and machinations that we are collectively dealing with in society at the moment. We like to think that The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is a clever and entertaining show, made from the hearts and minds of a unique and talented ensemble, so we hope that you enjoy both the performance, and the important discussions that it may elicit. In the words of Simon Laherty “come and see it, if you don’t like it, leave”.