This piece is a snapshot of scenes-behind The Fool Eater – A satirical exploration of urban loneliness and mental health. Written and Directed by Florian J Seubert.
A lesson in serendipity
That I got to work on this project – with Florian and an inspiring team of story-tellers – is a lesson in serendipity. I ran into Florian at the Tate Modern whilst working on a visual-ethnography assignment with my colleague Hernan Perez.
We were paying attention to how people seem to make sense of identification-signs, public-furniture and visual-markers in public spaces, then Florian (in a yellow jacket) walks past a yellow sign-panel. I just about caught the moment, when Florian glances at the sign-panel, before he walks away. Prior to this moment, how colours – this yellow sign-panel in contrast with black-typography – connects one to a place was not not lost on me. Images of New-York and Lagos cabs, in traffic, flashed through my mind.
What I noticed, the variation in intensity of Florian’s yellow jacket, under shifting day-light against his black ruck-sack seemed an uncanny match: Between a back-drop of black typography on this yellow sign-panel and colour-code of his profile in the foreground. I made a bee-line in his direction. We talk about, a re-enactment of the sign-panel moment and, the possibility of working on a project, in the future.
Some weeks later
I received a note with outlines for The Fool Eater, from Florian. This note, copied into a multi-disciplinary peer-group of story-tellers served as a collective introduction to the production team.
Project Manager: Rosie Staley set up a pre-production sprint schedule within a project work space at Google Docs, to ensure all parts of the project are synchronous. We work-shopped the script over a two week sprint schedule to, identify what works and does not work; and surface evidence for a psychology of participation.
Consequently, Illustrator: Selma Hafizovic’s illustrations function as a stage on paper: It brings a world characters in the script inhabit to life. Her water-colour-wash studies take on a life of their own, as parts of a stage that leaves *amateur-performers with gaps to fill, for self-expressive mark-making. Drama-therapist: Dan Skilli adapted dialogue- in-script and characters’ expressions as prompts, to engage audience in role-play and enactment.
Consciously and unconsciously, a question seemed to coalesce around everyone’s mind: How might illustrative-art, humour and role-play: observing-our-selves-in-a-mirror, enable us recognise our unconscious bias?
A few things I took away
Amidst making of the performance and the performance, I observe conceptual barriers: imaginary walls which separate actors from amateur-performers peel away, gradually. One began to make sense, from behind the viewfinder during pre-production sprints and live performance, of the extent to which *amateur-performers in the production inhabit three worlds of The Fool Eater. In real time, people find the right and wrong words along with visual marks to make sense of A. Sexual identity. B. Promiscuity. B Obesity, when humour serves as a foil for internalised constraints. It seems that social constructs which entertain silence, passive-aggression might be enshrouded in clumsy political correctness.
The Fool Eater is a deep dive into social-exclusion-issues, where humour allows people to face their own emotions, about mental illness. As a process I find inviting multiple horizons to dissect this issue an effective social response to prejudice and or stigma. Importantly the extent to which everyone came at the process with open minds – with tons of curiosity, in a safe space for their voices to take risks; allows for considered no-holds barred effort to address unconscious bias; necessary to evolve considerate and inclusive ideas. These are also hall-marks of Design-Thinking.
What this reminds me of?
I am reminded of similarities in the Design-Thinking approach to a reader-centred-design project I am working on at the moment: The Fool Eater as an audience-centred-design project. Both projects rely on a human-centred-design loop: serendipity thrives here. This loop is participatory. In the case of the readers’ it involves mixed-ability-and-mixed-heritage readers; what different reading identities mean, with supportive parental / care-giver involvement.
Why does it remind me of it?
We question ideas behind a book author’s narrative, with consideration for each child’s preferred approach to making sense of story-plot. This process is reader-centred, to the extent that lesson-plan design is determined by how each child questions idea behind the narrative. A similar working principle applies to the audience-centred nature of The Fool Eater. Insights from prior knowledge or reaction of a small number of people is worked into into script.
However, when the locus of creativity shifts on to a larger live audience, with incomplete artwork as cues and other sensory prompts, we are literally in the midst of a rich(er) data-set: A window of opportunity to explore urban-exclusion and mental-health issues from multiple perspectives and address a variety of audience – nationally or internationally.
In my view, what works for this immersive theatre project is adaptive to projects with a socially conscious design perspective: from digital-physical-design, social-interventions through digital content; industrial design; package design to spatial design.
*amateur-performers: live and digital audience.
By Ayodeji Alaka.
Writer / Director: Florian J Seubert, Project Manager: Rosie Staley, Illustrator: Selma Hafisovic, Research Producer: StellaToonen, Drama-Therapist: Dan Skili, Performer: Fran Bushe, Performer: Amari Harris, Director of Photography: Kit Hung, Camera Operator / Editor: Ridwan Amode, Visual Ethnography: Ayodeji Alaka *Amateur-performers: live and virtual audience. Project sponsors: Goldsmith University London. Arts Council England.