This is a snapshot of scenes-behind The Fool Eater – A satirical exploration of urban loneliness and mental health.
It is 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. How colors – this yellow sign-panel in contrast with black-typography – connects one to a place was not lost on me. Images of New-York and Lagos cabs, in traffic, flashed past in my mind.
What I noticed, the variation in the 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 color-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 workspace 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-color-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 the audience in role-playing and enactment.
A question seemed to coalesce around everyone’s mind: How might illustrative-art, humor and role-play: observing-our-selves-in-a-mirror, enable us to recognize 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 humor serves as a foil for internalized constraints. It seems that social constructs that entertain silence, passive-aggression might be enshrouded in clumsy political correctness.
The Fool Eater is a deep dive into social-exclusion-issues, where humor 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 hallmarks of Design-Thinking.
What this reminded me of?
I am reminded of similarities in the Design-Thinking approach to a reader-centered-design project I am working on at the moment: The Fool Eater as an audience-centered-design project. Both projects rely on a human-centered-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 / caregiver 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-centered, to the extent that lesson-plan design is determined by how each child questions the idea behind the narrative. A similar working principle applies to the audience-centered nature of The Fool Eater. Insights from prior knowledge or reaction of a small number of people are worked into the 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 amid 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: the 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.