How do you make a show about trauma, that does due diligence to that trauma, that people who haven't experienced anything like it will want to watch, and people who have experienced something like it will be able to watch? At RAT, that's a question that we keep asking ourselves, and to which we have loads of fun - yes, fun! - finding answers.
For I, Lord, that fun started yesterday at the Old Diorama Arts Centre, which generously hosted our first survivor design workshop and are supporting us loads through the project. We're working with a small but mighty group of survivors of spiritual and/or faith-based abuse to explore what safe spiritual spaces look and sound like to us now, how we feel inside them, what we need in them and need to keep out of them. Their work will form the basis of the set and sound design concepts for the show itself: so we'll clothe the show in sensory safety, making the hefty subject matter manageable; and as a constant reminder of why we need to tell these stories, of the hope and striving we have towards better future spiritual spaces.
Before we could really begin thinking about what those spaces could be like, we needed to investigate the word 'spiritual' itself. Here's what we got down from a fascinating conversation. Does this resonate with you?
As part of this, we also had a really thought-provoking discussion about the word 'safe'. Do we really want our spiritual spaces to be 'safe'? In theatre (which, for us, is also a spiritual space), we know that we don't want to retraumatise our audiences - but we do want to use the contained, supported space and time to explore the topics, emotions and realities around us that everyday life doesn't always give us the chance to explore, or that are too dangerous to delve into when we're carrying them on our own. As trauma survivors, people's determination to keep us 'safe' can actually prevent us from exploring the things going on inside us that we need to reflect on to progress to the next stages of our lives.
We were all bowled over with each other's creativity, generosity, daring and spirit as we swooped into the next part of the session, physically immersing ourselves in our imaginations into the sensory experiences of our ideal spiritual spaces, and sharing them with each other. We mapped out our reflections on the sensory and material life of those spaces. Where do you think you'd put yourselves on these scales?
Those crosses are all over the place, we hear you cry! How will your designers possibly make something coherent out of that? Well - maybe they won't. Maybe it'll look, sound, like chaos - and that's okay. There were some really stunning similarities in our experiences of ideal spiritual spaces and some tangible differences, but something we all agreed about the very nature of 'safe' (or what have you) spirituality is that there is room for chaos, for emotions we don't even understand, for exploring things without needing solutions.
Our hearts are full as we look forward to working with our visual artist for the next few sessions, then our sound designer for the few sessions after that. It's early days, but we think we might really be onto something with this approach to trauma-informed theatre design.
Haven't got your tickets to the show at Bloomsbury Theatre on Monday 30th October yet? Whyever not? Remember they're just £5 each, or £3 a head when booking in groups of 10+, before 4th September!