252AM (After Man) was born out of multiple thoughts and interests. Firstly, from participating in movements and discussions that are currently leaning towards a definition of Fourth Wave Feminism; a seemingly angry, frustrated new wave that has largely been expressed and defined by the wide reach of the internet. Amongst Global Feminist discussions, the question of including men in discourse and in educating men to empower themselves and women has provoked controversy, debate and in part exposed a still binary society that we tend to ignore under the belief that equality may have actually been achieved.
The dialectics in the play seem to be responding directly to these provocations. Two women from 2015 have been asleep in space on and off for nearly 250 years. When the play opens, 252 years in the future, they meet a young female collective who have been living on an Earth where no men have existed since our own time. The complex emotions, uncomfortable truths and tremendous sadness that emanates out of their conflict, we believe, is a direct reflection of what is currently being navigated within Feminist discourse.
Secondly, came the form. Sci-Fi has long interested me and it was only when I started to read the complex and sophisticated novels of writers such as Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood in my early 20s that I fully began to understand how exciting “other worlds” could be for addressing issues of gender, sexuality and race. As soon as you take something off your planet and consequently, out of our social conventions, suddenly anything seems possible…naturally then, space becomes a fascinating area to set a Fourth Wave Feminist play (alongside my preoccupation with Sigourney Weaver of course). And yes, this is a Feminist play. Stridently, aggressively, joyfully Feminist.
The Shady Dolls has always prioritised the ensemble; the strength of the collective and how that can empower the performer was a fundamental part of our training and has remained with us throughout our journey together. In relation to all this then, it made perfect sense that we would workshop 252AM (After Man) at Rose Bruford College where I still work (on the course we graduated from) and where we have a long lasting and deeply felt connection to colleagues, students and the space.
In April 2015, the Company, along with a cast of American Theatre Arts students and graduates collaborated with Rachel Nicholson and Katie Blacker from the Creative Lighting Control Degree to platform the play at the annual Rose Bruford College symposium. The process was quick – even by our standards. By the time of the evening performance, we still hadn’t run it the whole way through. Lighting (Katie Blacker and Rachel Nicholson) and sound design (Tom Brennan – the Wardrobe Ensemble) was produced organically and responsively; styles and a soundscape were played with but not really put into being until the actual performance where both designers responded to what was happening on stage to bring the space ship these women occupy beautifully, epically and vitally to “life”. In this precarious and exciting way of working, the Company took their ideas of the collective to a new level and since then have become extremely interested in empowering the role of the creative designer through this equality of design and practice.
Interestingly, despite the panic that should have overwhelmed us on that day, when at 4pm we realised we wouldn’t get a run through of what is a pretty enormous play, it didn’t. There was an innate trust amongst performers, designers and technicians that only served to convince us further of the wonderful power of this play that facilitates and enables the collective in such a way.
It is this confidence that led us to take on the challenge of performing the show at VAULT Festival 2016. A show with a cast of 13, an original score played live, immersive lighting, organic, responsive performer musicality, two cryogenic sleep pods and a whole lot of lycra. As I understand it, we have 30 minutes to get in and out…
Ah well, to boldly go huh?