A new up and coming theatre company based in Canterbury, UK.
What Is Primordial Productions?
Primordial Productions is an up and coming theatre company, started up by seven Level Six students at Canterbury Christ Church University, 2020. This theatre company is a part of a Practice as Research module for Performing Arts and Drama students at CCCU.
The aim of our company is to answer questions through experimental practice and workshops of performance. Our company questions are always slightly adjusting through every discovery of our practices. But our overarching question for our Practice as Research is:
"What impact does estrangement of the audience have on how stories are told and perceived?"
Our company aims to create a performance by adapting Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone, whilst experimenting with Brecht's estrangement-effect, specifically ideas around his fourth wall breaks and multi-rolling. Through these experimented techniques, we aim expand upon Brecht's established work on breaking down the fourth wall by building it back up again and removing it, several times. In addition to this technique, we will be exploring multi-rolling to an extreme extent through the levels of reality within our performance. The end result will aim to showcase themes of unreliable storytelling, propaganda, politics and performativity through Brecht's didactic estrangement-effect to an active and critical audience.
From our initial idea of storytelling, we were intrigued by the way stories and characters change over time through endless retellings, affected by who was telling the story and the audience of the story. We thought it would be interesting to rewrite some of the earliest stories ever told through a different performance composition. Tracing stories back to Ancient Greece, we felt this would be appropriate due to the fact that in this age, word of mouth would control the sharing of these stories, and each teller would have control and influence over each story that was passed on. As a dramaturgical team, we took this idea of what may be ‘unreliable’ storytelling of Greek literature and create a performance based upon this concept. Greek literature has the power to tell stories from the safe distance of the mythical past, providing a safe space to present contemporary problems without outright political affiliation. This is also a similar affect that Brecht's 'Verfremdungseffekt' has through techniques like fourth wall breaks, narration, props and multi-rolling by using the distancing effect as a safe and didactic space to comment on political problems.
Ancient Greek literature, being the earliest recorded theatrical literature in existence (from Western perspectives at least) lends itself towards being analysed from an anthropological lens. When we read and share and perform these ancient plays, we experience a sort of emotional, meta-physcal time travel; briefly and with patchwork vision, we can sit in the Greek theatron, and immerse ourselves in the culture and tastes of an audience 2,500 years removed. However, this far removed and long passed audience can be rejuvenated by adaptation, translation, metaphor, allegory, and all other array of theatrical transformation which aligns the audience of today with the audience of the past, and suddenly the text is reborn in a new language, a new form. It’s endlessly satisfying to examine and re-examine our theatrical “first words”, symbolising a new branch of humanity’s expression. As Yuval Noah Harari writes in Sapiens “Any large -scale human cooperation - whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe - is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.” [Harari (2011), Sapiens, Penguin Random House: London, p.30] This collective belief in the false tales of Antigone and Oedipus Rex progressed into performance, actors, finances, scripts, texts, all from nothing; nonexistence to existence all thanks to human stories. If we as a company wanted to study and celebrate humanity in storytelling, it followed that, to us, these ancient fables held hours of discussion, deconstruction, permanence, unfamiliarity and relatability, that these stories were capable of extraordinarily humanistic understandings.
Our audience for this project is targeted towards members of higher education, such as students and academics. With this type of target audience, they are most likely to understand and already know the Greek stories as well as be more perceptive to the distancing effect and reflective nature of our performance.
Our company is focusing on the process of theatre making whilst answering our questions, rather than the final product. We will be documenting our discoveries and experiments through this company website, showcasing our work through multimedia forms.
What Is Our Creative Idea?
Katie: My creative idea of adapting Antigone contributes to our message of unreliable storytelling through Greek tragedy and the message of corrupt politics; both contemporary and current. My creative idea is a contribution of an adapted Greek tragedy to the collaborative scriptwriting and dramaturgy team to explore in experimental rehearsals with the rest of the company. My creative contribution aims to explore Brecht’s estrangement techniques through making something familiar, the story of Antigone, into something strange, the story of Creon being a hero and killed by Antigone.
James: In my scriptwriting process I used aspects of storytelling to change the audience’s perception of Oedipus in his search for his destiny. I also helped the group through workshops to create caricature versions of themselves and use these traits established to maintain the structure of our plays several realities.
Cal: In my composition of our performance, I decided to utilise Brechtian estrangement as a springboard for creating different, distinct performative realities in which action unfolds both separate to the episodic scenes and context in which it originates, diverging as a single unified piece of performance theatre.
Charlie: As part of the theatre design team my main contribution and creative purpose was to focus on the use of masks; to explore how they can affect the nature of storytelling within performance - how they could be manipulated to embody the traits of estrangement in relation to the audience, and what effect this practice can have on how the audience respond to the stories presented.
Amy: I am the second member of our theatre design team and I am focusing of puppets and puppetry. I want to explore how puppets can emote and how the design of a puppet could be used to estrange an audience and impact how they view a story. I aim to create a puppet I can use as evidence when perusing my future in the arts.
Holly: As Production Sound Designer I wanted to develop sound that contributes to the atmosphere of the performance, whilst including the overarching theme of corrupt politics. My creative idea was to see how I could incorporate Brecht's Theory of Estrangement through sound design with the focus of how distancing can be created through sound and what effect this would have between the audience and performance.
George: As the Production Lighting Designer, I wanted to explore various theatre practitioners, that take a prime focus to lighting design as they develop their own pieces. My vision is to try and portray the theme of corrupt politics using my research of these practitioners. Alongside this I wanted to explore Brecht's Theory of Estrangement and how that would change my personal design angle. Ultimately, creating my own personal take on lighting for an Estranged Stage.
The purpose of our PaR project, The Victory of The Epigoni, is to ultimately experiment with Greek storytelling and expand upon Brecht’s estrangement technique through all our production roles. The outcome is to distance the audience through estrangement of all our creative and production elements. We want to make the audience question the reliability of our storytelling and to transfer that question of reliability to political problems, both within the stories and within the world.
"What impact does estrangement of the audience have on how stories are told and perceived?"
This is our company question that we will be answering through our process of performance making. Our question needs to be broad enough to apply to all the roles within our company (e.g. dramaturgs, props, lighting) as well as expanding enough to create sub-questions for each individual role.
To consider answering this question, we need to have a finished live performance. Due to the Covid-19 lockdown currently taking place, this production has been cancelled. Therefore, our answer to this question cannot be supported by the evidence in the performance space. Still, we can answer the question based upon our research and continued work during lockdown.
We have found that the impact of estranging the audience works through multiple disruptions in a performance, such as things going wrong, intervals, characters breaking the fourth wall, characters playing multiple characters and complex performative concepts. This is all shown in our work, or at least what we aimed to achieve by including all of these elements in our performance to keep our audience active, critical and open to the messages we are displaying. Our messages lie within the Greek stories we are telling, both the original messages of corrupt politics and the current messages of propaganda. We have applied estrangement to these Greek stories to make an untruthful or unreliable portrayal of the famous Sophocles tragedies, creating a message of "don't always believe what you are being told", which is transferable to politics as well as Greek literature. This is derived from the idea of Greek stories being rewritten over time and whether we are reading an original and reliable version of said story.
Meet The Team
The brains and muscles behind Primordial Productions