An intriguing invite to Paignton Picture House led us to a thought-provoking immersive theatre experience last weekend. South Devon College students from Media, Fashion, Performing Arts & Dance, Music and Interactive Games & Apps came together to showcase 'Training To Be Human'.
The production fused live performance with jaw-dropping digital arts set against the backdrop of one of the UK's oldest cinemas. The experience examines what it means to be human, how we connect, live and grow in our busy 21st century lives, looking through the eyes of the other. We met with co-writer Ben Channon and performing artist Megan Aldridge to find out more.
Ben Channon: Film/TV student and co-writer of 'Training to be Human'
Megan Aldridge: Level 3 Performing Arts student and actor in 'Training to be Human'
Q: TELL US ABOUT THE PROCESS OF GOING FROM THE FIRST IDEA TO THE FINAL PERFORMANCE...
Ben: It was a very eclectic process; coming from a lot of different people. It was actually one of the other film students that came up with the initial idea... the prospect of humanity. Once that idea was sparked, we all liked it and ran with it. We developed it over the months. We brought in a professional writer - Phil John - from Baobab Theatre Company. Both him and I, we got into writing it... And eventually, we ended up landing here! Which has been very interesting and a very unique experience. It's been great working with all the different people.
Q: WHAT WAS IT LIKE CO-WRITING WITH PHIL FROM Baobab Theatre Company?
Ben: It was different because beforehand I had only written by myself. But I really enjoyed it actually... going out there, having writing meetings, talking to other writers about stuff... getting an idea of how you are going to direct what the script needs to be, and who's going to be allocated which part. It was a really interesting process that I thoroughly enjoyed!
Megan: And from a performer's perspective you mould it really nicely. Reading the script was pretty fluid and you could tell there were different aspects of Ben's writing and Phil's writing. But as a script it was really nice!
Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE Training to be Human?
Ben: As an audience member.... you become an alien all of a sudden and your home planet has been destroyed. You've been on a ship for 30 years and you get here, to humanity. You're bought to Paignton Picture House as a cultural location, where you are told that if you take part in this course in 'humanity' you will get to live here and have a planet to call home. So it's a matter of these aliens going through the course and what they learn. Also the conflict in that.... there's conflict of interest, there are revelations that come forth, as to what are the true motivations. What is exactly going on here? Things seem odd.
Megan: I don't even know if this was intentional, but from reading the script, not knowing what was going on, lots of the themes seem so relevant now! It's a story of immigration essentially, and conflict. And if you look at it, it's what we are seeing now in the world... there's lots of things that you can see paralleled in our society.
Q: WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE IT 'IMMERSIVE THEATRE'... TAKING PEOPLE ON A JOURNEY AROUND THE BUILDING?
Megan: Part of it is having the opportunity to have this space. We're very lucky, we've been approached a couple times to use spaces like this. And being a performer, going into the industry, immersive theatre is a massive thing now. So we are very lucky that our teachers are on-board with that and we get the opportunity to practice it. It is a big thing now when people come to see a theatre performance they don't just want to 'see' it on-stage. They want to be a part of the story as much as they can, so this is a great way for us to bring people into the story.
Q: THE USE OF TECHNOLOGY IS INCREDIBLE. HOW DIFFICULT WAS THAT TO ACHIEVE?
Ben: We were operating a lot of the tech... a lot of projectors. Certain ones which are capable of long range projection and short range projectors, processing into certain spaces, which would all work together to create a cohesive story. So it was a matter of combining different projectors to achieve what we wanted from a technological standpoint.
Q: WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT TORBAY CULTURE TO HAVE EMERGING TALENT CREATING WORK LIKE THIS, IN A VENUE LIKE THIS?
Megan: I think that in Torbay there is a lot of art that people don't know about. From my perspective, so many of my friends are in bands, working in different theatres... there are so many companies and this is just the start, to start showing that there is a lot actually going on in Torbay. Lots of young people.... Lots of theatre.... there's a lot going on!!
Q: ONE WORD TO DESCRIBE 'Training To Be Human'?
Ben: Probably 'eclectic'. There's just so many things, from so many different sources.
Training To Be Human was performed on the 14-16 June 2018 at Paignton Picture House. Find out more about the work of South Devon College here: https://www.southdevon.ac.uk/