By Laura Swift
From very early on in the process of creating Fragments, one ingredient we’ve known we wanted to use is puppetry. Why? Because when you watch a puppetry sequence, your brain is imposing meaning and narrative on fragments. Although you know that you’re watching inanimate objects, you can’t stop yourself from relating to them as people, projecting emotions and stories onto them.
When we first started working on Fragments, we knew we wanted to do something broader around the idea of how fragmentation is a human experience, but back in 2014 we hadn’t quite conceptualised how that would work. We spent a lot of time brainstorming and discussing ways in which our experience of the world is fragmented: from hearing one side of a phone conversation to seeing snapshots of someone’s life through a window. We knew that our own autobiographical memories felt like an important ingredient: We spent some time with actors talking through and reconstructing memories from their past such as a dramatic event that had happened to them and kept pushing at the points where contradictions started to emerge or things didn’t make sense. But it was only once we began conversation with neuroscientists that we realised exactly what it was that we needed to frame the concept of fragmentation and connect it to a wider human experience.
The original impetus of Fragments was that we wanted to explore the idea of rediscovering lost plays. But why are they lost, and why should we be interested in finding them?
Thirty-two Greek tragedies have survived into the modern period. In practice, only a handful of these are performed regularly nowadays – many of you have probably seen a production of Medea, Antigone, or Bacchae, but how many people reading this have seen Women of Trachis, Children of Heracles, or Iphigenia among the Taurians? But these thirty-two plays represent a tiny fraction of the number of plays that were originally put on in the festivals of ancient Athens. For example, seven of Sophocles’ plays survive, out of a total of around 120: a survival rate of only just over 5%. The figures are similar for Aeschylus (though slightly better for Euripides), and we have nothing at all for the many other playwrights who competed against these three.
One of the first stages in developing Fragments was the opportunity to do two days of workshops with MA Acting students at East 15 Acting school. After many months of storyboard, writing, and discussing, this was a great chance for us to get ideas off the page and into the space. Working with the students at this early stage was a great way for us to get a lot of different minds working on the material, test out a lot of different ideas quickly and see what is worth taking further. We hope it’s also useful for them to get insight into an unusual creative process and to get more practical experience of devising, especially since the timing of our workshops on Fragments was not long before they had to create their own devised pieces.
Fragments is a project that has been gestating for the last few years. In October/November 2014, we did some early workshops with Dr Laura Swift from the Open University and a group of theatre-makers, designers and performers exploring the potential for working with fragments of “lost” stories from the ancient world. We had a showing of early ideas in the 2014 Being Human Festival (https://beinghumanfestival.org/), and were really excited about the project’s potential. Life and other projects got in the way, and we had to put Fragments to one side for a while, but over the course of 2017 we’ve returned to the idea, and we’re developing it into our third production.
Fragments is inspired by the ways in which our brains continually experience life as fragmentary snatches of information. Though we think we experience the world as a coherent narrative, our brains in fact create this illusion, extrapolating partial information from our senses by guesswork, and rewriting our memories to fit our present situation.