Why do we divide during conflict? How does division effect people? Why haven’t we learned from our past?
These are only three of the questions that Brickin’ It Theatre Company are trying to tackle in their brand-new production, Sides.
Celebrating thirty years since the fall of the Berlin wall, Sides is set in Berlin during the 1980s, and recounts five emotional stories from the families and friendships on both the East and the West of Germany’s capital city.
Upon talking to the company, Brickin’ It described their show as an “unbiased account”, claiming to show how the West was, in many ways, just as divided as the East of Berlin during the 80s. With the opening scene of the play introducing their themes through physical theatre, the student-led piece will also be immersive and documentary-based. Brickin’ It plan on their audiences being divided into five separate groups to witness each of the five different narratives at different times during the production, creating a simple and accessible way for everyone to be immersed. For many, being involved in participatory theatre is a worst nightmare, however I expect this approach to be effective, using immersivity to transport the audience into the play’s setting, rather than forcing people to partake in scenes. The writers and dramaturgs are using both fictional, and first-hand accounts (verbatim) throughout the show, as well as using sensory aids, such as light, video and sound, to tell each of their stories. I imagine that this will only aid their attempts of inclusion and emotional involvement further, making for a very exciting and diverse piece.
Talking to the people that make up both the production team and the cast was incredibly insightful. We discussed their rehearsal processes, what they felt the answers were to the three questions that they are using to underpin their piece, and I even got a sneaky preview of the stories that make up their narrative…
“Every scene has one or two directors, as well as a couple of writers, working on developing and shaping it. So, it’s not like there’s one boss that we all answer to; the process is very collaborative and inclusive”, said one member of the team.
“But it’s not an easy process!”, chirped another, “It’s actually a lot more difficult than people think. Of course, we are managing any bumps in the road effectively, but working on devising a script, directing scenes, ensuring our narrative is faithful to the reality of such an important time in history, designing set, lights and sound, and ensuring that everything makes sense cohesively can be extremely difficult.”
“We work in small focus groups, before sharing back to the whole group”, they explained, which is where I imagine some issues with ensuring that their work remains continuous and understandable arises.
“Something that we really enjoyed doing was making our play’s characters. We decided to start by setting everyone off to devise a person of their choice, from Berlin in the 80s, as quickly as they could, before hot seating each of them, and asking them lots of questions, to develop their characterisation even further. It was really fun, and it now means that every actor knows every character inside-out. Anyone could play anyone… Not that that’s going to happen, but it puts us in quite a comfortable position.”
The team seemed to find answering their initial, leading questions quite simple, demonstrating that they have researched their themes, and areas of interest, thoroughly. In response to why we divide during conflict, the company answered in one, simple word: “Fear”. It seems that they are right; even during Britain’s current, political unrest, we see division, whether it be class, political stance, gender, or geographical location.
Their second question: why haven’t we learned? Brickin’ It were at their most passionate when discussing this, responding to their question with anger towards society’s constant repetitions, downfalls, and coping mechanisms. “We almost see Sides as activism that puts this exact question to our audiences watching. We need to learn!”
Finally, how division effects people is answered directly through their narratives. The first, and seemingly their favourite, is a father and son relationship. This narrative explores how walls, and the division of their society, has affected their relationship. “There’s something about the vulnerability of a father-son response to this idea that we really liked. Being so emotionally available, when you’re a guy, is seen as a rarity nowadays. Including this within the piece was really important to us.”
The cast and crew appear organised, passionate and determined in their mission to bring the crooks of political division to light. I, for one, am incredibly excited to see their work in action.
Words by Morgan Hartley.