By Blindspot Theatre Company
Kiera Ash, James Casey, Isobel Clarke, Laura Connors, James Forth, Zara Jagroo, Reece Lambourne, Shauna Munroe, Erica Nutbrown, Jaimin Patel, Alice Watts.
A Seat With A View: Portfolio Contextualisation Document
A Seat with a View conceptualises through an anthology structure the complex notions of surveillance and spectatorship. The piece draws from theories of Michel Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’ and his exploration into how external structures can produce docile bodies. Blindspot Theatre Company examines this theory through scenes that investigate and challenge ideas of surveillance. Specifically, the awareness behind the power structure of technology and the significance of our own spectatorship within the setting of a theatre. The structure, set and method of our performance were specifically chosen to accompany grounded research and surveillance itself. We play on this complex notion of witnessing throughout using mediums such as physical theatre, voice and movement. Each scene is highly contrasting and offers purposefully limited insight. Consequently, playing on the idea of spectators never seeing the full picture, both through surveillance and from their seat at the theatre. Themes of privacy and intimacy were also embedded into various sections, with our research on surveillance suggesting complicated notions between the two. However, the theme of paranoia acted as a through line between each scene, gradually heightening and reflecting the effects of being watched.
In starting with such a broad topic, it was essential that our rehearsal approach was structured and framed so that our creative ideas could flow when devising. From the beginning, we worked collaboratively as a group to develop a central foundation for us all to work off. This led to the assignment of certain people to areas of research, additionally, the nomination of Zara and James Casey working together in Dramaturgical roles provided outside voices into the process. With Erica and Laura as the technical liaisons, we progressed steadily in order to provide a working, innovative design concept which was supported by the technological knowledge of Jaimin. United by the common aim of making a piece of theatre that had purpose, we were able to faction off into smaller groups of threes and fours in order to enable focused areas of devising where a certain few had more in-depth expertise or research than others. Partaking in such a lengthy rehearsal process, it was of vital importance that we kept the energy, morale and ideas flowing, we found great strength in balancing group time with individual research time. With the help of many warm-up games, our collective remained focused and concentrated as we explored new theatrical pathways which many of us had no previous experience in. This was our strength: we brought together different skills, knowledge and knowhow, of which we had discovered individually, and created something that we could collectively be proud of.
The central aim of our performance was to investigate the idea of surveillance within the theatrical setting. This investigation separated into two distinct aims. Firstly, we aimed to evoke audience awareness of their intrinsic role as a spectator. Secondly, we aimed to depict the omnipresence of surveillance in our lives and its potential formations in the near future.
We sort to fulfil our first aim by implementing elements of Brechtian and metatheatrical techniques. One of which was the constant presence of the ensemble on stage. The ensemble constantly either sat on the blocks on the sides or were stood at the entrance of the tunnel. Whilst there some watched the scene taking place centre stage and others gazed out at the audience. The intention of this was to create multiple layers of watching. Additionally, this provoked audience reflection and consideration as to their participation as one of the layers of watching. Another way we employed elements of the aforementioned theatrical styles was through direct address. In the concluding monologue the performer directly addresses the audience and comments on their role within the performance as spectators. The final lines of the piece draw focus to the audience each having a seat with a certain view. Moreover, no two audience members had the same experience due to the perspective offered by their seat. We wanted this to comment on the theatrical experience of an audience and the idea of perspective. Finally, all the scenes were linked together by the line “you’ve been watching”, which was said as some point in every scene. The intention of this was to create a through line which linked all the scenes together as well as to draw audience attention to the fact that they are also participating in this action of watching.
Our second aim was to depict the omnipresence of surveillance in our lives and its potential formations in the near future. We aimed to do so using an anthology structure. We selected different elements of surveillance and aimed to address a different element in each scene. For instance, the scene Darling, you’ve been watching? Addressed the intimacy we share with devices in our everyday lives and the personal information that our technology has the potential to access. The dystopic elements of this scene aimed to route it within the realms of normality for the audience. For example, the naturalistic style of the dialogue which was directly contrasted with the absurdity of someone having a relationship with a piece of technology. The scene Birds aren’t Real was based on the movement occurring in America, surrounding the conspiracy theory that birds are government surveillance drones. This scene addresses the paranoia surrounding surveillance and surveillance technologies. The scene Please box me in was also set in the dystopic future in which the only escape from a society that is completely surveilled, is in the space of a small box. This played with ideas of what privacy and freedom meant in terms of surveillance, and implicated thoughts on the lengths people would go to get this (e.g. paying money). All our scenes contained elements of the dystopic, however our goal was to create integrate dystopias with current events. This meant our performance offered something relevant and completely possible given the era of surveillance which we currently inhabit.
The portfolio we have presented comprises of three separate sections, and represents our process, performance and research. Specifically, our portfolio includes a script, a video and a presentation. We wanted to encompass the aims of our piece, specifically using technology (such as the video) to highlight our theme of spectatorship. In the following section, we aim to analyse the contents to our portfolio, offering insight into both its creation and purpose.
Our script was a key aspect to our portfolio and comprises of all the different scenes within our anthology. The script also includes the stage directions for each individual scene, including simplified lighting and sound cue to evoke the atmosphere of the scene for the reader. Due to the anthology structure of our piece, gaining an overall insight to the performance may be difficult without this. The script we have submitted allows a critical engagement with each scene, and, displays the purposefully fragmented structure. The script also displays the ongoing motif of the line ‘you’ve been watching’, reinforcing the layers of spectatorship throughout. The process of our performance is also reflected through the script, it was a document that was consistently added to and adapted within rehearsal, allowing us to gain insight into the flow of our piece.
The portfolio also consisted of a video that explored some of the individual scenes with more depth. We wanted to be creative in our transposition from performance to portfolio, and the video allowed us to do this. The filming of each individual scene meant we could play on the idea of angles. Our original performance focused its attentions to each seat having a specific view. Moreover, the purposeful placement of our recording devices encompassed this idea, whilst also naturally commenting on the idea of surveillance through personal technology. Additionally, we played on the idea of site-specific theatre in this video, using settings such as a woodland area or a kitchen. Within our original performance the formation of blocks being moved represented our change in space. Therefore, the highly contrasting spaces used in the video represents this, also reinforcing the idea of our anthology structure with no apparent link between each scene. Some scenes included within our video were adapted, this is because they may have originally involved several ensemble members. The scene Please Box Me In was adapted to be an internal monologue for our video. While this doesn’t specifically show our original layout for the scene, it displays the process in our devising. In our rehearsals, the use of internal monologues and character development helped us explore and push ideas further.
Our final section to our portfolio was the power-point presentation. This power-point included extended insight into the set, technology and transitions within our performance. We decided this power-point would accompany the video efficiently as it analysed in more depth the detail and structure of our piece. The ‘tunnel’ that was so integral to our set acted as an ongoing metaphor throughout, therefore the inclusion of its photographs and labelled diagrams is central to envisioning our performance. Whilst the video offers a more performative style, the mini-blurbs included in the power-point offer detail and explanation.
Welcome to your Seat with a View. We here by invite you to observe, judge and spectate what is before you, from your seat in our audience.
Our piece explores the complex notions of layers of surveillance in theatre. Rapidly surveillance technology is expanding like never before and the spectator embodies many different forms. Through the construction of theatre, we have focused our theatrical investigation into exploring what spectatorship means and considering the intrinsic role of the theatre spectator.
Our anthology structure poses many different surveillance situations in a variation of styles. Each episode within our anthology portrays a selective angle, questioning whether watchers will ever be able to access the full view. In doing so we aim to pose to you, our audience, the question of the impact of surveillance and to draw you into the questioning your role as a spectator to our performance.
Therefore please, take your seats, we hope you’re sitting comfortably as we’re about to begin.
You are a spectator. You are watching us. But who is watching you?
Questions and Themes
- What does it mean to be a member of a theatre audience?
- In what ways is surveillance and surveillance technology present in our lives?
- To explore the relationship between modern society and the representation in dystopic fiction?
- How can you physicalise the idea of surveillance?
- Technology and surveillance
- Privacy and Intimacy
Paranoia and the feeling of being watched were key themes throughout our anthology. We hoped for these themes to be present throughout the performance, building towards a climactic feeling. Starting more subtle at the beginning, but as the performance developed, we aimed for this feeling of paranoia, this feeling of being watched by someone or something, to build in a climactic journey, reaching its peak at the end of the performance. The final scene, You’ve heard that before, would have hopefully bought about this climactic ending through directly addressing the audience. This use of direct address would have hopefully created an almost jarring feeling for the audience as the audience had not been address or overtly involved in the performance until now. The climactic ending to the piece would also hopefully been created by the repetition of the line ‘you’ve been watching’ in every scene of the piece. This line was used in a mixture of ways, used subtly – in Please Box Me In, for example – or more obviously, in You’ve heard that before, to help to build this feeling of paranoia throughout the anthology.
Scene by Scene
Darling You’ve been Watching?
The robot girlfriend scene was attempting to humanise surveillance. This scene investigates intimacy, one of human races complexed traits and places it into the body of the camera. By demonstrating this strange relationship between a human and machine it humanises the devise, making people think it’s not just a metal box with a lens, but that someone could be controlling and looking through it. Throughout the whole performance we attempted to contently add the line ‘You’ve been watching’ into every scene so that the anthology felt connected. In this scene it’s when the robot girlfriend tells the character Rob that she has been watching him but he can’t work out exactly why, when in fact CCTV is contently watching, contently existing and for that reason it can just be as intimate as the intimate act it is watching.
Can I interest you in a cookie?
The scene “Can I interest you in a cookie?” was inspired by online surveillance. Whilst researching surveillance we became interested in society’s active participation in handing over our data, when clicking we “accept cookies”. This scene involves multiple peoples real-life experience with online data-mining and covers a variety of opinions. The character of a miner was used as physical symbol of collecting online data, playfully physicalising the unseen side of surveillance. Opposite is a very short clip of the type of movement the miners in the scene perform throughout.
Birds Aren’t Real!
“Is it a bird, is it a plane… no it’s a drone! Are birds real? That is the question people should have on their mind instead of groceries! Birds are just surveillance drones with fake wings! The government are watching everyone and the Bird Truthers are the ones to put an end to this!
It might sound funny to small minded people, but have you ever stopped and wondered… Have you ever seen a baby pigeon?
Please Box Me In
Set in a surveillance dominated society, the ‘Deluxe Escape Box Complex’ offers a space for anyone to be themselves without feeling as if they are being constantly watched. Shauna’s character pays £75 for a 2-minute escape in the box, However she notices a stranger, who in desperation, has his card is declined? After debating whether to share her only few minutes alone, she decides to invite him into her box. This scene follows the two characters and their experience using this escape, will she sympathise with this stranger? How do they both express their emotions due to the surveillance dominated society, knowing that they are not being watched?
You’ve Heard That Before
This scene serves to solidify ideas in the mind of the audience about how all the scenes link together. It draws focus to a disregard for the larger picture and to ideas of watching which are key to our piece. It finishes by directly addressing the audience, accusing them of watching this whole time. This breaking of the fourth wall highlights the idea that as an audience member you are by definition a spectator to events and that no two audience members will ever have exactly the same experience.
For the set design we aimed for a worn down, industrial-like aesthetic to aid the darker dystopian themes of the play. We painted steel deck which would cover the performance space as well as 8 boxes which actors would be seated on side of stage; they can be moved in order to suit different scenes.
As a key theme of the play is surveillance, we wanted the audience to feel as if they were being surveilled throughout the piece. To achieve this we would create a tunnel leading from the large doors at back of the CCT into workshop 2, gradually getting narrower. From which actors would be able to enter and exit as well as providing a space from where the audience could be watched.
For our opening image, we decided to use sidelights and a backlight as our chosen lighting cues.
We chose the back and sidelights for this as they cast shadows around the company members that really emphasised the unnerving atmosphere created by the cast. These shadows follow the theme of ‘you’ve been watching’ that we maintain throughout the entire piece as they cast an image that there is someone standing next to each member of the cast, watching their every move but they have no face or any way of being identified; similar to that of a person watching you from behind a screen. The back and sidelights also have quite a cold wash to demonstrate that the world of CCTV and surveillance isn’t a warm or welcoming place and can be quite dangerous.
Darling You’ve Been Watching?
For the second scene where we are introduced to the ways in which surveillance can infiltrate a home, we wanted our lighting cues to reflect the mood of the scene. At the beginning of the scene, the lighting will be a warm wash to give the stage a homely feel and make the audience feel the comfortable and safe atmosphere associated with being at home. The audience will feel what the character on stage feels and the lighting will help with this. While the character feels safe, the lighting will stay warm but when he becomes wary and slightly frightened as it is slowly revealed that his life is not as private as he thought it was and doesn’t fully belong to him, but also to the technology he owns, the lighting will fade into a cold wash. This lighting change will show the audience that a setting that seemed safe only seconds ago has now become an unwelcome and tense place that doesn’t have a lot of room for warmth. This stems from the character realising that he is continually being watched and that nothing is private.
Can I interest you in a cookie?
For this scene where we demonstrate ‘data mining’ (online websites use your acceptance of the ‘cookies’ to collect information and data about you in order to create adverts on your apps of items that may interest you) we decided to use the back and side lights for our lighting cues. The backlight is used to highlight the ‘miners’ in the tunnel that are physicalising the ‘cookies’ collecting our data while the sidelights are used to highlight the cast members standing at the front of the stage. We have once again used these specific lighting cues to help us create an uncertain and uncomfortable mood around the stage for the audience and to give them an ominous feeling that the ‘data-mining’ isn’t as innocent as just accepting cookies. The shadows created from the lights also once again create the feeling of some unknown person continually watching over you and your online activity.
Birds Aren’t Real!
For this scene where a cast member is describing a conspiracy theory that the government has replaced all birds with drones that they use to spy on all of us, we chose to have just a single warm wash focussed on centre stage. This is where the single cast member, who will be reading verbatim statements made by the leader of this conspiracy group, will stand so that he is the central focus while the rest of the stage is black. We chose this lighting cue so that the audience’s focus is always pulled to the character on stage and what he is doing. Until now, the lighting has been quite cold so for this scene which is a lighter scene and holds more comedic moments we chose a warmer wash to invite the audience in and show a lighter side of our piece. While this scene is lighter in spirit, the spotlight demonstrates that there are still shadows in the darkness of the stage, watching us even closer now that a guard has been lowered due to comedic moments.
Please Box Me In
In this scene, we chose to have just one lighting cue; using one of our lighting specials we created a simple box light centre stage. The box is a place where we can escape to where the cameras cannot see us. It is the only place where true privacy still exists and where we can do whatever we like for the allotted time we are given. We chose to have the box be a lighting special rather than a physical box so that the audience can see the full events that occur between the two characters sitting in it. While this box is a place of privacy away from cameras, the audience can still see in, demonstrating that while the cameras may have gone away, there may still be something or someone watching you, in this case it is the audience.
You’ve heard that before
For the final scene we decided to have just the two sidelights for our lighting cues. This scene revolves around paranoia and so we wanted the lighting to reflect the mood. As the mood begins quite comfortable and light hearted, the stage is illuminated with both side lights. They do give off a cold wash however to show that this is not a place that will comfort for long. Slowly as the character’s monologue progresses, the side lights fade to just one so that only half of the character can still be properly seen. This demonstrates the descent into deeper paranoia as the more paranoid the character becomes, the less they wish to be seen. By the end, when the character is almost completely paranoid, there is a blackout so that the last few sentences are spoken in complete darkness. This shows that someone can always be there, even when you can’t see them.
The original opening music of the performance was created by using parts of songs, news broadcasts and videos to put our piece into a technological context.
All of the music and clips used in the track were linked to parts of the show, for example, a man speaking about surveillance and the government, or a sample of Uprising by Muse.
In the final scene, there would have been a modified version of this track to play, reinforcing our use of technology throughout the performance.
Dream by the Cosmic Boys, was used in Please Box Me In to give a technological and industrial feel to the scene’s dynamic. The track contextualises the scene, giving the audience a sense of its dystopian setting.
Why an anthology-style structure?
It became apparent to us mid way through the process that our devised scenes were increasingly individualistic in style. Undoubtedly, they were bonded through the shared theme of surveillance and went hand-in-hand with exploring privacy and intimacy. However, as a collection of work they were somewhat episodic, meaning that changing scene also meant transforming the narrative, style and forms used to explore our overarching dystopian aim.
Our piece was episodic, but due to its underlying thread of ‘you’ve been watching’, as a collective it felt as though we were performing an anthology of individual pieces threaded together by shared themes, aims and objectives.
Why do this? We wanted to portray a sound-bite exploration of our human connection to surveillance and technology. With so many different experiences out there, it felt only suitable to allow the breadth of these connections to arise from within an amply controlled freedom to explore and play.
Between each scene within our anthology there were a selection of transitions. These transitions consisted of the boxes being moved into different places whilst our soundtrack was played in the background. The repetition of this between each scene, reinforced our style of an anthology and clearly broke up each section. Our initial research led us to watch the BBC programme ‘The Capture’, which examined the effects of manipulated surveillance footage. This led us to question whether spectators could ever get the full view within through surveillance, we wanted to reflect this within our performance. The repetitive transition broke the flow of scenes, allowing purposefully limited insight into each section of our anthology. Additionally, this fed into the style of Brecht, a clear influencer to our project. Brecht aimed to break the fourth wall between actors and audience. This was key to our project as we wanted to challenge the idea of spectatorship in our performance, subtly suggesting we could be watching the audience too.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Penguin. 1991.