Loving Lists by Rachel Briscoe (Creative Director, fanSHEN)

fanSHEN’s Creative Director Rachel Briscoe tells us about their new show List for the End of the World, which won the 2015 Live Lab and The Empty Space Bursary.  A work-in-progress showing will take place as part of Live Lab Elevator on Tuesday 11 February in Live Theatre’s Main Theatre. 

I love lists. I really don’t know what I’d do without them. My whole notebook is stuffed full of post-its with ‘to do’ lists; shopping lists; lists of things to read, places to go, people I want to find out more about. You could measure my life in lists.

But a show made up of lists? Really? What would that even look like? Well, it’s what the company I co-run, fanSHEN, are trying to do. Lists for the End of the World will be a show entirely made up of anonymously sourced lists, offering audiences a sideways perspective on how we choose to live and what’s important. Within it (we hope!) the ordinary and the extraordinary, the profound and the ridiculous will sit playfully side by side. We’re remaking the show for each new location using material contributed by people who live locally… so we’re making a bespoke version for Live Lab Elevator with lists that we’ll source in Newcastle.

We’ll be doing some workshops in which people will contribute lists, and perhaps (gently) harassing people in the Intu shopping centre. There’s also going to be a ‘list of the day’ in the foyer at Live Theatre, which people can fill in and pop into a little postbox. We supply the titles (so far we have 56 potential titles) which range from ‘acceptable toppings on a pizza’ to ‘people I didn’t sleep with’ to ‘things I inherited from my mum’ to ‘things that make me laugh’ to ‘places I’d hide a body’. All contributors have to do is fill in the list – anonymously, and then -if they want- show up and see how the material that they’ve contributed has become part of the show (on Thursday 11 February, at 7.30pm).

But why lists? There is an idea fanSHEN use which is borrowed from permaculture, a system of design principles, and the idea is this:

Make the smallest possible intervention that will have the greatest possible effect

It feels applicable to this project because making a list is a pretty simple thing to do. You don’t need to explain what a list is, and people don’t feel freaked out by the idea of making one in the way that they might, for example, if you asked them to write a poem or a short story or 3 pages of dialogue. It’s just a list. And yet – as we found out when we started to play around with lists – it’s through this restrictive structure, this simplicity, that people begin can share beautiful, surprising and recognisable things about themselves.

Responses to the list ‘Toys I loved when I was a child’ elicited cries of ‘oh yeah’ from test audiences of people who suddenly remembered happy afternoons spent with their own Sylvanian Families or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle action figures. Lists of ‘Things that keep me awake at night’ juxtaposed with ‘Things that kept me awake at night aged 8’ gave us perspective on the things we consider important. A response to ‘Everything I ate yesterday’ written in obsessive detail like the menu in an upmarket restaurant (even down to the snacks – ‘multigrain cracker with extra-mature cheddar’) set against a list which read ‘Banana, doner kebab, a sausage roll, Aero mint bubbles, half a slice of pizza’ became unintentionally funny.

The simplicity yet also openness of the task of filling in a list means that from any one respondent, you can get responses which range from the profound to the everyday – for example, to ‘Things I’m tired of’: ‘packing up and leaving places, feeling guilty, milk cartons that drip milk every time you pour them, the patriarchy’. I just love that the patriarchy comes after dripping milk cartons. In another list, ‘Things I’m frightened of’, ‘being a parent’ and ‘not being a parent’ follow each other. Through seemingly imposing order, the list format reveals the beautifully complex way that we think and live.

As well as this sense of the disordered (and often contradictory) set of preoccupations we have, people’s responses anonymously reveal huge amounts about themselves, things they’d never reveal in conversation. From one respondent – ‘Words I use too much’: ‘Fine, fuck, love, know, basically, SORRY [respondent’s capitalisation]’ and ‘Words I use too little’: ‘Me, cumquat, relaxed, Antipodes, NO, Eritrea, bootylicious’. If I was teaching a writing course, I might even use these two lists as a starting point to develop a character from.

If in a traditional play, you see the character and imagine the surroundings and subtext, Lists… works the other way around: you get a list of songs that a respondent kissed people to but no idea of who the people were, when or what happened to those relationships. One of the things fanSHEN think about a lot is co-creation – how we’re co-creating with our audiences. Sometimes the audience are physically doing something, sometimes they’re contributing content, sometimes they’re imagining. As well as contributing their experiences, Lists… asks audiences to commit extreme acts of imagination – to fill in the stories behind the details that appear in people’s lists. Who kissed who to Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘By the way’? Would the bracketed question mark following Boudicea’s name in an invite list to a fictional dinner party be vindicated by her behaviour at said fictional dinner party? And what did happen at Abigail’s 18th birthday with the vodka luge?!

We’re right at the beginning of our journey with this project, and we’re really looking forward to getting stuck in and figuring out how we shape all this incredible material into a show. If you’d like to complete some lists for us, or have a chat about the project or fanSHEN’s work, please do get in touch – you can email us at lists@fanshen.org.uk or find us on twitter at @fanshentheatre. We’ve just moved to Newcastle, so we’re really keen to make some new friends!

Thanks for reading,
Rachel Briscoe (Creative director, fanSHEN)

List for the End of the World by fanSHEN is presented as part of the Work-In-Progress Double Bill (alongside Amy Golding’s preggers) on Thursday 11 February at 7.30pm. Find out more and book tickets

The Work-in-Progress Double Bill is part of Live Lab Elevator an unmissable event on from Tuesday 9 February to Saturday 13 February, which celebrates some of the most exciting voices from the theatre world. In this brand new event four new theatre productions, handpicked by Live Theatre’s creative team, will be put centre stage alongside discussions, workshops and the 2016 launch party in this unmissable event. Find out more about Live Lab Elevator

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