Wednesday, 8 January 2014

To be, or not to be, that is the question... But what if you could be both?

As an actor, when people ask you ‘what is your dream role?’, you know they’re expecting you to name a well-known classical character, probably Shakespearean, to be performed with a famous theatre company or theatre. But, whilst I have one of those on my list of dream roles, what I would truly love is a lead role (or co-lead!) in a Sci-Fi/Fantasy film or TV series (I can only partly blame Joss Whedon, Ridley Scott and James Cameron for this, because really it’s the fault of Jim Henson and Doctor Who!).

Browse through my bookshelves and among the science titles you will find books by Brian Greene, Michio Kaku (if you can find his BBC series about Time from a few years ago, I recommend watching it), Roger Penrose and Marcus Chown (no relation, but he’s a Chown so I definitely recommend looking up his books and iPad app!). They all reveal my interest in quantum physics and the universe.

To many people this interest may seem completely unrelated to the world of Acting, but a long time ago, I realised this scientific exploration explained part of my desire to Act and to create (that's a whole other blog post right there! But read on and you'll see I'm not the only one to recognise a connection). So, when I spotted playwright, Gill Kirk, was trying to raise money to develop her script inspired by quantum mechanics, I decided to find out why she had chosen the subject to write about and ask her more about the script she is trying to develop...

Playwright Gill Kirk  ©Gill Kirk

Why quantum mechanics?

GK: I wanted to write something new, had a lot going round my head and was almost completely silenced by the range choices niggling away at me. So I took a leaf from impro techniques - specifically Keith Johnstone - and tried some “free writing” - just letting whatever came out get onto the page: no self-censoring, no going back, no corrections. Just pages and pages of unhampered scribbling.

There were several weird ideas in there that were surprisingly appealing. One of the strongest was the idea of a physicist struggling in a world dominated by arts (much as our culture is). But it’s ironic, because of course, much of culture, art and performance - is all about trying to understand our place in this world. But that’s what physics is all about.

The phrases “quantum physics” or “quantum mechanics” meant nothing to me except something exotic. I didn’t even know they were the same thing. I didn’t know how much conflict there has been in this field of study; or that it’s only 100 years old; or that Einstein had real problems with much of it. I didn’t know that there still is no single, agreed answer.

After many library trips, I fell into the highly addictive world of TED Talks and just couldn’t stop. I started to twig that much of this appears in Doctor Who and New Age books. And that this thing was now a play which was “sort of” about quantum mechanics.

What's the play about?

GK: It’s deliberately NOT a play “about” science. It’s about the questions that we all face, time and time again, no matter how old, or where, or when we are.

Every day, we make deliberate choices to do - or not do - things. Each choice has results. In one theory of quantum mechanics - the multiple / parallel universe theory - you are only experiencing one possible version of your life, but all the other possible versions are out there: there is a you who didn’t read this blog; a you who hates theatre; a you who knows far more about science than I do (oh, hang on; that’s this world), and so on. In this theory, those parallel worlds can never know each other, but they still, definitely exist. It’s not sci-fi - it’s a robust theory supported by many serious physicists.

So what does that mean for us, for the play?

We see two people who do or don’t meet as children and, in some worlds, the impact that that childhood meeting has on their lives and characters. If they don’t meet as kids, they meet - or at least pass by one another - again and again in various other parallel worlds. Unlike the film Sliding Doors, there is no sense of “Destiny”, where the lead always ends up injured / pregnant at a certain point.  We see these two people’s best and worst selves: when they are good for each other, bad for each other; when they are great individuals and dire ones.  We love them, hate them, worry, ache and laugh with them.

Throughout, we see the set-up for a particular “thought experiment”: if there are parallel quantum universes and if I kill myself with a rifle controlled by a quantum particle (which both fires and doesn’t fire at the same time), then surely I can live forever - right? Because in the worlds where I die, I don’t know about it, but in the worlds where I survive, I live!

This is not a play with answers - it’s a play for wondering (for me, at least): are tiny actions (a smile, a “hello”) perhaps as significant as huge decisions in life? What makes us the people we are today? Do we like the people we are in certain circumstances? Did we take a wrong turn? Can we back-track? If we could, would we?

A poster I created to showcase a typeface I designed during my Graphic Design studies - who knew it would come in handy on the blog?  ©Annette Chown 2012

Where are you in the development process?

GK: I’ve been working with dramaturg David Lane since the summer, and he's has given me a brilliant sounding board and stretching place! We're now at the point where we want to “stand it up” and spend a day in a room with a professional director and actors to “stress-test” the script. I want to see where things work and don’t work, and improve them, before sending this out to theatres. I’m desperate to see this thing have a life (it obsesses me, unlike anything else I’ve written), so it has to be in the best shape to can be before it’s exposed! If this was a commissioned piece, the theatre would provide this, but it isn’t!

Crowdfunding is getting more and more popular, but why did you chose to try it?

GK: My local authority (not unusually) isn’t funding individuals anymore. ACE’s G4A programme ideally requires a level of investment from the artists or other sources. Having secured some interest from the scientific world, I decided to just start trying to raise funds myself and see how we got on.

Having almost completed the crowdfunding (in terms of time, not funding!), I’d really recommend it to others. It is a very thought-provoking process. I don’t just owe my best effort to the script (me) anymore, but as I type there are 45 people who have put their own money into the project and I must not  - cannot - let them down. It’s really exposing, terrifying, sobering - loads more than asking people to come to your show!

Why did you choose Talent Backer?

GK: I wanted to use a UK rather than US site. Talent Backer are talent- rather than business-focused. They’ve given me daily coaching, been really supportive, so - so far - all’s good and I’m really glad of this route.

What can people do to help, and if they fund, does it have to be a lot?

GK: You can just pledge a fiver!

There are escalating rewards for funders (if I hit the full target), and I am very happy to discuss those if you wanted something else.

But alongside the pledges, publicising this to your networks would be a massive help. I’m driving my social and personal networks insane with this (28 days is a long time) and we still have £400 to raise in this last week (not panicking, not panicking). If we don’t hit the target, we don’t get ANY of the funds. Uhuh.

So, please - consider a fiver, become a theatre angel and patron of the arts, get a reward for your kindness AND if you can encourage others to support me, you’re doing a great thing. And who knows where this play will go if it does well…? You could be in at the beginning of something big! But that’s just one of many possible universes!

At the time of posting this, Gill only has 7 days left to reach her target. Here's the link to her Talent Backer page:

The Theory of Relativity: the theory of the very big versus Quantum Theory: the theory of the very small © Annette Chown

Now you have a choice: does the ‘you’ in this version of the universe pledge or not pledge money to help Gill develop this script? Remember, if she doesn’t reach her target, she gets NONE of the money already pledged.

To fund or not to fund, THAT is the question...


Gill’s Talent Backer Page
Gill Kirk’s Website
TED Talks - warning, as Gill says, they are addictive!
Keith Johnstone’s ‘Impro’
Richard Feynman
Brian Greene’s Website
Marcus Chown’s Website
Michio Kaku’s Website - warning, the banner on his website, does make him look like Physics’ answer to Derek Acorah
Roger Penrose's 'The Road to Reality'
Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy and Religion in The Matrix - I’m just throwing this in as a reading suggestion because it’s a nice, easy introduction to some ideas and theories that make their way into a lot of Science Fiction, not just The Matrix, and it’s littered with suggestions for further reading/watching.

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