Spotlight On… Theatre Temoin’s Ailin Conant

Theatre Témoin presents The Marked at Ovalhouse, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW

Thursday 13th – Saturday 22nd October 2016 (no Sun or Mon), 7.30pm Press Night: Friday 14th October 2016, 7.30pm

Following 5-star sell-out successes at Edinburgh Fringe 2016, Theatre Témoin bring The Marked to London’s Ovalhouse, using mask, puppetry and physical theatre to navigate a haunting, mystical world inspired by real-life stories of homelessness.
As a boy, Jack lived in a world of monsters and invisible guardians, as he fought to protect the people he loved.  Now grown up, his life on the streets of London is less fantastical. But when a ghost from his past turns up, Jack must harness the power of forgotten myths to defeat her.
At its heart, The Marked is a story about the link between trauma in childhood and homelessness in adulthood, exploring the vivid internal landscapes that we create and discover through pain and healing.
This is an emotional rollercoaster ride that pulls no punches…there are touches of humour that are welcome relief… The three cast members…give stellar performances in a moving, thought-provoking play (British Theatre Guide).
Since 2010, homelessness has increased nationwide by 55%, with an unprecedented 100% increase in rough sleepers in London.  With ongoing cuts to services, this trend is expected to continue.   Theatre Témoin feel that it is vital that the most vulnerable in our communities have a voice on stage.

The Marked was developed alongside community consultants with experience of homelessness from St. Mungo’s Recovery College and Cardboard Citizens, who participated in Mask Theatre workshops delivered with the generous support of Big Lottery’s Awards for All scheme.

Theatre Témoin has an engagement-centred approach to devising, working with community partners and consultants at every stage of the process.  Devising Director Ailin Conant comments, While researching The Marked and listening to the stories of people experiencing homelessness, it became increasingly clear to me that for some people fantastical beliefs are a matter of urgency, of vital necessity.  When you have lived through powerful experiences, you need an equally powerful language and framework to describe those experiences.

I chatted to Ailin Conant from Theatre Temoin to find out all about the piece:

Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and your vision for it.

The Marked takes a peek into the mind of a young man battling life on the streets while haunted by memories from a difficult childhood.  At its heart it is an adventure story. Overcoming your demons is an epic, heroic task, and I wanted to flip the whole victim / delusion / anxiety question on its head and see the hero’s journey that many people are living, just to face reality, especially if they inherited a very difficult and tumultuous reality from a very young age.

Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?

We knew it would be a physical piece involving a great deal of movement, puppetry, and mask work so we looked for actors who were able to “take the space” physically.  That’s not really something that you can pinpoint or articulate with words, it’s just the way some actors “pop out” by the way they carry themselves and move.  If you see the show you’ll see what I mean as all of the actors have this quality.  We also looked for actors who wanted to engage with the subject matter in a long-term and meaningful way.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?

I don’t know to be honest, everyone’s reaction is so personal, and so different.  Some people leave in floods of tears but say the experience was “healing”, others are “deeply disturbed”, and others “don’t get it”.  You never know how an audience is going to connect with a piece of work, or what it is about it that will affect them.

A scene from Marked.

Have rehearsals altered your initial thoughts at all?

Devising is a funny beast because the whole point is that you expect to have your initial thoughts changed, challenged, and deepened by the process.  No one walks into a devising room on the first day of rehearsal thinking, “yes, I know how this will end”.  So in that sense, yes, everything about the way I think about sleeping rough, being a child dealing with an alcoholic parent, and the lines between fantasy and reality, and faith and delusion have fundamentally been changed by this process.

What would you say to encourage people to buy a ticket?

I guess I’m always going to go for that weird and wonderful five-star/one-star show over the safe and pleasant four-star show.  When you stretch to go to new places or play with new forms, that’s always a risk.  With The Marked it’s a risk that seems to have paid off: out of the thousands of shows in Edinburgh The Marked had a sell-out run and was the best-rated physical theatre show and the 9th-best-rated show overall according to The List’s ranking system which counts star ratings.  I hate stars so I kind of cringe just writing that, but the point is, people didn’t leave going “oh that was pleasant.”  Many left thinking “holy sh*t”; people said it stayed with them.

Finally, any advice for budding directors?

Recharge.  It’s a long-game.  Marathon, not a sprint.  Make sure you enjoy the journey because you never arrive, the carrot keeps moving.  If you’re a director, that’s usually because you’ll deliberately move the carrot.  That’s in your nature.  So just make sure you get plenty of other kinds of nourishment along the way.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

Huge thanks to Ailin for a much appreciated interview, break a leg!

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