Moving, Working, Staying Together: Andy Smith writes about some of the inspirations and ideas behind his new play, SUMMIT, which is performed in a blend of languages, including fully integrated BSL.
This feels to me like a fragile time. There’s a lot of uncertainty about. Quite a few things are taking place on global and local levels. Things sometimes seem disparate. Sometimes, it seems, a bit desperate. Times can seem hard. The people in power don’t seem to be operating in all of our interests. Whatever your position, you must admit that decisions are being taken that might create some confusion and division and aggression rather than work towards clarity and unity and harmony. That’s my take on it, anyway.
I want more equality in this world. I want more voices to be heard. I find myself in a constant process of wanting to do something about all this. I want us to do something. I want to feel empowered. I want us to feel empowered, and feel that we have some agency in a world in which it sometimes feels that our agency is being taken away. I sense that more of a sense of the collective and togetherness might be a good thing. I acknowledge that I type this from a position of privilege. I still want to do something about what I perceive is happening. I don’t think this should stop me. I want some solidarity. It’s a constant struggle. Things are changing all the time.
It’s into this context that my new play SUMMIT has emerged. This play, co-directed by me with Claire Lamont and created with the help and enthusiasm of three performers – Aleasha Chaunte, Jamie Rea and Nadia Anim as well as a team of stage manager (Babette) and an array of BSL interpreters, is about to begin a tour around various venues in England. I mention these collaborators because I couldn’t have attempted what I am attempting with this play without them. Theatre, as we know, is a collaborative art form. It couldn’t happen without other people, these people and then the final piece of the puzzle that is the audience, the only element that the theatre cannot do without. We are all needed to make this work happen. We need, as someone once said, to be all in this together.
The theatre is for me, a place of meeting, at least a place that contains the potential for that. A meeting is what the story of SUMMIT is concerned with. The meeting in our play, the summit of the title, has been organised to respond to a current crisis or emergency. We never find out exactly what this is. Take your pick!
The meeting of the story is held to discuss something. To think about and find out about how we can take action. And at this summit something happens that makes everything change. Something happens. Everything changes. The play is, as one of the performers described to me, an act of political optimism. Something that in these times feels like it could be an oxymoron. At this ‘summit’ it isn’t. I hope it is an act of us all meeting in the theatre and thinking about what we can do.
For me, one of the things at the heart of the play is an appeal for me and us to see and consider our difference. One of the first inspirations was an image that I had in my head of a performer standing onstage using sign language. Just that. Nothing else. I am pretty sure this inspiration came from a number of places. I have worked with a number of sign-language interpreters onstage with me for previous plays and performances, for example.
From the start, I knew I was interested in writing something that would be performed by other people with other experiences and other ways of seeing and doing things, and so this is one of the reasons the play integrates BSL into its fabric. An audience that is both Deaf and hearing should be able to receive the story with some parity. That’s the hope, anyway. That’s what has been happening so far in rehearsals when we have invited various people in to see the work as it progresses. I hope that it will continue.
This exhibition and admission of difference feels important to me. Part of the attempt is to create a situation where we see each other not as all the same, but one in which we can see ourselves as other, as different. To try to – in the words of Audre Lorde – learn ‘how to take our differences and make them strengths’. Here is another aim. However similar they might appear any group of people in the theatre will have differences. They might not see things in the same way. A consideration of the play – and performing it in this way, in a blend of languages – is not to try and get us all onto the same page, but to work out further ways that we might work together. To carry on with rather despite the things that might be said to potentially separate us – opinions, perceptions, thoughts and languages.
Perhaps ambitiously, optimistically and some would perhaps say naively, the play tries to imagine a future. To imagine what we are like one thousand years in the future. That we have made it to a place where we are one thousand years in the future! In this future we are working better. There is more parity and more equality. We have realised that we have to work and keep working to make things better. We have also come to terms with the fact that none of this is easy, and that none of it will be done for us. However hard or difficult things might sometimes seem, if we can work out ways to work together then there is a possibility that we might move forward, and keep moving forward toward better circumstances. That’s the hope, anyway, but it won’t happen if we don’t make it happen. That’s up to us.
SUMMIT plays at Shoreditch Town Hall from Tuesday 9th – Friday 19th October
Tickets: 020 7739 6176
SUMMIT tours to Lincoln, Lancaster, Leeds, Preston, Reading, Colchester, Totnes, Stokesley, Saltburn-by-the-Sea and Redcar. For full tour details please go to www.fueltheatre.com