Lampedusa - Celebration

One of our aims at the beginning of making Lampedusa was to highlight and spark a conversation about the migrant crisis through theatrical experiences.

Along with producer Steph Connell, I met with various different groups and individuals including Tricia McConalogue from Bridging the Gap; Pinar Aksu who is an activist and Community Development Worker, who works with Maryhill Integration Network; and the Citizens Theatre’s very own Elly Goodman who works with the Participation department. Together, over a period of a few weeks, we discussed how best to reflect the ideas within Anders Lustgarten’s play through engagement. Originally, Wonder Fools’ plan was to deliver two workshops to groups of 20 people in areas of Glasgow with high levels of refugees, such as Maryhill. However, from the initial discussions it became clear that delivering drama workshops to refugees about their own plight might not be the best approach and that a more sensitive, holistic approach to working with the different groups might better serve what we wanted to achieve. In the end Wonder Fools delivered workshops to high school students at St Andrews RC exploring the themes of the play. Yet it still felt important that we tried to engage with people who were affected by the issues in the play – the migrant crisis, austerity – but who might not see the play itself.

There were two words we kept coming back to. The first was ‘hope’, which was what confirmed in my mind that I wanted to stage Lampedusa in the first place – the note of uplifting defiance the play ends on. The second was ‘celebrate’, whatever it was that we created outside of the performance to engage people needed to ‘celebrate’ the values of the play. In this vein, we began to plan an event which would invite the different groups we had spoken to, groups which work with refugees within their respective communities, to come to the Citz on an afternoon during the production run where they could bring friends and family and enjoy performances, food and conversation. We began referring to this event as a ‘Celebration’.

Over the next month or so, Steph and I set about planning the event – who would perform? What food would we offer? How would we ensure that people knew about the event? We contacted Tricia, Pinar and others to ask if there was anyone from their groups who might be interested in performing. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’, and the challenge then became logistical – could people make it on the day, what would they perform, and how long for? Etc. We decided to offer, as Wonder Fools, the bus fare for anyone who wanted to attend the event but could not afford to do so. We found an organisation, Social Bite, who would provide catering. They were the perfect match for the event as ¼ of their workers are formerly homeless people and 100% of their profits go to charity. Finally, we revisited groups like Bridging the Gap to spread the word about the event, and created a poster to post around Glasgow and on social media.

The event was held on 17th November 1pm – 4pm and included performances of Albanian singing, Indian stick dancing, spoken word, Bollywood dancing, Persian / Flamenco dancing, and composer of Lampedusa, Stuart Ramage, singing songs. Over 60 people attended throughout the day and the event achieved what we wanted it to: to highlight and spark a conversation about the migrant crisis and we did this in a hugely positive way, by celebrating the rich culture and diversity of Glasgow.

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Three

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The third week of rehearsals on Citizens Theatre’s forthcoming production of Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has centered on refining, tightening and consolidating detail. At this stage in the process the exploration, investigation and experimentation of weeks one and two has paid dividends and the priority has shifted from play and invention towards making final decisions. An essential aspect of this has been finalizing the updates made to the original script in preparation for production week; Anders’ unwavering support was exemplified when he sent the “go ahead” all the way from Nice!

The first half of the week was spent staggering through the play with musical support from composer Stuart Ramage. For the first time we saw all the component and composite elements of the production pieced together, giving us insight into the overall shape and feeling of the production. This illuminated areas in need of refining; key moments in the text that needed enhancing or clarifying in the performances in order to sharpen the dramatic arc of the play. During this process we were also able to hone the relationship between the performances and live music; tightening the music cues and underscoring of the production.

By Thursday we were ready for our first run of the play. Joined by the rest of the creative and production team (Producer Steph Connell, Lighting Designer Benny Goodman, Designer Alisa Kalyanova, Technical Stage Manager Neil Anderson), it was our first performance in front of an audience. This is always a nerve-inducing experience; releasing our collaborative creation and artistic response to Anders’ masterpiece into the ether. To our delight, however, the run went without hitch and was met with positive feedback.

With only a few areas for reconsideration suggested by our creative collaborators and advisers, we wasted no time in getting back to work with notes to Stu and the actors before a second run that afternoon. Due to the nature of the performance space, an intimate in the round configuration, it was important to Director Jack Nurse to give the actors as much exposure to the space with an audience as possible (prior to the opening of the show). For the second run of the day we were joined by Wonder Fools Co-founder Robbie Gordon whose dramaturgical perspective gave us food for thought and inspiration for further development of detail.

Friday was spent honing, refining and in places reworking in preparation for production week. Thanks to Jack’s proficient organization, attention to detail and concise and articulate expression in the rehearsal room, and Louise Mai and Andy’s commitment, focus and resourcefulness, we enter production week in the strongest position possible.

Thus it is with enthusiasm that we embark on the opening of our production of Lampedusa in the Citizen Theatre’s Circle Studio, and we are excited by the prospect of seeing all our hard work come to fruition in the sand and under the lights.

 

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week Two: 'Stu, Sand and Storytelling'

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The second week of rehearsals on Anders Lustgarten’s Lampedusa has sailed by; the week of “Stu, sand and storytelling” as it has been affectionately christened by the creative team. Specifically, we worked through the play scene by scene focusing less on shape and picture in favour of music, connection and detail.

An essential aspect of week two was working closely with composer Stuart Ramage who has been a constant and invaluable presence in the rehearsal room. Together, we have experimented with the use of music to underscore the narrative progression of the play and the experiences of Denise and Stefano. Following Louise Mai and Andy’s responses to the text with meticulous attention to detail Stu has been able to improvise compositions as we delve deeper and deeper into the play; investigating how we can use live acoustic guitar to enrich our response and exploration of the text and the emotional trajectory of the characters. The interlacing of music into the production has been an illuminating part of our process, highlighting and unlocking key transitional moments in the play. We are confident that with Stu’s original composition our production will be an evocative, affecting and distinctive response to Lustgarten’s distinguished text.

After much discussion with the cast and creative team this week we decided to bring our story forward from 2015 into the present day. From these discussions specific ideas for adjustments to the script were born and presented to Lustgarten, who has generously updated the original text. In 2017 the migration crisis is far from behind us and the switch to Universal Credit continues to threaten the financial security of those relying on the government benefit system; thus, the original themes in the play feel more pressing and urgent than ever. Due to the nature of this play and Anders’ powerful and challenging perspective, it is important to us that our production retains the sense of urgency of the political issues raised in the 2015 production. This we hope to achieve by incorporating contemporary politics for a modern audience, in the spirit of the original text; by challenging the status-quo and shining a light on the experiences of many suffering as a result of socio-political injustices of today.

Week two has also concentrated on combining the space; introducing both Denise and Stefano’s respective worlds and working with Louise Mai and Andy in the space, together. Director Jack Nurse and the cast have experimented with building the sense of connection between Denise and Stefano and their seemingly distinct experiences within the narrative. Specifically, how and when their individual narratives and performances intersect and how to fluidly and imaginatively transition between their stories. The synthesis of Louise Mai and Andy’s rehearsals, the worlds of Denise and Stefano and the integration of music into the narrative has added a vibrant, inventive and dynamic energy to the piece and generated an invigorating momentum as we press on and into week three. 

Lampedusa in Rehearsals - Week One

By Tess Monro - Assistant Director

The first week of rehearsals on the much anticipated Scottish premiere of Anders Lustgarten’s bold, incisive and moving masterpiece, Lampedusa, was a reflection of the urgent and assertive attitude of the play itself. Lampedusa tackles European mass migration from a global perspective and its impact on British domestic politics. But, more importantly, as Anders and director Jack Nurse were keen to stress on day one of rehearsals, this is a play about the personal experiences behind the politics. It is the story of two strangers finding hope and connection where they least expect it.

The first two days of rehearsals were spent with Anders Lustgarten. Under his guidance we descended into the deep tissue of the play with table work and group discussion. This process illuminated the enduring vitality of the politics in the play and, crucially, the necessity to maintain the sense of political urgency encapsulated in the original production (Soho Theatre, London 2015). Consequently, Anders proposed to update the original text; to encompass the current political climate in Europe and post-Brexit Britain. Citizens Theatre’s Lampedusa will therefore be an entirely new, cutting-edge and unique production.

Next order of business was get the play up and on it’s feet. Director Jack Nurse’s process is curated to mirror his overall vision for the production. The play introduces two independent and diverging experiences of mass migration from a global and domestic perspective. As the play progresses parallels between the characters begin to emerge and unite their experiences. The first week of rehearsals was centered on working with Louise Mai Newberry and Andy Clark individually to get better a sense of the shape and arc of each character within the text. Week by week as we continue to work through the play we will begin to integrate these rehearsals and, furthermore, the physical and emotional journeys of Denise and Stefano.

With the mid-week arrival of composer Stuart Ramage came the infusion of live music into the rehearsal process. In this production the lyrical quality of Lustgarten’s writing and the centrality of Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté’s song Lampedusa will be supported and enhanced by live acoustic guitar. Stu’s presence in the rehearsal room throughout the three-week process will enable the development of a musical score in tandem with the exploration of the text.

Week one has also been about acclimatizing to the intimate performance space of the Circle Studio and confronting the challenges of balancing the contrasting worlds of Denise and Stefano while they inhabit same physical environment. At this stage in the process possibilities are infinite and continual investigation, trying new and diverse ways to respond to the text and use of space, is essential and encouraged. Week one is not about nailing ideas to the ground but rather discovery, imagination, playing and interrogating ideas; skills that Lousie Mai and Andy demonstrate with verve and dexterity. Working at an impressive and efficient pace we are off to a flying start. 

Lampedusa

Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten is a Citizens Theatre production in association with Wonder Fools. It will be staged in the Circle Studio (8 – 18 November) following our recent production of The Coolidge Effect at the Tron Theatre and Traverse Theatre in September.

For one of our very first projects as a company we used an extract of David Greig’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, switching its focus from rural Border ballads to urban city clubs and presenting this work as part of Playwright Studio Scotland’s Crossing the Lines at the Arches. Lampedusa by Anders Lustgarten is the first time that Wonder Fools will work on a full production using another writer’s existing text.

The project also acts as a culmination of my training as an assistant director at the Citizens. I have been lucky to work with Dominic Hill (Oresteia: This Restless House and Hay Fever) and Gareth Nicholls (Blackbird) as an assistant at the Citizens, in addition to working with Andrew Panton (The Broons, Sell A Door) and Max Webster (The Winter’s Tale, the Lyceum) outside the Citz, and this production will see me put that learning into practice.

The play itself is broadly about the migrant crisis and explores this subject through two intersecting but seemingly unconnected monologues.

Stefano is an Italian fisherman, whose heritage and family trade has been fishing. He’s made his living at sea, and feels most alive there. But following the financial crisis, the work dried up. Unemployed for three years, and in order to support his wife and two young children, Stefano now earns his living at sea but with a very different harvest. Lampedusa is an Italian island and the gateway to Europe for a lot of North African refugees. It is Stefano’s job to pick out bodies from the sea of the people who have not survived the journey.

The second story follows Denise, a mixed-race Chinese/British woman from Leeds who works for a payday loan company in order to pay for her university degree. It is her second attempt at higher education, having had to drop out at the first time of asking to support her ill mother. In Lampedusa, both Stefano and Denise meet people from other cultures to their own who change their perceptions, and in turn the audience’s, idea of strangers and human connection.

I am excited to work with Andy Clark and Louise Mai Newberry who will play Stefano and Denise. Andy is one of my favourite Scottish stage actors and I look forward to working with him again, after The Winter’s Tale earlier this year. Louise Mai originated the part of Denise in the production’s premiere at the Soho Theatre, London in 2015. Her passion for the role and advocacy for the play’s message, in addition to her engaging and dynamic stage presence, means I can’t wait to start working with her.

Anders Lustgarten, playwright and political activist, will be with us in the room for the first few days of rehearsal, which will be both enlightening and valuable. Anders’ combination of activism and dramatism gives his work a unique perspective and one that is really in line with what we hope to achieve with Wonder Fools productions: creating exciting theatre but with a social purpose. In addition, I have an incredibly talented creative team consisting of Alisa Kalyanova, designer; Benny Goodman, lighting designer; and Stuart Ramage, composer. All three are exciting emerging artists whose collaboration will bring skill, imagination and vigour to the production.

What I love about Lampedusa is its human heart. In 2017 it is easy to get lost, downtrodden and depressed at the never-ending negative headlines and news stories. Lampedusa offers a feeling of hope and a celebration of human kindness that will bring warmth and comfort in these increasingly dark times. I can’t wait to start rehearsals and bring Stefano and Denise’s stories to life.

Why We Have Made A Show About Pornography

In 2015 Wonder Fools began creating ‘The Coolidge Effect’ – a play about society’s relationship with pornography. The show is a new piece of contemporary theatre which uses a blend of storytelling, poetry and scientific dissemination to explore how pornography affects our mental health, relationships, and sexual experiences.

The play was first presented at Into The New Festival in association with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2016. Since then, we have had a work-in-progress sharing at the Glue Factory in December 16, before presenting The Coolidge Effect properly for the first time at Camden People's Theatre earlier this year. Following this, the show won a Special Commendation as part of The Suitcase Prize at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich during PULSE Festival. We are now incredibly excited to bring this version of The Coolidge Effect back to Scotland this Autumn.

Over a year ago we wrote a blog to accompany the launch of the ‘The Coolidge Effect’ and discuss why we were making this particular show. We shared it again for our work-in-progress last December and thought for this Autumn tour it would be a good idea to revisit some of the things we discussed in that blog again and the reasons why we are still passionate about the performance’s stories and subject matter.

The original process for ‘The Coolidge Effect’ saw Wonder Fools embark on a process disseminating the scientific theories around the mental health implications of pornography. Our aim in 2015 was to create a performance that sparked an open and honest dialogue about sex and the internet and that remains the case this time around too.

The research process included studying theses and essays; working closely with academics; and watching lots of documentaries and TED talks. In addition, we spoke directly to those affected by pornography and the people close to them. These conversations, along with our research, are at the heart of ‘The Coolidge Effect’.

The interviews we conducted with both scientists and real people spanned the globe, including people in: Quebec, California, Sweden, New York, Indonesia, Pittsburgh, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London.

Wonder Fools’ programme has always been conceived to be as varied as it is dynamic: exploring different forms – verbatim theatre, historical theatre, participatory performance, performance installations – in tandem with wide-ranging subject matters – the Spanish Civil War, record-breaking athletes, nightlife culture and now pornography addiction.

As we did in 2015, we feel an urgency to talk about pornography and mental health. With an informed sensitivity ‘The Coolidge Effect’ will address these issues at their core. Let us be clear, this project does not condemn pornography, nor does it wish to pass judgement – we only want to bring awareness to the issues involved and start talking about them.

Here’s a few facts that started us thinking:

·      Every month people visit porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined (bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

·      Every second 28, 258 users are watching pornography on the internet (http://bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

·      The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average (bit.ly/CovenantEyesStats)

·      40% of online pornography depicts violence against women (bit.ly/HGWdocu)

We’ll be sharing updates regularly throughout the process in the lead up to this tour of ‘The Coolidge Effect’. The show will be staged at the following venues:

Traverse Theatre - 20-22 September / Tron Theatre 27-30 September /Macrobert Arts Centre 20 October / New Diorama Theatre 18 November

Tickets: www.wonderfools.org

WF.

 

The Future of Intimacy

In 2013 the film ‘Her’, written and directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix, depicted a near-future world where a man falls in love with a computer operating system. The OS is intelligent, charismatic and has a female human voice (Scarlett Johansson). Last year in the film ‘Ex Machina’, an android with artificial intelligence, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, displays charm and seductive powers as ‘she’ tries to pass the Turing test – which determines whether a machine has an intelligence equivalent to that of a human. Both are films which present a science-fiction world where computers and robots have the ability to build relationships and express intimacy with humans. Emerging from the research of Wonder Fools’ latest project I have found that this fiction might soon become a reality.

Early in the 1990s, virtual reality was on the verge of being the next big technological advancement. Excitement began to grow about the possibilities of ‘another world’ but the hype was soon stunted by the reality that the technology was not yet ready. Fast-forward to 2014, where Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook acquired the leading developer of virtual reality, Oculus Rift, for $2billion. The money itself speaks volumes about the advances of VR technology since the early 90s and the significance Facebook places on it as the future of communication. On the day of the purchase, Zuckerberg himself wrote:

‘Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together.’

Virtual reality is not just the future of gaming, as it is often dismissed as. Zuckerberg’s vision is that VR makes Facebook a place, a digital location. In addition, there are already companies scrambling to develop software for all kinds of different purposes: education, sports and even pornography. Developers in the porn world are creating experiences that were beyond the realms of possibility even 10 years ago. Fantastical scenarios, specific fetishes and even the opportunity for virtual sexual relationships. As the technology develops and grows even closer to reality, the question is: how will VR experiences affect our relationships in the real world?

The easy answer would be to say: ‘not at all’. However, for many people intimate experiences and relationships with computers, robots and VR could help fill a void in their lives. For people that are lonely or who struggle with the otherness of other people, virtual experiences offer an alternative to relationships that are hard to initiate let alone maintain in the real world. In addition, virtual reality or robots may allow us in the future endless options for customisation: we could build the perfect person for us, the person of our dreams. Some say the danger with this, and the answer to my question above, is that people become lost in the virtual world or dependent on their relationship with an android. Others would argue: if this makes them happy, is it a bad thing?

Another question that sprung to mind when researching was: is this all inevitable? Is the human race destined to a future in fifty or one hundred years time of having sex with robots and falling in love with virtual characters? In Japan, where there is a growing fascination with digital technology, there is a “flight from human intimacy” – a third of all under 30s have never dated. In South Korea, a goal has been set with the aim that every household in the country has a domestic robot by 2015. Sex toy company True Companion has developed a robot called Roxxxy. Designed for sexual purposes, the robot is just recently on sale for $6,995 – in May 2015 there were already over 4000 pre-orders. Daniel Levy, the publisher of ‘Love and Sex with Robots’ argues that just like same-sex marriages have been recently accepted, in the future relationships with robots will become part of the norm. A Sunday Time article quotes industry insiders concurring with this, stating that by 2050 intimate relationships between robots and humans will be accepted as everyday.

Most indicators point towards a future where intimacy and relationships with robots and in virtual worlds are real possibilities and an option for many. But whilst the technology is still being developed and this future is still 10, 25 or 50 years away there are still a lot of questions. Will human relationships ever be replaced altogether? Will the intimacy of a human loved one always prevail? Furthermore, there are ethical questions to be raised such as is virtual sex with a virtual person cheating? Robert Weiss, an expert on intimacy, sex and addiction in the digital age (who Wonder Fools had the pleasure of interviewing as part of the Coolidge Effect research process) believes that nothing will ever beat the feeling of human touch and interaction. This is my personal view: that nothing will ever better the real thing. That said, as discussed in this blog I can see the benefits that virtual relationships could have for other people. One thing is certain: that the science fiction of films like ‘Her’ and ‘Ex Machina’ may soon be just science.

 

Further Reading and Watching:

Article: Sunday Times “Is the future of intimacy A sex robot?” - bit.ly/timesrobot

Article: The Guardian “Sex, love and robots: is this the end of intimacy?” - bit.ly/guarobots

Article: The Guardian “Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?”- bit.ly/guarticle

Article: The Verge “Voices From A Virtual Past” – bit.ly/vrhisto

Robot: True Companion “The Roxxxy Robot” – bit.ly/roxxxybot

Documentary: Vice “Digital Love Industry” – bit.ly/vicedocu

Why We Are Making A Show About Pornography

The Coolidge Effect’ sees Wonder Fools embark on a process disseminating the science and theories around the mental health implications of pornography. Our aim is to create a performance that sparks an open and honest dialogue about sex and the internet.

Our research process has included studying theses and essays; working closely with academics; and watching lots of documentaries and TED talks. In addition, we have been talking to those who have been directly affected by pornography and the people close to them. These conversations, along with our research, are at the heart of ‘The Coolidge Effect’.

So far in the interviews we have conducted we have spoken to people across the world in: Quebec, California, Sweden, New York, Indonesia, Pittsburgh, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London.

We understand that this project is completely different from our work thus far. But that’s why we are doing it.

We feel an urgency to start talking about pornography and mental health. With an informed sensitivity ‘The Coolidge Effect’ will address these issues at their core. Let us be clear, this project does not condemn pornography, nor does it wish to pass judgement – we only want to bring awareness to the issues involved and start talking about them.

Here’s a few facts that started us thinking:

· Every month people visit porn sites than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined (bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

· Every second 28, 258 users are watching pornography on the internet (http://bit.ly/HuffPostStats)

· The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old, on average (bit.ly/CovenantEyesStats)

·     40% of online pornography depicts violence against women (bit.ly/HGWdocu)

We’ll be blogging regularly throughout the process in the lead up to the first performance of ‘The Coolidge Effect’. The show will debut as part of Into The New Festival at the Pearce Institute, Govan, on the evenings of Tuesday 19th and Thursday 21st January.

WF.

 

The Great Porn Experiment

One of the major influences for Wonder Fools at the beginning of ‘The Coolidge Effect’ is Gary Wilson’s TED talk ‘The Great Porn Experiment’. In his 16-minute-long lecture, Wilson outlines the basic theory behind what has become known as the Coolidge Effect and its psychological and physical impacts on the human body.

The theory behind the Coolidge Effect is complex and can be tricky to wrap your head around, particularly to begin with – this blog attempts to address that!

In his TED Talk, Gary Wilson gives an example of the Coolidge Effect. The experiment was originally conducted with rats by American ethologist Frank A. Beach, which you can learn more about in our blog ‘1955 – The Coolidge Effect’. The diagram below shows this experiment using mice. Wilson gives the example of one male mouse having sex with another female mouse. As they continue to mate repeatedly, the male takes longer to ejaculate. However, when presented with a new female, the time for ejaculation reduces considerably.

This is the Coolidge Effect: it demonstrates that sexual arousal increases when presented with new prospective partners. It appears to denounce monogamy but in fact it does not, the theory merely poses that it is variety not the act of sex that is crucial to maintaining sexual interest. (WF Edit: This variety can be achieved by simply “spicing up your love life”). Gary Wilson predominantly evidences the Coolidge Effect in young men but we believe its psychological and physical impacts can affect any gender.

What interests Wonder Fools about the Coolidge Effect is what happens when pornography gives us an unlimited supply of variety. The internet has exploded our options. We can access pornographic videos and explicit images anytime anywhere. In the original Coolidge Effect experiment, Frank A. Beach concluded that the rats would never stop mating as long as new females were introduced. In his TED Talk Gary Wilson asks: if the variety never stops what happens next? Wonder Fools’ ‘The Coolidge Effect’ attempts to investigate this.

This blog covers the Coolidge Effect on a very basic level. If you are interested in the topic, please see the TED Talk at the bottom of this article for Gary Wilson’s full lecture. In addition, if you want to find out more information or have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Wonder Fools.

Gary Wilson is a physiology teacher with a particular interest in the latest neuroscience discoveries. Wilson is the host of www.yourbrainonporn.com, an online community which offers support for those affected by internet pornography. You can watch the full TED Talk here: bit/ly/greatpornexperiment

 

Porn's Effect on the Brain

What is porn’s effect on the brain?

When people view pornographic videos online this activates the chemical dopamine. Dopamine surges adrenaline through the body and to the brain which releases Delta Fos B. Delta Fos B is what creates addictive traits in our bodies. When we eat fatty burgers and want more calories? Delta Fos B. Addiction to drugs? Delta Fos B. 

When Delta Fos B is constantly reactivated – i.e. when constantly watching pornography - the addiction becomes habitual and the binging cyclical. The more pornography that is watched, the more Delta Fos B accumulates in the brain and eventually this causes the brain to rewire  completely.

These brain changes can cause three things:

1.    Numbed pleasure response

2.    Hyper reactivity to pornography

3.    Willpower erosion

These are symptoms of arousal addiction which can cause both psychological and physical damage to the human body and brain. The implications include: erectile dysfunction, social anxiety, depression and – unfortunately – many more. If men, particularly young men, and women become addicted to watching pornography it is very hard to break the habit.

Only last year at Cambridge University, Dr. Valerie Voon used MRI scanners to conclusively prove that people can be addicted to porn in the same way they can be addicted to drugs. The experiment used 20 healthy male volunteers as a control group and 20 male participants aged 19-34 who claimed they were addicted to pornography. The subjects of the study were shown explicit porn to see if the reward centres of their brains would respond in the same way that it would for drug addicts. When the data was analysed the results were astounding. The control group were clearly, as you would imagine, excited by porn but the compulsive users’ brains were around twice as active. The hyperactivity that showed up in the MRI scan was almost identical to addicts responding to drugs or alcohol. This experiment concluded that porn addiction exists, and affects the brain in the same way any other addiction would.

That all said, there is a long way to go in this under-researched field. If you’d like to learn more about the effects that pornography can have on the brain and see the MRI scans in action, follow this link: bit.ly/VoonScan

Paralyzed and Imitators

In this blog I’m going to discuss a school of thought that places porn addicts into two categories. Throughout our research we’ve heard these categories be referred to using varying terminology but for the purpose of this blog I’ve chosen: paralyzed and imitators.

The first category is the imitators.

This is the belief that when people watch porn, they act out the behaviours of porn in real life. This is backed up by what’s known as a “social learning model”, which is the theory that when behaviour is rewarded within a fictional reality, like porn, it is learned as acceptable by the person watching. It suggests that people who watch more sexually violent forms of pornography can be prone to re-enacting them in real life. There have been very similar arguments used against explicit films and video games to varying degrees of success. 

This theory is also used to argue a positive correlation between porn and violent crime. The prolific serial killer Ted Bundy infamously claimed in his final interview before his execution that pornography had driven him to rape and murder almost 30 women. This is an extreme example of an imitator but an imitator nonetheless.

The second category is the paralyzed.

This is when people watch so much porn that they become desensitized both physically and emotionally. The paralyzed become numb. This theory can be backed up by using Gary Wilson’s interpretation of the Coolidge Effect experiment. Wilson discusses how pornography can lead to conditions such as erectile dysfunction, social anxiety and depression. An enlightening account of someone suffering with these issues is the story of man called Brian, which you can find at the bottom of this blog.

These two categories, the paralyzed and the imitators, are schools of thought. Some people believe this is how porn affects how we act as human beings. I think they both have merit but the issues itself is much more complex than these two categories.

If you’d like to see Ted Bundy’s final interview, follow this link: bit.ly/TedBundyInterview

If you’d like to read Brain’s story, follow this link: bit.ly/BriansRecovery

NoFap

NoFap is an online community which supports people who have become addicted to porn. The website was founded by Alexander Rhodes in 2011 on the social media site Reddit. Since its creation, NoFap’s community has grown to almost 500,000 members – a number which is growing all the time.

The NoFap community helps people in a number of ways. Primarily, there is a forum which contains thousands of posts from users about their experience either combatting or overcoming porn addiction. On the website there is a section called the NoFap academy – the users of the website are dubbed ‘Fapstronauts’ – which includes videos, e-courses and guidance to help people on their way to recovery. NoFap advises porn addiction sufferers to abstain from masturbating to overcome their addictions. There is a panic button on the website which links to a downloadable app with inspirational content for those who feel as if they are about to relapse.

As part of the research process for ‘The Coolidge Effect’, Wonder Fools had the pleasure of interviewing NoFap’s founder and community leader, Alexander Rhodes. We want the show to be based on the experiences of real people who have had to deal with the issues in the piece first-hand. Therefore, speaking to Alexander was thoroughly enlightening and to hear directly both how porn addiction affects people and how NoFap can help was a unique insight that greatly aided our process.

NoFap is one of a number of sites that aim to help people with a porn addiction. Other websites include Your Brain On Porn, which is another forum based website which posts tips and articles focusing on how porn affects the brain. Gary Wilson, who WF blogged about in ‘The Great Porn Experiment, is one of the leading figures behind the website.

Throughout our research, WF have heard many accounts about how websites like NoFap and Your Brain On Porn helped people overcome their porn addiction and gave them a community in which they could talk to others about issues they wouldn’t be able to elsewhere. For more information or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact Wonder Fools and please take the time to visit the websites below to find out more.

 

LINKS

http://www.nofap.com

https://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/

http://www.yourbrainonporn.com

1955: The Coolidge Effect

1955.

A male rat is placed in a box with several other female rats.

Following its natural instincts, the male begins to mate with the different females repeatedly until sexual exhaustion means it can no longer continue. Despite renewed attempts at intimacy from the female rats, the male cannot respond until a new female is placed into the box.

The presence of this new mate immediately sparks the male back into life and it begins to mate again, solely with the novel female, until it tires once more.

Another new female is then introduced and the process repeats.

This is an experiment by Frank A. Beach, an American ethologist. The experiment later became known as the Coolidge Effect.

The theory that it is not the act of sex that dominates the male rat’s arousal but variety in its sexual experience. It is a biological and psychological phenomenon that has occurred in the evolution of mammalian species including humans.

In recent years the Coolidge Effect been re-appropriated to explain human behaviour in relation to pornography, which you can find out more about in our blog: “The Great Porn Experiment”

Co-Authorship

Last week we attended Different Stages, a 2-day conference for playwrights, theatre-makers, directors and producers. Taking place at the CCA, Glasgow it was delivered by the Playwrights' Studio Scotland, Federation of Scottish Theatre and the Scottish Society of Playwrights. One particular highlight of the conference was a discussion on co-authorship led by Kieran Hurley and Mary McCluskey.

This discussion was particularly interesting given the nature of how we strive to create theatre and performance. From the conception of an idea through to the final draft we refer to ourselves as co-authors. This involves undertaking collaborative research processes and writing together in the same room. Co-authorship is important to us as it allows us to create a unique unified voice within our writing and the overall conception of our work.

When writing there is a constant back and forth between us: we agree, we argue, we debate, we critique, we edit, we write, we edit and we write again – which all combine to create our final text.   This is then layered further with constant debate between us, looking at how we’d realise a particular moment, or what constraints are presented by certain elements of a text when placed in the context of the performance.

This process takes place around one desk using (some) notes pads, (some) pens and a laptop. In fact, we spent some time scrutinising over whether to use the word “some” in the previous sentence. (some) was our compromise, but only because of this blog’s subject matter. If it wasn’t about co-authorship, then we would have had to debate what the most effective word choice was – and we’d probably still be writing this blog! It is a constant dialogue, which ultimately creates work that we are equally invested in, where every word is considered.

People often talk about ‘voice’ – a writer’s voice, a director’s voice, a performer’s voice, a producer’s voice. Naturally, we can’t escape from our own individual voices when we approach making theatre as Wonder Fools – and it is this fact that we look to capitalise on when creating work. Our opinions, worldviews and experiences can be similar but they can also be completely different. It is where these voices meet that really excites us.

Co-authorship isn’t just limited to writing; we want all of the work we produce as a company to be made collectively. It is important that what we create together reflects the voices of Jack, Robbie, Hector and extends to reflect the shifts made by the work of anyone else we are collaborating with at the time.

During the discussion with Kieran Hurley he posed a question: “Can you tell who’s written what?” when looking back at a piece of writing. The answer is no. It’s something we had been subconsciously working towards but it hadn’t occurred to us until that moment.

After Different Stages, co-authorship has been at the forefront of our minds and is something we will continue to develop around one desk using (some) note pads, (some) pens and a laptop. 

1937: Migrant Crisis

When researching the Spanish Civil War, I have continually collided with poignant political parallels to the modern day.  Some of these are positive and fill me with hope about the world we live in and others do precisely the opposite. The first conception of 549 opened with a quote from the German philosopher Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hiegel: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history”. This quote sits as a beating heart within our story.

One bleak parallel between the House of Commons in 1937 and 2015 has been ever conscious in my mind.

We have probably all seen images of the woman, men and children trying to seek refuge from a war torn Middle East. Images of boats crammed so full they are barely afloat; of police brutality on the borders of countries and of three year old Aylan facedown in the sand. No matter where you are right now the “Migrant Crisis”, as it’s been coined, is an ever-present talking point in Cameron’s Britain.

In 1937, humanity saw a similar crisis when Fascists overthrew the democratically elected left wing, Popular Front Party. They did so because they believed that their elitist ideology took precedent over an individuals right to vote. The events that followed lead to a devastating amount of civilian deaths.

On the 26th of April 1937, the Spanish Fascists- with the military assistance of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy - rained down 22 tonnes of explosives onto Guernica, a city filled with civilians. The death toll, widely disputed, ranges between 400 and 1600 innocent people. So disturbing were the scenes, that Guernica became the subject of the Pablo Picasso painting of the same name, which today is displayed in the Museum Reina Sofia in Madrid.

 On that day it became known to the world that the adults and children of Spain were no longer safe.

Britain’s Conservative prime minister at the time was Stanley Baldwin; a man who refused to acknowledge the Spanish peoples need for refuge. His government was a leading member of the non-intervention pact, a group of countries who refused to involve themselves in the conflict.  As far as he was concerned, this was to be the party line. When commenting on the atrocities he stated that: “the weather won’t suit them”.  The words of a true ‘diplomat.’ Miserable British weather was the least of the Spaniards concerns.

Baldwin never acknowledged the need to shelter the people of Spain from the atrocities of Civil War - but the working people of Britain did. They stood in solidarity along with journalists, unions, committees and MP’s from all of the major political parties and change happened. Change that lead to the sanctuary of 4000 Spanish Children.

In 549 we echo their requests to Baldwin to show some humanity.

In September 2015 David Cameron was asked by Amnesty International to“show some humanity”.

We can only hope that he does so. A lesson we have learned from history is that collective action and organising politically can effect change. So let us hope that, moving forward we can, in fact, “learn from history”.

Jarama: "Even the olives were bleeding that day."

The Battle of Jarama is both a pivotal moment in “549” and one of the bloodiest battles of the Spanish Civil War.

Jarama Valley was situated on a strategically crucial road near Madrid, which on 12th February 1937 was held by the Republican Army.  The valley lay on the Republican’s last safe passage between Madrid and Valencia, a lifeline that General Franco was bent on cutting off. As Franco led his Nationalist army along the Jarama River towards the capital to fulfil this aim, the Republican Army began their offensive to stop him.

The International Brigades’ British Battalion fought for the Republican side and was made up of four companies: three infantry and one machine gun. The No. 2 Machine Gun Company was comprised of 120 men, two of which were George Watters and Jock Gilmour – two of our men in “549”.

Franco’s Nationalist army comprised 30,000 men. This figure dwarfed the Republican side and meant that they were outnumbered 3 to 1. The disparity in size was not the only way in which the Republican army were inferior. The soldiers received poor training, resulting in an incohesive unit that lacked proper equipment. On a fundamental level the Republicans were bound together by a common enemy - not a shared ideology which left them vulnerable to fracturing internally.

George and Jock were two Communist miners from Prestonpans, East Lothian and fighting alongside them at Jarama were an equally diverse array of characters:

Andrew Flannagan - a young Irish brick-layer; Frank Graham – a scholar hailing from Sunderland; Albert Charleswork – a metal polisher from Oldham; George Leeson – a London Underground worker; Sam Wild – a Mancunian Royal Navy veteran and George Bright – a sixty year old carpenter; to name a few.

These were just some of the men who made up the British Battalion and fought at Jarama Valley. On the first day of the battle, the No. 2 Machine Gun Company were ordered to take a position on high ground in order to provide covering fire for the other three companies down in the valley. Led by Harold Fry, the Company reached their destination via a thirty-foot vertical ascension. Once atop the plateau, the soldiers began to assemble their Maxim machine guns only to discover to their disbelief that the ammunition they had been given was incompatible, rendering the weapons unusable. For the majority of the first day, the No. 2 Machine Gun Company became virtually obsolete – and the worst was yet to come.

The battle raged on into a second day.  When the Republicans counted their losses that morning the commander of the British Battalion, Tom Wintringham, estimated that three quarters of his men had lost their lives. As the day unfolded, the 2nd Company came under increasingly heavy fire. Seeing the damage this shellfire was doing to Fry and his men, Wintringham led a ‘fake’ charge to distract the Nationalist artillery. This move proved a tactical success – but only temporarily.

At 3pm that afternoon, a small section of the Nationalist troops began to mount an assault. Noticing this increase in action, the commander of No. 4 Company panicked and fled with his men, leaving a previously vital piece of protection to the Machine Gun Company exposed. This allowed the Nationalist troops to engulf Fry’s men and led to the capture of 29 soldiers and the deaths of countless others.

The Battle of Jarama is integral to the plot of “549”, as it leads to the death of Jock Gilmour and the eventual capture of George Watters. Unfolding in an olive grove, the battle was estimated as having casualties of up to 45,000 soldiers. One of those lost was the Irish poet Charles Donnelly who famously said, “even the olives were bleeding that day”.

 

Our New Site

Well first off, welcome to our new website! 

Our online presence is the result of months of planning; assessing and learning how best a theatre and performance organisation can talk about its work.  And how those conversations can inform the work we make.  We’ve cherry picked some of the best pieces of thinking in the field to craft our own method of talking to you, our audience.  We're no longer pre-pubescent, we are fully fledged teenagers!

We want to lift the lid on our artistic process, as well as the ways and means we go about making theatre.  Sharing with you, via our blog platform and social media: accounts of our progress, research material, thoughts, observations, aspirations and fears.  Not just necessarily about our own work, but about what we’re observing in our wider Theatre and Arts community.

Making your connection with us, go far beyond the one hour in a theatre, the two hour workshop, or the fleeting moment at a festival.

You may already be familiar with our social media presence, but our website will now be at the centre of all of that.  With us dropping loads of new content on a weekly basis.

Sign up to our mailing list to be kept in the loop...

We’d also love to hear your feedback on it, please do leave us a comment.  Or if you’d rather say something in private, head over to the contact page and fire us a message!

And it goes without saying, our massive thanks to our stellar Designer and Collaborator ‘Orlando Lloyd Design’, for all his work turning our strange ideas into something tangible.

We hope you enjoy what we have to offer!

WF.

Creative Licence vs Historical Accuracy

During the first writing process for ‘549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War’ I was struck by the vastness and complexity of a historical conflict that was merely a paragraph in my Higher History textbook. The intricacies of the politics and the particulars of each battle formed a daunting prospect. Slowly and over a period of intensive research, Robbie and I gained a firm handle on the conflict and finally began to write.

The first draft contained the story of the four miners from Prestonpans set against the backdrop of the Civil War. The narrative was very much focused on their journey, meaning that the script was a human story and not a history lesson. It soon became apparent whilst writing that our research was far from complete – we wanted to know more about our characters and their lives. We had questions we wanted the answers to, but we had a script to write and a play to produce.

This urgency meant that there were gaps in our knowledge and we filled in these spaces with educated assumptions. For example, for a moment in the third act of the play we needed a reflective pause and slower pace. There was nothing in our research indicating where Jimmy Kempton was in Spain at the time of the scene so we conveniently placed him at the Battle of the Ebro and wrote a sombre and thoughtful monologue for him.  We used the unknowns about our four miners to mould the story to what we thought worked best thematically and theatrically.

Fast forward to the second stage of development, where we have visited family members of the four miners and prominent historians. These interviews have been a fantastic resource in producing much more specific details about our characters but they have also brought new and unique creative challenges. The new depth of knowledge means that we have tiny pieces of detail building the big jigsaw that forms the play, but the drawback to this is that the story we told in the first incarnation of ‘549’ no longer works as some of the pieces don’t match.

A rudimentary example that has minor implications is the character of Jock Gilmour, played by the wonderful David Kirkwood. From speaking to Jock’s family, we have uncovered that his physical attributes were firmly placed on the ‘large’ end of the spectrum – one anecdote described his legs as perpendicular when riding his bike. Yet as it happens, David Kirkwood is the smallest and slimmest member of our cast. A fact which means that sadly, David will be immediately removed from our cast and all related promotional material.

David will of course maintain his brilliant portrayal of Jock in our next incarnation, but the example raises the question surrounding how Robbie and I balance the historical accuracy of the piece with our creative license. A more serious example concerns James Kempton. In our first script, James was portrayed as a passionate and politicized man, fighting for a cause he believed in. The truth? We now know that he travelled to Spain because he had no money – he was skint. And what’s more, James Kempton didn’t fight – he was a cook. These two facts alone create massive inconsistencies between our current theatrical narrative and what really happened.

The light these new details cast upon our story is greater than the shadow they throw upon our creative conversations. There is excitement around the laptop rather than trepidation. That said, over the coming weeks whilst ‘549’ is redeveloped there will be several tough and complex conversations around how we marry historical accuracy with creating decent theatre. The story we thought we were telling remains the same, it’s just that some of what we thought we knew has changed. The challenge now is to find a new way of telling it.

 

 

Meeting The Family of George Watters

The prospect of meeting George's family had me slightly anxious to say the least. We had written a play about their father and our only contact thus far had been over email. 

I was about to meet the family of the man who boldly fought the fascists in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, by creating a “disturbance”, which swiftly broke into a riot. I was about to meet the family of the man who had never left Scotland until he decided to travel to Spain, embarking on an eight hour trek over the Pyrenees to fight for a cause he believed in. I was about to meet the family of the man who was held as prisoner of war for almost two years, only to fight the facists again in WW2. Frankly, I was honoured.

The meeting place seemed obvious: the Prestonpans Labour Club. A working men’s pub in the heart of the town where the story of ‘549’ begins. Coincidentally, the club is also my old place of work. Hector, Jack and I each bought ourselves a pint of Tennents and sat down to wait. At that point, I realised I didn't have a clue what any of George’s family looked like.

After five minutes of waiting, watching the door and pint sipping, in walked four men, one wearing a T-shirt that stated: “No Parasan”, a common battle cry of the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. "You shall not pass". There was instant an understanding from both parties; we were all in the right place.

The t-shirt worn by Tam, one of George’s sons, was purchased in Berlin from members of the German International Brigade memorial trust. The anti-facist movement is strong across Europe and there are stories like "549" from all across the word. 

Through our conversation we found out that George didn’t believe in war without a just-cause and was not a fan of the poor working conditions and pay that came with working in the mines. He forbade his sons from ever going to war without a cause and from ever working in the pits. The next two generations of his family would become miners regardless.

One of George’s sons tells us about the fascist treatment of trade unionists in Germany, Italy and Spain in the 1930's. This made me think of Thatcherism in the 1980's.

HIs family told us about the loving and supporting relationship George had with his wife and how she encouraged his involvement in the war. She stood by him. Throughout the conflict, she went door to door collecting money to “aid the lads in Spain.”

That night we bought a second and third pint and became absorbed in a story about one of George’s fellow prisoners. A man who broke down in tears; begging for his life. He was about to be put to death at the hands the fascists. Refusing to let this happen, George stepped in, offering to take his place. He was told he had only a day to get his affairs in order. Only a day to prepare for death. George was saved only by his nationality and the political significance that it held during the conflict. We were moved to hear of his bravery and selflessness in what must have been a terrifying situation.

We discovered that George had a common phrase when speaking about his time in Spain: “We didn’t fight for medals – we fought for our beliefs.”

On this night, the family shared with us George's colourful adventures. He was story teller, a friend and a family member. A caring, kind-hearted and articulate man. A politically engaged Communist from Prestonpans, who wore a badge with the symbol of a clenched fist until the day he died.