Miray Sidhom, Assistant Artist on Contact Young Company’s next show Baby Fever, has kindly offered to share her insights on what happens inside the rehearsal room!
Week by week she will be giving you an exclusive behind the scenes look at the process of what it takes to devise a show!
This week marked the first official meeting between Elike Roovers, Rutger Esaja, from Theater Degasten and Contact Young Company. Elike and Rutger work with young people to create inter-disciplinary contemporary theatre based on their stories of the world around them. They don’t shy away from the darker elements of the human experience but address them through intimate performances that challenge the boundaries of traditional theatre. Their work is usually very physical.
Elike and Rutger got us moving as an ensemble – aware of ourselves as well as each other. We walked around the room, deciding as a group when to stop and start, without any communication. We repeated the exercise but with our eyes closed, which provided a different perspective. Humans make sense of the world through seeing, we are primarily visual creatures. When we closed our eyes and this sense was taken away from us, it was surreal. Together we became focused, aware of each other, curious and trusting.
A MILESTONE IS A TERM OF MEASUREMENT THAT TELLS US HOW FAR WE’VE COME
We created a milestone timeline, marking the significant life stages we’re expected to go through. At the beginning there is birth, and in the end, there is death; this much is universal. Then there are the educational expectations; going to primary school, high school, and possibly college or university.
Getting married, having a baby, building a career and buying a house. All of these things are expected of you but they’re ultimately down to personal choice. On our timeline most of the milestones were in the first half of our lives, making it clear that there’s a pressure to achieve as much as possible by the time you’re forty.
We then created a second timeline that was personal to us. We talked about our past; physical milestones like learning to ride a bike or going to dance classes gave us a sense of accomplishment. But it was the emotional milestones, first love or heartbreak that caused significant changes in ourselves. As a society, we measure development by quantifiable achievements, we merit children on exams and awards, but rarely celebrate them making their first best friend, or having their first sleepover. Migration was another significant milestone. Some of us moved to England as children. Though it was unsettling, the people who experienced it during adolescence found the transition much harder because it was already a time of change within themselves.
Did finishing school make you feel free, or frightened? Some milestones are designed to make you feel safe by giving structure to life. You don’t have to worry about what you’re supposed to do in the first eighteen years because it’s been decided for you. But for some, this idea is far from comforting, and they expressed that they’ve grown more on a personal level in the year since they left school than throughout their entire education. Part of that growth is a change in perspective, realising you don’t have to give your time to those who don’t deserve it or learning to understand your problems and work through them. Someone mentioned that they began questioning their emotions, wondering why they weren’t happy when they had everything they needed and more, but this only made them feel guilty.
WE WERE BORN WITH PHONES IN OUR HANDS
Social media has become the most immediate way for us to announce our milestones to an ever-present audience. With every scroll of the thumb, there’s a wedding or baby or promotion made public. We’ve become obsessed with how we portray ourselves to others, reducing complex emotions to statuses and photos, shaping our lives into stories to appear more interesting and ‘likeable’. We see a stream of perfect bodies in perfect locations having a perfect time, but there’s a disconnect between that and reality. In 2018, Nima Séne produced a show which parodied this disconnect called Beige B*tch. It accentuated how much pressure social media puts on our lives to perform.
As a young group who’ve grown up with social media, we feel more pressure from it than older generations. There are several studies which highlight the relationship between social media and young people suffering from mental illnesses. We talked about Apps like FaceTune that auto-edit your photos and how they can cause body dysmorphia because you no longer associate the face on your phone with the one you see in the mirror. Another problem that came up in our discussion was the way capitalist culture uses these platforms to sell us ’self-care’ under the pretext that it’ll make us happier while undermining our self-confidence. But at a time when we feel hopeless about the future and our ability to change it, isn’t social media our greatest tool for revolution?
We can’t make a show about happiness without talking about depression. The group established early on that they did not feel comfortable throwing this word around and decided to use mental health as an umbrella term for depression, anxiety, paranoia, addiction and eating and sleeping disorders. We felt that many of these illnesses stem from our lack of trust in the structures that are supposed to provide us with stability. We lack faith in and mistrust:
- Politics and the governing systems that are responsible for many aspects of our lives
- The history we’re taught in school
- Predictions about the future of our planet
- Social media and information in the age of fake news
- Our own emotions, which fluctuate between happiness and misery and everything in between
In previous times of instability, people looked to religion for guidance and support, but in a secular society, we no longer feel part of a community.
‘LIFE IS A SELFISH AND RISKY BUSINESS, BUT FOR THE TIME BEING, I FEEL HAPPY’
Elike and Rutger asked for our thoughts on this quote. The group was in strong agreement that you have to be selfish to a certain extent to be happy. This is the general mentality of our time; because of welfare and the healthcare system, we’re not asked to sacrifice as much of ourselves for others as earlier generations have. We understand that if you don’t look after yourself and spend your time trying to please everyone, you will burn yourself out and others will have to look after you. There is also the element of risk. Risk in itself raises our dopamine levels (ever lost a tenner at bingo but still had a great time?), but there’s also the reward that comes from taking a particular risk, like leaving a job or a relationship that was comfortable but unfulfilling. We talked about how happiness is not a goal, it’s a fleeting emotion that’s impossible to contain, and how maybe we should just be happy with feeling content because it’s sustainable.
Contact Young Company and Degasten: Baby Fever
If happiness can be bought, are milestones the new currency?
Created by Contact Young Company in collaboration with Theater Degasten, Baby Fever explores the relationship between milestones and materialism. In a world of depleting resources, how do people feel about having children? Can they afford to? Do they even want to?