Today we’re joined by the team at ASYLUM Arts, a team focused on increasing the representation of neurodiversity and disability in theatre. A not-for-profit organisation founded by Stephen Bailey in 2021, the company reinvests all of its profits back into training for early career neurodivergent and disabled arts practitioners. They’ve put together Surfacing, a piece focusing on an NHS therapist who resurfaces after almost drowning, and begins to notice that the world was not what it once was. We sat down with the team at ASYLUM to talk all things therapy, mental health, motion-sensors and Negronis.
You can catch Surfacing at VAULT Festival between the 14th and 19th of February. Tickets are available through the VAULT Festival Box Office.
Hi guys, you’ve put together a piece all about an NHS therapist – could you tell us what inspired you to create the piece and what themes you’re highlighting?
Our director and writer wanted to work together after collaborating on their (I’m afraid I’m obligated to add this qualifying phrase in front – producer’s orders) five-star, Offie-nominated Little Echoes.
Our writer had an image of a therapist who nearly drowned, and when she surfaced the whole world was different. We wanted to look at shortcomings of the way we talk about mental health crises, some of the limitations of NHS therapy, and to put forward a thrilling exploration of neurodiverse lived experience.
We’ve been helped along the way by conversations with people with lived experiences, discussions with our consultants, and our own experiences. The piece has been a long time in the making – we reckon it’s the right time for it to meet (and grin cheekily at) its audience.
The show takes a high concept look at the situation, with our central character Luc going for a swim and emerging into an entirely different world. Tell us a little about the concept and what you’re hoping to achieve.
That’s the concept, that’s exactly it.
We think there are some things that you can’t understand from the outside. How people feel in a mental health crisis can’t adequately be understood by observing behaviour. And maybe it’s a task that language is inadequate to.
We think on stage naturalistic reality is often privileged above other realities – but that’s not what my life feels like to everyone. We’re chasing understanding and insight through the non-naturalistic. Sometimes expression is better than words.
It means we can use motion sensors, and it means we can have a lot of fun too. It’s a story with a character at its heart, and in a way quite a linear, normal story – but in another way, we hope it’ll be unlike anything else you’ve seen.*
*We’re aware this might be an overstatement, but after our last set of interviews we are under strict orders from our producer to not undersell ourselves. It’s a pretty different kind of show, anyway, and we’re confident that it’ll spring a few glorious surprises.
The show uses motion sensor technology and motion-sensor design, could you tell us more about how that works in practice and what the audience can expect?
Of course! We’re one of the first companies in the UK to use this tech, and we’ve built key moments of our show around it.
We’ve used several different sensors in development. Currently we’re loving https://instrumentsofthings.com/*
Our actors are wearing motion sensors and our composer and video designer have designed sound and video that directly responds to our actors’ movements.
As we move between worlds – from a naturalistic reality to a stranger reality – the sounds these movements generate change, too.
And they allow us to create bone popping special effects. Like when Luc, our protagonist, is stalked by a giant mouse whose bones keep popping and breaking…
*The producer wishes to point out that you have to pay import duties on this German product. It’s possible these were much higher than expected. Please, please come see the show.
Tell us a little bit about the process of creating the show and what you have been up to ahead of the show landing at VAULT Festival.
We’ve been working on this since 2019, and it’s a joy to see all the layers we’ve added over the last four years come together.
It started life as a monologue. We added motion sensors. We added another actor. We have been refining and polishing the text. We’ve spent the time working out what we wanted to say and the most exciting way of saying it.
At this point, the show feels like an adrenaline-filled thrill ride. Which is great, considering some of the themes. We’re currently finishing (for now) the show in a residency at Pentabus Theatre. Of course, that all might change in the final week of rehearsal – but come and see for yourself…
Now that we’re underway at VAULT Festival 2023, what are you most excited for?
There are a lot of great shows, but we’re also very excited for the bar.
It’s great drinking hole, and some people have reported seeing our little mice QR codes around. Do let us know if you see one, tweet @TheatreASYLUM.
More seriously, we couldn’t be any more excited for FlawBored’s It’s A Motherf**cking Pleasure, an award-winning dark comedy from Pleasance Associate Artists. Expect jokes, razor-sharp insight, and brilliant surprises.
Our writer Tom Powell also has the first public screening (dare we say premiere? We’re gonna say premiere) of his film The Silence and the Noise, which won a Papatango Prize and was described by The Stage as ‘a modest masterpiece’ in it’s five-star review. If you’ve got an hour to spare at 4.20 on Sunday 19th, and you’re into award-winning and funny drama, you can joyfully squeeze it in between our matinee (2.50) and our evening show (7.10).
Outside of shameless self-promotion: Neurodelicious, Melonade, Blue Badge Bunch, and Just Be Normal are exciting neurodivergent-led shows. Oh and All in Good Time – technically they’ve finished their run but they can time travel we’ve been told.
Negroni sbagliato. With prosecco in it. No question.