Many thanks to the University of Kent and the Beacon Institute for inviting Alex Mermikides and Dr Gianna Bouchard to speak about Biomedical Performance and Science, along with Dr Simon Parry (University of Manchester). Gianna and Alex reflected on contemporary performance that engages with the medical in different ways and welcomed some interesting – and challenging – questions on affect, aesthetics, ethics – and Hollywood film.
We were thrilled to perform bloodlines for 200 heamatology nurses at the BHS’s 30th annual conference. The response from these dedicated and thoughtful people was astounding. We also enjoyed the experience of creating a poster (a format that is fairly unfamiliar to those in arts disciplines) about audience responses to bloodlines.
We perform an extract of ‘bloodlines’ at St George’s Hospital, which is hosting an information day on bone marrow transplant. Staff and patients welcome the opportunity of meeting people who have ‘been there’ and seem to find the duet moving.
Alex’s article on the Splice Symposium and Performing Science is published in Part 2 of the Interdisciplinary Science Review’s Special Issue on Theatre and Science. This discussion of ‘new directions’ in some of the ‘science plays’ featured in these two conferences sits alongside some fascinating articles by leading scholars in the field.
Please put the Performing Science conference in your diaries: 23rd – 25th April at the University of Lincoln. Alex (Chimera’s PI) has been helping conference organiser, Andy Jordan, with the programming – and I can reveal that there is an amazing line-up, including special events, performances, workshops and presentations. I’m particularly excited that playwright MICHAEL FRAYN will be there – his play Coenhagen is a major landmark in the emergence of more alternative forms of science plays. We also have CARL DJERASSI, the father of the contraceptive pill and probably the most prolific writer of and about theatre and science. His latest production will be launched at the conference. Presentations spread the gamet from the history of ‘traditional’ science plays to post-dramatic/post-human engagements with, for example, bioscience and the latest developments at CERN. We’re bringing Bloodlines to the event (Thursday 6.30pm), and Alex is chairing a panel on performance and the biomedical.
How – and why – might we engage with biomedical science in the creation of new performance material? Chimera PI Alex leads a workshop for the Young Vic’s Directors network, addressing this and other questions prompted by the vibrancy of current practice in this field (notably in projects funded by the Wellcome Trust). Alex sets the scene through examples ranging from the performance arm of ‘bioart’ (Helen Pynor, Kira O’Reilly, Orlan) to TV series such as ‘House‘ and ‘24 Hours in A&E’, and including past and future Young Vic productions: Sound and Fury’s Going Dark, Told by an Idiot’s My Perfect Mind and Peter Brook’s The Valley of Astonishment.
Then Adam Kirkham and Bex Law perform extracts of Bloodlines exemplifying different representational approaches to the ‘science’ of Leukaemia treatment. In our most conventional and literal scene, where a doctor breaks bad news to a patient and outlines treatment protocol, selected aspects of the science are conveyed through spoken word. In contrast, a later solo dance employs physical rather than spoken language, with the ‘science’ embedded within choreographic devices.
Our 14 workshop participants also have an opportunity to develop and test ideas of their own, responding to a range of visual and textual sources. We are awed by their playful and imaginative approaches and struck by the bravery with which they engage with deliberately unyielding source material.
Feedback from participants
“After yesterday’s workshop I’ve realised that I really need to work on such a subject that interests me in every possible way” (cosmetic surgeon turned performance-maker)
“I was often struck – when I was starting out as a performer – by what seemed to be an anti-intellectual bias in theatre; it’s very exciting now to discover that it’s possible to work with a creative team who use that intellectual curiosity to unlock work that is creative and profound.” (director)
Perhaps the most moving performance of Bloodlines to date: we play to around 180 recipients of stem cell transplants, their loved ones and the medical staff involved in their treatment. The show forms part of Antwerp University Hospital’s 30 year anniversary celebrations of conducting stem cell transplants, so it brought together people who had survived serious disease and we remembered those who hadn’t. Meeting the survivors and medics in the reception that followed was inspiring. We’re interested that many who have undergone this experience ‘recognised’ their own journeys – often citing what we think of as the most abstracted scenes (particularly a solo dance that employs slow-motion body-popping to convey as state of neutropenia) as the most resonant.
The programme, organised by our collaborating ‘scientist’ Dr Ann van de Velde, sets the performance alongside other ‘patient stories’. Although Bloodlines takes a very different form to these testimonials of disease and survival that are an integral part of patient communities (especially as it is highly abstracted and fictionalised), this is a reminder that the performance can be seen as part of the same tradition.
Presenting the film at a lunch-time ‘Research Club’ event for staff and guests on the previous day is also enlightening. Questions from the floor after the screening focus on our depiction of the patient experience, particularly the character’s isolation. This aspect is probably all the more apparent in the film recording than in the performance itself, but we are struck that medical staff’s attention goes so quickly to the subjective experience rather than our attempts to convey the science.
Milton Mermikides (centre, at table) and Andrew Nasrat (almost out of shot on the right) with reception guest Chantal Pollier.
We are very pleased to announce that a film version of Bloodlines will be featured in the Fabrica Vitae touring exhibition.
Matthew Reisz has written a nice piece about Bloodlines, based on interviews with Alex and Milton. Find it here.
…of the Bloodlines project in Kingston magazine (from Kingston University) Winter 2013/14. Available here: http://reader.livedition.dk/kingstonreview/11/