Interview with Adam Wyeth – about:blank – Dublin Theatre Festival
We had the chance to put some questions to Adam Wyeth about his new piece in the Dublin Theatre Festival called about:blank. You can read his thoughts below.
about:blank- written by By Adam Wyeth
Performed by Olwen Fouéré, Paula McGlinchey, Owen Roe
Photos by Ste Murray
“about:blank is what appears when there is nothing else to display. It exists in the space between the internet and you. From here we depart.
Transported through fragments of Dublin, we find an émigré working in a charity shop, a missing cat, the internal chatter of a yoga session, a writer disagreeing with her characters and a couple discussing their absent daughter.
Written as a circular mixture of narrative-poetry, prose, monologue and drama, and adapted into a site responsive and audio-immersive journey, about:blank begins in the cloud and ends where you live.”
Can you tell me a little about this project?
about:blank – is an audio-immersive piece adapted from my third collection with Salmon Poetry. It’s a genre-fluid, shape-shifting work, which weaves together a series of interconnected narratives, moving across poetry, monologue and dialogue. I think of it as a kind of dreamtime text, a four-part poetic sequence, which travels across various interiors, episodes and mythic dimensions of Dublin.
With the support of the Abbey Theatre’s New Work Development Programme, and the Arts Council Ireland Literature Project Award, the work has now been adapted into an immersive audio theatre journey, that is suspended within a binaural stereo soundscape, performed by Olwen Fouéré, Owen Roe and Paula McGlinchey. Directed by Eoghan Carrick, this binaural performance with an original score and sound design by Cormac O’Connor and Frieda Freytag, is premiering at this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival in association with the Civic Theatre.
The production was created in isolation during lockdown without anyone meeting in person. Produced by Melissa Nolan, we also joined forces with website company, Unthink, and designer Ste Murray, who have created an interactive website complete with a built-in algorithm. This visual companion will enhance the theatrical dimension of the work as the audience are guided through the piece and asked to listen to it in their self-selected scenography by responding to prompts or ‘stage directions’ while mapping their journey through the world around them.
How did the production come about?
The text started in a very instinctive way, originally from a Word document on my computer called ‘write rubbish speed writing’. It’s a place where I limber up before the ‘proper writing’ takes place. Over the years however more and more of my creative work comes out of this document. Sometimes I tap out paragraphs rhythmically on my keyboard as if I’m not writing at all but playing an instrument. Other times I’m driven by a voice, or trying to shape a vague image into something more concrete. With about:blank I was not concerned with fitting any particular genre and allowed the texts to move across various styles exploring atmospheres, textures and layers of pattern and sound. I then started to edit these pieces down and patch them together, assembling them into a kind of word-mandala. This way of working forced my conscious self to get out of the way and listen more acutely to the work. Out of these first stirrings certain themes started to suggest themselves.
As about:blank is not the usual kind of poetry collection I knew I wanted to try and present this in a different kind of way. The audio project came about during the first lockdown. I reached out to artists that I wanted to work with as well as those I’d worked with before. I received the first Arts council Covid Award and this allowed us to get started and it grew from there. The Abbey theatre were interested in what we were doing and later on gave us some funding to develop the piece further. Later in 2020 we were awarded the AC literature project award to complete the full audio production. This allowed us to bring other creatives on boards such as Unthink. Finally the work was accepted in this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival which we were delighted about.
There is an impressive cast of actors involved in this project. Did you write with specific people in mind or was that decided after you’d presented your finished piece?
I didn’t write with specific actors in mind as when I was first writing the piece I had no idea what it was or what it might be. As about:blank developed I thought this might be something I could perform myself using some kind of voice distortion and ambient background music, but I realised I’m not a performer so scrapped that idea. I’d been in conversation with Olwen Fouere before and so when I started to think about actors I knew she’d be perfect. I’m a massive fan of Owen Roe’s work too and I love how Owen and Olwen contrast each other in this. I see Owen as the anchor of the text while Olwen provides the otherworldly and haunting qualities which are a key part to the text. I couldn’t imagine anyone else doing it. It feels to me as if the work was written for them. The actress Paula McGlinchey is also my partner and she plays the writer’s voice in the piece which is a nice touch. At one point Eoghan thought I could play this but then he changed his mind and decided on Paula, which was a wise choice.
Over the last 18 months, I’ve seen a variety of online events, from group zoom calls to ‘one to one’ phone calls with actors. Do you think the pandemic has forced theatre makers to think outside the box?
Absolutely, the pandemic certainly forced us to think outside the box. We created about:blank without any of us meeting in person all working alone from home. Stylistically, about:blank is a bit of a fractured piece and has a strong sense of loss and isolation running through it. So our more fractured and isolated ways of working suited this project well. Also, as the whole country pretty much came to a grinding halt it gave everyone the freedom to explore the piece imaginatively in their own way without time pressure or too many cooks spoiling the broth. When you’re working with top actors, musicians and composers who have been in the game for decades you can trust that what they come up with will be very interesting.
Do you think these hybrid forms of theatre will continue to exist after the theatres have fully reopened or are they a function of our times?
I think both. Covid has definitely made us think more about finding other ways to present work and doing things. But on the side, this pandemic has shown us how vital live events and gatherings are for people. I’m not sure technology will ever be able to replace the collective sense of union and exchange when people are gathered experiencing a live event together in the same place. But then I also have a love for the intimacy of radio drama, audio books and the deep layers and intricacies experienced of listening to music on headphones. I think about:blank takes its inspiration from these personal experiences. I’ve no doubt that this period we’re living through is going to be hugely transformative for the world. All of this now has to feed into the climate and ecological emergency we are facing as well us being more compassionate towards each other and recognising our connection globally.
Is there anything you’re working on now you’d like to tell our readers about?
Now I’m working towards the book launch of about:blank this Wednesday at MoLI 7pm. Poet and dramaturg Jessica Traynor will be launching it. Frieda Freytag will be playing some of the cello compositions from the piece and Owen Roe will give a dramatic reading from the short play in the book. I’ve also just finished recording another text and music piece, I’ve been working on with Emmy-nominated composer David Downes, called there will be no silence, performed by pianist Rolf Hind, cellist Adrian Mantu and actors Aisling O’Sullivan and Owen Roe. We’ll be looking to tour this piece next year I hope. I’m also working on bringing a new play of mine to the stage for next year.