Taking the numb out of numbers

Taking the numb out of numbers

9 April 2017

Phoebe Graham talks to director Josie Davies about the challenges of responding to the Syrian crisis through theatre.

If 13.5 million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in Syria,

If half the 6.3 million Syrian refugees are children displaced within their own country,

If 75,000 are locked in and stranded on the Syria-Jordan border,

why can’t I feel it?

I ask people where in the world they would most like to go as easily as I ask of a name or an age. It seems natural to me, with the opportunity of gap years and interrailing, that people can and should go somewhere other than where they are now. It’s funny how we can be so unaware of our own freedom when some don’t have the right to move within their own country.

So when it comes to trying to talk about people and places with a stolen freedom, how can I express myself valuably and with empathy without being discredited by my privilege of living in the UK? The unspoken rule seems to be that if something impacts your quality of life, only then do you have the right to talk about it. But now that we are in typing distance of a great proportion of the globe, how can we talk about examples of international devastation if we are not socially qualified to understand them? How can we speak of a shared humanity when our spheres of experience seem planets apart from each other?

Josie Davies, director of Feat. Theatre, wants the UK to tackle these insecurities head on. “We all care”, she says, “but sometimes we don’t know how to show it.” Feat. Theatre’s debut production, Say it Loud, is a multi-authored piece about how the UK is responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. “I’m certainly not alone in feeling that I’m unable to do enough about it. So I guess the project was basically a reaction to inaction.”

The company have collected material from writers all over the UK to devise a performance that “asks some difficult questions and examines how we can and are reacting to Syria”. In trying to avoid vague and unlikely answers to the crisis, Say it Loud instead asks “where do you even begin?” to talk about an issue that is so global, so immediate, yet so distant to the UK.

A piece of many authors is sure to give Say it Loud multiple dimensions. “It has developed into a piece about privilege, frustration, openness, how the political affects us personally, activism, asylum and apathy,” says Josie. She admits that it’s “impossible to have a single voice of authority on something you haven’t directly experienced or can fully understand”. Feat. Theatre’s aim is to acknowledge and use this to their creative advantage.

Say it Loud isn’t just after a variety of voices to shape its performance, it also uses words and thoughts that are fresh off the press, placing its audience at the heart of rapidly changing international affairs. The company will curate and adapt immediate updates of the Syrian crisis from daily news items live onstage, using them to shape a unique show with every performance.

Josie declares herself “a real believer in theatre responding to the world around us”, and there’s certainly a tangible rawness and fluidity in Feat. Theatre’s ambition. Say it Loud thrives in the idea that it “isn’t (and shouldn’t be) finished”.

As days get busier, time moves quicker and clickbait gets clickier, current affairs are communicated around the world through the universal language of numbers and blind statistics. Constant connection and daily data bombardment desensitise us, scaring us into what we believe we should or should not be feeling.

Feat. Theatre wants to dispel this self-doubt, motivated by the concern that “being afraid to talk about a subject can just mean it doesn’t get spoken about. That’s what convinced me that this piece had to be about what we have experienced and can talk about – being in the UK while all of this is going on.”

So where do we begin? “I don’t think conversation is the end goal,” Josie responds, “but it’s a really good start.” Say it Loud epitomises the necessity of new writing that addresses the need to find a meaningful form of sympathy. The company will also be raising money for charities dedicated to resolving the Syrian crisis – this is theatre that exists to make a difference. Prising open the gaps between the experience and the response, the personal and the political, Say it Loud is set to be “Inclusive. Responsive. Confronting.”

If you would like to join the conversation, then Say it Loud. Feat. Theatre are still welcoming written responses from anyone who would like to help and shape a future performance. Drop them an email at [email protected] in any form you like, a bit of script, a poem, a thought, rant, a question – anything!

Send your reviews, thoughts and jokes to: [email protected]