The director spoke to LLLC’s Emma Clarendon about A Wake in Progress.
Hi Liz, thanks so much for talking to me. What is A Wake in Progress about? Thanks for having me! A Wake in Progress is a play about funerals and death which follows one person’s story as they prepare for their own death. It’s a play about how we talk about, try to talk about and are unable to talk about death, how we say goodbye and how we want to be remembered. It’s also interactive so the audience are completely pivotal in deciding how the story is told and the direction that it goes in each night.
How did you first come across the play? I came to see a sharing of it at The Bunker Theatre and loved it. I thought there were so many interesting elements to it and its subject matter is something that I keep on coming back to in my work.
What made you want to be involved in bringing it to the stage? What really appealed to me is the play’s ability to bring together an audience as a community of people, to talk about and contribute to a conversation around death. Also, as a director, I’m always looking for ways of creating theatre that pivot around uncertainty, that are live and different every time. That the audience have a central role in changing and driving the play forward really excites me.
What did you first think of the play? I was lucky because my first interaction with the play was seeing a version of it, which, for me, is much more useful than reading something from a page. Unexpectedly (because of the play’s subject) I remember thinking what a fun time I had had! it’s a very warm play and I had really enjoyed speaking to people next to me and feeling connected to the actors on stage and to the audience around me. I also remember feeling very moved and a little tipsy (there’s free prosecco at the end).
Do you think the piece will help to open up conversations about death and grief? Yes, absolutely. Apart from the subject matter, the format of the play requires the audience to actively contribute, to lean forward in their seats and drive the shape and action of the story forward. Since working on it, I’ve had many more thoughts and conversations, with strangers, family and people I work with about death and grief, so it’s already doing it for me!
Why do you think people are afraid about talking about death? I can only speak for myself, but I suspect fear. We’re (understandably) afraid. Afraid because ultimately we have no idea what comes next; we are afraid in the face of uncertainty. I also think we’re afraid of getting things ‘wrong’, of saying or doing the wrong thing, and I think the writing explores that sticky, murky territory really beautifully.
How did you want to approach directing ‘A Wake in Progress’?What excites me about the play is its liveness – of course, that’s true of any piece of theatre, but, as the audience will shape it differently each night, it’s even more the case. So I’m really interested in games and playfulness in the piece – in a way, it is a little like a game-show, as the audience choose the route the play takes, so I’m looking forward to exploring that in its direction and design. Playfulness is important because the subjects that we’re looking at are potentially pretty heavy, challenging and difficult, so balancing that with lightness and play matters.
If people are thinking about coming along to see it – why should they? I’ve never seen or been a part of anything like it before so I think people should come for a really unique experience. The decisions that the audience make will create a version of the play that will never exist again, because another audience will take it in a completely different direction. I also found going to see it very cathartic so they should come to see it in order to be a part of a community that celebrates and parties in the face of death, grief and loss… and for the free prosecco.
By Emma Clarendon
A Wake in Progress is playing as part of the Vault Festival from the 6th to the 10th February.