Hippana theatre company are bringing their new physical theatre piece SHINE to Chickenshed theatre in London on the 16th and17th of May. The performers Olivier Leclair and Tiia-Mari Mäkinen came to tell us about the new piece.
“Ears are much more difficult to fool compared to the eyes”, explains Leclair, citing one of the reasons it has taken them four years to develop SHINE.
Leclair’s character in SHINE suffers from schizophrenia, and the audience will wear headphones through which they can get a sense of his experience.
“You know exactly how close something would be, or you recognise someone’s voice really quickly,” says Mäkinen.
SHINE was not originally a piece about mental illness. Rather, the inspiration for the piece came from the sense of isolation that Leclair, from Canada, and Mäkinen, from Finland, observed in their home countries.
“Then that became about the isolation of your own mind”, says Mäkinen. In 2015, when the company first had the idea, many theatre companies were experimenting with headphones.
“And we were talking about how immersed you are in that world – you can hear voices almost like someone who suffers from hearing voices,” says Leclair.
Having lived for fifteen years with his grandmother who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, Leclair knows what he is talking about.The theme of hearing voices is particularly interesting in the theatre. Leclair points out that the word “audience” refers specifically to listening, not seeing. The company’s experimentation with sound technology aims to change the way we listen to plays by dissociating the voice from the actor.
In addition to fine-tuning the sound design, the pair have been furiously researching the subject matter. They were inspired by a new treatment called avatar therapy. In it, patients create a digital face to their voices, and the therapist talks to them through this avatar on a computer screen.
“The idea is to positively stand up to your voices. You’re not trying to lock them away by taking a pill, but you’re trying to communicate with them positively,” says Mäkinen.
To translate this idea onto the stage, Mäkinen and Leclair decided to use masks, a tool they were familiar with from their training in physical theatre.
“People who suffer from auditory hallucinations might have visual ones as well,” Mäkinen says.
These dramatic devices have occasionally provoked fear.
“When you put on the headphones and dim the lights, the audience become very vulnerable. We saw people holding each other, and heard little screams when the masked character came on,” says Leclair.
Mäkinen promises that the current work in progress will not be scary – or at least not too scary. She emphasises that while the performance deals with the fear of reality, of connection, of losing someone but it is also about finding love at the darkest hour.
And how do the duo hope the audience will react to their performance?
“Just silence – people walking out of the theatre and no one is talking. After that moment, I hope that all the people will start talking about their friends or relatives who have had similar experiences.” tells Leclair.
“And they will listen more to themselves,”says Mäkinen.
Text: Aura Saxén Poster: Michael Wharley, Rebecca Pitt
16.-17.5.2019 at Chickenshed Theatre, 290 Chase Side, London, N14 4PE, https://www.chickenshed.org.uk/Event/shine, tickets: £12,50.
Hippana Theatre’s SHINE is supported by Arts Council England, From Start To Finnish, Chickenshed Theatre and Jacksons Lane
More information about the company and the show at www.hippana.com & social media platforms @HippanaTheatre