Silent treatment in an age where we’re all lost for words

Bubble in rehearsal
Bubble in rehearsal
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In a modern world where social interaction is increasingly undertaken via screens, and technology means that we are always “available” and “connected”, where do stillness, silence and the spoken word fit in? And what happens when the virtual world becomes more important than the real world?

These are the kind of questions that are explored in a new production, entitled Bubble, being presented by young actors at the Carriageworks Theatre Academy in Leeds at the end of this month.

Writer-director Lizi Patch, working in collaboration with Leeds-based theatre company Blah Blah Blah, devised the piece with the 35 youngsters aged between 11 and 18 who are taking part.

“I have been doing bits and pieces for the academy for the last three years,” says Patch. “I suggested Bubble as an idea to the artistic director of Blah Blah Blah. The company often create shows which look at slices of social history and I suggested that rather than looking back from the present, for this show we use 2013 as the historical time and write a piece that looks back at how young people consume and create digital content today.”

The next stage was to talk to the youth actors who would be taking part. Together they discussed young people’s reliance on social media and the negative aspects of that as well as the benefits. “It started out as quite a dystopian view of the world,” says Patch. “But then it became quite humorous too.”

As a group they talked about the peer pressure to have high numbers of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook and the kind of bullying that can take place if someone doesn’t have the latest phone or electronic device. “Interestingly, almost all the young people said they wished someone would pull the plug on Facebook,” says Patch. Out of their discussions and workshops grew a piece that focuses on our growing obsession with documenting our lives and sharing them online and how that affects our relationship with the real world.

The piece is set in the future – 2103 when the world has become silent – people don’t actually talk to each other any more; words are not said out loud, everyone communicates through their hand-held devices. “Generally speaking we would improvise and devise scenes together – they were all full of ideas – and then I would go home and put it together,” says Patch. “Then I would come along with suggestions and I also added in a couple of scenes at the end that were non-negotiable just to draw things to a conclusion. It is a great piece that asks more questions than it answers.”

The project has been developed over the course of six months and includes some video sequences involving four young people who will be away on holiday during the performance. “We are keeping it simple and the actors will be on stage all the time – there are some amazing speechless crowd scenes which are quite powerful,” says Patch.

Her co-director on Bubble, Rebecca Stokes, has been impressed by the young cast. “I have relished working with such a committed and fun group of young people,” she says. “What will shine through when they perform their piece to an audience is that it is their ideas, it reflects issues that affect them in their lives, and it is a story that they are passionate about telling.”

Bubble, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, July 27, 2pm and 7.30pm.