Seventy three scenes. 10 actors. 7 plots. 90 minutes. But how did we get here?
Distorted, Xavier Coy’s new play, was originally conceived as a series of 80 disconnected vignettes, with no consistent characters, loosely linked by the overarching themes of a longing to form connections and mental illness. The scenes were very quick and could be performed in any order. This was how it came to me as a director and how the cast performed it during the first read.
So it started off as a challenge. An exciting one.
Art, essentially, is an exploration of meaning. As a species we are unique in our insistence on understanding what is presented to us, in finding ways to relate it to our own experience. The typical response to something we can’t explain is anxiety and no one has ever praised a piece of art by saying, “I don’t get it”.
This was our challenge when we approached Distorted: how can we explore and arrange these seemingly disparate elements and craft a piece that’s both relatable and enlightening for the audience?
It was easier than you might think.
Our desire to comprehend drives us to find connections and to create links. The first decision we made was that each of our 10 cast members would play a consistent character throughout and we would be following established personalities throughout the show.
Even this was enough to begin forging narratives and once we found those personalities it was quite straightforward to decide who should be involved in which scene. From there, it was a process of putting those scenes into a sensible narrative order and arrange the various plot strands so that they moved concurrently and regularly intersected.
So we now have a very intricate story that explores addiction, mental illness, pregnancy and our struggles to connect in a society that too often forms a complete judgement of a person from only a few scraps of (mis)information.
It’s a fast beast (the average scene length is less than 90 seconds), so it’s been a major task to stage it fluidly, with 10 actors swarming across the stage and swarming even more frantically backstage as they deal with a plethora of props and costumes. It’s been a hugely invigorating process and we hope that energy transfers to the audience.
Distorted is a play that challenges its audience in a way that I consider vital and healthy for a spectator: they have to listen, engage and take part in the creative process of forming narratives, deciding what has happened in the gaps in these stories. I think every audience member will interpret these characters and stories differently, and that’s wonderful.
Seventy three scenes. 10 characters. 7 plots. 90 minutes.
Let’s see what it all means.