Our Artist-in-Residence, playwright Hannah Davies, reflects on her experience with us over the last year
I was invited to work with ice&fire in 2012 on the research and development process for their Art of Dying project. This was the initial phase of development of a new theatre piece inspired by the recent rise in contemporary paupers funerals in the UK. The piece sought to explore this social issue by working with a team of writers, and the prospect of this collaborative way of engaging with the material was incredibly exciting to me.
The creative team assembled by ice&fire producer and dramaturg Annecy Hayes and artistic director Christine Bacon, included novelist Anna Hope, performance poet Chris Redmond, and director Douglas Rintoul. Together with the ice&fire theatre team we all set about becoming more acquainted with our subject matter. Death and all of its surrounding rituals, beliefs and taboos is a topic that I find deeply compelling. The inescapable fact of our own mortality and the way we engage, or resist engaging with this, is something that defines every aspect of our existence and I was keen to explore the complexity of these ideas and the social realities of the death trade in more depth. Having the opportunity to do this in such a creatively supportive environment was a privilege. Working with other writers was deeply exciting from the outset and sharing ideas and snippets of early work with others at an embryonic stage always led me to areas, that as an individual artist working alone, I may have overlooked. The final week of development brought us into contact with a sound designer, video designer and a group of actors, research findings and first bits of text were workshopped, staged and given a closed sharing to a select audience. This provided us with much valued feedback to take into the next our work. Being involved in a project that was conceived to place the collaborative nature of theatre at its heart was a deeply inspiring and valuable experience.After our initial research period I was delighted to be invited to return to work with the company, this time as an artist in residence. My focus was to work on the first draft of the Art of Dying script, this time alongside Annecy Hayes. As co-authors we developed and moved through several drafts working towards a final rehearsal draft of the play. We were delighted to receive support from the National Theatre Studio for the initial phase of this secondary development, and Annecy and I locked ourselves.
Working within a company who have a deep commitment to human rights at their core was hugely inspiring to me as a playwright. I was impressed by the company’s dedication to research, their openness to all angles of enquiry and the way they continued to seek out professional expertise and opinion at every step of the development process. During our research we met with forensic artists, professors, chaplains, hospice workers and many other people who worked within and around the funeral and death trade. The results of our research was fascinating, horrifying, and incredibly moving in equal measure. Annecy and I hope that the final script and forthcoming production does justice to such a vast and diverse topic.away with an impressive collection of stationary, and index cards to help us find a structure and form for the piece as well as a methodology that suited both our ways of working. As the Art of Dying script grew and matured, we held several readings to help us gather thoughts and reflections on the piece in order to strengthen our writing process. These sharings provided critical opportunities for Annecy and I to reflect on the journey of the piece and they often resulted in significant turning points in the script’s development.
My time as an artist in residence with ice&fire has furthered and developed me as a writer. It has helped me formulate new ways of generating text and has given me first hand experience of co-authorship and all the challenges associated with such an intense, rewarding and joyful process. Perhaps most importantly, it has re-connected me with the importance of placing human rights issues at the centre of my work. I am drawn to theatre and story because of their powerful ability to help us share, question and inspire change. I am incredibly proud that I have had the opportunity to work within a theatre company that is dedicated to exploring human rights issues through the medium of performance.