Dartington Arts College alum Rachel Baynton tells Senior Producer Michael Sells what inspired her, and husband Andrew Waterside, to write a show which explores the idea of speaking truth to power.   There will be a single performance of ‘Dead Cats’ at Dartington Trust on Friday, May,19. 

Michael: Both you and Andrew (Westerside) studied at Dartington – what are your most vivid memories of your time here and how did it inform the work that you do with Proto-type?

Rachel : Dartington is where Wes and I met, we’re a couple now and have a child, we were both at Dartington. I graduated 2004 and the biggest memories for me are spending so much time outside. Everything you did was related to the environment you were in and the land and the people. I have memories of making a piece of theatre in the river Dart while the steam train came past, we did an amazing moment where we got the audience to walk down to deer park holding handkerchiefs, not knowing why and me and another performer were having a tea party on a log in the middle of the river and unbeknownst to them we’d had someone at the train station in Totnes giving everyone on the train a hanky, so there was a perfect moment when everyone on the bank waved a hanky and everyone on a train waved back.  I remember big parties living down at Foxhole and big parties out of the barn and making movies in the middle of the night and rolling down the hill of the tilt yard – which I know you’re not allowed to do. 

We’re both lecturers now at University of Lincoln and we teach lots of the principals we learnt back there and experienced there. Were trying to work up a site specific module so I can get my kicks making people run around the countryside again.

Q: Tell us a bit about Proto-type?

A: Proto-Type started in the States. It was founded by Peter Petralia, that’s why theater is spelt the American way.  

These days it’s me and Wes and Gillian (Lees), we have our own individual practises but the work we make together is greater than the sum of our parts, Gillian has a rigorous and beautiful live arts practise with Adam York Gregory, Wes has got more into writing, my work has always been participatory and community focused. We often tried to drop the ‘theater’ from proto-type theater because we always felt we weren’t just a theatre company, we’ve made animation, we’ve done radio dramas, site specific work, all sorts of kinds of different disciplines.  It meant everyone started calling us The Proto-type theatre and that just sounded like the work wasn’t finished.

Q: What is the ‘Truth to Power’ project?

A: Dead Cats is the final piece in the wider eight-year body of work which we are just coming to the end of. The three of us were in our 30’s and feeling increasingly disillusioned and powerless and feeling just how awful and dreadful everything was. There was this feeling of ‘us and them’ and ‘why are they doing this?’ We felt very powerless and at that time the Edward Snowdon revelations came out, and we were at a point where we were thinking ‘we are grown-ups, we are in our early 30’s, we should know how to fix things’. We couldn’t see how to fix things.  Applying those socially engaged terms that we learnt at Dartington, we said ‘how do we make a difference?’

If we’d been politicians, we’d have done something political if we’d been musicians, we’d have maybe made a song but we’re theatre makers, so we wanted to make theatre that said something and did something, previously our work had been more conceptual.

We spent a week at the Tramway Theatre shouting, ranting, making lists of all the things we were angry about, trying to explain the world and the problems as we saw them and at the end of that week the thing that floated to the top of the shit list was the Edward Snowdon’s revelations and how we were all being spied on. But it was hard and impenetrable information, so we wanted to try and make other people understand what was happening, so we made a show called ‘A machine that they are building’ (which was long listed for an Amnesty International award) which is an expose of government surveillance, and how your country is spying on you. A history of surveillance.  We had to stop touring it in the end because it started to sound like an ‘I told you so’ instead of a warning. All of it came true. Making this one we realised it was all about money.

So, the next show was the ‘money’ show. This was called ‘the Audit: or Iceland a modern myth’ which told the story of the global banking crisis and the Icelandic bankers and how the country attempted to jail them, and the feel-good myth that they had fixed it all. But they hadn’t, again we are taking really boring information and trying to make it understandable and human. While making this one we kept saying ‘this is about language and manipulation and spin’ which is what’s led us to Dead Cats.

Q: Where did the title ‘Dead Cats’ come from?

A: It’s a journalistic term, an old term and it’s this idea of when someone wants to distract us from the truth, you want to change the argument. The idea is a scandal might happen and everyone is sat round the table and everyone is saying ‘this is terrible, we must bring them to justice’ then someone comes in a throws a dead cat on the table and everyone recoils in such horror at the dead cat that whatever was under discussion has now completely gone because we are all just looking at the dead cat. Trump and Boris are absolute ‘dead cat’ masters. The show is about that slipperiness, and game-playing, those kinds of tactics.

Q: Who will this show appeal to?

A: There’s humour in what we do. We’re not trying to lecture or harangue. It’s our job to open these discussions. We don’t want to make anyone feel bad about not being invested.  We want people to feel a bit more informed. These are complex concepts. We think its complex too. Maybe it’s alright not to understand how ‘quantitative easing’ works. Don’t feel stupid. With this show everyone understands there are lots of falsehood and misleading in the political arena and everything is slippery, we’re not saying anything new, but this show is demonstrating those behaviours so that perhaps when you see it out in the world, you’ll know what it is. 

Age recommendation: 14+ | Some swearing and complex themes that younger viewers may find challenging. 

**You can go the website of Proto type theater to find out more about their work and the other two pieces in this trilogy 

Dead Cats is in Studio 1 on Friday, May 19 at 7.30pm tickets available from the box office on 01803 847000 or Dartington.org

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