A life changing process, the process of pregnancy is something we hear and see very little spoken about; the biological process usually depicted by its last moment, giving birth. A process that can only truly be understood and experienced by those going through it, the emotional impact of pregnancy is an ever lasting one, rippling throughout families going through it. What also isn’t the discussed is the heartbreaking truth that ‘1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth’, a taboo subject matter rarely discussed. Created in collaboration with UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffrey, Lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Kent Dr Graeme Forbes and charities Anyone Everymum and Aching Arms, director Guillaume Pigé discusses Theatre Re’s poignant theatre piece, BIRTH, showing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Hi Guillaume, your show BIRTH will show from the 1st to 25th August at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Pleasance Courtyard). How are you feeling ahead of the run?
I feel all together excited, nervous, focused, open, vulnerable, curious and bubbly. I just cannot wait!
The show explores the emotional topic of loss during pregnancy or at birth exploring ‘the bond between three women, their shared loss, their unconditional love and the strength they discover in each other’. What inspired you to explore this?
At the beginning of the process we wanted to explore the question: when does memory begin? In other words what is being passed down from one generation to the next and how it affects who we are.
We focused on secrets within families and discovered the world of psychogenealogy, which is about recognising parallels between our own lives and the lives of our ancestors, and how issues or traumas might have been subconsciously passed down. We used this to ‘study’ our family trees and unravel some of these secrets. Pregnancy loss was the one things that all our trees had in common and how it was never talked about. Surprisingly, ‘losing a baby’ is also something that came up in our improvisation sessions without us consciously looking for it.
BIRTH has had a 16 month development period, within that time collaborating with UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery and Dr Graeme Forbes, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Kent. What did these meetings involve?
This is very much part of Theatre Re‘s way of making work. Every time we start a new project we try to collaborate with a wide range of people (theatre and non-theatre makers) to help us make the show.
Professor Kate Jeffery and Dr Graeme Forbes shared their views on our original question: when does memory begin? These discussions fuelled our very first steps forward and we used them as triggers.
Both also came back into the rehearsal room at different stages to follow the development of the work and kept feeding us with ideas, feedback, and more generally things that we could not have thought about if they had not been present. This sometimes went from being as deep as understanding the non-cyclical nature of time to ‘how about using different birthday cakes’!
The development process also involved interviews and workshops with women and families who have experienced loss. What did you learn from these conversations?
We first collaborated with Anyone Everymum (organisation supporting women and families in their journey through birth). Along with sharing their expertise, knowledge and experiences, they took us through the various steps they use in their sessions with women. Many discoveries made during these workshops were then developed and worked into the piece. Some of them are invisible, others led to the devising of full scenes. This collaboration also helped us to create the right atmosphere around the work and helped guide our research.
Later in the process we also engaged with Aching Arms (a nationwide baby loss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers) and were able to get an insight into what it means to lose a life. Their feedback on the work helped us ensure that our piece was a faithful representation of what some women and families go through without being patronising nor sentimental.
How have Theatre Re worked together to devise the show?
It all starts by bringing together a team of collaborators from different backgrounds and expertise and spending a lot of time inside and outside the rehearsal room together, trying things out, bouncing ideas, playing with objects, carving journeys and pathways out of nowhere, sharing stories, failing quite often and occasionally succeeding… until little by little magic moments start to appear.
It then becomes a process of linking them and finding connections between these magic moments. After it is about revisiting all the material that we have created and really discover what each moment means and why it has to stay in the piece…
And then, in Edinburgh, it will be about bringing all of that to life every afternoon at 12pm as if it had never happened before…
What can audiences expect from the show?
Audiences can expect something different. BIRTH is altogether; a piece of theatre where we follow the life journey of Sue, Katherine and Emily, three generations of women from the same family; a concert with live music throughout the show; a wordless physical and visual piece of dance and mime with elements of magic and illusion.
Ultimately, our aim is to communicate the story of Emily’s family and we use everything we can to make it thought provoking, humorous, heart-breaking, uplifting and life affirming.
What would you like for audiences to take away from the show?
I hope people come out of the theatre feeling uplifted and reminded about the beauty and extraordinary fragility of life.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors/devisors?
Take your time!
Questions by Lucy Basaba.
BIRTH will be showing from Monday 1st until Thursday 25th August at Pleasance Courtyard as part of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. To find out more about the production, visit here…