• 21st March 2019

[image of the universe with the pupil of an eye at its centre]

The Dark City is in peril.

Whole areas are disappearing, becoming impassable voids. Buildings and parks that used to be favourite haunts are causing sickness and injury. And now some of its citizens have started to disappear.

The remaining citizens are organising to resist this threat and they have sent out a call. Will you take action, work with them to uncover the mystery of the peril, be part of helping them save their city from destruction?

To do so you must first enter their world.

 The outcome is uncertain and we can’t promise you will come back unchanged, but if you accept the task

then roll the dice….

What is the Dark City project?

Funded by the Arts Council, Bristol Ageing Better and the Quartet fund and supported by a residency at the Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed in Bristol, the project is a development period for an immersive theatre piece called Dark City; an imaginative fiction, using the dynamics of myth and fairytale yet based in the realities of people who are visually impaired.

The piece, which aims to weave together elements of theatre, immersive multi sensory audio-visual and creative technology will;

share and collate stories of living with visual impairment – this will take place at monthly Dark City sessions open to the wider VI community and feed into the content for the piece itself, as well as being recorded as podcasts and shared more widely through appropriate broadcast platforms.

explore the form and content of the piece – what technology, multi sensory elements, built elements, live performance will it involve and what narrative structure does it take

and it will do this through co-devising the piece with a group of core collaborators who are visually impaired and who will also function as a steering group to the project providing expertise, personal experience, networks and contacts.

What are the ideas for the piece so far and what does the current stage of the project aim to achieve?

The Dark City idea came out of a kick start project funded by Bristol Ageing Better in Bristol in 2016. Developed in collaboration with an intergenerational group of visually impaired participants at Action for Blind People’s Stillhouse lane site, it aims to take audiences on an immersive, multi-sensory journey into a parallel, always present world; The Dark City.

At the roll of a Braille dice, one of 6 pathways reflecting a different journey of visual impairment is allocated. A narrator speaks directly to each audience member as they navigate their way through the city’s labyrinthine streets.

The aim is to create an imaginative, empowering experience that;

  • Transforms preconceptions.
  • Acknowledges the challenges and celebrates difference
  • Reduces isolation, nurtures understanding and gets ‘behind the label’.
  • Creates more ‘cultural visibility’ for the VI community
  • And through providing signposting and information after the event, informs people about sight impairment, eye health, help and resources.

The future work will be aimed at both visually impaired and sighted audiences, initially in Bristol and the South-West. Those audiences will include visually impaired people, their families, supporters and carers – anyone affected by sight loss in some way – as well as local school groups and theatre and arts venue audiences.

The intention is to remove the barriers to engagement that typically exist for visually impaired people in both participating in the arts and in being an audience member, as well as actively encouraging those who might not usually engage at all. This will be achieved through an open participatory process of co-creation generating a feeling of co-ownership and connection to the work at both development and production stage and by making a piece of work that engages visually impaired and sighted audiences equally in a vivid and imaginative world, connecting everyone in one inclusive shared experience.

The project continues with its original intergenerational focus and, supported by a Bristol Ageing Better fund, includes a remit to ensure older people are integrated into the heart of the experience of creation and performance.

This current stage of the project will be unearthing stories and exploring three core questions;

  • Which tools, techniques and materials – audio-visual, creative and VI technology, other sensory input, built environment elements – are needed to create the experience and how do they combine to create a coherent world?
  • How can the script bring a fictional, imaginative world together with real life stories?
  • What role might the live presence of guides or performers play?

These questions will be explored through trials, try-outs, field research and content creation.

At the conclusion of this development stage we expect to have created the content for the start of the piece and one of the six journeys. 

Who is involved? 

Many of the original participants from the kick-start project continue to be involved and are being joined by new members who have been recruited since. Currently this group includes; Jeff Daniels, Alan Dyte, Lou Lifely, Nicola Durston, Barrington Chambers, Elanora Ferry, Kez Travers, John Vickery and Fanny Eaton Hall and has the potential to increase in numbers.

PECo core artistic team are; Rachel Aspinwall, artistic director [of PECo theatre and for Dark City] Tom Newell, audio-visual artist and creative technologist, Steph Kempson, writer and Holly Thomas, a visually impaired dance artist, who will be bringing her movement and contact improvisation expertise into the mix in this next stage.

The artistic team and the steering /co-devising group between them make up the core co-collaborators of the Dark City project.

Both audio-visual artist and writer have an internationally recognised mentor to support their aspect of the work, these are Duncan Speakman, an award winning immersive audio artist and sound engineer and Tim X Attack, an award winning writer who specialises in audio designed narratives and co-runs Bristol based theatre company Sleepdogs.

The project is also employing a further two teams members;

A producer whose role will be to manage administrative elements of the project [other than the Dark City Sessions] and develop the market for the piece through building relationships with co-producing venues and organisations in order to take it forward to production.

A Dark City Sessions Facilitator whose role will be to facilitate the Dark City sessions; finding and selecting story contributors and participants, collating visual impairment networks and contacts in the city – through working with the steering group and other partners – and facilitating creative conversations with visually impaired people to identify what creative activities people would like to have accessible to them in the city then working with partners and organisations to embed these activities into the city’s existing venues and organisations.

When will it take place?

The artistic content creation of the project will take place between October and March 2018 -19.

Dark City Sessions and their accompanying creative conversations will continue on into May at which point a proposal for VI accessible creative activities will be drawn up and the project facilitator will work to embed them. This aspect of the project will conclude in July 2019.