Arts Preview: STaG Nights 2014 – Magic

Stereo, 18th – 20th November

qmunicate catches up with STaG’s Vice President in charge of STaG Nights, Sarah Gibbon, to find out more about this year’s festival and it’s Magic theme…

Can you tell us a bit about the ethos and background of STaG Nights? What can audiences expect from a night at the festival?

STaG Nights is the largest student arts festival in Scotland, and it’s always a huge undertaking for STaG. A series of 20-minute theatre pieces and installations are performed over three nights in response to a theme, which changes each year. It’s a demonstration of STaG’s firm investment in new writing and experimental work, but also gives us the opportunity to play with a theme and challenge the conventional theatre experience. We ultimately need to utilise the strongest of all our resources, so it also ends up being a hugely inclusive process! Audiences can expect an immersive, unusual and captivating atmosphere, a bar, and a wide range of exciting new work.

What inspired this year’s ‘magic’ theme?

There really wasn’t one thing in particular! I’m a literature student, so I suppose I drew on my own interest in magical realism. I also really admire the work of an immersive theatre company called Punchdrunk; there’s an interview with their Artistic Director, Felix Barrett, where he describes their process as ‘trying to get to the real-world magic hour’. He said something like, ‘how do you package that?’ It’s an idea that really got to me. I think good immersive theatre is somehow inherently magical, so it seemed quite fitting to explore the theme for STaG Nights.

I also love how versatile it is. I found myself looking for magical references in my own reading and experience, and realised it was everywhere. We ended up taking inspiration from William Blake, Bjork, Michel Gondry, Frida Kahlo… There seems to be a collective fascination with magical possibilities, and I wanted to explore how that manifests itself in people’s writing and performance. The response has been incredible.

Were you surprised by the breadth of submissions this theme provoked then?

Partly, yes! I think what struck me most was the breadth of tone. Some of the writers use the magic theme to make sophisticated and unsettling connections with larger themes like love, mortality and conflicts of tradition and modernity. But there’s also a sense of fun. The Puppeteer has been almost entirely devised by the cast, and uses a lot of physical comedy – in another of the plays, someone tries to shag a table. I’m thrilled that we’ve got such a range of responses, because it’s exactly what makes the festival so vibrant and thought provoking! What’s cool is that some of them aren’t really explicitly about magic, but then a character will make a mythical reference or refer to a childhood belief, and it just creeps through. Working with all the directors from the first production proposals through the casting process to this stage has been really exciting. We’ve also somehow managed to find a running order where these diverse pieces all complement each other pretty well! The theme threads them together beautifully.

Your magic eye symbol which accompanies this year’s publicity is very striking- can you tell us a little about where it came from?

All of our publicity has been made by a freelance graphic designer based in Glasgow. Her brief was to create an identity for the festival that established the sense of the eery and otherworldly, but didn’t come across as oppressive or overly gothic. We essentially wanted an image that was stylised enough to form the basis of a viral campaign, without being limiting or reductive about what ‘magic’ can mean. It was a tough balance to strike!

I eventually found some 1970s Tarot cards, and they provided a really useful stimulus; the combination of clean lines and mystical imagery was exactly what I wanted. Kenna then built on those ideas to come up with the fantastic eye symbol. It alludes to magic and illusion, but also the idea of inner and outer worlds, and the festival’s blurring of the conventional boundaries between spectator and performer. We’re really happy with it!

Are there any aspects of the festival which move beyond the usual confines of staged theatre?

Aye. We’ve commissioned a soundscape to underscore the entire festival, which will be played by Adam McCallum from Subcity Radio. He’ll be using sound manipulation techniques to improvise live over tracks, creating a surreal vibe and an inevitably different performance each night. It’s not like having a band with a set decided in advance – it’s a very intuitive way of playing music, continually manipulating the atmosphere in the room. Audience members will be able to approach him throughout the night to record noises and words live, which will then be sampled into the soundscape. We wanted to make the musical process as immersive as possible, while also playing with ideas of alienation and the uncanny. The sounds recorded into the soundscape should theoretically become less and less recognisable. Live music undoubtedly creates a connection with an audience, but we thought this approach could be more versatile. It’s quite different to anything we’ve tried before, so it will be a bit of an experiment.

There’s also plenty more for audiences to get their teeth into in between the theatre performances! We’ve got a series of other installations, including a separate booth occupied by an ironic mind reader, and we flout a lot of superstitions with our choice of décor… It’s going to be a pretty special few days.

How would you describe STaG Nights 2014 in five words?

Stimulating, Original, Atmospheric, Cheap, Magical [Obviously]

We also spoke to director Robert Cardew (Faustus) and writer Anna Nodward-Siegel (The Curious Switcharoo, Love Potion No. 9) to see how magic has inspired their creative processes.

Can you tell us a little about your shows?

Anna: My two shows are about perfectly affable people getting mixed up with magical objects and trying their best to set things straight.

Robert: My show is a modernisation of Christopher Marlowe’s play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus. It shows how everyone will always look for quick fixes and the fastest path to fun, but it might not be the wisest decision.

What about the ‘magic’ theme did you particularly respond to?

Anna: What inspired me about the magic theme was the implication of hidden magic, magic that could exist in our own world and shake things up, though we may be unaware until we find it.

Robert: The theme of magic allowed me to explore the idea that at any time, on any day, we have the power to do anything out of the ordinary, make our own choices and decisions and change the course of fate.

Do you believe in magic?

Anna: I have an app on my phone that lets me see through the earth and clouds at what the stars look like beyond them; naturally, I believe in magic.

Robert: Every time I hear the music of Dylan, I believe in magic.

[Caitlin MacColl – @turningtoaverse]

Catch STaG Nights 2014- Magic at Stereo, 7.30pm onwards from 18th – 20th November. For more information, see:

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