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Rendition - immersive new work explores vulnerability and power through visual theatre

Rendition Rehearsals 01 - Photo by Peter Searle

Rendition is a radical new work from Edinburgh-based Tragic Carpet, exploring the involvement of the US and its allies in human rights violations in the aftermath of 9/11. It uses an innovative mix of puppetry, soundscapes and visual theatre to tell the story of one man’s nightmare experience as the first suspect to be taken into the CIA’s detention programme.

First performed at Hidden Door Festival in May 2017 and then at Manipulate Snapshots at the Traverse in February 2018, Rendition has now been developed into a full-length work. Tragic Carpet's artistic director Freda O’Byrne talks about creative process ahead of the work's world premiere next week.

What was the inspiration behind Rendition?

The journey started in early 2016 when the inspiration for Rendition came about through an exploration of the relationship between a string puppet and a puppeteer. It was during my training at The Curious School of Puppetry and I was looking at counterpoints to the usual puppeteer/puppet relationship and lyricism associated with marionettes. The word Rendition came into my head and it was a very short time before I discovered the collaborative research project led by Professor Ruth Blakely and Dr Sam Raphael that is The Rendition Project.

I was very excited to discover this resource because I am very interested in data and how, when it is organised and openly shared, particularly digitally, it can empower and equip people to challenge inequalities, abuses of rights, and so on.

It was therefore a short step to the decision to visualise some of the data to create an installation within which the performance element might be held.

Rendition Rehearsals 02 - Photo by Peter Searle

How have you found the process of developing Rendition?

The thing that I have enjoyed most about the creation of Rendition has been its iterative process, one in which friends, fellow artists, academics, agencies and others all gave their support and input to help it on its way.

The creative process involved working with supporting organisations, audiences and colleagues to develop small, precise segments of work that focussed on media reports, verbatim texts or information from The Rendition Project databases. These ‘vignettes’ were then presented at Hidden Door Festival in 2017 as a durational piece - and later at Manipulate 2018 - to find out what worked and what didn’t, and to learn how it affected people who came to see it.

Later development of Rendition was underpinned by collaborative relationships with venues, audiences and creatives. Partner venues Platform and North Edinburgh Arts supported early exploration with space and invited audiences contributed essential feedback.

Finally, through an intensive research and development process funded by Creative Scotland, fellow creatives Kim Edgar (composer), Gavin Glover (microcinema and additional direction), Sylvia Dow (writer and dramaturg), Pete Searle (lighting and installation design) and Emma King (puppetry direction), have helped to expand the scope, imagery, artform, ambition and quality of the emerging work.

We wish to create a space enriched by these experiences and one which respects and listens to the voices the piece represents.- Freda O'Byrne, artistic director

What do you hope audiences will take from the work?

By presenting this work Assembly Roxy (5-9 March) I hope that audiences will gain understanding or affirmation of the issues it explores, and that they will feel respected and drawn to its difficult content because they trust it and the relationship that we will build with them.

Rendition Rehearsals 03 - Photo by Peter Searle

Rendition gives the audience time to process first thoughts, to seek out and engage with more information and with ways of seeing that information, before, during and after the show. It is a place where people can share a common experience and take time to consider their response with and among fellow audience members and others who visit the space. By bringing together people who are interested in the subject, who have lived experience of the subject, who are activists or academics engaged in the subject, we wish to create a space enriched by these experiences and one which respects and listens to the voices the piece represents.

I hope that people who see it will feel empowered to learn more and to be better informed about the story of Rendition, and the decisions and choices being made on our behalf by governments who are prepared to lie and obfuscate to avoid acknowledging their own (now proven) involvement in illegal detention, rendition and torture.

Tragic Carpet’s work has always been eclectic, collaborative, highly visual and political. These tenets apply whether making Rendition; or making a theatre piece for primary school age children; or working with infant children or older people in participative arts; or teaching performing arts to undergraduate students.

Rendition will run from 5-9 March 2019 at Assembly Roxy in Edinburgh. See more information about Tragic Carpet at www.tragiccarpet.com.

Rendition was supported by National Lottery through Creative Scotland, North Edinburgh Arts Centre, Puppet Animation Scotland, The Rendition Project, Platform, Hidden Door Festival, Curious School of Puppetry and Assembly Roxy.

Photos by Peter Searle

This article was published on 28 Feb 2019