In conversation with Emily Bull:
What constitutes entertainment?
I met Emily on a rainy Thursday evening before a rehearsal of ‘The Edge’, the Creative Youth Network’s upcoming production. She is the creative producer of both the organisation and the production, a show created by over 100 young creatives from the ages of 11-25, centring on the idea of the ‘fame machine’ and the dangers of reality TV. The Creative Youth Network is an inspiring platform for young people in Bristol, providing mentoring to navigate the challenging current climate of the creative industries. Emily emphasised her goal of steering people away from preconceived judgements surrounding youth theatre, validating the production as created by emerging young professionals. I was really keen to get a sense of what working on such a large scale was like and how that alters the experience and the potential of the production.
‘The Edge’ is definitely a show devised by, and for, young people, centred around issues within our immediate experiential vicinity and infused with current socio-political topics. Emily really highlighted how all of the ideas, ‘come from young people and what is a topic of conversation coming up through our youth clubs’, the ideas behind ‘The Edge’ arising from a moving dialogue. The first production of ‘The Edge’ commenced during the Me Too movement and the Harvey Weinstein scandal, a time when industry exploitation and sexual abuse was finally coming to the forefront of public consciousness. The upcoming second installation of the ‘The Edge’ is infused with a similar premise, but is particularly focused on the nature of the entertainment industry and the detrimental consequences of technology and reality TV upon young people. She recalled one particular conversation:
‘I was working with a young person who had signed up for a reality TV show with the understanding that it was going to be made into a certain show, and the footage was used and turned into a completely different show, something very negative and detrimental which resulted in a sixteen year old, here in Bristol, being trolled due to what the TV company had created for entertainment.’
‘The Edge’ is concerned with the exploitative dimensions of what is construed as entertainment, and how narratives are warped in order to deliver immediate gratification to an audience. With the advent of pervasive social media and a highly saturated digital market comes the pressure of catching user’s attention for longer than a few seconds, often at the expense of empathy. Narratives are highly warped in order to deliver a clickbait shout for attention. ‘The Edge’ is a highly interactive and immersive theatrical experience, calling into question the audience’s relationship with the performers. Along with acting, singing and dancing, Emily describes the multidisciplinary technological elements of the show. They have developed an app through which the audience can vote for the talent show participants, and throughout Colston Hall there will be live screenings of the production. She told me, 'what we are doing is making a reality TV show’, the technological mediums are bound up in the message, replicating a ‘fame machine’ through which the audience can leave questioning their active role in the narrative, distanced from behind the voyeuristic theatrical fourth wall.
The strapline of ‘The Edge’ is ‘how much of yourself can you give away until there’s nothing left to give?’, configuring the ‘fame machine’ as a fragmentary process of losing personal identity. Emily described the concern around defining the arts industry. ‘What are the differences between the sector that we work in, which is arts and culture, and the entertainment sector? Sometimes those boundaries are blurred.’ Such blurred boundaries leads to artistic intentions selling out to the exploitative side of entertainment. The promenade theatre of ‘The Edge’ and the fact that it is centred around a talent show also focuses on the distinction between the artistic performances and ‘talent’ of the actors and the method in which we are consuming and quantifying it. Emily questions, ‘what is appropriate? How far do you go? What is the nature of the entertainment industry?’ The audience is therefore forced to reflect upon their own reactions to the performances, questioning how they themselves consume reality TV.
I asked Emily what she hoped the audience would take away from the show, to which she answered, ‘I hope people come away feeling entertained, but also questioning our use of social media, our use of television and what we see in today’s society as entertaining’. Primarily the aim of the show seems to be about opening up dialogue, of bridging that distance between our online identity and the actual real impact of our technological usage. ‘The Edge’ deals with the manipulation of people’s desire and aspirations to fit our exploitative model of entertainment, a model which is in dire need of redefinition. Emily rounded it up well:
‘The quest for likes, the quest for money, the quest for shares on social media makes people feel like that would grant them happiness, and those are things which we are questioning’
You can buy tickets to see ‘The Edge’ at Colston Hall online, the show is running from the 14th- 17th of November. Ticketing works on a ‘pay what you can afford’ policy, generously ranging from £1 to £20, so go and support local arts!
Photography courtesy of Creative Youth Network.