Lists For The End Of The World is a show composed entirely from lists that are crowdsourced from their audience, who nightly reveal on scraps of paper, lists of everything from places they’d hide a body to the times they’ve felt truly free. Creator Rachel Briscoe discusses the show and explains the process behind turning reams of random answers into a piece of theatre.
I write a lot of lists. Mostly “to do” lists but other lists too. There was a day I was really pissed off about something and I needed to stop being in a bad mood so I wrote at the top of a page in my notebook “Things I’m sick of” and made a list. It got me out of the bad mood – but then a couple of days later I came across what I had written and found it really funny. There were really political, big, world-event type things next to things like “my haircut” and “winter vegetables”. I started wondering if it would be possible to make a whole show of lists.
I was quite sceptical at first, but then working with the rest of the fanSHEN theatre company I co-founded, we did little try-outs with lists we’d sourced from friends. We quickly realised how engaging the lists were - people share things that make you roar with laugh, smile in recognition and stop in your tracks with their unexpected profundity. The writer Umberto Eco has an essay in which he suggests that we make lists to deal with our own mortality, which is a bit heavy, but I think there is a thing about establishing control over a moment in time and taking stock.
Every day we shared a list title on social media – and people posted their responses. Afterwards people told us that filling in the daily list had become like a little meditation, a moment in the day when they could reflect.
We had a postbox in each venue where we worked on the show, so people hanging out in the café or attending other events could contribute. We also did workshops with all sorts of people: we really wanted contrasting outlooks in there. So, for example, the list “Times I felt free” has quite a lot of answers that a typical liberal theatre audience might give – things about travelling, swimming, having just passed an important exam. But it’s also got different voices, like a young man from Stockton who wrote, “when I passed my army selection”. For a lot of people that’s the antithesis of free but for him, it was opportunity, a ticket out of a place that held little hope for him.
Figuring out how to present the lists started off a bit daunting. Reading through all the responses we’d had took nearly six hours! We made some early decisions – that all the music in the show would come from the list “Songs I’ve kissed people to”; that acting out the content was the least interesting way to present it; and that we’d never present anything in a way that looked like we were judging it.
We made some terrible material – which we got rid of – and some good material that we kept. “Excuses” ended up performed as a political campaign speech, with physical gestures and delivery which give ridiculous grandeur to phrases like “I never received the email” and “The bus was late”. “Choices I made” was set to a cabaret style Dream a Little Dream of Me. In “Things that never get done”, one performer struggles to read to the end of a list before it is snatched from her by the others. Some lists – like “Places I would hide a body” (which people sent A LOT of responses to!) – just needed to be read as deadpan as we could manage.
People are amazing. They’re complicated and contradictory and do things that don’t make sense but they can also care deeply, hope steadfastly and laugh at themselves. This show is about that.
Lists For The End Of The World plays at Summerhall at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2nd-27th August (not the 14th or 21st).
Tickets available at www.edfringe.com