Guest Blog: Sarah Sigal on creating “The Vanishing”

For our latest blog, Sarah Sigal talks about using the Calm Down Dear call-out for performances to create a brand new feminist show with collaborator Becca Dunn.

Catch Vanishing on Tue 28 May at 9pm. Click here for more information.

When my long-term collaborator Becca Dunn and I saw the call out for CPT’s 2019 Calm Down Dear Festival, we thought it was a perfect opportunity to make a new show—it’s a festival of feminist performance, we’re feminist theatre-makers. We would start with the proposal of an idea before we had a script or even a full story. We hadn’t worked like this before. It was exciting. And a little bit scary. By the time we were accepted, we knew we’d have 4 months to make/produce/design/write a brand-new piece from scratch.

I’ve been writing for and collaborating with Becca’s all-female theatre company Fluff Productions since 2008 when we started working on our first show Alice’s Adventures in the New World. For that show and two more (World Enough and Time, Agent of Influence), we had worked within a somewhat haphazard, play-it-by ear process of writing and workshopping. But I had always approached the company with a strong idea and a rough outline for a story and we generally had the full show in place before we committed to venues.

Becca and I both felt that we were both experienced enough and knew each other’s interests and tastes well enough that we could experiment with a closer kind of collaboration. We decided to use the CPT call out as a springboard to brainstorm our next show—something we would create and conceive together, as opposed to me bringing an idea to her and making the major decisions that informed the process alone. Becca was interested in domestic violence and women disappearing from relationships with seemingly normal men. I was interested in looking at Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes through a feminist lens. We ended up coming up with an idea about gaslighting and what happens when women disappear.

We spent countless hours luridly reading aloud gruesome articles about solo female travellers being murdered, listening to true crime podcasts and watching Netflix shows about serial killers. Endless WhatsApps were exchanged and many Google docs were created. We storyboarded over and over, figuring out how to fit all these things into an hour and how to make a show that was both disturbing and funny. We outlined and outlined. We brought a team on board. We had designers, technicians, producers and another performer even before we had a script, even before we knew the ending to the piece. Our budget was extremely limited but we didn’t want to ask anyone to do too much for too little. So we continued the spin cycle, bringing in our collaborators in at intervals to chat and work in short bursts, with Becca and me weaving in the ideas in our one-on-one meetings in between.

We started noting down conversations we were having about the validity and currency of women’s testimony, the experience of gaslighting and the oppressiveness of the male canon (Alfred Hitchcock in particular). We used them as starting points in devising sessions in order to explore how we and our other performer Tim Allsop felt about their interconnectivity. The play became the conversation and the conversation became the play. I wrote fragments and brought them into rehearsals, building on these texts with improvisation, research and more discussion. Then the ideas, objects, design schemes, sounds and video clips brought in by the rest of the team welded these fragments together. By the end, we realised that we’d finished with a very different piece than the one we’d initially imagined; the whirlwind of creative collaboration had picked us up and dropped us somewhere unfamiliar and exciting.

We look forward to scratching Vanishing on May 28th and we hope you’ll join us to continue the conversation.