The performance research that comprised 3rd Ring Out emerged out of a previous practice-led research project, The Bunker Project. This project explored the relationship between theatricality and Cold War exercises. In the course of the project, a new work was published that refocused our engagement with the topic, through describing Cold War exercises as ‘rehearsals’ – Tracy C Davis’ Stages of Emergency. It was this concept of ‘rehearsal’ that formed the core research focus of 3rd Ring Out. The thesis of the research began to emerge: what does it mean to ‘rehearse’ for something? As theatre makers we were intrigued to discover the wide-spread contemporary use of fictional scenarios to train those who are charged with managing threats to human welfare – from Emergency Service category one responders, to the environment agency, to anti-terrorist special units. What would it mean to ‘rehearse’ in this way within a theatrical context? Does the embedded nature of rehearsal as a commonplace in theatre detract or allow such a move? How would this matter for the creation and execution of plausible scenarios in a cultural activity that is conceived of – largely – as a leisure pursuit for those that come to witness it?
We began to seek a topic that we might ‘rehearse’ for; based on the idea that practising for something might be a legitimate way of preparing for, and dealing with, a threat. In August 2007, Simon Daw and I participated in an anti-terrorism exercise organised by the police in conjunction with the local city council. In the course of a morning, we, alongside around fifty shop-managers and other city centre workers, were invited to imagine how we would respond to the scenario of a terrorist bomb in the shopping centre in which we worked. The scenario was uncomfortably vague, and taught us much about the importance of situational specificity. It really seemed that the discipline of theatrical production might have something to offer this world of scenario-based training.
If an origin to the final project can be identified, it was due to a highly personal experience in a field in Kent somewhere near Kingsnorth Power Station, in the summer of 2008. I had made my way past the police cordons, and then over the many haybales placed by activists that were designed to slow any unexpected police intrusions. I was only able to be there for a day, and had come specifically to participate in some workshops, and hear some talks, about climate change. Climate change, it seemed, from my superficial understanding, might be the plausible future threat we were seeking to anchor the project. In the midst of my frustration by the way that the noise of the police helicopters made it hard to hear the speakers I’d come for, I had a deeply troubling epiphany. Climate change was not the remote, incrementally developing, long-term future problem I’d imagined from my understanding of the mainstream news of 2008. It was much more immediate, the risks were much greater, and the potential outcomes far worse than I had realised.
The anecdote is worth recounting, for it is key to the position we took in relation to the research, with a significant impact on our methodology. Our practice-led research would create a project that was aimed at people like us: people who might take an interest, but weren’t already actively engaged with the problem of climate change. Despite our alarm at the discrepancy between what was being reported (and believed by the majority) and the far worse scenarios that the science indicated, we decided that 3rd Ring Out should not participate in a fashionable blurring of activism and artistic endeavour. Equally, it would not seek to provide a message about what to do in response to climate change. There were already many established organisations better equipped for activism or education. Instead our research resulted in the idea that a threat might be addressed by practising for it. The challenge of offering an artistic response to climate change could thus be met through notions of practising. Our thesis was that by ‘practising’ for climate change, we might find a new – and artistically adequate – way of addressing the problem through artistic means.