Last year's City of Literature programme at Norfolk & Norwich Festival saw the birth of The Story Machine -  an interactive and immersive experience unlike any literature event before. After two sold-out evenings and many positive reviews ('Other festival producers should take note' - Times Literary Supplement), this unique part-literature-part-theatre experience returns with a new location, nine new stories and a new theme - 'under surveillance'. 

In chapter one of our blog series leading up to The Story Machine in May 2017, WCN Programme Manager and Story Machine director Sam Ruddock outlines the path he took to reach this year's shortlist of stories.


1

It started - as all the best shows should – when I fell in love.

We’d just finished selecting the stories for the first Story Machine in 2016, when I read The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies (Salt Publishing). One story in, and I was immediately and utterly astounded. And then a little disappointed not to be able to feature it in the show. Davies’s stories do something that caught me completely off guard: instead of teasing towards a dramatic, fantastical twist, they go the other way and offer a quiet, human twist, more incredible than I ever expected. This is most immediately apparent in ‘The Quiet’, a tale in the wilds of frontier Australia which begins with a man knocking ominously on the window of a woman’s house, miles from habitation. Threat sensors bristle, we imagine a scenario exploring inequality and gendered violence. But what comes next is a demonstration of the connections formed when we share vulnerability, and dare to expose ourselves as we most truly are. Seeing will most definitely be believing in this story.

Initially, we were working to a theme around empathy and the act of experiencing life in another skin or seeing the world through other eyes.

But then 2016 happened and the world no longer felt quite such a friendly place. Spying, wiretapping, North Korea, Donald Trump, fake news, social media used to influence elections, Samsung TVs hacked to listen in and watch people in their homes, the UK leading the world in CCTV surveillance, the ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ making its uninterrupted way through parliament. John Berger – whose work consistently challenged us to look deeper at the world around us – died on New Year’s Eve. And with this all, the act of watching and being watched is no longer a personal, direct, and equal experience – at every stage it is becoming invisible and insidious. And so from empathy to surveillance – The Story Machine was born and will traverse the space between these extremes.

then 2016 happened and the world no longer felt quite such a friendly place

There are nine stories to be explored in total. Scattered around the inside and carpark of an old shoe factory. We’re going to turn the cameras and the spotlight on the audience, to play with the notion of who watches who, and why.

In a secretly smuggled and anonymous story from North Korea, we face the impossible question of how you can prove your loyalty when you can’t control the imagination of your two-year-old child. Elsewhere, an older child awakes in the middle of the night and, liberated from adult supervision, roams her house with newfound freedom. Enmity builds between actors and the man who sweeps their rehearsal room as they compete for the limelight. A twenty-something girl home for the holidays is confronted with the inequalities of the world. Don Quixote wonders who has been writing his life. And four leading British poets explore the physicality of the body, the experience at once intimate and voyeuristic.

The Story Machine is a show that brings out the creativity of the WCN staff. It’s some of the most fun we have in the year. This year we’re collaborating with visual artists, a local dance company, actors from The Globe, so much more. We can’t wait to tell you more about it all soon...

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