Breach Theatre’s Ellice Stevens on Tank

Co-Director and performer Ellice Stevens from Breach Theatre on the inspirations and development processes of Tank:

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The idea for Tank was conceived in January 2015. Billy (co-director) and I had watched the BBC documentary The Girl Who Talked To Dolphins, and it was the first time we’d ever heard of the Dolphin House. It documented the human-animal communication experiments which were led by John C Lilly in America during the 1960s, and which resulted with Margaret, a female researcher, and Peter, a male dolphin, living together for ten weeks in isolation on the first floor of a flooded laboratory as she attempted to teach him English. As soon as we knew about it, we were immediately obsessed with the story.

We thought it was bizarre, curious and emotional. But, more than that, it seemed like an incredibly rich metaphor. We were researching the story at a time where everywhere we seemed to look it felt like migrants and refugees were being dehumanised, the media were promoting fear against entire religions, and on the news were reports of Donald Trump first suggesting the building of a wall. We’d stumbled across this amazing story of a woman who wanted to teach, enrich and ‘civilise’ this ‘other’, and who in doing so ignored what was already there. That violence, which we felt we were seeing all around us, was what really pulled us in and convinced us this was a story important for today – and I think recent events have only made me more confident in our analysis.

So, the following March we took part in an Emerging Companies Residency at the Lyric Hammersmith in London, which was offered through Ideas Tap. We were really fortunate to be able to use their rehearsal space for the initial week’s research and development and it was there we pulled out a lot of themes we were interested in which informed the following 18 months of making the show, including Americana, language, culture and violence. Working with an ensemble of four, we developed these ideas and drew out so many questions and possibilities about what the show could be.

Figuring it all out took time. The making process for Tank was longer than anything else any of us had been a part of before. It spanned from March 2015 until our Edinburgh run August 2016. It’s really funny thinking back to the time we spent making the show in the Member’s Library of Battersea Arts Centre now – sat on our square of astro-turf, the set from The Beanfield which we were performing at the time, going over and over different ways of trying to represent a dolphin on stage. I can remember all the conversations and arguments we had and I can see how they’ve made it into the final show, or at the very least where those explorations have informed what the show now is. The process was bumpy and difficult and many times we felt like we were going down dead ends. But, then I remember the exhilaration when it felt like we were really hitting on something and how much we all respected each other in the room for struggling along until we got there. The first time we presented the finished show in Edinburgh I think we all just felt really proud of each other for sticking through the difficulties and making somewhere where all our voices were heard.

Tank was such an enriching process. For us, it’s such a large show which is about so many important things and we wouldn’t have been able to make it without the help and support of Battersea Arts Centre. So, now it’s hugely exciting to be able to bring it back to the theatre which helped bring it to life and to show it to the people of Battersea!

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