Blog: Jon Spooner

The artistic director of Unlimited Theatre, on collaborating with scientists to make shows and events about leading edge developments in contemporary scientific research

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Since 2007 I’ve been working with scientists to tell stories about leading edge developments in contemporary scientific research. I’ve made a sci-conspiracy thriller about the effects of sound on memory, I’ve travelled the world explaining quantum entanglement and teleportation and I’ve even been to space. It’s a good job. And I really like wearing the spacesuit.

In 2015 I was commissioned by the Science Museum in London to make “an interactive festival of human enhancement and biotechnology”. At the time, my whole family were massively into the Iron Man films. We all loved Tony Stark’s troubled billionaire, tech entrepreneur, playboy charisma. He was so likeably unlikeable! Also, he really knows how to make an entrance.

So I created my own fictional start-up company – Unlimited Enhancement Technologies – whose enigmatic CEO Evelyn Musk’s mission was to bring together the world’s leading scientists, hackers and entrepreneurs to explore what the future of humanity might look like as we increasingly meld our bodies with technology. UNET’s strapline: “Stop Being Normal”.

What does it mean to have a body? What is our body’s relationship to our brain?

Through the team at the Science Museum’s contemporary science department, I got to meet some of the most brilliant researchers and cyborgs working in the field. I immersed myself in learning about advanced prosthetics, smart drugs, brain implants, mind uploading and age curing. By the time I invited RashDash’s Abbi Greenland to take the role of Evelyn Musk in my fantasy expo, I was giddy with the possibilities for my enhanced future self – I would be a blue-skinned, gender-switching, angel-winged demi-god!

Abbi, however, coming into the process so late with a script already written and only a week to learn it, had a lot of questions. What does it mean to have a body? What is our body’s relationship to our brain? Is it just a vessel for carrying our brain to meetings? Why do we think of our bodies and brains as separate entities? Before we start merging ourselves with tech even more than we already are, maybe we need to explore our wholly organic potential much more deeply than we have?

These were all great questions.

I’d known Abbi and Helen from RashDash for a few years by this stage and had always been a huge fan of them and their work – the rigour of their thinking, the radical political positions they took and then fought their ground on, their extreme talent as performers and ever-developing accomplishment as writers and makers. They’d been in a few of our development processes as performers and even choreographed Chris and I in an opening sequence for a show about the science of death.

We’d been talking about the possibility of making something together for a while but had both been nervous about how our companies could meaningfully come together in a way that made us greater than the sum of our parts. It was this conversation about the relationship between our brains and our bodies that finally sent us into a rehearsal room together.

So over the last two years we’ve been spending days or weeks together researching, talking, writing, making and meeting with some of the UK’s leading scientists in the field. From 28 September we’ll perform the show that we’ve made as a result, for the first time.

From all the material that Clare and myself from Unlimited, and Abbi, Helen and Becky from RashDash have thrown into the pot over those two years, Clare and Abbi have written a script that Abbi and Helen are directing. Becky has written songs and music that she’ll be performing live as part of a beautiful cast of six amazing actors and we’ve worked with a team of super-talented designers as well as the incredible, dedicated team at Home to make a truly stunning stage picture full of stories and dancing and hopes and fears and laughter and science and humanity.

Ultimately we hope this show is going to blow your minds, make your bodies tingle and send you back out into the world feeling like it’s a slightly different colour than before. If that sounds like your idea of a fun night out then we’d love to share it with you.

Future Bodies is at Home, Manchester until 13 October and then on tour in Newcastle at Northern Stage, 16-18 October, and the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, 19 October 

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