QUEER science fiction theatre maker and University of York researcher Bee Scott presents the premiere of her new play, If You Find This, at Theatre@41, Monkgate, tonight (20/7/2023).
Forming part of the Innovate strand at Four Wheel Drive Theatre’s Connect Festival, the 50-minute interactive sci-fi travelogue invites audiences to make choices leading them to one of three possible endings each night.
“My production plays with game mechanics that let the audience change how they explore the universe, depending on what it is they hope to find. When you imagine the future, do you hope for love, adventure, or comfort in the familiar?” asks Bee.
What happens in If You Find This? “Earth is trashed, but space is vast! And you’ve stumbled on a bunch of messages from the first human intergalactic hitchhiker telling you exactly how to chart your way to safety,” says Bee.
All the messages seem to be addressed to her girlfriend. “They’re kind of private, but it’s probably fine? This is for survival,” says Bee. “The messages are a little jumbled up. But you’re smart and you’ve played those make-a-choice Netflix episodes before. Finding your way through the cosmos along with the other remnants of humanity should be easy. If she could make it, you can too, right?”
As for Bee’s own progress, born to an English father and American mother in Sacramento, the “city of trees” in California, Bee studied theatre at Occidental College, Eagle Rock, the only small liberal arts college in Los Angeles.
Holding dual citizenship, she moved to the UK in 2014 to do an MA in music theatre at Central School of Speech and Drama. Performances at the Edinburgh Fringe, voiceover work and new writing pieces in the sci-fi sphere ensued, leading to her first full-length play, Mission Creep, being mounted by Controlled Chaos Theatre Company in London after being developed from a series of 15-minute extracts with various companies.
Bee had been working front of house at the Old Vic too and had just started afternoon shifts as a receptionist for Hospice UK when the pandemic struck. “We still kept phonelines operational, so we were very, very busy, but I never worked at their office,” she says. “I only visited it for the interview and never saw those people again! Everything went onto Zoom.”
During lockdown too, Bee was working on a proposal for her PhD. “I got in touch with Louise LePage at the School of Arts and Creative Technologies, who’d been a speaker at an event I’d helped with, where she looked at robot actors.”
Bee duly left “lockdown London” for York two years ago to study for her creative practice PhD on the subject of “How we imagine the future of queer people through science-fiction theatre”.
“It’s been a mixture of looking back and looking forward as science-fiction always looks to the future, but then you can look back at how it influenced what we ended up doing, as well as looking at how those predictions worked out,” says Bee.
“I would say the easiest way to consider queer sci-fi is through the characters, for example the San Junipero episode in Black Mirror. The 2010s had a lot of queer sci-fi and audiences were primed and ready for it.
“Russell T Davies planted the seeds early in Doctor Who and has had such an influence on queer sci-fi culture, and there’s a lot happening in literature too.”
Historically, Bee says, the queer character is seen as the outsider. “The default position has the heroic white man as the main character, with the colonial settler narrative of going out and conquering the world,” she says.
“Whereas now writers can explore things from more perspectives with more people coming forward to offer their view, and that’s something that If You Find This plays with.”
For her PhD, Bee’s first step has been to “dive into queer theory in theatre and contemporary literature”. “I’ve refracted that theory through theatre and then, since last term, I’ve been able to mess around was able to mess around with interactive theatre, working with another practitioner, Anna Gallon, when she did a VR [virtual reality] musical in March,” she says.
“This interactive element is new for me, and If You Find This is my chance to get my feet wet with this form of theatre.”
If You Find This is a solo piece but with more than one central character. “There are two main characters and depending on the ending we arrive at, there could be a third character. Those alternative endings depend on how the audience on how the audience chooses to interact with other life forms,” says Bee.
“The way the play ends with all those different endings possible tells you there is a very definite sense that this exploration of where one is in the universe never finishes. There’s a lot in the play about finding home, finding a place of safety, and that’s not only for humans.”
Expect minimalism in Bee’s performance. “I’m a big fan of it, and it’s one of the most powerful things about sci-fi theatre,” she reasons.
Expect unpredictability too. “Tonight will be its first outing, and I want to see how it plays with an audience. I want to see how the audience vote works,” says Bee.
“There’s a ‘Game Master’ element to the show, the mechanism for choice that facilitates the options available to the audience and then guides them through each option they choose.
“But the interactive element is quite gentle. I’m not putting anyone on the spot. It’s a group effort. No spotlights!”
As for sci-fi’s desire to head into space, to expand our reach beyond Earth, Bee says: “It’s been interesting to watch certain people with all their money explore that vision of space travel, but I don’t think we’ll quite get there in my lifetime. Maybe in another generation after that. It feels like we need to clean up our own mess first.”
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, Bee is working on another project: making audio dramas. Watch this space…and watch Space too.
IF You Find This forms part of Connect Festival’s Non-Linear Narratives night at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York. At 8.45pm, Natasha Stanic Mann performs her devised one-woman show, The Return, an immersive insight into the hidden consequences of war, directed by Andres Velasquez.
“The beaches are lovely. Remembering is crass, embarrassing and in poor taste. But to remember is to return,” says Natasha. “If we cannot return, where do we start from? Come to laugh, to cry and to feel awkward. Whatever it is, we will survive it – survival being an art. Or an embarrassment?”
The story, based on the experience of living in Croatia during the break-up of former Yugoslavia, is fragmented and collaged. “It unveils an aspect of family history and explores the surreal circumstances around a conflict building up and what goes into surviving it,” says Natasha.
Combining movement, storytelling and poetry, her piece explores how living through war has affected where Natasha is now.
Bee Scott: If You Find This, 7.30pm tonight; Natasha Stanic Mann: The Return, 8.45pm tonight, Connect Festival, Theatre@41 Monkgate, York. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
Four Wheel Drive’s Connect Festival: the 2023 back story
“TO us, enabling audiences to connect with one another and with new work is invigorating,” say Connect Festival organisers Four Wheel Drive.
Running from July 19 to 23 at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, the festival aims to connect York-based creatives with one another and the next stage in their career.
This week’s event not only connects York creatives with like-minded individuals and industry experts, but also enables networking across disciplines, as live arts, digital media and innovative technology connect to celebrate this city’s creative communities.
Connect Festival offers opportunities for people in York to connect with York’s creative and cultural scene. Festival guests include: Ben Porter, founder of NODE and York Creatives; Mary Stewart David, of Imminent XR; freelance York playwright and comedy sketch writer Paul Birch; Joe Rees-Jones, of XR Stories, and award-winning audio drama producer Kate Valentine.
Masterclasses, workshops, networking events and panels during the day and early evening offer York creatives the chance to broaden their horizons and network with others who share the same passions.
The evenings present theatrical performances, followed by late-night entertainment on selected days. After Friday evening’s two comedies, Joe Maddalena and Gianluca Scatto’s Self Help and Aidan Loft’s On The Rail, Freida Nipples Burlesque hosts burlesque performances of glitz and glamour in A Night With York’s Stars.
Following Saturday’s LGBTQ+ performances, Josh Maughan’s Nice Jewish Boy and Aidan Thompson-Coates in the collaborative work Contradicktion, the Family Shambles Drag troupe will be in action. Both evenings have limited tickets and are predicted to sell out fast.
Connect co-producer Anna Gallon is passionate about welcoming everyone to the festival, be they from a theatrical background or not: “If you want to pursue your creativity, then my question would be: why not? This is a positive and inspiring space where we want to know what you are creating and what you are interested in,” she says.
For co-producer Joly Black, this ties in with accessibility: “The success of Connect is all about opportunity; I want to create as many opportunities for people to learn, exploring their creativity in a low-risk environment, and build their network to step up their career,” he says.
“But in the end, if you want to be connected with the next stage of your career – theatrical or otherwise – to experiment with new technologies while meeting new people, or simply have a great time watching vibrant performances, come on down to the Connect Festival. We’ve got something for everyone!
“You can browse tickets at www.connectyork.co.uk with free events available. Book now to avoid disappointment as tickets are very limited.”