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Blackout premiers with great support from the industry and beyond

15/05/2019

Blackout premiers with great support from the industry and beyond posted: 15/05/2019

At the beginning of May, a two-year project came to be realised for inspirational Guildford School of Acting lighting tutor Michelle (Mig) Burgess when her unique design installation Blackout was revealed to the industry. Harnessing the collective powers of light, sound and video in the hope of affecting genuine changes in an approach to mental health, Mig set about on her quest over two years ago.

Mig is searingly open about living with Bipolar II disorder - a condition with which she was finally diagnosed in her late twenties. And for the past couple of years, she has been formulating a plan to create a design installation to portray, in a sensory way, the mental journey inside a Bipolar II patient's head as they transition through a manic episode.

The result has been a highly provocative, moving installation, experienced alone for six minutes, and which, over the course of 4 days was seen by over 250 industry professionals, venue operators, young people and mental health experts.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words and this is how Mig wanted the piece to be portrayed.

I'm a creative - it is far easier to express my feelings through art than through words. And literally, as the strapline of Blackout explains, sometimes the lights go out in my head'.

The installation is set in a quiet, closed black box, and each visitor is asked to step through LED strips and up onto a steel deck platform and into the truss structure to stand in the very centre of the piece. By looking beyond the LED strips it is possible to see four video screens placed around the structure.

The timecoded Blackout sequence starts off with the wall projections (life outside Mig's head) and LED lighting (Mig's brain) being harmonious and pleasant - all functioning like clockwork. As this dips into the bipolar spectrum - often triggered by an external event - the brain's normal' activities start to shut down and disengage from the world around as the mood irrevocably sinks.

At its lowest point, all the lights go out completely, with the world around - on the projection screens - continuing, oblivious. This is the dark and inhospitable place that Chester Bennington, lead vocalist of Linkin Park described as having absolutely no sunshine .

From this isolated, dark place, the next section of the installation evokes the process of how the brain starts to return to normal, a process which in real life can take several days or weeks.

Blackout Creative Team: L-R is Michael Fox, Paul Burgess, Zoe Milton, Simon Anderson, Ashley Lewis, Finn Ross, Mig Burgess, Josef Valchar, Mick Hannaford and Oli Hancock

When the recovery is complete, the lighting sequence and the bipolar cycle return to the devised start sequence as the person regains balance, structure, and some sort of control.

It's meant to be hard-hitting, and it's meant to be brave. And for some, perhaps a little uncomfortable to be in a black box, alone, with all your senses being challenged around you.

The creative team role call is certainly impressive and made up of a number of recognised industry professionals all of whom are long-term friends of Mig's. I had to bide my time to ensure that if I went ahead, I could deliver the project to a high enough standard to do the installation justice explains Mig. Whilst the birth of my daughter Chloe was a driving force - because I wanted her to see her mum being strong, open and honest about Bipolar II - I also needed to find a calendar slot where all my high profile (and much-in-demand) design team could come together in one place. Plus, I also needed the backing of some key companies for equipment support, as well as to secure the final injection of seed money to get the project off the ground.

Finn Ross is a university friend who just happens to be a fabulous and talented, award-winning video designer', smiles Mig. And the first person I broached Blackout to was theatre director Simon Anderson who I have previously worked with and known for many years. I wanted his opinion and advice as a director as this wasn't my field of expertise. Together we had numerous challenging discussions about the design choices and the direction of the piece, but I knew he understood me and could support me alongside his skillset in theatre creation. And my husband, Paul Burgess of Sadlers Wells - well, it was imperative to have him with me on this journey, and apart from being my life partner, there is the bonus of him being a talented lighting designer and technician. Finally, Zoe Milton is an audio version of me - so she had to be on the team as our sound designer.

Simon Anderson was intrigued from the start but quickly realised how important it was to get involved. I love theatre and see the arts as a force for change - in our increasingly distant society where we sit in front of a computer rather than talk, theatre is one of the last truly communal experiences. Blackout is a totally unique way of engaging people's emotions and affecting them in a non-conventional way. It was my job to translate what was in Mig's head into something which would engage with a stranger. It was an incredible directorial challenge!

I wanted to create something using technical theatre arts mediums to create, and explain my mental health condition and how it feels to experience hyper mania and manic lows explains Mig. Initially my design was inspired by Kanye West's Glastonbury performance where he had the old school rig of PAR cans above and around him with the lighting team running video content through it and using the PARs as a crude video wall. I felt the analogue look created by rows of lights in a box formation accurately depicted the activity in my brain, and were like
LINK: https://www.live-production.tv/news/cultural-events/blackout-premiers-...
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