The topic of space in cities has been hot property (eesh!) in both the British and Irish media in recent months. There’s the various strata of the housing crisis, ranging from incredulous social media posts about cupboard-sized flats going for outrageous sums in the city centre, to reports of a lack of emergency accommodation for the homeless. Then there’s also the matter of artists’ studios and squats (most famously in Dublin the Grangegorman squat, which functioned as both things) being quashed to make way for more lucrative types of property development.
This is the type of thing that Bryan Pepper (known as BK Pepper) and Brian Benjamin Dwyer (of Madra Mór) are dead against. A composer and filmmaker respectively, the duo have been friends for years, from taking jobs as ushers in West End Theatres in London when creative endeavours stuttered, to more recently moving back to Ireland. The theme of city centre spaces becoming homogenised corporate playgrounds, pushing out any non-profit making endeavours, is one they’ve spoken about off and on for three years or so, partly in reaction to the drastic alteration of the rental market they witnessed while living in London.
‘It’s that feeling of uncertainty about whether you’ll still have your flat next month, whether the rent will double,’ says Dwyer, ‘and the experience of friends in London who are being pushed further and further out from the centre of the city, but are still paying the same rent.’
This year’s Tiger Dublin Fringe will see the pair finally bring the idea to the stage with an orchestral, visual and theatrical piece that aims to shift the status quo of what’s desirable and what isn’t in terms of our urban environment.
‘The development of cities isn’t really for people,’ says Dwyer. ‘They’re becoming sterile spaces that we’re fooled into thinking are the best way forward.’
‘It’s to do with how cities are all beginning to look very similar,’ says Pepper. ‘The soul of them is being taken out.’
‘I was in London in an artists’ studio and every week we were getting emails asking us to go in early and clear everything from the hallways,’ recalls Dwyer, ‘because the council were trying to find just one reason to justify shutting us down so they could sell the space to a developer. I think something similar is happening here, with Mart being threatened. One by one these spaces are disappearing. We’re trying to get that idea across, but without preaching to people.’
Dwyer and Pepper have brought visual producers Generic People on board, along with actors, to make an atmospheric work that’s a mash-up of projected visuals, live theatrical performance, and live music. The initial source of the piece was a body of music titled We Lived in Cities, composed by Pepper. The music doesn’t feature vocals, but gives an atmospheric account of the demise of authentic urban spaces. Dwyer took this music as the source of the narrative for the stage performance, working in the film and theatrical aspects to create a more complete experience. The music is the root of the piece, but the other aspects bring their own colour to the work and Brian and Bryan are keen to achieve a balance between all the elements. They’re also excited at the possibilities afforded by the technology Generic People use in the production of their visuals.
‘It’s important not to privilege one piece of the performance over another,’ says Pepper. ‘The music itself is emotional, but then with visuals on top, especially with the way Brian works, it becomes more emotional still. We didn’t want to have too much dialogue or make it too explicit, because it’s not about telling people what to think.’
We Lived in Cities is performed at Project Arts Centre in the Cube space on Friday 18th and Saturday 19th September at 7.15pm. Tickets cost €15 / €13 (concessions).
Words: Rachel Donnelly