Looking beyond the truth

Looking beyond the truth

Looking beyond the truth

First published in News

ON November 18 1959 George Albert Frederickson, head of science at the Magic Valley Liberal Arts College, led eight of his students into a 4m tall black cube in the middle of the Great Basin Desert.

None of them were ever seen again.

When police went to the black box 14 days later – after concerns were raised by one missing student's sister – all they found were eight letters.

Now, 55 years on from the disappearance, Circa 69 is using live music, film and a cast of young volunteers to finally reveal what the letters contained and attempt to piece together what really happened.

“I first heard about the story when I was 13,” says Circa 69’s artistic director Simon Wilkinson from northern Sweden where he is putting the finishing touches to the piece before its UK première at The Old Market.

“My mum bought me a magazine called Mysteries Of The World. This story was in there, and was the one I remember most.

“In the magazine it was pitched as a story of alien abduction – although there was no mention of aliens in the letters. I tried to come up with my own conclusion. It’s a story which makes you wonder what is real and what is not.”

The letters were given to the Burley Historical Society in 1981 after being discovered in a police locker.

“The only other words you hear in the piece are my introduction,” says Wilkinson. “Everything else is the young people reading sections from the letters that we have edited to tell the story.

“We used young people to read the letters because we didn’t want actors’ voices. We wanted people of a similar age as the characters in the story so the audience could feel an affinity with them.”

As the story goes on the lines begin to blur between fact and fiction – something which Wilkinson feels reflects the world we live in.

“We did a show called The Sound Of The Wind In The Trees where lots of people in the last ten years of their lives were talking about how they make sense of the world,” says Wilkinson, who was also behind the interactive market research show The New Ten Commandments at Brighton Fringe 2014.

“One of the people said: ‘None of this is real’. Most of what we know of life is PR or advertising. Most of what we see, hear and read is scripted information to make it appear in a certain way.”

The classic early example of the truth being distorted to fit a certain viewpoint was the Mohawk Valley formula – supposedly used by the Remington Rand company to discredit striking workers in Ilion, New York, in 1937.

“They used newspapers and radio and every means at their disposal to portray the strikers as bad, wrong, terrible people, and business as good, upstanding citizens looking after each other,” says Wilkinson.

“It broke the strike as the strikers didn't get popular support. We are in a situation now where we have to question what's real and what's not real – as reality got stolen from us years ago.

“I think it’s good to take stories and think about them rather than just reading them and taking them on board.”

He sees Beyond The Bright Black Edge Of Nowhere – which takes its title from a phrase that appears in many of the letters – as a work which spans theatre and installation.

“I wanted to incorporate as many different types of media into one show,” he says. “We have large screen projection, two classical string players, me on a bunch of electronic instruments and eight people sitting on stage.

“It's a film being performed live, or a live music show with projections. When I have been explaining it to people here in Sweden I have said it is like a concept album being performed live.”

The internet has opened up a whole new direction for the show too.

“When we first performed the show in Melbourne about 60 per cent of the audience were Googling the story during the show,” says Wilkinson. “The internet has become part of the narrative.”

For links to the Burley Historical Society website, visit www.beyondthebrightblackedgeofnowhere.com Starts 8pm, tickets £10/£9. Call 01273 201801.

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