Aaron – a devised play for Durham Festival of the Arts

Durham student theatre DFoA Aaron You turn eighteen and life seems full of endless roads down which you can wander. For some, however, their life has just two directions. Aaron explores the life of an eighteen-year-old boy with Prader-Willi Syndrome, to show that for some life isn’t the extraordinary adventure that many of us take for granted.  Aaron is a play about a boy with a genetic disorder based on the very personal experience of our director, Florence Petrie, who has written this blog post raising awareness for such a disorder, and give an insight into our devising process for a show that is more naturalistic yet still using physical theatre. 

Like any contentious issue, especially one such as a genetic condition, care and understanding need to be taken in order to approach the topic correctly. Whilst deciding on a stimulus for our new production we wanted to do something that was a bit out of the box, and would prove a challenge both as directors and actors. At the same time, we hope that we can teach our audience something new about a condition they might not have heard about.

Drawing on childhood experiences

Durham student theatre DFoAGrowing up with a brother with PWS was not really a strange phenomenon. This was because, put simply, it was what I was used to. It wasn’t until I went to a sleepover at a friend’s house that I realised having your kitchen padlocked up with chains and keys was not usual. This was a huge shock for me at the time and made my opinions towards my brother change. He was no longer my younger brother, he was different, damaged… special. From this point onwards it only became more and more apparent to me how he struggled, and couldn’t cope with social interactions, school but most importantly food. This is the main characteristic of the syndrome, they are addicted to food, and will go through any means to get it. It wasn’t until the outside worlds ‘norms’ infringed on my life that I realised my life was not ‘normal’. This is an important theme we hope to address in Aaron.

Addressing what’s ‘normal’

Durham student theatre DFoAOur lives were always structured around when breakfast, lunch and dinner were. We always knew what we were eating that day, what time we were eating and how big our portions were going to be. Life was regimental, life revolved around my brother, ensuring he was happy and would not ‘blow up’ (a term used to describe his tantrums). This made living at home, as a teenager, in some ways boring and increasingly frustrating. Whilst understanding how societies reflections of ‘normal’ affect how Aaron sees his life, it is also important to address how the family relate to these ‘norms’.

Bringing characters to life

Whilst rehearsing we have paid important attention to how the family feel as well, in order to understand the family dynamic. During a particular rehearsal, in which we were showing the extremes of PWS behaviour, the rest of cast became increasingly uncomfortable with the inability to reason with the Aaron character. It was a nice moment for the cast as they finally realised the problems and how difficult it was to live with someone who has a genetic predisposition to behave ‘differently’. To get to this point in a rehearsal is amazing. It took a lot of workshopping and building upon techniques, but we got there.

See Aaron at DFoA

Durham student music DFoA 2017Performances: Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 June, 5:30pm Tuesday, Vane Tempest Ballroom, Durham Student’s Union
Tickets: Standard £6, Student £5, DST members £4.  Online ticket booking is open at www.durhamstudenttheatre.org

Watch this short video produced by Wroing Tree Theatre to show what’s invovled in their rehearsals for Aaron

Check out our rehearsal processes at wrongtreetheatre.wordpress.com or ‘Wrong Tree Theatre’ on Facebook!: https://bit.ly/2rU4fkQ

Aaron is just one of over 40 different theatre and music performances that make up this year’s Durham Festival of the Arts (DFoA), Check out the programme for full details of everything on offer and to book tickets online.


Florence Petrie

I'm Flo! A second year studying Geography, Anthropology, and Politics, or GAP for short. I really enjoy acting, and Durham Student Theatre is the best society I could have ever joined. When not being a full-on drama queen, I can be found sitting on the couch with a peppermint tea.

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