INTERVIEW: JOHN SCHONEBOOM | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Craving involvement with his local theatre scene writer John Schoneboom was guided to Alphabetti Theatre, where he submitted his script ACID to be featured in the Write Longer programme, a new writing programme spearheaded by Alphabetti’s literary manager Ben Dickenson, new-writing theatre company Coracle and pioneering Newcastle-based theatre company The Six Twenty.

The New York native, now resident in Newcastle, is fond of the small, independent theatres taking risks and pushing boundaries, so Alphabetti was a perfect fit. “That’s where people are the least jaded and the sense of community is strongest. Especially for those of us trying to innovate, that’s the most exciting milieu. Creative people, carving out a space to play and being supportive of each other.”

His play ACID raises the curtain on the CIA’s use of LSD to develop torture techniques in the 1950s, with Schoneboom’s view that LSD was intended to liberate the mind questioned. “My personal experience with hallucinogens was profoundly moving; profoundly happy. So I was struck when I read about the drug’s pre-history as a tool for quite the opposite purpose, as a CIA mind-control device, which was part of a program that leads directly to Abu Ghraib and the torture regime that is still with us today. This story needs to be told, a story with great relevance to the world we live in now.”

It has everything; laughs, fear, irony, it is political, personal, poetic, important, historical-yet-current, and with a dramatic built-in narrative arc

It is a surreal tragedy, with out-there comedy spikes about CIA-sponsored attempts at mind control that accidentally spawned a whole generation of free-thinking hippies. It also covers the true story of scientist Frank Olson, on whom character Frank Coleman is loosely based, who was involved in these terrifying experiments, developed a conscience and had the program turn on him. “It has everything; laughs, fear, irony, it is political, personal, poetic, important, historical-yet-current, and with a dramatic built-in narrative arc.”

When he jettisoned the feeling of obligation to be faithful to precise history, the play began to breathe. “In the beginning, I was a fact-Nazi, by the end I was freely inventing, condensing, riffing, but staying true to the essential story points and the spirit of it. Truth is never facts. Truth is the transformation of experience into meaning.”

Presented as a short work-in-progress film on the Write Longer website and social media pages on Thursday 27th August, Schoneboom will be joined by North East actors Bob Nicholson, Natasha Haws, Paula Penman and Steve Byron, director and dramaturg Ben Dickenson, designer Molly Barrett and artistic director Ali Pritchard. “I’ll be on hand to offer interpretations or rewrites and answer questions, but this is where I like to start to step back. Not only because I’m lazy, but because this is where other people’s ideas begin to take it to new places that I wouldn’t think of on my own. That’s the source of fun and excitement for me. I’m full of ideas, but I’m not a control freak.”

John Schoneboom’s ACID is available to view from 6pm on Thursday 27th August via Write Longer’s website and social media pages

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