Ali Wilson is a maker, producer and dramaturg based in Manchester. Her work celebrates mundanity and artivism, often employing humor, irony and minimal theatricality. As a maker, she is committed to challenging expectations of performance and discovering new ways to devise material. As a producer, she supports and designs innovative projects bringing theatre to local communities. As a dramaturg she pushes, expands and unpicks the work of other makers with consideration for audience experiences.
Within the realm of reality theatre, Ali’s practice is centered around devising with individuals who are not commonly seen on stage. She is invested in discovering ways to diversify who is making performance, who we see on stage and who is in the audience.
Ali’s work is made in rehearsal rooms, kitchens, back gardens, on long walks and anywhere else she is inspired to make. As both a solo artist and collaborator, her approach to devising involves creative composition and frequent dramaturgical questioning. She makes work with Facade Theatre as an Associate Artist and frequently collaborates with maker James Monaghan.
With an interest in human experience, Ali employs stripped-back performance modes to present stories, problems and provocations on stage. Her work has so far involved 5 cheerleaders struggling to get it together, a long list of lies, swimming in the deep end, public protest and an imagining of her Mum’s future funeral. Making and producing performance is an extension of her personal desire to celebrate the habits and behaviors that make us who we are.
Devising performance has been at the centre of my practice for five years. As my skills have developed, a clear line of inquiry can be found within my portfolio of solo and ensemble work; how can human behaviour be unpicked through stripped-back, self-aware performance?
This investment in physical representations of experiences has led to the development of a practice which commonly employs visual imagery, subversion, and movement. I am often on stage with little else, performing always as myself in a work designed for a studio performance space. The black box aesthetic of this arena allows for creative employment of the stage without larger semiotics to distract from the DIY feel of the work.
DEEP, originating from a scratch in collaboration with Beth Castleton, is a 20-minute dive into the deep end of being a millennial. Using pre-recorded text and on-stage movement, DEEP explores our relationship to water and the world around us, employing metaphors of feeling out of depth and struggling against the tide to represent a sea of pressures felt by today’s younger generation.
With influence from Jorge Dutor & Guillem Mont de Palol’s Grand Applause, the composition of DEEP moved through a series of striking images, employed to subvert the themes of the text and layer meaning. The making process of this project allowed me to develop my knowledge of dramaturgy; particularly regarding how text and movement can both contradict and compliment each other. After previewing at Salford’s New Adelphi studio in January 2018, DEEP went on to Tetrad’s work-in-progress showcase in Leicester in March and Derelict’s LIVE in April 2018.
My practice of devising continued to develop in Feburary 2018 as I moved into a collaboration with Julie Wilson, my mum, on a project in which we would exchange knowledges of theatre making and funeral celebrancy. This resulted in the presentation of OVER MY DEAD BODY; firstly a creative interaction between two individuals of different disciplines, later developing into a 50-minute studio performance.
Through conversations about each of our disciplines, we began to find intersections and parallels of knowledge, for example a eulogy being similar to a script, and an audience similar to a mourning congregation. Mum gives some insight into her role in the below video, created for the earlier mentioned presentation. These activities acted as a helpful springboard to begin devising a show in which Mum would teach me how to deliver her future funeral.
OVER MY DEAD BODY, commissioned as a work-in-progress at Royal Exchange’s CO:LAB festival, previewed in July 2018 alongside 10 other new works. Circles and Stall’s wrote this review of the show, likening it to Quarantine whose work had heavily influenced the conversational tone of the piece.
The making process of OVER MY DEAD BODY included frequent collaboration with makers James Monaghan and Leentje Van de Cruys who offered dramaturgical support. Devising this work challenged my methods of making performance as the presence of Mum, a non-professional performer, required that I share this process with someone for whom devising was a new experience.
During a research-and-development period of OVER MY DEAD BODY, I adopted Rimini Protokoll’s term ‘expert’ to refer to Mum within this project. Similarly to the democratic ideals of this Berlin based ensemble, using ‘expert’ was intended to equalise status between Mum and I during the making period. She noted that the introduction of positive terminology resulted in her feeling more valid and welcome within the artistic process.
A 30-minute version of OVER MY DEAD BODY was later presented in September, 2018 at University of Salford’s ARRIVAL Festival, celebrating the final works of the first cohort of MA Contemporary Performance Practice.
The process of adapting the work from a 50-minute to a 30-minute performance required dramaturgical questioning of which aspects of the work weren’t vital to an audience’s understanding of the show. The nature of OVER MY DEAD BODY, as an interview with Mum about her future funeral, resists the temptation to ask Mum to perform. This results in two different performance modes on stage, however requires that Mum has no knowledge of how she will be asked to respond on stage. This demands that the content of the work evolves with each performance.
Devising performance with an expert has allowed me to develop my understanding of reality theatre as a vehicle for audience development; after noticing that OVER MY DEAD BODY attracted a handful of individuals who had never entered a theatre before, became clear that there is a direct relationship between who is on stage and who is in the audience.
An on-going interaction with non-professional performers was also developed through producing Temporary Monument, Permanent Protest, as part of my participation of Contact theatre’s young producing and programming team. A project designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Section 28 protests in Manchester, my role included artistic commissioning, recruitment and managing the logistical delivery of a restaging of the protest with over 60 volunteer participants. Many of those involved had been present at the protest in 1988, and offered their knowledge and experiences of the day within participant workshops facilitated by other members of the producing team.