Nina Segal on DANGER SIGNALS / by Declan Maloney Drummond

photo of Nina Segal-w10.jpg

What is DANGER SIGNALS about?

Danger Signals is a work about dysfunction – and about who makes the rules, of what is functional and what is not.  It is a show about the brain.  It’s also about ice, and ambition, and the patriarchy, and subjectivity.  And about two female chimpanzees, named Becky and Lucy.

How did you get involved in the project?

Sanaz, the director, and I were introduced in 2015 by Rachel Chavkin, who Sanaz had previously worked with.  Built for Collapse, Sanaz’s company, had been developing a project around the idea of neurological trauma, the historical development of the lobotomy, and Walter Freeman’s role in radically popularising the procedure in the US.  However, since they first began working on the project, Sanaz had, unfortunately, been involved in a car accident and, as she began the process of re-building and re-forming her own neurological pathways, she began to approach the project in a different way.  Built for Collapse are generally a devising company and rarely have worked with a writer before – but they approached me to in 2016 to ask about collaborating.  The first research I did into the subject was reading a book called The Lobotomist, by Jack El-Hai, which Sanaz had recommended.  The book focused on Walter Freeman and, although I was very drawn to certain questions or provocations raised by the text and the subject matter (who decides what is ‘normal’, who decides what is ‘functional), I struggled with the character of Freeman.  The flawed genius, undone by his own ambition.  The powerful, fallible man, leaving a wake of destruction behind him, as he follows his own path towards glory.  This was a kind of man I recognised – but not one that I felt comfortable placing on any kind of narrative pedestal.  But this tension – between wanting a tell a history, but not wanting to allow or make space for a particular kind of maleness that has ruthlessly imprinted itself over much of contemporary history – would end up proving central to our ideas’ development, over the following two years.  How do you tell a story that sees you, or people like you, as a side-note, not a protagonist?  As a problem to be solved?  What form can a play take, if you stop trying to make it ‘functional?’  Can we find another way to tell stories.

You're establishing yourself as a playwright on both sides of the Atlantic. How has that come about?

I’m originally from London, but lived in New York for about five years, from 2011, before returning to London last year.  Most of my work has been in London - my first production In The Night Time (Before The Sun Rises), was produced by the Gate Theatre, and my second production, Big Guns, took place at the Yard – but I still spend time in New York when I can and would hope to have US productions of my texts, at some point.  Fingers crossed!

What’s next for you?

I’ve just landed back in London to prepare for a sharing of a new work, called There Is No Threat, at the Yard Theatre this week.  The work is a solo piece, with the brilliant performer Jess Latowicki, about the false missile alert in Hawaii this past January and about what it means to make work about real events – and what we mean when we say ‘real events’.