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We’ve been running Jake Bowen’s Plea Bargain at Theatre Deli in Sheffield today, as part of our mentoring programme, TAMS. Plea Bargain is a 20 minute, one-to-one performance based on Jake’s experience of the criminal justice system. He brought the show to us pretty much fully formed, and artistically we’ve just been helping him out with some dramaturgy and structural and design ideas. The other half of the mentoring is about helping him to tour the work, which could be slightly tricky logistically and financially, being a sited, one-to-one performance in which Jake himself is required to remain stuck in an interview room the whole time. I don’t want to say much more about that part of the piece, because spoilers.

We think the show needs another role – a slightly more performed Front of House role, which I undertook today: greeting people, explaining how the experience works, telling them what their role is, giving them some information to read before they go in to meet Jake himself.

I sit with audience members whilst they go over the information, then I let them into the interview room and set the clock. When the time is up I ask them to come out of Jake’s room and sit at our table again. Then I have to ask them to make a decision.

Jake’s show is deceptively simple, and the dilemma at the heart of it is a genuinely difficult one for many of us – I think - to come down on one side or the other of. Pragmatism versus idealism: a dilemma of our times. Consequently, this is a remarkable moment to get to sit in on. Each participant seems so invested, not just wanting to indicate their decision on the form, but many of them wanting to give detailed reasoning for it – verbally or in writing. Then my job is to give them an envelope with the final information in it. The last pieces of the puzzle.

Actually, that’s a bad metaphor. That makes the piece sound solvable, neat. But it’s not. It’s more like discovering that there are pieces from more than one jigsaw in the box. Depending on your reading of what you have just experienced, depending on what questions you have asked, there’s probably at least one big revelation in these final minutes of the show. 

My intention was to carry out my front of house role in a functional way: explaining rules, reading instructions, handing over papers, folders, envelopes. Setting the timer. Neither friendly nor rude. Efficient. But after this final section it’s just not possible to maintain that mode because people want to talk. Generally, they want to talk to Jake, but they can’t. Normally they would get to talk to other audience members, but it’s a one-to-one, so there aren’t any. So they  talk to someone who knows what they’re just experienced. It has felt such a privilege today to get to sit across from people as they have made their decisions, as they have woven the different aspects of the story together, as they have wanted, nearly all of them, to immediately share what they have been thinking about what they have just experienced.

A lot of my days are planned in advance – probably like yours. I know what to expect of them, know what’s going to happen. Today I knew what the job was going to be – was looking forward to it, in fact. But it still surprised me. It’s a good job, this, a lot of the time. Big thanks to Theatre Deli for hosting us, and to everyone who came in to share and support the work.

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