Sunday, 21 March 2021

Making The Gates to Dreamland: Script-writing and Wayfinding

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On 25th September, my new locative audiowalk game The Gates to Dreamland launched to the public. Created as part of the A Different LENS project in Margate, The Gates to Dreamland explores how interpreting our surroundings figuratively, through imagination and motion, can connect us to different places, times, stories and circumstances, finding resonance within our own lives.

Set around the boundaries of the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, it tells the story of Italian scientist Galileo Galilei’s journey towards publishing his final book – one that would change the study of science forever. It imagines the obstacles he faced, under house arrest with his eyesight and health failing, and the changes in perspective that entailed.

In this series of blog posts, I’m delving into how The Gates to Dreamland was made, discussing how my contribution to A Different LENS came about, how the design of the project evolved, ideas and inspirations, research and planning, writing the script, how I created the audio, and how this project connects to my other work.

More information on how you can try The Gates to Dreamland for yourself is at the bottom of this post.

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One of the overriding resonances I detected in Galileo’s story was the feeling of enclosure and inaccessibility.

Galileo was under house arrest for the duration of his time writing Two New Sciences; an experience of confinement that recent lockdowns have only briefly exposed us to. Losing his sight at the same time ‘confined’ him further, in a different sense; altering his ability to perceive the world beyond him.

Along the route between Dreamland’s gates, I used the words of my script to draw attention to moments of enclosure in the listener’s journey through the physical environment.

At the opening gate, between the metal bars, the sight of Dreamland’s Helter Skelter is visible in the distance. The words from the first scripted diary entry imagine how Galileo’s first action, upon returning to his villa marshalled by armed guards, was to climb straight to the highest window of the house. Here, he gazes upon the familiar view of a tower on a hill (though I do not name this, it would have been the Torre del Gallo in Arcetri), but his sight problems render the view inaccessible.

Here, the listener is invited to draw a connection between the inaccessibility of Dreamland’s landmarks and that of Galileo, in being house-bound and increasingly visually impaired.

The Torre del Gallo in Arcetri, Florence
Dreamland's Helter Skelter

In this early stage of the experience, you walk along a road often busy with car traffic and lined with terraced housing. As you stand beside a seemingly unbreachable metal gate, the words in the audio diary bring attention to these elements of your surroundings that convey a sense of being squeezed in.

This continues as you descend down the hill, still confined by terraced housing but with widening space visible in front, creating the sense of being funnelled down the street towards an opening. At this point in the scripted diary entries, while Galileo is still very aware of the limitations he faces, there is a feeling of progress being made as he begins to chart his plans for writing Two New Sciences.             

As the walker’s perspective briefly widens, another key theme of the work is illuminated: the opportunities for growth, creativity and imagination that restriction can entail.

With the view opening out onto the usually busier area around Dreamland’s car park, Galileo describes the encounters he has with numerous visitors to his home. Vincenzo Viviani, who would become Galileo's student assistant, is highlighted as a key figure; and Galileo describes a clarity and order that emerges from the chaos of his cluttered and busy home life. In an ironic yet symbolic twist of fate, this is the time when Galileo loses his sight completely.

Up to this point in the work, multiple references are made to plants and weeds, which can be seen in many areas around the outskirts of Dreamland.

I was drawn to the image of his garden being gradually being overtaken by weeds as he committed himself to writing his book, while his view outside to the garden would have become increasingly obscured. There is an interesting parallel here between his intellectual growth and his body being overtaken by its own ‘weeds’ mentioned in the scripted diary extracts: his loss of eyesight and worsening arthritis.

A courtyard garden at Galileo's former home in Arcetri, Florence
Weeds near the entrance to Dreamland's car park

Aside from Galileo’s physical condition, the writing of Two New Sciences would certainly have been worrisome endeavour. All of Galileo’s publications had been banned under order of the Catholic Church, and being under house arrest with armed guards lurking meant that anything potentially illicit would have had to be kept very secretive.

Later on in the walk, you navigate a narrow back-street with tall buildings on one side and a high fence on the other; a road apparently used most often for delivering and loading goods. It’s a place evidently not designed for you to dwell in.

Here, the words in the audio diary draw comparisons between this discomfort and compression you feel when physically walking and Galileo’s own anxiety, as he prepares to release his illicit work out into the world.

In the words of the audio, ambiguous references are made to objects like CCTV cameras, back entrances, invisible onlookers and hidden doorways in the audiowalk's Margate locations, which become symbols of these themes of surveillance and secrets, ‘front stage’ and ‘backstage’.

Streetview image of Hall by the Sea Road, Margate

Ultimately, though, Galileo’s story is one of his work transcending the confined spaces and times in which he lived. As a form of epilogue to the events leading to the publication of Two New Sciences, I chose to set a sixth and final scene on Margate beach.

Here, the view over the sea to the horizon, the coastal breeze, sound of road traffic and sensation of sand under your feet are called upon in the script as symbols of this transcendence: the passing of time, movement between distant places, and the power of imagination and motion to connect everything.

Margate beach

These are just some of the intricate, enigmatic connections that the audiowalk’s script draws between the landscapes of Dreamland in the 21st century and Galileo’s life in 17th-century Florence.

Alongside these broader themes of enclosure, inaccessibility, creativity, growth, surveillance, secrets, motion and imagination, there are many other moments when individual details along the route of the walk are called upon to create figurative, symbolic links between events in Galileo’s life and your immediate surroundings.

I won’t name these explicitly as they are designed to be stumbled upon to achieve their effect. But hidden in the script are references to particular signage, graffiti, road markings, security infrastructure, photographs, historic wall lettering, paving, and a familiar Margate sound.

A final feature of the script worth noting is the series of dates associated with the diary entries you find. You’ll notice that no numbered days are given, only named dates such as ‘Ash Wednesday’, ‘Pentecost’ and ‘Epiphany’.

In historic records, none of the events described in Galileo's story have exact dates. Usually only years are given, and occasionally times of year.

This ambiguity gave me the licence to choose dates within a rough timescale that reflect the symbolic significance these events had within Galileo’s life. In particular, these are all important dates on the Christian calendar. This was a nod to the fact that Galileo was a Catholic, who did not see his scientific findings as incompatible with his faith.

I also figured that a 21st-century listener would struggle to form any kind of impression from a specific date like ‘August 12th 1635’, while these holy days still have importance today. More curious listeners might recognise this level of detail in the work and choose to investigate further, also becoming more alert to other subtle, intricate features of the work.

The next post in this series discusses how I narrated the scripted diary entries, recording the audio and editing it to upload to the A Different LENS map.

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How to try The Gates to Dreamland from home

The Gates to Dreamland is primarily designed to be experienced by walking at the relevant sites in Margate. When you load the A Different LENS map on mobile, only the first of my six entries is visible on the map, and you must discover the remainder by finding the rest of Dreamland's gates in person.

However, you can try a version of The Gates to Dreamland for yourself online via PC/Mac (this is the only way to access all six points of the audiowalk without being in Margate).

To do this, visit the A Different LENS map here and find the blue pin titled ‘The Gates to Dreamland’, with ‘1 of 6’ as a subheading (it is the most southerly blue pin in the main cluster). This is the start of the walk, while the pink pins that lead from it show the route you need to follow. Read the introduction and instructions that appear when you click on the pin.

Then, open up the link here in a separate tab. This is the starting point for the walk in Streetview.

Each point of the audiowalk is located by one of Dreamland’s gates. When you reach the next gate on the walk, navigate back to the A Different LENS map and click on the relevant pin to play the audio for that location. Try to stay in Streetview as much as you can on the walk, but there may be times when you need to check that you’re at the correct location by switching to satellite view and comparing with the A Different LENS map.

The walk should take about 30 minutes to complete. Think about the relationships between the words you hear and what you can see in Streetview.

If you do try it and have any feedback you’d be willing to share, do send me an email using the contact information on my About page.


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