The Turk project video thumbnail
Replay with sound
Play with
sound
£1,079 pledged of £2,500 goal
backers
By Michael Sabbaton
£1,079 pledged of £2,500 goal
backers

About

Hello weird theatre lovers…

I’m Michael Sabbaton and since 2010, I’ve been writing, producing and performing my own pieces of dark, provoking theatre. To date, I’ve produced four adaptations based on works of cult science-fiction and horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft including - The Call of Cthulhu, The Temple, The Statement of Randolph Carter and Polaris. All have received great support and critical acclaim allowing me to establish a loyal following and intense style. Take a look!

Past Sabbaton Shows
Past Sabbaton Shows

 

So, now to the future and…The Turk!

In 2017, I started research and development on a new/old project that has been with me for at least 10 years to bring the story of an 18th century, chess playing automaton to life that was known only as 'The Turk'. Based on a true story, this amazing ‘machine’, full of dark mystery and intrigue gained worldwide fame influencing engineers, scientists and scholars alike in the developing fields of automation and later in artificial intelligence. As an Associate Artist of Harrogate Theatre, I’m producing this one-person show as a haunting, philosophical adventure. It will premiere in Harrogate for a twelve performance run in Autumn, 2018. After this, it will go on tour in Spring, 2019 to other UK venues.


It’s a fascinating story…

In 1770 an incredible ‘thinking machine’ was presented to Empress Maria Theresa of Austria that was to influence and bamboozle the world for over 80 years.  

A life-sized, mechanical automaton in the fashionable garb of a ‘mysterious’ Turk gazed down onto two opposing armies of chessmen. A key was inserted, the mechanism wound and in a whirring of clockwork The Turk came to life, raising its head and making its move. The Turk appeared an impressive machine but behind the cogs was it all that it seemed?  

Originally built as ‘a mere bagatelle’ by the court engineer, Wolfgang Von Kempelen, The Turk became such a spectacle that it was soon sent on tour to showcase its performance. All across the chess boards of Europe, The Turk gained a reputation as a masterful player astounding the crowds and only adding to its ever growing mystery.  

Some years later, after Kempelen had died and The Turk near forgotten, another engineer and maker of automata eventually took possession. Johann Nepomuk Maelzel was more of the natural showman than Kempelen and embarked on worldwide tours eventually settling in Philadelphia. Maelzel was lavish, vain and ethically unscrupulous living fast and promoting The Turk at every opportunity. Maelzel’s shameless and often underhanded opportunism regularly left him in trouble or on the run from those he would exploit. At the end of his life he found himself alone, penniless and diseased with only his past regrets and a solitary case of fine wine to share with his only, automaton friend.  

Time passed, and eventually forgotten about once again in a corner of a dusty museum, The Turk finally met its own end. Consumed in a fire spread from a nearby theatre, The Turk stared out of the burning pyre and from behind a curtain of flame gave its final bow.  

With historical opponents from Napoleon to Beethoven, Barnum to Babbage, Benjamin Franklin to Edgar Allan Poe, The Turk’s enigmatic legacy of technology and chess paved the way for the future of computing, automation, artificial intelligence and even magic. In my show, and through the yellow-fevered eyes of a drunken and dying Maelzel, these themes will be presented as a philosophy of being and a morality of life. 

There’s questions of AI, Automation and Technology here…

The 18th and 19th centuries saw great advancements in the developing fields of science, engineering and automation. No more so was this seen than in the increasingly intricate development of mechanical automata from clockwork creatures with working, internal organs to robotic figures who wrote, danced and performed their miracles of this new, modern age. 

Like the significant implications of artificial intelligence and virtual reality on our own world today, this historic rise of the machine provoked a revolution in technological progress and a renaissance in automation. Indeed, this was not just a renaissance of simple utility but also of social, cultural and political scope in an ever-growing relationship between belief and reason, life and soul, man and machine.


And what about Sentience, Being, Reason and Value…

In shifting sands of existential change, we often turn to philosophy for exploration and guidance. What it means to be conscious, sentient and alive. What it means to ‘live’, what it means to have ‘purpose’. Even the question itself is weighted and biased. What it means…what it means…framed by thought, framed by analysis, framed by intellect and reason.


And so to Chess…

Of course, a reasoned approach is by no means prerequisite for such an overarching and fundamental question but it is, arguably, dominant. It is by no means coincidental then that when Kempelen presented The Turk as an analytical, thinking machine that he did so through the medium of chess. As a game of reason, prediction and calculated risk, chess is a benchmark for logical thought and within the question of being a foundational marker. So, framed by chess and weighed by reason might we measure our life but is this enough..? Is it a trick?


So, how does all this become a Sabbaton Show…

Sabbaton as Sigurd Mylnari in, 'Polaris'
Sabbaton as Sigurd Mylnari in, 'Polaris'

Well, in 1838, Johann Maelzel died. Sailing home from a a failed tour of Cuba, depressed and dejected he locked himself away behind the door of his cabin. Unknown to him, he was suffering from yellow fever; the same disease that had only recently taken his long serving assistant, William Schlumberger. To Maelzel, Schlumberger was the son he never had and so between his grief and distemper he retreated to die. 

Heartbroken and alone he looked back on his world, weighing his life in the shadow of death. In fevered madness, in drunken honesty, in regret and longing in the arms of The Turk. A dying human, a ‘human’ machine – where better to question existence and self? 

The show will be set around Maelzel’s final hours. Surrounded by the packing crates containing the pieces of The Turk. Many characters are possible here as both The Turk’s story and those deeper, philosophical themes are explored. One notable would be Edgar Allan Poe and it is possible that the piece may also engage with his reasoned approach to The Turk’s mystery in his analytical and macabre style. 

The darkly intense, character-driven world that I have become known for and the far reaching, philosophical reality of self, sentience and being so telling in this age of intelligent mechanics and virtual existence should also afford a multi-layered piece of form, structure and content staying with the audience long after the event has ended.


Sylvia Vickers is my director…

She is the artistic director of Wired Theatre, who have been creating original, site-specific productions since 1999. She has had a continuing, life-long career in theatre from the early '60s after originally training at RADA from 1959. Starting as an actor across theatre, television and radio, she has gone on to direct many productions and co-founded and artistically directed both The Brighton Actors Workshop and Studio 12 TIE company. In addition to this, she was also a senior lecturer at Roehampton University. 

Sylvia has directed all of my solo shows to date and brings a maturity, vision and priceless expertise into the rehearsal room. As a colleague, collaborator and mentor, she has the depth and intensity that only adds to each performance in subtlety and range and for me, as an actor, an essential and continuing growth. 

I continue to work with Sylvia because she continues to challenge me. She engages with the work both critically and instinctually and with the same commitment that I demand of myself. For this reason alone I trust her unreservedly and am privileged to know, learn and work with her.


So, to sum up…

  • I want to explore this wonderful story of The Turk and its many influences… 
  • I want to unwrap a philosophy of being… 
  • I want to look at the human condition through the eyes of Maelzel at the end of his life… 
  • I want to create an evocative production in my style of intense scene, light, character and sound… 

The final piece should have a wide appeal engaging with both my established followers in the alternative fantasy, horror, music and science fiction communities as well as having a broader appeal across age ranges and newcomers to theatre alike. Now, with the backing and encouragement of Harrogate Theatre and my other partner venues, I feel that the time is right to finally bring The Turk to fruition.

As the project grows, I’ll chart the on-going progress of the work in my regular Youtube theatre vlogs (‘Sab’s Shed’). This is a good opportunity to invite continuous feedback from my followers that I can directly respond to. Check it out…


Work already completed…

Work and R&D Done So Far (writing, design, automation):  

Apart from general research into The Turk’s story, much work has gone into the conceptual design and technical possibilities of the show. I want to create a space that doesn’t tell you everything. I hate spoon-feeding an audience and through my past work, I have realised that the best scenography and narrative design takes place in the imagination of the audience. What is not seen or heard is as just as important as what is. So too are finding ways to unlock these liminal strands of imaginative connection – just like a dream. The old adage, 'Less is more', is often correct, which goes with my own ideas of an economic style. I want to keep these ideas active in all aspects of design from the writing to lighting, sound and music design and into the physical space itself.  

Madness, fever, depression and loss set the stage for our protagonist Maelzel as he approaches death. The mystery of The Turk should hang over the entire piece as its story is slowly explored as well as its future implications and Maelzel’s own plight. Three strands of story intertwining in blurred lines of dream, imagination and reality…  

I like simple yet detailed spaces that characters inhabit. Often trapped inside as metaphors for their own plight or thought processes. So it was when Maelzel locked himself inside his cabin with his case of wine. No one knows what went on in there as he played out his final moments with The Turk. I want to see that happening through his unravelling distemper.

Working on these lines, I’ve come up with a compact design that holds much potential inside. Maelzel’s cabin, aboard The Otis, as it nears its destination. A dark space of shadow and light containing the shipping crates that hold the pieces of The Turk, it will function as a ‘cabinet illusion’ where both revelations are made and secrets kept. Around this the ‘magic’ of The Turk will unfold.  

Maelzel’s grief provides the backdrop for the tragedy. The loss of William Schlumberger triggers his retreat and destructive retrospective of his life and draws back the veil of a distorting reality. Here’s a segment of the first scene against a virtual model of the set. See what you think…

 

  

To reflect the narcissistic nature of Maelzel’s dark reflection, I wanted to see that reflection in the Turk itself. Whether real or imagined, I set out to create a Turk head with Maelzel’s own face (and since I shall be performing Maelzel, mine as well!). This is not just a prop but a character in itself – an ‘uber-marionette’, as my great theatrical hero Edward Gordon Craig spoke of...

I’ve also started to think and experiment with ideas of actual automation within the show. This is still under development and tempered by the ‘less is more’ philosophy but what if…parts of a disembodied Turk would move and interact with Maelzel. Mmmm…what if?...WHAT IF? - A hand, an arm, the head itself…  

 

Sound and music design are incredibly important to my work. Like everything else, I try to include it as a character itself – a thought, an idea, a whispering voice. Here’s a work in progress called, Turk’s Lament

Other funding and support…

 

I’ve just heard that The Arts Council of England has awarded me a grant! I was so happy to hear this news and part of the reason for this Kickstarter is to supplement that grant. When I applied, I budgeted to raise a further amount from other sources and, well…this is it! It’s fantastic that The Turk been chosen to receive this award but now it is doubly important that I raise these extra funds so that Arts Council support can be secured. With this in mind, I hope you will see the potential in the project too.   

In addition to the Arts Council and jaw-stopping support from Harrogate Theatre, I’ve also had great encouragement from partner venues who have agreed to bring The Turk to their theatres in 2019. At this time I’m following up on other leads to secure the 2019 Spring tour whilst looking forward to the premiere run in Harrogate, 2018.


So, Sabbaton…Where will this ‘ere Kickstarter money go…

There are many expenses in developing and putting on a theatre show – especially a brand new work. Of course there are fees for direction, design, acting etc as well as marketing, publicity and travel. The Arts Council award gives us an excellent foundation for all of these and so specifically, (as well as contributing to all other areas) I want the Kickstarter money to go into these two identifiable areas…  

1. Set, Props and Costume:  

i) The creation of the scenic space (as shown in the virtual model, above). A textured, detailed space that can be packed up, light and fit for touring.

ii) The creation of Maelzel’s dishevelled look of the fallen showman. A half dressed man in the middle of yellow fevered madness and drunken stupor. I can see him now…  

iii) The creation of prospective, inter-active ‘props’ – resources to help realise this steam-punked, dream-world of dark potential and emergent life.  

2. Future-Proofed Assets:  

i) Part of developing an on-going scenographic practice is to work on building further control and use of space. I want to invest in a modular system of lightweight, collapsible staging that will provide enough space for The Turk whilst being a sustainable platform to be added to in the future.  

ii) Along with developing scenographic practice, I also want to build on my sound design capability by investing in a pair of powered speakers, stands and cabling. These will let me ‘place’ a sound or piece of music in a particular place around the stage and auditorium. In this way, we can increase the production value and build the narrative through other, aural means. Like the staging, above, this is modular in that it can be built on and expanded for future projects.  

iii) Control Hardware and Software. Ironically, this is all about levels of automation. Using specific hardware and software, we can streamline the get-in process to theatre spaces and create much more complex sets of cues. With the emphasis on sound, light and the possibility of moving ‘props’ this becomes even more relevant (and exciting!). Again this investment is future-proofed in that it is transferrable to other, later projects.


And so, my friends - to the punch line…

I believe this will be an amazing adventure for us all. The Turk represented a great mystery of technology (and magic) in a changing time that is so relevant to us today. As we, ourselves, begin to evolve into cybernetic entities of augmented bodies, intelligences and realities we would do well to look at the similarly changing philosophy of our being. As one pretend man called Hamlet once said, “What a piece of work is man”. We should listen to him and continue to ask the question, “To be…?”  

Well that’s it. I hope you will support The Turk and I’ll do my best to make it!  

This is Sabbaton…signing off [BEEP]  

PS – I may even put in a couple of ‘Easter eggs’ for my Lovecraftian followers too! Cheers, Mike :)

http://www.michaelsabbaton.com

https://www.facebook.com/Sabbaton.Theatre

https://twitter.com/Cthulhu_Play

Risks and challenges

With each production there is a challenge whether artistic, technical, logistic or financial but with each of these challenges comes a new learning experience and a stronger outcome. I hope to continue to challenge myself as my work continues. I don’t want an easy ride, only an opportunity to progress.

I want to increase production values in my staging and find ways to create them myself. This has always been my philosophy - to become as self-sufficient and sustainable as possible and then to pass on this practice to others. I want to say, “Yes you can!”, and hopefully empower other people.

'The Turk' represents a new model of working with venues at earlier R&D stages to further mobilise strong relationships already made or fostered. In addition, this will be my first full length play so the challenge as a writer is present in character development, tone and multiple-layered narratives. It is a challenge I welcome as is the acting challenge in bringing this complex production to life.

This will also be my first departure from an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. With 'The Turk', I will draw on a new, wider audience whilst deepening the engagement of the public, my partners and existing fan-base into the creative process. It gives me the opportunity to develop both the work and myself for the future and to expand my continuing practice.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ

Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £5 or more About $7

    Disciple of The Turk

    Pledge £5 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame'...

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    0 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge £10 or more About $13

    Apostle of The Turk

    Pledge £10 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme...

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    7 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge £15 or more About $20

    Cantor of The Turk

    Pledge £10 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    5 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge £25 or more About $33

    Acolyte of The Turk

    Pledge £25 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    10 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge £50 or more About $66

    Novice of The Turk

    Pledge £50 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme, PLUS a digital download of Sabbaton's The Turk Working Daybook containing all 'making of' notes and sketches of the production thought process PLUS a signed copy of Sabbaton's Rehearsal/Acting The Turk script, PLUS a full, signed set of all Sabbaton's past Lovecraft show posters (4)....

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    • Digital Copy of Sabbaton's The Turk Daybook
    • Signed Copy of Michael Sabbaton's Turk Rehearsal/Acting Script
    • Signed Set of Sabbaton's Lovecraft Show Posters
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    3 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge £100 or more About $131

    Priest of The Turk

    Pledge £100 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme, PLUS a digital download of Sabbaton's The Turk Working Daybook containing all 'making of' notes and sketches of the production thought process PLUS a signed copy of Sabbaton's Rehearsal/Acting The Turk script PLUS a full, signed set of all Sabbaton's past Lovecraft show posters (4), PLUS AUDIO CD VERSIONS of Sabbaton's past Lovecraft adaptations based on, 'The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple'...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    • Digital Copy of Sabbaton's The Turk Daybook
    • Signed Copy of Michael Sabbaton's Turk Rehearsal/Acting Script
    • Signed Set of Sabbaton's Lovecraft Show Posters
    • AUDIO adaptations of, The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple'
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 1 backer
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge £200 or more About $262

    Prior of The Turk

    Pledge £200 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme, PLUS a digital download of Sabbaton's The Turk Working Daybook containing all 'making of' notes and sketches of the production thought process PLUS a signed copy of Sabbaton's Rehearsal/Acting The Turk script PLUS a full, signed set of all Sabbaton's past Lovecraft show posters (4), PLUS AUDIO CD VERSIONS of Sabbaton's past Lovecraft adaptations based on, 'The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple', PLUS an exclusive 'Skype Chat' with Michael Sabbaton...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    • Digital Copy of Sabbaton's The Turk Daybook
    • Signed Copy of Michael Sabbaton's Turk Rehearsal/Acting Script
    • Signed Set of Sabbaton's Lovecraft Show Posters
    • AUDIO adaptations of, The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple'
    • Exclusive Sabbaton Skype Chat
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 0 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge £500 or more About $655

    Elder of The Turk

    Pledge £500 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme, PLUS a digital download of Sabbaton's The Turk Working Daybook containing all 'making of' notes and sketches of the production thought process PLUS a signed copy of Sabbaton's Rehearsal/Acting The Turk script PLUS a full, signed set of all Sabbaton's past Lovecraft show posters (4), PLUS AUDIO CD VERSIONS of Sabbaton's past Lovecraft adaptations based on, 'The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple', PLUS an exclusive 'Skype Chat' with Michael Sabbaton, PLUS I will immortalise you in the final draft of The Turk script as a character in the story (Oh, yes I will!)...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    • Digital Copy of Sabbaton's The Turk Daybook
    • Signed Copy of Michael Sabbaton's Turk Rehearsal/Acting Script
    • Signed Set of Sabbaton's Lovecraft Show Posters
    • AUDIO adaptations of, The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple'
    • Exclusive Sabbaton Skype Chat
    • Be Immortalised as a Named Character in the Final The Turk Show
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 0 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge £1,000 or more About $1,311

    High Priest of The Turk

    Pledge £1000 and receive eternal thanks from me and the Gods of Theatre in a special shout out on my social media AND your name digitally emblazoned on Sabbaton's website 'Hall of Fame', PLUS even more specialerrr thanks in the show programme, PLUS a Sabbaton/Turk button badge, PLUS a signed, The Turk poster AND a signed The Turk Programme, PLUS a digital download of Sabbaton's The Turk Working Daybook containing all 'making of' notes and sketches of the production thought process PLUS a signed copy of Sabbaton's Rehearsal/Acting The Turk script PLUS a full, signed set of all Sabbaton's past Lovecraft show posters (4), PLUS AUDIO CD VERSIONS of Sabbaton's past Lovecraft adaptations based on, 'The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple', PLUS an exclusive 'Skype Chat' with Michael Sabbaton, PLUS I will immortalise you in the final draft of The Turk script as a character in the story (Oh, yes I will!), PLUS I‘ll make you your very own replica (static) Turk prop head...

    Includes:
    • Sabbaton/Turk Button Badge
    • Signed The Turk Poster
    • Signed The Turk Programme
    • Digital Copy of Sabbaton's The Turk Daybook
    • Signed Copy of Michael Sabbaton's Turk Rehearsal/Acting Script
    • Signed Set of Sabbaton's Lovecraft Show Posters
    • AUDIO adaptations of, The Call of Cthulhu', and, 'The Temple'
    • Exclusive Sabbaton Skype Chat
    • Be Immortalised as a Named Character in the Final The Turk Show
    • Your Very Own Replica (Static) Turk Prop Head (made by me!)
    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United Kingdom
    Limited 0 backers
    £
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

    Learn more about accountability.

Funding period

- (30 days)