// Dramaturgy from Doomsday: How Timelapse Has Responded to the End of the World by CJ Simon

When approaching Ninety Seconds to Midnight, one of the first questions asked by the timelapse team was “how do we dramatise the end of the world?” This question had two meanings. The first was literal. Do we want to have waters slowly rising? Cast members fainting on stage due to heat exhaustion? Killer robots flooding from the wings? At the time of writing this, the answer seemingly is: we don’t. Depictions of catastrophe and death are easy to find across the arts. We have all, at one time or another, watched a beloved character cough into a handkerchief only to reveal blood. No, the Ninety Seconds to Midnight team has aimed to tread fresher ground.

This leads to the second mode of thinking through the question: how do we dramatise the end of the world? More specifically, how do we produce drama, character, and theme from our current understanding of disaster and decay? In other words, where are the tensions, the inflection points, or the knowledge-gaps in how we talk about and present human extinction?

The NSTM team has begun to answer these questions by looking at history, academic writing, and art. To get a glimpse into the creative process for the production, we thought it might be useful to explore some of the real-world events, articles, and creative works that have inspired the workshops thus far.
Description: A monochrome photo of Stu Barker writing on a flash-card with a pen in hand, Rachel Bellman is sat to the right of Stu writing into a notebook. The table they are sat at is strewn with some water bottles, coffee cups, and flashcards both used and fresh.
The Doomsday Clock: We Started the Fire

The initial stimulus for the Ninety Seconds to Midnight project is the Doomsday Clock. Invented in 1947, the Doomsday Clock is a symbolic clock designed to visually present the likelihood of man-made extinction. The closer we are to midnight the closer we are to the end of the world.  Each year the clock is reset based on international developments in nuclear proliferation, climate change, and disruptive technologies. This symbol, designed by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, works as a call to action for readers to combat the various threats to mankind.
Description: Five formally dressed members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists stand by a portion of a clock which reads “It’s 90 Seconds to Midnight”.
It is this focus on “man-made” extinction which has seemingly taken hold of the timelapse workshops. Some works like Don’t Look Up or Armageddon depict worlds forced to confront external threats. Others, like The Civilians Mr Burns, actively avoid discussing how the world ends. What felt interesting about the Doomsday Clock, however, was its attempt to point at its audience and implicate them in ongoing issues. As noted by former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, “The Doomsday Clock is sounding an alarm for the whole of humanity”.

In keeping “human made catastrophe” at the heart of the workshops, the NSTM team has centred its workshops around a few specific potential scenarios around the end of the world. Namely, climate change, antimicrobial resistance, and AI. Fortunately, there has been a wealth of writing from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to inform this investigation. For instance, epidemiologist Saskia Popescu’s article Antimicrobial Resistance: An Underrated Biological Threat begins to underscore how the overuse of antibiotics has allowed for the evolution of “superbugs” which resist modern medicine. On the other side, the Bulletin has published work exploring how AI might work to resolve or exacerbate existing threats to the climate. This wealth of information sits at the foundation of much of the work discussed in our workshops thus far. Still, it doesn’t quite answer our central question: how do we dramatise catastrophe?

Prussian Blue: Unintended Consequences

The Doomsday Clock and the notion of man-made catastrophe still leaves a lot of ground to cover. One story, however, focused our work quite significantly. The story of Johann Jacob Diesbach and blue paint. Sometime between 1704 and 1708, Diesbach was making paint using crushed cochineal insects, iron sulphate and potash to create a tint of red. Instead, the paint turned blue. As it happened, Diesbach’s mixture had been contaminated with bone oil. Instead of producing red, Diesbach had invented Prussian Blue, a colour which has been used in some of the most famous pieces of art. The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, and The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai are all pieces of art which utilise this beautiful colour. Later, scientists discovered that this happy accident would make a useful chemical component of pesticides. Suddenly, the colour developed a new life as a piece of art and a productive part of global agriculture.
Van Gogh’s ‘A Starry Night’ which uses a variety of blues to illustrate the night sky
In 2017, Jewish-Mexican artist Yishai Jusidman opened up an exhibition exploring the history of the pigment Prussian Blue. This responded to the understanding that the chemical Zyklon B, a component of Prussian Blue, was used by the Nazis in the gas chambers during the Holocaust. Where Jusidman was focused on “Tensions between colour and history, perception and materiality”, the NSTM team was floored by the unintended consequence of this discovery. How responsible was Diesbach for atrocities that occurred over two hundred years after he died? How do we navigate our role in combating a human made extinction event when seemingly creative acts can become so destructive? How do we go about our lives day-to-day when the consequences of our actions are so intangible?
In an odd way, these questions allowed the team to navigate its way towards resolving the primary question which opened this investigation. How do we dramatise the end of the world? Begin by exploring the choices that intentionally or otherwise lead towards our doom. Find characters whose small seemingly insignificant decisions have large unintended consequences. Use music and sound to connect two decisions in two different timelines in ways which might not seem immediately obvious. How do we dramatise the end of the world? Explore how human choices might lead to the world’s end.

Deciding the Story?

Now, none of the above quite paints a picture of what Ninety Seconds to Midnight is really going to be about. There is a lot still to decide. As noted in our last blog post, the timelapse team is adopting a collaborative approach to music theatre making. The question of how our team should dramatise the end of the world is only the first hurdle timelapse faces. Whilst we hope to offer a peek into what shapes the trajectory of these workshops, only time will tell which ideas we make. One thing is true: the company is astutely aware that every small choice we make might have tremendous ramifications on what we finally produce.


BBC News Article:

Civilians Page on Mr Burns:

Bulletin of Atomic Sciences Post on Antimicrobial resistance: https://thebulletin.org/2017/11/antimicrobial-resistance-an-underrated-biological-threat/

Bulletin of Atomic Sciences Post on the utility of AI:

Bulletin of Atomic Sciences Post on the dangers of AI:

Artist Network page on the prussian blue pigment:

YBCA page on the work of Yishai Jusidiman:

timelapse post introducing the NSTM project:

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