A panel look at how the use of venues for theatre has evolved over the past 50 years, drawing on their own experiences, and how future technology will affect where art happens. With Punchdrunk Artistic Director Felix Barrett; co-director of Forest Fringe, Andy Field; co-founder of ArtsAdmin, Judith Knight; and Jenny Sealey, co-Director of the Paralympic Opening Ceremony and Artistic Director of Graeae Theatre Company.
For the podcast collection on Scene Changes click here.
Felix Barrett did a Twitter Q&A today (#AskaDirector) using the National Theatre’s account. Here’s the complete list of questions and answers below:
Q: overseeing such large immersive shows how do you keep all it’s elements developing so closely intertwined?
A: With a fantastic and highly skilled team and a short hand that comes from working together for a long time
Q: How are nostalgia and vintage-inspired designs/visuals central (or incidental) to Punchdrunk’s concepts?
A: They’re critical to transport us to another world which we then build in to … It’d be difficult to set a show in present day, in fact the whole theatrical form would have to be completely different. The show would have to happen on the streets
Q: For the show to be open and free for an audience, how rigid/drilled do Punchdrunk performances need to be?
A: Every single beat is choreographed
Q: Given that PD shows are site specific what was the main challenge moving SNM to NY, after location?
A: Water sprinklers! We never realised how important a ceiling was before we got to NY
Q: I have discovered PD a bit late. Have you ever considered re-staging any of your earlier shows?
A: We’d love to but most buildings are no longer with us
Q: Do you ever don a white mask? If so have you ever been selected for a 1:1? Must be a surprise for the actor?
A: It’s the only way to note the show…
Q: Does TDM have a script/play text/score/map? Wondering how you go about putting this performance on the page.
A: Yes, it’s on the wall backstage and it’s about 6 metres long
Q: what maKes a great PunchDrunk cast member? (Besides amazing dance and acting skills!)
A: Presence. A performer’s resting state is as critical as their gravitas when they’re in motion.
Q: Did you take the possible behaviours of the masked audience into account when creating #drownedman?
A: Yes, the audience are the epicentre of the work… You can never prepare for everything but the cast are equipped to navigate most situations.
Q: Felix, how do you feel about the spoiler groups that spring up around your productions?
A: We try to make the show dense enough to enable new discoveries at every visit… and we’re touched when audiences come together to solve the mysteries within the show
Q: How do you rehearse in your vast spaces with the many possibilities of travel and storyline(s)?
A: With great difficulty! To watch the whole show it takes me 27 loops
Q: How much are performers able to change/influence the story of each character? Could they ever decide what to do on the show?
A: No, not at all, everything is set
Q: Any thought of a loyalty scheme or special night for those of us buying multiple tickets (currently on 7)? Hint hint…
A: We’ve got something planned. Watch this space and follow @PunchdrunkUK
Q: What is your favourite ice cream flavor?
A: Anything savory
Q: any plans on a drowned man remix?
A: That is a very good idea…
Q: Any tips for someone with no money starting out making immersive/site-responsive ambitious shows?
A: Find a space, any space, your flat if need be & begin. Best advice I ever had was to make rather than talk about it
Q: Have you considered integrating the use of interactive technologies in your productions?
A: Yes, we’ve been prototyping a couple of ideas and hopefully one will grow in to a full scale show in the future
Q: Hi, which theatre companies inspired you when you were starting out?
A: Robert Wilson, Deborah Warner, not a theatre company but Peter Gabriel’s early CD-rom work
Q: Re: aud/perf/writer dynamic. Is the audience experience in mind at conception or do you start with a story?
A: Both travel simultaneously. You can’t have one without the other. We have done some shows solely for 1 audience member and we’re talking about doing one in London next year
Q: any top tips for bagging a 1:1? I have been overlooked on several occasions #DamnYouDustWitch
A: The cast are always looking to reward the patient and the curious…
Q: given how tactile your set is, do you have problems with audience taking bits of it for mementos? (Also, it was staggering!)
A: Yes, we even have kind people return them the following day!
Q: What first drew you to Woyzeck and how long did it take you to develop the action of the show?
A: Woyzeck has always been part of Punchdrunk’s life blood as it was pivotal in the creation of the form
Q: Punchdrunk Travel. Is this dream still alive for the future?
A: The dream is still alive…
EK: I sort of feel like we can’t have this conversation without talking about Sleep No More at least a little.
RG: Sleep No More is an interactive, site-specific performance piece currently in New York City that is basically Macbeth, but they’ve taken over an entire old hotel. And it’s sort of a masquerade ball and it’s sort of a labyrinth and it’s sort of a theater piece. It’s totally immersive.
EK: Occasionally a character will grab you by the arm and shoot you this look that says, “Oh my God, you need to come with me, because I need to tell you a story,” and then they’ll pull you into a room and tell you a fairy tale or something. It’s like the theater is coming to get you. The theater would like to have a conversation with you so much that it will take you into another space and it will talk to you. The theater got very hungry and sad that you were just sitting there like an audience, and so now it’s swallowing you up. Sorry, this is beginning to sound like Neil Gaiman allegory.
RG: So why do we have to talk about Sleep No More?
EK: Because I could just as easily say, or an audience member could just as easily say, “Oh, it’s not like those dumb theater things where you just sit there. That’s not immediate. This is immediate. When it reaches out and grabs you, then it’s immediate.”
RG: Well, it’s taking it to another level, that’s for darn sure.
ID: It’s also one of those ways that it says, “Okay, fine, we’re not going to be like film. We’re going to take this fact that the audience is having an active role, and we’re going to grab that, and we’re going to run the fuck in that direction with it.”
EK: I guess what I’m saying is what seems to be a newer frontier in performance is performance that isn’t on that traditional model of, “We go into a nice building, we sit in rows, there’s a 15-minute intermission where we get Peanut M&Ms, and there’s a cell phone announcement.”
RG: That’s very popular right now, sort of doing these different styles of site-specific or immersive theater, which is wonderful, and I am all for it.
ID: For centuries, painting was the way that you captured this portrait of a person or a scenario. And then photography comes along, and I can capture a portrait of a scenario much faster and much more accurately. So then painting says, “Well, what can I do that you can’t?” And you get Impressionism. And it’s as though theater is saying, “Well, the thing that we did for a long time can be done in another medium now, but there are things that are unique to us. And we are now going to explore that territory.” And I actually relate it a lot to videogame design, this notion of having an active audience who is participating in the experience, and that the experience is going to be unique for each audience member. Every game of Mario is at least a few frames different from the other game of Mario. Everybody’s experience is, to some extent, unique. Theater is jumping in this direction: “Well, how unique can I make it? And what is permissible?”
RG: And, to circle back to your earlier question, that’s exactly how it stays alive. That’s exactly how it stays relevant. It’s the way any art form stays relevant. What can I do that you can’t? What can I do that nobody else can do?
Come tour the Brooklyn Museum in a way you’ve never done before – with IPA. Recent graduates of Brooklyn College’s PIMA (Performance & Interactive Media Arts) MFA Program, the IPA creates unique site-specific adventures in response to site, local history, the urban landscape, and the psychogeographic inclinations of the audience. Bridging the Brooklyn Museum’s architectural and psychogeographic landscape, Experiment #23b (BROOKLYN MUSEUM) will recontextualize the museum-going experience, exploring notions of observation, display, adventure and play. Through a series of personalized performance encounters throughout the museum, visitors will be led on a unique journey into the psychic and physical unknown, exploring historic exhibition spaces and areas usually off-limits to guests–creating a dynamic playground for the imagination.
“Odyssey Works: Brooklyn” is a day-long performance created for a one-person audience. Encompassing theater, classical composition, installation art, writing, the spectacular and the intimate, “Odyssey Works: Brooklyn” invites anyone to become extras in scenes designed to change the life of a…
On August 10, Ayden L.M. Grout and I will be giving an artist’s talk and presentation at the Brooklyn Museum. It will be at 2pm in the Forum on the 4th Floor at the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist art.
We are deep in production for our September 21 performance as a part of the BEAT Festival. Tickets for Odyssey Works will be free, but you should go to the BEAT website to get one.
Please come out to the Brooklyn Museum and say hi. We’ll be giving an inside view on the Odyssey Works process, the ideas behind the work, and taking you on a low-tech virtual reality Odyssey. Really.
It’ll be fun, I promise.
Saturday, August 2, 2:00 pm
Brooklyn Museum (map)
200 Eastern Parkway
We will have copies of Isolation and Amazement, 2nd Edition for sale. We’ll also have some other items for sale that we are not allowed to advertise publicly.
Rooftop-hopping might very well be New York’s unofficial summer sport. And each rooftop experience is only as good as the cocktails served on it.
At Gallow Green, atop the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea, their most popular drink is their namesake cocktail, which spotlights bright lime and herbal notes and a hint of black volcanic salt. The aim is to pair mezcal’s smokey flavors with citrus and tang.
The Gallow Green is a take on classic drink the Last Word, but with mezcal and served like a Caipirinha. ”That makes mezcal a little more accessible to people,” Gallow Green’s bar director Michael Bray says. “It’s a really fun, refreshing summer drink.”
He warns: be very precise in your measurements to maintain the drink’s proper balance.
Watch how to make the Gallow Green in this edition of WSJ After Hours:
This week, the seemingly ever-expanding McKittrick Hotel, the West Chelsea home of Punchdrunk’s “Sleep No More,” expanded even more.
Beyond the roving theatrical experience—an innovative and immersive retelling of “Macbeth”—guests could enjoy an outdoor, rooftop paradise called Gallow Green as well as the Manderley Bar, both of which host the occasional musical performance.
Now, a floor below Gallow Green there is the Heath, a music, drink and dining venue. Currently in residence is the Grammy-winning Preservation Hall Jazz Band, while on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the nightspot will present its own band, the Heathens. Jonathan Hochwald, one of the leading producers of the venue, described the Heathens as performing “live dance music.”
The point with all of these venues, said Mr. Hochwald, is to create an “oasis” for both attendees of “Sleep No More” and those who aren’t coming to see the show. “This is a new kind of night life,” he explained. “It’s not your typical bottle-service place with bankers and models. So many of these places are about packing them in. Our first priority is to have a generous, luxurious space that people can hang out in, and in the case of Gallow Green, enjoy this kind of verdant scenery.”
Both the Heath and Gallow Green can seat 200 people each; “Sleep No More” accommodates under 500 audience members a night. “When everything is going at the same time, we have over 1,000 people,” Mr. Hochwald said.
Whereas Gallow Green takes as its theme a kind of ghostly train yard, the Heath is more of the interior of that yard’s train station. “It’s kind of a train station restaurant in a village in Scotland. Everything is rich and masculine, and the train cars are pristine and beautiful. The idea is to juxtapose the two,” said Mr. Hochwald.
Eventually, guests will be able to make reservations at the Heath for dinner. Tickets are sold to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band; reservations can be made for the Heathens.
He added that actors who help extend the performance of “Sleep No More” into these other venues will become more active in the Heath as the fall approaches. “It’s a separate experience,” Mr. Hochwald said. “Separate but related.”
As for the decorative use of train cars, Mr. Hochwald said the proximity to the High Line is only coincidental. “It’s a visual and emotional idea that we all embraced,” he said.
What has become clear, Mr. Hochwald said, is as you get higher in the building, “you get farther and farther out of the town in which ‘Sleep No More’ takes place. That’s the geography.”
It’s getting close! ;)
Our ethos is to try and put the audience in the centre of the experience. A massive part of the form itself is that the audience members are on their legs, walking around a building, making their own choices, making their own decisions, and following their instincts. By putting an audience in a situation where they have to make choices physically with their body, it unlocks them from the typically psychologically heavy position of a spectator in the theatre. We do wish to challenge our audience on many different levels, but we also want to have them make decisions. It’s our mission to challenge our audiences and take them out of their comfort zone, with the intention being to maximise the experience, yet also offer them the opportunity to really let go, to let go of their consciousness and really feel the work.
I would hope each person felt they’d experienced something very different than their friend or loved one, that feels very unique to them. I hope that they leave feeling bombarded by a host of sensory delights and images that they don’t forget, that stay with them forever. It’s always about a combination of light, dark, atmosphere, design, character and journey. We try to reach a crescendo: something visceral that hits you in your belly. There’s a feeling of danger, magic and sensuality that permeates our approach to all our work.
[…] Punchdrunk is my work: physical performance language is its heartbeat, that drives it. I think that dance and the human body can stand up to architecture in a way words can’t.
“We’ve learnt, from having the show on in New York for two years, that we want to make the shows so dense that no matter how many layers of soil you scrape away there’s always something new to be found,” he says. “So audiences can follow the main narrative or peel off and explore space. It’s only with a space of this size that we can do that.”
But while the show is a departure for Punchdrunk in terms of scale, it’s also a return to the company’s roots. Woyzeck was Barrett’s final project at university: the play “created Punchdrunk”, he explains, because its unfinished state prompted him to find a staging that matched Büchner’s splintered text.
“Büchner died before he finished it and just left a series of scenes with no order. And it doesn’t really matter which order you digest them in – still the conclusion is inevitable and it’s always the same. That is the Punchdrunk way.”
‘It’s all about presence’ - FT.com: Punchdrunk theatre company’s Felix Barrett talks about keeping immersive theatre fresh and why he wants to lose his audience
Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema pioneered in real life (IRL) storytelling. A number of companies, also based around east London, have followed their lead, including Shunt, You Me Bum Bum Train and Retz, which was founded by Punchdrunk founder Felix Barrett. In March, Retz staged an immersive version of Franz Kafka’s The Trial in several buildings throughout east London, online and on film. “The ley line here in east London seems to be powerful for creating words,” says Barrett. “The influence of video games is that people want to be the protagonists of the story.” IRL storytelling is not just kicking against digital life; all these companies incorporate technology, and especially social media, into their narratives. “We’re trying to explore what that digital identity is,” Barrett explains. “Our work is very much informed by the internet and the digital revolution. We have a networked approach.”
This is the first I’ve heard about Barrett being involved in RETZ’s The Trial.
Sleep no more has to be the best dance theatre I’ve been to in my life! Running around ridiculously intricate sets after actors that I was standing feet away from was just brilliant - hard on the legs in so many ways, but brilliant!
Since I couldn’t get it out of my head, I drew a couple of fan comics about two scenes that are solidly burned into my memory.
If you go to New York, you absolutely have to do it… sleepnomorenyc.com
Secret Cinema is pleased to announce the launch of the immersive live music experience, bringing to life Laura Marling’s latest album for 8 nights in a secret East London location.
We will bring Laura Marling’s Once I Was An Eagle to life in a layered and sensory experience from June 13th until June 21st.
Inhabited by performers and with a live performance by Laura, audiences will travel through a secret world of the album that will be layered across the building, breathing life into lyrics, where they are invited to become a part of the performance. This is the beginning of Secret Music.
Tickets on sale Thursday 23rd May at 1pm.
From Laura Marling’s site:
The performance dates are:
Thursday – 13th June
Friday – 14th June
Saturday – 15th June
Sunday – 16th June
Tuesday – 18th June
Wednesday – 19th June
Thursday – 20th June
Friday – 21st June
7pm – 11pm (Tuesday to Saturday)
6.30pm – 10.30pm (Sunday)
Tickets go on sale at 1pm this Thursday 23rd May at www.secretcinema.org/lauramarling
18+, £35 + booking
You may recall when Laura Marling performed at the McKittrick Hotel: