After a jam-packed bank holiday weekend of park and pub I have escaped to my parent’s farm in Northumberland for some R & R (yes I am one of those who got 11 days off for the price of three). The four hour train journey gave me ample producing work time and after the welcome departure of several screaming children I was able to read a script, draft some copy and answer all my emails.
Long train journeys can be both productive and inspiring. Perhaps it’s the long periods of time with little to distract me, or that I’m travelling away from home, but either way I tend to get my best ideas on board. So during my journey up north I began thinking about locations and their impact upon shows. I am currently searching for a venue for my adaptation project, a piece that is set in 1920s New York. Although I am hoping for a transfer across the pond I think its best to start local – somewhere in London. Although I wouldn’t rule out a traditional theatre space I have always envisioned this piece as site-specific.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, the text is filled with beautiful language which provides the reader with evocative explanations of both the characters and locations. The decline of the characters is mirrored by their surroundings and I didn’t want to lose this in the adaptation. Secondly, I have always loved site specific work. It is a theatrical form that always manages to get me excited about a piece before I have even seen it. From a producer’s point of view, getting an audience excited prior to the show is essential. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be gimmicky or sacrifice quality for an exciting location purely to make it site specific, but I do feel that the show is not meant to be in a black box.
The location of a show can add a huge amount to the atmosphere and immerse the audience in the story. I want to invite the audience into the lives of the protagonists and let them experience their story without there being a fourth wall. As the show focuses on a brief yet intense relationship between two people, I don’t feel the audience will benefit from sitting in rows simply watching the action.
However, as I said before, I don’t want to compromise on the quality of the work. I have seen a few dud site specific works. One I saw a year ago relied upon the audience practically running between each scene. In a 50-strong crowd moving in single file, I missed most of the show. At first, the audience seemed excited enough by their surroundings to run enthusiastically after the actors, but an hour in we were all a little tired of having to trip up on a stranger’s heels to hear the dialogue. The magic of the location was unable to sustain my experience and I left feeling a little cheated. I felt like the show had not been strong enough on its own to work, so an interesting location had been used to prop it up.
Through experiencing both bad and good site specific works, I will hopefully be able to side-step these issues and create a show with both great writing and an exciting and relevant location. We are also lucky enough to be working with a writer who shares the same vision so this should work on our side. Now all I have to do is find it. Let the search begin.
Image by John Bullas