“People come in really knowing not much at all other than that they’re going to be by themselves…”
It’s a bold move for an immersive show: staging a story to just one audience member at a time. As Director Nick Saunders put it, it could have been ‘commercial suicide!’ Such is the experience which cmd+shift sets out to create with their new show Chronos which features as part of the Basic Space Festival 2017. Producer Grace Cook and Nick took the time to sit down with me in the final week of rehearsals, to talk about just how you write a show for one person.
Rona Kelly: Can you start by giving us a little introduction to your company and the show.
Nick Saunders: We’re CMD+Shift and this is our first piece at Basic Space Festival and it’s called Chronos. We’re formed of myself and Grace, and we both studied together at university. I heard about the festival when the applications were going in. And when I heard about the space, I thought up an idea of putting a show on for one audience member at a time, so they get the whole house to themselves. And so I wrote out an application and said in the form, ‘I fully understand that this will make no money and is commercial suicide! But if you guys are up for testing something out and seeing what we can do, then it could be really fun’. And thankfully, they agreed!
I got Grace on board as my Producer and started to put the script together and form all the ideas to basically create a show about a relationship. And I won’t say too much…I don’t want to give anything away! We’ve been quite…
Grace Cook: Aloof!
NS: Yes, we’ve deliberately kept it quite under wraps. We’ve known from the start what story we want to tell and how we want to tell it. The approach that we’ve taken is one that is most benefited from knowing as little as possible going into it. People come in really knowing not much at all other than that they’re going to be by themselves.
RK: It could be quite unnerving to quite a few people to actually be in the space alone. What made you think of that idea of that way of storytelling?
NS: A big part of it comes from video gaming. There’s kind of a big push for first person narrative based walk-through games, and I play a lot of them and I find them really fascinating as a concept. So I really wanted to try and make that in real life, because I don’t see why it should just be contained to video games. It can be done so effectively in a theatre space, hopefully we’ll find out!
Also, having one person by themselves also goes towards another issue I have with immersive, participatory theatre. When you’re there at a piece and you’re being yourself and having to interact with actors and other people and play the game, I can find it quite painful, I feel silly. So I wanted to create something where you’re just by yourself and you don’t have to worry about other people and you can just interact with it in the way that you feel comfortable. You can sit there and say nothing and just take it all in, or you can be a bit more proactive and start engaging with it in whatever you think is necessary.
GC: I think another aspect as well is that when we’ve gone to immersive shows, you’re often in quite large groups and you’ll come out of it and one of your friends will go, ‘Oh, I had an individual experience!’ And you’ll go, ‘Damn! I didn’t get that! Who did I need to talk to?’ We just want to remove that completely, that expectation and say, ‘You get this, this is guaranteed’.
NS: This is for you.
RK: That creates such an individual experience. My friend is going in just before, so afterwards it’ll be nice to put our heads together and compare.
NS: Exactly, brilliant. Also, one of the first things you said was about people being scared or skittish or unsure once they’re in there. That’s something we’ve been very wary of since the beginning. We’re making it clear to everyone who’s going through it that this isn’t something designed to scare you. It’s not a dark show in any way; it’s about feeling something positive and nice by the end of it.
GC: No one is going to jump out at you! If they do, something’s gone wrong.
RK: They’re not supposed to be there. Afterwards the audience member comes out and says, ‘I really enjoyed that bit where the guy was talking…bit weird he didn’t have any clothes on!’
NS: ‘If that’s what you’re going for with this show…okay!’
RK: And finally, have you been able to get in the building to have a look around? What are your thoughts on the space?
NS: It’s amazing. When I first applied and was looking at the images from the festival last year, just the way the building has been left and looks. And getting to actually go into the space, we’ve been two or three times now to measure things up and walk around and get a feel for it. We’re just very lucky that the festival is designed for those two spaces, the way they look and feel. And that’s what we’re trying to do with the show: muse that to actually make a story. And that’s we’ve done, create something that’s bespoke to that atmosphere.
GC: Exactly. I think the premise and story line could be replicated in another space. But for the way that it’s written at this present moment and its format, it can only work there.
NS: It’s a really special space.