"We want to make immersive and interactive theatre that explores the problems in modern society in the same way that traditional theatre might, but with the audience getting to be a part of the story.”
Joe Strickland talks about the motivations for Chronic Insanity’s show Seven Strikes, coming to CPT 7th March for its debut performance as part of SPRINT Festival 2023.
Content notice: mentions of police brutality and vigilantism
As a young theatre company we struggle with the urge to tell immediate and relevant stories but lack funding to make projects move quickly, or happen at all. This can be especially tricky if, like us, you want to dip your toe into the immersive theatre world, given how expensive the Crown Jewels of the genre tend to be to make and run. A huge cast and expansive explorable set sounds great - but with a couple of hundred quid, how can you live up to that?
At Chronic Insanity we sing the praises of a lo-fi theatre making philosophy, where you avoid a high amplitude of visual aesthetic experience and focus resources and efforts on the other key elements of an interactive story. For everything taken away from how the experience looks, we can add more into the mechanics: the way it functions, the way it feels to interact with as an audience. However, aesthetics aren’t purely visual, and a lot of the aesthetics of how an experience feels can be maintained, or even amplified, in spite of a lack of visuals. Aesthetics is less about how an experience looks and more about how it feels, and with the right project, feeling can be completely independent of budget.
Will the CPT basement look like anything other than a basement during our performance… no. We’re a new regional company and can’t afford the set, let alone the transport or storage costs. So to get around this we’ll be making a show that fits into a basement space. This sort of site-specific approach helps make creating immersive and interactive work much more affordable and accessible to early career theatre makers, and to everyone really.
But the space isn’t the only thing being presented as part of the show, so let’s talk performers. At Chronic, for our interactive work, we tend to work with performers who have strong improv backgrounds. Nottingham, where we’re based, has a wonderful and vibrant improv scene and, for the sort of off-the-rail truly interactive experience we’ll be creating, drawing from that community is a great way to make sure that your audience can take the story in any direction that they want.
The extra added benefit of this flexible approach is that the story can also be steered away from anywhere the audience doesn’t want it to go. Given the themes and content in the show (police brutality, vigilantism) if an audience doesn’t all want to take part in certain elements of the show then we don’t have to include those sections. An off-the-rails interactive performance isn’t just about giving the audience what they want, but can also be about increasing accessibility and reducing or removing themes or content that the audience doesn’t want to engage with on the evening of the performance. Given the topic of our experience, and the current relevant news stories, this was necessary for us to consider when making the show.
We want to make immersive and interactive theatre that explores the problems in modern society in the same way that traditional theatre might, but with the audience getting to be a part of the story. However, the intensity of experience that some of those stories can conjure can be amplified by the immersive medium, so a balance must be struck. If that balance is found, then a unique experience can be created where the audience get to be a part of a current event, wrestle with it in a safe environment, and understand an issue in a much more hands-on and empathetic way than passively watching a play.
We tell stories to entertain, enlighten, and socially bond with each other and, while all stories can entertain and enlighten to a high degree, an immersive or interactive story can increase that feeling of social bonding twofold. Firstly, by actually “going through” the experience of the story together and secondly by being in the shoes of someone in the heart of the issue and gaining a different perspective from it.
Put simply: flexibility and a lo-fi aesthetic can allow you to make a show whatever you want, on a reduced budget, without sacrificing the quality of the audience experience. Our show is gonna be whatever you, the audience, want it to be. We’ll be in the CPT basement with a pertinent idea and the theatrical mechanism to guide the audience through it. If you want to spend an hour being an elite band of consultants helping to get to the bottom of a vigilante group terrorising the police then you know where we’ll be!
Tue 7th March at 9pm