Jonathan Oldfield shares some thoughts about making interactive theatre for (and with) audiences post-pandemic, ahead of his work-in-progress of One Way Mirror on the 22nd March.
Hey! Wow! You’re reading this! How great! Much like a tapas bar, I’m going to give you the menu of paragraphs this blog post will contain, that way you can pick and choose what you want to eat. Full three courses? Go for it. Just a dessert? No judgement here. Little plates for the brain.
Small plates or as a starter (paragraphs 1 and 2)
- Introduction to me
- Introduction to the show
Larger plates to share (paragraphs 3 and 4)
- Some thoughts on making theatre post-pandemic
- Some ideas about what audiences might want post-pandemic
Dessert (paragraphs 5 and 6)
- A shameless plug to come to my work-in-progress
- A silly joke
Ok, so here we go. I’m Jonathan Oldfield, I’m a theatre-maker living in East London. I make interactive stories in theatre, comedy and cabaret spaces. I like to make work that makes people laugh and think, choose and be chosen, be silly and be serious.
Interactive theatre, for me, is a broad church. Sometimes it can be fully immersive and interactive (think roleplaying games etc) sometimes it can be about giving an audience some choice in what they see (like the recently Olivier nominated ‘Age is a Feeling’ by Haley McGee), sometimes it can be the audience challenging the performers to create new work in front of their eyes (short-form improvisation, for example). Where the excitement in the genre lives, is in the ability for an audience to feel even more present in a room with a piece of theatre - altering, affecting, driving the story. In a sense, all theatre is interactive theatre, that’s what helps us differentiate from other art forms. Even a traditional, well-rehearsed play will be affected by the laughter, sighs, tears and applause of every different audience. The show I’m working on at the moment, One Way Mirror, has it’s basis in the idea of interacting with others. It is the true story of a man (me hello) living with a large one way mirror in his front room. As people walk past on the busy high street, he sees them and they see themselves. This show is about the art of people watching and, as such, it seemed obvious to me that the audience will need to have some agency in choosing how they want to experience the show. Sometimes interactive theatre can feel like it’s for extroverts only. With this story, the question is; Do you just want to watch or be watched? Do you want to get involved, or sit anonymously? The very themes of the show itself are inherent in the form of the work.
For an artist who likes to improvise with an audience, and let them affect the outcome, direction, tone and content of a piece of live performance, the pandemic certainly wasn’t an easy time. Aside from the obvious need to stay indoors, socially distance and keep people safe, even as we started coming out of government restrictions it seemed to me that theatre audiences had shifted. It makes sense, we were apart from each other for such a long time, and theatre is (at it’s core) a communal experience. Some people are less comfortable in larger groups, or with meeting new people. So what role does theatre have, post-pandemic, in helping us reconnect with each other? What’s the point in it? Why don’t we stay in and watch TV? And additionally, what can interactive theatre do to support and encourage all personality types to engage with new work? Where’s the engaging, live theatre for the introverts? We’re in a bit of a pickle! Hence the image of pickle jars. Pickle.
One of the things myself and Lorna have found ourselves asking as we’ve headed back to the theatre is: why is this live? Considering the advances of digital theatre, Zoom shows, live streaming, as well as the array of on-demand tv/film streaming platforms, when we see a play we wonder sometimes “why is this live?”. If leaving your sofa at home is harder than it was pre-pandemic (and I know it is for me) then what should we be offering, as theatre-makers, to make the theatre-going experience as exciting as possible? The answer (I think, but no promises, I’m not a genius) lies in reminding ourselves that theatre is a live communal experience. Creating and engaging in work that champions audience agency, audience choice and audience involvement, as well as creating truly unique and one-off performances help audiences connect to the feeling that: the show they are watching tonight will only happen this way once, it is directly changed by their presence in the room, and it must be experienced live. We must bring old audiences back to the theatre, and encourage new ones too. We must help audience look around at each other and say “this feels different from watching a movie at home”. Create new connections, laugh with old friends. Have a proper night out.
With that in mind, I think you should probably get yourself a ticket to One Way Mirror on the 22nd March at 9pm. Tickets are only £8 and it’s a work-in-progress so it certainly will be very live and, as I’ve already chatted about, the show can’t happen without you. It will be moulded by your choices, your ideas and your thoughts. And it’ll never happen this way again. Intriguing, huh?
As promised, here is a joke I came up with. It’s silly. Please enjoy it:
What did the cheese say to the mirror? Halloumi.
What did the cheese say to the one way mirror? Hallouyou.
Wed 22 Mar at 9pm