The Sir John Cass School at London Metropolitan University have decided to try something different for this year’s final showcase on their Theatre course. Instead of a straight show that a member of staff directs, they are taking over The Ditch in Shoreditch Town Hall for a immersive, site-specific set of works that the students direct, produce, create and control. The audience goes into this weird and wonderful journey and in every room, there’s a different show – DEN is a festival of secrets, cryptic missions and general hush-hush.
Despite being given free reign each student has both a creative and a production/ technical element to their contribution – an important lesson to learning skills that will translate in the outside world, where the triple threat theatremaker is ever more important at the start of a career.
I caught up with a set of these students and festival curator Jacek Ludwig Scarso to see how the final preparations were going:
What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
Shann: My group’s piece is called Shakers and at the beginning, we had to find a script that we liked – we decided from the beginning that we didn’t want to create something ourselves. But we wanted to do something fun, so finding a script that fitted all our personalities that we enjoyed was our first obstacle. Luckily, we all had the same idea but anything that we read didn’t have ‘it’. Now coming to the end, we like the play more than we did in the beginning – going through rehearsals with Jacek’s help, we’ve changed it a bit and made it ours.
Holly: In our work, Sizzers and Dye, we wrote our own script so that for us involved a lot of editing. Over time we’ve developed it and our characters have grown into it – it’s been amazing to write, we’ve never written a full piece before. There were times when the two of us had written different bits and had to compromise. In our last editing we were really brutal, we had to!
Jacek: There’s always a risk to keep on editing and polishing, to devise right until the end and that’s quite risky. There is no such thing as perfect. From my point of view what was interesting as a task is that the brief is completely open; some groups have decided to do a devised work, some to do an existing script, some to go for an installation, others for more of a drama piece.
How does it feel to put something on in such an exciting space?
Argyro: From the beginning, it was exciting for us, especially in the ditch which has nothing like the classical approach of the Town Hall ground floor – it’s dark and mysterious and matched with our concept. It was a challenge though because we are taking the space into consideration, but also making our pieces flexible so that they can play in different spaces later on. We are conscious that someone could get lost in there, but we want that!
Jacek: The venue themselves have been really open about this, they like the fact that this will be an immersive piece and are ok with people walking around, which surprised me from a health & safety perspective.
Do you all prefer producing or creating?
Holly: I do want to be a producer when I leave, so this is the side I know that I thrive in. I’m also stage managing the festival too and I love the organisation of it – schedules, contacts and liaising with front of house.
Shann: I didn’t think I would enjoy the producing this much, but we’ve all got our different roles within producing. I was doing the press release – telling me to be creative and develop my own piece is what I find difficult, but with the press release it was quite straightforward. I like communicating with people, I love social media, so I didn’t find it hard to do. It makes it real.
Dora: For me, I chose to create the picture because I love editing pictures, so it was great for me to improve and show my skills for this. It was really exciting to research.
Iza: For me, it’s acting and directing. I love everything about them – the fact that it’s live and alive through us, that we can show and express our beliefs and our ways of understanding the world through our pieces. I created my show, KGB Cabaret, because I always wanted to make a show that is exciting, glamorous and with beautiful women but to add in the understanding of where I’m from [Romania] and how people there are stereotypically misunderstood.
Argyro: I think that for both sides it’s a big lesson though. Later on, whatever we do, we will have to take everything into consideration now and this puts us in the reality of things. You learn to have a Plan B, C and even D just in case.
How did your vision change from when it was in your head?
Argyro: For myself and Dora, it has changed a million times from the idea to the end of it, except the fact that ours is a durational piece based on a Greek myth. It’s a live art installation with one person being there all the time, which has its challenges as well – mainly being honest with yourself about things not working and be strong enough to reject ideas and move on. That was a very big thing for us. Theatre is all about rejection anyway!
Who or what are your inspirations?
Marissa: I’m from New York and on an exchange with this course – at my university we don’t have a producing course, it’s so different than London Met. I saw a show (Killers) at Shoreditch Town Hall when I first came to London and then heard we were doing the showcase there and couldn’t believe it! So, for me, the inspiration is seeing how amazing this course is and learning what I can take home.
Holly: My inspiration is probably my own happiness – I came onto this course after doing Psychology, which I hated. Even in school, people told me that I wouldn’t be any good in this industry. I do this now because it makes me so happy, I’m never bored and I want to continue doing it.
Chelsea: Mine is similar to Holly’s, I really enjoy making and creating things. For this show, I made my own whip! It sounds big headed but I’m really proud of these little things.
Shann: I did drama at secondary school and went to do a BTEC. Then I got pregnant so took some time out with my daughter; when I finished I loved it but thought that now I’m a mum, I need to do something that would get me a job. After working in a call centre, I wanted to go to university so called up through the clearing process – I wanted to do journalism but got talking to the lecturer for theatre and she convinced me to audition. The reaction from my friends and family excites me; they don’t do it, no-one around me does this and when they see it they have so much to talk about. This is not our background, our upbringing – I’m doing something different and feel their support.
Argyro: I always wanted to do theatre all of my life. My parents were lawyers so everyone expected me to be serious too, but I went to drama school in Greece. Then the financial crisis hit and I got lost because of what happened. I was a successful manager in a well-known restaurant in Greece but I wasn’t happy. A cousin of mine was coming to England to study and I found that I could do that too – I couldn’t speak much English at all. But London Met replied and wanted to phone interview me, so I spoke to Jacek and hid a dictionary on my lap! A few weeks later I got accepted, I came and I’m back in the game!
Dora: I chose arts because I always felt in the back when I was younger, I was really shy. Back in Hungary I would have had no opportunity to be in the arts; when I came to London seven years ago I spoke no English either. I heard about this course through a workshop at the last college I was at. Throughout these three years I’ve found my interest in theatre and to do more backstage work. When I do lighting, that’s everything – seeing how the theatre space changes completely.
Iza: There is so much freedom in this country; there is so much freedom in this educational system; there is so much freedom that sometimes I feel that I don’t know how to react; there is so much freedom that sometimes I feel we don’t deserve it – in comparison to where I’m from, Transylvania, it’s very different. I was used to an educational system that was very specific, but here the world works in a different way so the challenge for me was to adapt and take positive aspects from both worlds to create something where I can grow. My inspiration is real stories that happen to real people and showing them in the right way.
DEN plays Shoreditch Town Hall from 4 – 6 May. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.