“Theatricalizing encounters makes you think about your choices, about how you engage with things in your day to day life”, Mimi Poskitt, Co-Artistic Director of theatre company Look Left, Look Right tells me. Poskitt and Ben Freedman founded the company in 2005. Based in East Anglia, Look Left Look Right have produced a wide range of performances , from their Skype-based interactive show You Don’t Know Him, He Lives in Texas, a collaboration with a US-based theatre company, to The Caravan, a documentary piece about the UK floods of 2007. Their work is both intimate and expansive, engaging in a variety of theatrical paradigms- from site-specific to immersive, from verbatim to documentary. “We want to tell stories, and find the form that best suits that story. We’re interested in the intimate experiences that theatre allows you.”
Their Edinburgh-hit You Once Said Yes, which is coming to the Roundhouse this summer, was a one on one walking tour around a city, where audiences meet characters in various locations who point them to the next leg of their journey. “It’s about taking people to spaces they wouldn’t normally go, and allowing people to experience those sites.”
For the company, every show has a different set of criteria and rules of engagement are reworked to construct the experience. “We train actors to react to different audiences and make sure that everything is laid out from the beginning. The audience’s immediate reaction is not to get involved, so we tell them what is possible to do and allow for a lot of ways for people to engage with the work.”
If You Once Said Yes is a more controlled, linear journey, for their recent production as part of the Transform 2012 Festival at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, You: The Player, Poskitt was interested in introducing a level of competition within the structure of the performance, using the building as a conceptual guide. “The back of house at West Yorkshire Playhouse is a maze; everybody gets lost there. It really struck me that the architecture of that space was a theatrical device in itself, and we really wanted to build on that.”
The intention, from the onset, was to commission five local writers to respond to the space- turning a building into a show. “I got a map and walked a lot until I found a way to negotiate the building. We chose the spaces, and invited the writers for a workshop where we brainstormed ideas and concepts. Each of them chose three spaces which they are writing for.” Poskitt underlines that it’s these collaborations that really help shape the work. For the writers, it’s an interesting opportunity to develop text responding to a different stimulus, not being restricted to a particular theatrical environment, but engaging with the history and architecture of the space, imagining the characters which could inhabit it.
You: The Player is also their most ambitious show to date, featuring over fifty performers ranging from ages seventeen to seventy; aside from the aesthetic and textual engagement with the space, the company have also created an entire narrative surrounding the performance itself. Audiences both in the building and online will be able to engage with the characters directly; there will be a live Twitter feed incorporated into the show, and each audience member will engage differently within the performance, which functions on basic game principles. “It’s absolutely about how each person plays it. You can ask characters for advice, you can buy information, there are scenes which will ask you to engage with something, and that will inform you choices.” The performance takes the form of a game, set on different levels of the building- so the challenge for the company is to work out the mechanics of the event, negotiating choice and agency in the audience experience.
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