Rosemary Waugh talks to Sharon Clark, the creative director of Raucous, about their new promenade piece, The Stick House, and building worlds beneath the streets of Bristol.
Rosemary Waugh: Firstly, I wondered if you could just give an overall description of The Stick House – what is it about?
Sharon Clark: The Stick House is the first production by the new Bristol theatre company, Raucous, which was formed to explore work that melds live performance, music, projection and creative digital to make a story more immediate, immersive and heightened for an audience. The Stick House is a gothic fairy tale for adults of how Marietta was lost to the Beast by her father at the gaming table. We hit the story when the Beast needs to claim her but she has fallen in love elsewhere…and time is running out. It is funny in places, poignant in others with a slight chill running through it at certain times. Our aim was that the story reveals as many surprises as the technology.
RW: The Stick House is going to be staged in tunnels underneath Temple Meads station – how did you manage to, firstly, find this venue and then get permission to use it?
SC: This was such a long haul and, as always with a project like this, not one we foresaw. It took us almost a year to find a space – we wanted to make this in a non-traditional theatre space, a found space, an old warehouse, a disused office block, we were open to any call but there was nothing. And then finally, when we had nearly lost all hope, we heard that Doug Francisco of The Invisible Circus with Artspace Lifespace had taken over the old ash pits under Bristol Temple Meads. We contacted him and saw the space, which is truly astonishing – definitely worth the wait and stress of trying to find a space. Doug then asked us if we wanted to be first in the space and we jumped at it. It has also been an opportunity to work with the Invisibles on getting the space ready and that was a collaboration we really valued.
RW: Also – is it going to be used for anything else after this production?
SC: Doug I know has plans for the space for music, cabaret, film, theatre and circus. If anyone can, Doug can. This city needs more imaginative spaces to make creative work in, performance venues are very scarce. Especially when this city is bursting at the seams with incredibly talented creative people making work that needs a home. I have no doubt the space will have an incredible vibrant and eclectic programme.
RW: In 2011, Pervasive Media began work on a project called The Stick House. How has this original work evolved into the work about to be staged in September 2015?
SC: It has taken four years – the process is a long one because of how many collaborators there are and how long it takes to raise the funding for a project like this that can be viewed as not mainstream. We also didn’t want to rush the process as we wanted to explore all the avenues, have all the conversations and make sure we were making some creative decisions. This is a big production with many different creative inputs that we have to listen to, consider and implement. But now is the right time to go to production, we think we have the story and the telling of it right.
RW: The Stick House is a collaboration with a really exciting group of different people. Can you run us through who they all are and what they are bringing to the production?
SC: Yes we have some really stellar talents on this such as Limbic Cinema who have produced the most extraordinary and beautiful projection mapping, Timothy X Atack has composed the haunting original music and sound, Ben Pacey with ingenious lighting, the genius that is Kyle Hirani on some key creative technology, Jack Offord with his compelling filmmaking, Conor Murphy’s elegant design and Anna Ledwich in the room with a superb cast, working on the text. We are truly blessed.
Building a house of sticks.Building a house of sticks.
RW: The show is a promenade piece, which the audience walk through instead of being seated. Without giving too much away, how does this work narratively? Are the audience directed through or left to wander where they like?
SC: The technology has been key in helping us guide the audience through the space, but we don’t rely solely on that. The audience is directed through but we hope very much in keeping with the world we have built and with the story we are weaving. I was less interested in ‘gaming’ elements of a show and more intrigued by what technology can do in revealing a story to an audience who feel part of it but don’t necessarily feel obliged to influence it. We try to make the audience journey as creative and compelling as possible so that they don’t realise they are being led through a space.
RW: Aside from Angela Carter, the aesthetic of The Stick House reminded me of several different things, most notably on stage the works of Kneehigh Theatre and No Fit State circus. Where did you draw inspiration from and whose works do you admire, both on stage and in other art forms (I also noted that Otto Dix was mentioned)?
SC: I am a big fan of both companies and so am sure that I have dipped into their creative pot just a bit – hard not to when they have such an influence creatively. I am a playwright ostensibly so a lot of my influences are other playwrights such as Martin Donagh and Lucy Kirkwood alongside performer/writers such as Daniel Kitson and Tim Crouch. However, saying that, The Stick House is a big departure from my usual stomping ground of writing contemporary plays. Punchdrunk is constantly referenced, though our narrative is less fragmented than theirs as we tell the narrative lineally.
RW: After this run in Bristol, what are your plans for the show – is it going to be taken anywhere else? Equally, what are your plans as a company – do you have any ideas regarding life after The Stick House?
SC: Yes we have an eye on the future – I know that touring is something we do have in mind and a few people are coming to see it who might be interested in helping us make that happen. But we need to see how The Stick House is received, what lessons we can learn from this particular run and how we can take that learning forward. I think we have found the process stimulating, exasperating, inspiring and bewildering but there is little doubt that we want to make work this way – a giant web of collaboration that crosses artistic form. But yes I do have an idea for the next production…
The Stick House runs from 7th September -17th October 2015.