Suzanne Andrade, co-artistic director and founder of 1927, a company presenting its daring piece The animals and children took to the streets at this year’s Edinburgh Showcase, explains how it wasn’t the British Council that chose her company but the other way around.
In our last show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, there is a dreaded audience participation scene. The idea came from a friend who suggested that for our show to really work at the Edinburgh Showcase, we needed to involve the audience more.
Reluctantly we started thinking how this could be done whilst avoiding any participation clichés or making half of the guests wish they’d stayed in the pub.
We decided to totally exploit the worry, and indeed fear, that audience participation in the theatre can often provoke.
The two creepy twin sisters from Between the Devil… (who are a bit like those sisters in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, though maybe a bit scarier) return to the stage seeking a new playmate.
At this point in the show, the house lights slowly brighten and the majority of the audience looks at the floor, squirms uncomfortably, and we look out for a suitable candidate.
What constitutes the ideal audience member in this scenario? Well, the ideal person can’t be trembling with fear. We don’t want to ruin anyone’s night or cause serious trauma that will take years of therapy to remedy. On the other hand, we don’t want a keen amateur actor, desperate to perform those comedy faces he’s been perfecting in the bathroom mirror.
My eye fell on a fairly ordinary and friendly-looking fellow in the crowd.
Dressed in a moth-eaten frock and an old woman’s bonnet, he willingly allowed himself to be escorted to the stage and then be mildly humiliated and possibly even slightly disturbed by us in front of the whole audience.
He was a good sport, received a warm round of applause, and the show went swimmingly well.
The next day we were given a hand-written note from one of the theatre staff. It was from the man who we had dragged up on stage in the previous show, and it turned out that, from the entire audience, we’d gone and picked a well-respected Drama and Dance Projects Manager from the British Council… and he wanted us to meet him that night at the stage door.
Had we mortally offended him? What could he possibly want to see us for?
Our fears were allayed when he began enthusing about the show, and then escorted us to a fantastic pub he knew round the corner where we talked until the wee hours. He spoke honestly and passionately about the kinds of theatre the British Council supported. Then we all threw a few shapes on the dance floor.
After that first meeting, we had British Council delegates from all over the world come and see our previously unheard-of show. Touring offers from places we’d never dreamt of visiting started to trickle in.
A few months later we found ourselves in Sri Lanka performing to a packed house of locals, and running workshops for children and theatre professionals.
We’ve since worked with the British Council on a number of occasions, and have often sought its advice at home and abroad.
We hope the project manager we met all those years ago will be able to come along and see our new show The Animals and Children Took to the Streets.
We promise not to dress him up as a gothic grandmother this time.
Whether or not he recovered from the experience we never found out. But we think secretly he probably quite enjoyed it.
Founded by performance poet Suzanne Andrade and animator Paul Barritt, 1927 began life on the outskirts of the cabaret scene. The company’s first show, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, was a hit in Edinburgh in 2007 and toured widely from New York to Sri Lanka. 1927 is best known for its playful mix of live performance and projected animation. With darkly comic storytelling, the company explores contemporary issues inspired by the macabre nature of fairy stories, silent films and Edwardian illustration.
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