At a time when it looks like many venues might stay closed until 2021, some theatre companies are turning to interactive production.
At one end of the scale, the National Theatre quickly started streaming recordings of its plays on YouTube at specific times, with other companies streaming recordings alongside hashtagged watch parties on Twitter. Recent weeks have seen shows such as Operation Elsewhere and Long Distance Affair using Zoom for live performances, and the Plymouth Point murder mystery.
We were lucky enough to be part of a remarkable feat by Olivier Award-nominated Pins & Needles Productions, which shows off what’s possible using Stornaway.
Using a small pot of Arts Council’s Covid emergency funding, they set themselves the challenge of producing Select A Quest, an interactive film for children, in just 72 hours – using 9 actors in lockdown!
The right tool at the right time!
We and Pins & Needles actually only found each other halfway through this 72 hour challenge, via an introduction from Jack Drewry, who worked with Kate on her 2016 Songbirds live show.
Pins and Needles adapted Select A Quest from an immersive theatre show they’d produced for Bristol Old Vic’s Ferment Fortnight a while ago. They had been hoping to deliver it using YouTube’s interactive links – but hadn’t got to that point yet, and had also discovered a big blocker to this: YouTube’s Made For Kids restrictions, which stop YouTube interactivity being used on Kids content.
Jack saw Kate’s message that we’d just launched – and so with fabulous serendipity, Stornaway came to the rescue at just the right time.
How it all happened in 72 hours
Day 1 – Writing
For the first 24 hours, award winning writer Bea Roberts (The Borrowers, The Little Mermaid) wrote an interactive script with an impressive 27 scenes, which lets the audience explore the Freaky Forest – “the UK’s most cursed forest” – meeting a wild cast of eccentric characters.
She’s written it for kids aged 6+, with some lovely extra layers of humour for adults. You start by dropping through a Time Portal to meet Captain Jenny from Quest Camp, who tells you, “It’s 1971… or 2?” and sets you off on a mission to find her missing magic whistle – to stop the curse before nightfall.
There’s only one way through the forest, but there are a whole lot of nasty ways to die!
Day 2- Production
In the second 24 hours, the scenes were performed and filmed by 9 actors in their own homes using inventive DIY makeup and set dressing – with direction and design overseen by co-artistic directors Emma Earle and Zoe Squire.
Day 3 – Post
In the last 24 hours, all the footage was edited by Lee Rayner, using beautiful graphics by Iina Kuula – while improvisational virtuoso musical director Jack Drewry created atmospheric original music for each scene.
Meanwhile, all 27 scenes were magically assembled into a seamless interactive experience by Alice Massey, using Stornaway.
… and Stornaway!
When we found each other, we had a quick Zoom call – and then they were up and running, putting their existing whiteboard plan and post-its into Stornaway’s playable Story Map.
Lee could then upload video files and instantly play-test them in Stornaway, to see how each scene and story path was working.
This not only saved a lot of time and avoided confusion – but even more importantly it allowed Alice and Lee to focus their effort on fine-tuning the story and visuals during post-production.
Finally, they embedded the finished Select A Quest on their website at www.selectaquest.co.uk using Stornaway’s interactive player.
“Playful and positive”
For the last 2 weeks, it’s had great reviews and has been delighting more children, much further afield than a regular live performance would be able to.
Co-artistic director Emma Earle said, “This period of social distancing has seen people respond in extraordinarily diverse, creative ways, using arts and culture to provide a much-needed sense of release and community,” says Emma.
“We decided to make Select A Quest to give both our audience and our community of artists an opportunity to be involved in something playful and positive in such a challenging time.”
Pins and Needles are now looking at what they could do next, perhaps with ticket sales or in partnership with venues. They’ve said that if they’d had Stornaway right from the start, they’d have been able to do even more.
As Lyn Gardner said in The Stage a few weeks ago, a lot of digital theatre has felt very “take a recording down from the back of the shelf, dust it down and fling it up online” rather than encouraging new writing and innovation.
We’re just so delighted to see what happens when talented creative teams embrace this new form and get such value out of Stornaway. It’s inspiring to see what’s possible even with such a tight timescale and budget – and especially impressive to learn that this is Pins & Needles’ first screen production.
If you’re a theatre maker looking to explore interactive stories, please get in touch. You might also like to read Kate’s blog post about the echoes of live performance in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt interactive episode.
And if you have kids aged 6+, what are you waiting for? Click here to fall through a Time Portal to 1971 (or 2) and #FindTheWhistle!
Produced by Pins & Needles
Directed by Emma Earle
Art Direction by Zoe Squire
Written by Bea Roberts
Composed by Jack Drewry
Visual Post by Lee Rayner
Illustrated by Iina Kuula
Marketing by Keshyn Squire & Alice Massey
Interactive production tools by Stornaway