On the 17th March, it will be exactly one year since UK theatre came to an overnight standstill. Every day as we approach the anniversary, Theatre Bubble will be releasing personal accounts from theatre makers across all areas of the industry, telling us what this unexpected and unprecedented year has been like for them. See the full series here: Hands Face & Empty Space
Like it has been for many other companies, the past year has been challenging. Our show Miles Apart Together on three female explorers, Annie Londonderry Kopchovsky, Bessie Smith and Junko Tabei, was due to open at Vault Festival the day lockdown measures came into place. As soon as that happened we tried to think of how we could keep telling the stories we wanted to, and how to keep our company alive without drowning in online theatre. Despite having appreciated all the shows that were put online and all the projects that managed to find other incarnations, I believe that theatre has to be experienced live, the magic is created when audiences and performances share the same space.
It also became clear quite soon that to create compelling online shows one had to master the techniques of the medium. We couldn’t improvise ourselves as editors or visual effects professionals. We then decided to train in areas that would give us tools that would turn out to be useful also for online translations of our shows if we wanted to take that direction. We tried to find other ways of sharing our stories. We had an online quiz related to our show Diary of an Expat about becoming a British citizen. We transformed Miles Apart Together into a podcast, which happened to work really well and enhanced the imagination around a woman reaching the summit of Mount Everest or cycling around the world. It allowed us to play with the imagination of the listeners and their vision of the worlds we were portraying. We’ve had online shows, like our Diary of an Expat – which was nominated for an Offie – or an online sharing of a new project Franca Says No partly related to the story of Franca Viola who is a brave Italian woman not many people know about outside of Italy. While we went through the process of adaptation, we tried to focus on the relationship between the performers and the audience more than anything else, how could we feel close to audiences through a screen? How could we keep that connection?
At the same time we started developing new projects remotely, with little support and with a vision for fruition in a socially distanced theatre world. As it’s often the case, limits can also provide opportunities, and the necessity of being careful with audiences somehow put the core of the theatrical experience even more at the centre of our focus: audiences. How to tell that specific story to audiences after the experience of the pandemic? It made us rethink structure, space, voice, all the elements of a show. And it made us commit to the stories we want to share, celebrating women, bold and inquisitive stories, stories of outsiders their achievements.
On the new show Franca Says No we’re working with artists in several different countries. At first it was hard to plan as nobody really knew how long measures would last, when theatres would reopen, but then it became clear that the arts weren’t a priority and that forced us all to rethink our artistic practice. Even our daily practice as writers, actors, director and producers. What it meant to write and have your words heard through the filter of a screen and headphones, to keep our bodies alert and beaming as performers, to organise budgets and apply for grants being well aware of the drop in funds available to all. It took a while but we naturally embraced the amount of time we had to research and develop without the demands of a final production. The freedom of the limit. As our director Katharina Reinthaller said we worked to “embrace the possibilities of our new online lives; have shaped our skills to keep creating exciting work that sparksconversations and inspires people.”
And on top of that the personal obviously played a big role. As migrant artists it was hard to not be able to go to see our families, hearing the news of what was happening in our native countries. We had chosen distance and now it had become a burden rather than an act of freedom. Moreover, if before the pandemic there was little attention to expats and migrants, that gap seemed to widen during covid and that’s why I worked to released a podcast version of the show Diary of an Expat. To share stories about expats in the UK with wider audiences across Europe, to make them feel less lonely, especially when they were far away from their families and feeling perhaps even more invisible.