Artistic director and story teller Danyah Miller tells us about adapting Wizard Presents’ planned stage production of The Secret Garden into a unique Secret Garden Experience in a box – combining hands on crafts and games with audio storytelling and digital augmented reality.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Secret Garden Experience and how it came to be?
Prior to lockdown we were planning to create our next solo theatrical storytelling production based on The Secret Garden which had been a favourite story of mine as a child. When I re-read it I realised that the themes of life and death, emotional and mental well being and the power and magic of nature were still as relevant as they had been when the book was first written in 1910.
When theatres closed forced to close, due to C-19, we’d just completed a research and development rehearsal week and were so disappointed to have to cancel our upcoming rehearsals and performance dates. The core Wizard team was still keen to continue with the production so, after a brainstorming session we came up with the concept that people could enjoy at home, in nature and on line. Kate Bunce, our project designer, and I had created something similar on a much smaller scale and this is what sparked the whole idea, which we have subsequently realised is a unique offer.
The Experience is a combination of 8 audio episodes, a beautiful handcrafted physical ’Secret Box’ containing 8 packages, which arrives through the post and 8 digital packages filled with games, puzzles, challenges, facts and video content… as if this isn’t enough there’s also an app with augmented reality content.
It’s a delightful adventure that families can enjoy over an 8 day period.
And who have you worked with on it?
I’m working with the most glorious and talented creative team. Kate Bunce our project designer with whom I’ve worked on a number of productions; Arun Ghosh, composer and sound designer for the audio episodes; Anna and David from idontloveyouanymore, our digital partners; Dani Parr, director worked with me on the audio episodes and Gemma Boaden supported me as voice coach. As well as the creative team I’m so lucky to work with superb production, administrative and marketing teams and partners. We’ve co-produced this unique Experience with Watford Palace Theatre and Oxford Playhouse and are supported by Hertfordshire Libraries Services.
Hayley Chester has recently joined the core Wizard Team as our Executive Producer, it’s fantastic to be working closely with her to develop and grow this special project.
What have been the most surprising discoveries about adapting theatre into an interactive at home experience?
I have learnt so much during this process and it has certainly tested and challenged us, almost every step of the way! The rehearsal process is usually such a collaborative and playful part of the process so I’ve really missed being with everyone. We had to rely on phone and zoom calls and email. It’s not the same as being able to discuss and play together in one room . One of the things I hadn’t really considered was when I’d finished recording the 8 audio episodes I couldn’t re-do them, make them better, develop them in anyway as I do when if I’m performing on stage. On stage, every performance is different as I interact and respond to each different audience. It’s also such a different experience. I’ve also been aware that, because this is an a blended project, it’s a challenge to explain to our audiences what a rich and magical offer it is.
Do you see yourself making work like this again?
I’m really proud of what the team has created together, and I definitely have more ideas along similar lines…. Although I miss live theatre very much, I think, like others in the theatre industry, we’ve learnt a lot about how to engage with our audiences in a myriad of ways. I hope we’ll all continue to create offers including live, online and at home – it potentially opens up opportunities to many more people and this excites me a great deal.
You have had a fascinating career, including being the first female theatre manager in London’s West End, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Yes, perhaps! Although I was the first female manager for Stoll Moss Theatres (then the largest theatre owner in the West End) and the youngest General Manager in the West End, neither of these felt like an achievement because what I really wanted more than anything was to be ‘on stage’. I never felt that I was an ‘ actor’ as such, my instinct was that I was more a presenter or stand up, but I didn’t have enough confidence in my ability to take this leap or knowledge of the industry to know how to get support and help. It was much later that I realised I am a teller of tales, a ‘story-teller’. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a ‘wrong turn’, only detours en route… I’ve definitely taken a winding path, perhaps less traveled, but I’ve learnt an enormous amount along the way and I’ve always followed my heart. Being Artistic Director of Wizard Presents makes my heart sing for sure!
And what would you recommend someone starting out in theatre should do now?
Follow your dreams, ask for help when you need it, stay open and say YES to opportunities, be true to yourself, work hard and joyfully and trust in your abilities, be kind and be tenacious!
Life is a roller coaster, so try to accept the ups and downs with as much grace and calm as you can muster!
What is next for you and Wizard Presents?
I’m bursting with ideas and plans, but trying to take one step at a time, not my strongest suit!! I want to share ‘The Secret Garden Experience’ with as many people as possible, and we’re in the process of creating a ‘ Secret Garden Schools Experience’ which will go on sale in June and be available from September onwards. I’m looking forward to being able to create the stage version of this story now theatres are re-opening… We’re also taking Pippi Longstocking stories back out on tour. Life is full and fun and I’m lucky to be able to work with an incredible team to create productions for our wonderful audience!
For more information on the Secret Garden Experience, and the word of Wizard Presents, please see their website: www.wizardpresents.co.uk