Stilts on cobbles…what now for our sited work

We’re currently planning some new large scale projection works and it’s started me thinking about why we make this sort of work and what we can bring to it that is in some way new or unique to us. There are plenty of projection mapping companies who specialise only in this sort of spectacle whose animation, technical know-how and man power far outstrips ours but I hope to bring something to the form which I feel is sometimes lacking in much of the work you see either on YouTube or live at a festival. I hope more than anything that our work has soul.

The spectacle of projection mapping is becoming less and less impressive. Now that most of the world has seen a building wobble, shake or fall down to an ACDC track it’s harder to provide the wow factor with just illusion. Of course illusion is still key to the show working. An audience never actually believes that they’re seeing the building “come to life” but the show does exploit that tiny gap between the observation of an impossible event and the brain’s realisation of it being just a trick of light. Without that we may as well project onto a screen or a flat wall. But what exists beyond that thrill of illusion? Beyond the spectacle of really bright lights on really big things! For imitating the dog it has to draw on three elements: story, humour and live action.

As we are a theatre company who are committed to delivering narrative, it feels like story and humour aren’t too hard to imagine, although it can often be a challenge depending on the brief. Our piece for Hull 17, Arrivals and Departures had a very tight objective which, on first glance, seemed impossible: to make a piece of work about the history of transmigration in Hull in the shadow of Brexit which was entertaining and engaging for all the family. Hmmm. Not easy, and without the humour of the stop motion animals from White Robot, the backbone of the research by Nick Evans and the narrative structure it could have been incredibly dry, or just another bright building wobbling and shaking.

But it is the inclusion of live-action in our sited work which continues to be the biggest challenge. There are two major problems with putting performers into a large sited work: scale and budget. Next to a castle a group of actors barely register to an audience, and on ever decreasing budgets you can add another 50% to any costings to put people in there. When the budget allows, it continues to be our main area of exploration and challenge when trying to think up a new piece. We’ve had some successes with Trespass (using a community choir gave the piece an enormous beating heart which literally moved audiences to tears) and Sea Breeze (which brought to life the wonderful Winter Gardens in Morecambe with dancers, actors and singers). But we’ve had some failures where we’ve attacked the problem directly rather than with imagination. Stilts on cobbles in November? No.

But the more we do, the more ideas we have. The imagination seems to be a muscle which grows with exercise. There’s no doubt that projection mapping as a form has to evolve and I hope we can bring our own spin to it over the next 2 or 3 years.

Simon