Welcome to the voidspace, Owen. Grab a bean bag.
As you know, the voidspace is about interactive arts of all kinds. Can you give us a summary of the kind of work that you do, and how it fits into the interactive arts space?
I’m the artistic director of Parabolic Theatre. Parabolic Theatre is an immersive theatre company with a specialisation in strongly interactive immersive theatre. We create worlds and we tell stories in collaboration with the audience. We give the audience meaningful choices and meaningful methods of inputting their own thoughts and ideas into the content of the show, then we run with those ideas and we create every night slightly different bespoke experiences that are unique to the audience that we’ve had on any given evening.
Not completely unique: we have structures within our shows and we follow those structures. There are certain things that will happen no matter what. But the aim is to bend the narrative of the show around the audience’s ideas and contributions and the things that they’re interested in within the context of what we’re doing.
And for me, for starters, it’s just a lot of fun. But also, there is an interesting theatrical purpose to that from the point of view of theatre theory: What is theatre for? Why are we still doing it when there’s films and television and everything else? I think theatre has a really important social and cultural function that pours into politics and our understanding of what it is to be a person and live in the society we live in.
And I think the sort of theatre that we make is often reflective of the things that are issues within the culture that we live in. And so then, allowing the audience to shape those shows means that they are processing things about our culture in an innovative way, which is very different to anything else that they would experience.
Can you give us an example of that?
We’ve made a bunch of different shows over the years which do what I’ve described in different sorts of ways. Some of our most popular stuff has been what we call our crisis management shows, which is where we get a group of around 30 people, and we present them with a big, serious crisis. We build a world around them first. We give them a context, and there’s a crisis within that context. The first one we did like that was called For King and Country, which was set during the Second World War. The context of that show was that history has come a little bit adrift, the Germans have just begun to invade the United Kingdom, and the audience are backbench MPs: they are designated survivors.
They’ve been brought to this backup Cabinet war Rooms facility, and we tell them that they’re being held there for a couple of hours while Parliament decides what to do next. That it’s just there as a safeguard, we’re just going to play some charades and then they’re going to go back to their lives, and everything will be fine. But everything isn’t fine. Parliament is destroyed by a bomb, and this little group of MPs, our audience, has to become the government.
They’re the only MPs left, so they have to start making decisions about how to respond to the Nazi invasion and what to do next. So that’s the crisis they’ve got to manage, and then we create different small minigames, essentially things that they engage with that cover different aspects of that crisis.
We had a big kind of map, which was where all the troop movements are. What are they going to do to try and stop the Germans from advancing on London? We had a radio where they could contact the resistance workers in France and Holland to try and get support across the seas. They had the opportunity to contact other governments. We had an area of the room with typewriters in it, where we asked them to write a speech, which then had to be broadcast on the radio. Somebody would have to volunteer to go into this little radio room, which is set up a bit like Churchill’s little radio booth. If you’ve been to Cabinet war rooms, it’s like a toilet sized room that used to go and make broadcasting. There was also you see it in that film Darkest Hour. We tried to give them as authentic an experience as possible. Everything is very strongly themed. The 1940s, all the furniture and the entire room feels like a little miniature Cabinet War Room.
That’s a good example of the stuff we make. And then through that, we’re exploring issues that are culturally relevant today. That show was actually really our response to Brexit, and it came out of a conversation I had with my wife, who is Dutch, and we were talking about what is it about Britain that is so different from the rest of Europe, that makes us feel alienated from the rest of Europe to the extent that we want to break away from the union. And the thing that we settled on that pretty much all the new European nations have in common is that they were all invaded at some point in the war. They all had that cultural lived experience of a foreign power, whether it was the Germans or the Russians or the Americans and British or whoever, coming into their country and essentially taking over for a time. And so they were all in the same boat, really. Pretty much every country in Europe has had that, one way or another. But Britain didn’t have it, and we were very proud about the fact that that never happened to us.
For British people, I think there is some sense of alongside this idea of we won the war, there is also this sense of we’re better than everybody else because nobody ever invaded us. And it’s unspoken, but I think it does lurk there underneath our cultural substructure.
Do you find that putting people into the driving seat and making them actually engage with that situation sparks something?
Yeah, well, what we want is we want to give British people the sensation of being invaded. My wife’s family and they talk about the war. The war is this horrible time where everyone was hiding from the Germans. My wife is her family’s Jewish, so they had a particularly awful time. A lot of them ended up in concentration camps. It’s real grim stuff. The war is a time of fear and a time of horror. Whereas for a lot of British people, if you talk about the war, we talk about it in this triumphalist way of it being like one of the best times of our nation, the spirit of the Blitz, the time we all came together. So in making that show, we wanted to give British people something of the feeling that my wife’s family would have had of having to hide, of being invaded, of that threat being right on your doorstep.
And that’s what that show does. Over the course of the couple of hours that the audience are down there, the Germans gradually, gradually get closer. About halfway through the show, you start hearing the sound of bombs falling, and it just gets louder and louder and louder until there are bombs exploding right above your head.
You find you’re having to shout to make yourself heard. You can hear tank tracks above your head. And we bring the audience to the point every night where they really feel like a whole squad of SS is going to come down the stairs any minute. We wanted to give them that experience, not necessarily because we genuinely thought we were going to change anyone’s mind, because what we found doing this stuff is you can present ideas to people, but it’s really difficult to change someone’s mind. They always find things that just reinforce their own opinions at the end of the day.
But I think theatre historically has not necessarily been about changing people’s mind, it’s been about presenting people with the big questions in a new format that allows them to work through it with a layer of abstraction. So, when you look at ancient Greek theatre, that’s very much what is going on there. It was a sort of civic requirement to go to the theatre, watch the Dionysia, see the politics of the day being played out through the heroes of yesteryear and through that, try and wrestle with the political problems of the day with a level of abstraction.
What we found was that we would have parliamentary debates in For King and Country, where every audience member was told whether they were Labour or Conservative, and there was always one Liberal every night as well. It was supposed to be a representative of the government at the time. We would sit them around in Parliament: we created a little parliamentary area with these red leather covered benches, which is the wrong colour for Parliament, but never mind. And they would sit on the sit on the benches and we’d separate them into two parties, and we would always say to them, we would have things that they needed to debate that were pressing because they were relevant to what we were deciding we were going to do next. We would say, you need to debate along party lines, but when you vote, you can vote with your own conscience. We would get these really heated debates – poison gas was one of them. Are we going to deploy poison gas on British soil against the Germans to try to stop them from getting into London. And the audience were told this was the Conservative position before the disaster at Parliament, and this was the labour position. So that you’re aware, talk about it yourselves, you can have the debate and then you vote along the lines of your own conscience.
People would get really het up, and were shouting at each other, and felt free to do that because there was that layer of abstraction, I’m just playing and you’re just playing, so we can have a good time playing, being loud, obnoxious politicians. And then it would come to the vote and then you would see what people really thought. And that was always quite beautiful, because quite often you’d get the guy who’d been elected Prime Minister that evening who passionately said we should be using poison gas, and they would vote against it, or vice versa.
In theatre history, in 20th century theatre, there’s a famous figure called Bertolt Brecht, who was a German, and he was alive at the time of the war and he was a theatre maker, post war, particularly. He was very political and very left leaning. I mean, a lot of theatres are very left leaning anyway, but he was a communist, really.
He wanted to create theatre that people were viscerally invested in. He was tired of going to the theatre and seeing people sitting back and (they could smoke in those days) sitting back and having a cigarette and just watching and then talking to each other and not really being invested in what was going on. He said he wanted theatre to be like a boxing match. He wanted people to be shouting and cheering and really invested in the outcome and was always disappointed that he never saw that.
That’s what we had in For King and Country. I flattered myself that if Brecht had walked in, he would have been really proud of what we’d achieved. Because you had audience members who were on their feet waving bits of paper at each other and shouting at each other because they were so invested in the outcome of this debate, but in turn also thinking about real things that apply today.
I remember we were doing that show when there was a lot of discussion about the role of chemical weapons. This was pre pandemic, this is a few years ago now, and it would come into the news because I think they were being used somewhere in the world and there was a big hoohah in the news for a few weeks about it. And that’s what we were talking about every night at a certain point in the show: the use of chemical and biological weapons.
I think you see it even more keenly with a show we made called Crisis, What Crisis?, which was playing as recently as last year. That’s all about the fall of the Callahan government in 1979 and the rise of Margaret Thatcher. It’s a very different setting, quite a niche thing as well. There’s not many people who would necessarily go, yes, I want to go. A show about the Callahan government. People don’t even know who he was nowadays. But that was about a period of history with huge political turmoil in this country where you had a government that had an overall majority of zero, like the government had before Boris Johnson’s landslide. And we were performing the show at that point as well. At a time where we performed that show, which is about strikes and about union strikes, particularly lorry drivers going on strike, we have that. All this upheaval about lorry drivers not being paid enough, and issues with getting enough lorry drivers.
Now we’re looking at huge problems with inflation that we haven’t seen since those times. And one of the key things in that show is trying to get inflation under control and trying to explain inflation to a generation of people who’ve grown up with interest rates 0.5% or lower. Inflation is really interesting. Now that it looks like the wheel is turning again, and we’re going to go back into a period where inflation is an issue, the relevance of those things is exciting and important.
That’s really interesting, what you say about using scenarios where audience can have a stake in it and can actually take a side and have a role to play sounds like it ultimately has provoked quite strong reactions from audiences. I imagine you have people who come to a show who’ve never participated in a theatrical experience in that way before. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts around that, the challenges of getting people engaged and how people react in that when they’re fresh to that sort of scenario.
So when we first started making this sort of work, the spectrum of immersive theatre was a lot less rich, a lot narrower. There were only really a handful of examples out there. So you had the very large scale work of Secret Cinema, which wasn’t as large scale then as it is now, but it was still pretty big, where you’ve got thousands of audience at a time, going through a very elaborate set, but having quite superficial interactions with actors. The main thing being about exploring a very lavish set. You had the sort of Punchdrunk model of, again, a very lavish set, but much more emphasis on performance and a much richer, more dedicated kind of focus on performance and storytelling, but it was quite abstract and a lot of it was done through contemporary dance and silent as well.
Then you had what I would call the standard carousel show, where everything was ruled by the tyranny of time code. You had people enter, you had groups that were going to enter every ten minutes or every 15 minutes or every 20 minutes, no matter what, and each group that entered would experience the same succession of scenes in order and then come out the other end. So like a big carousel, basically. And that was used essentially as a way of making promenade theatre, where you’re still an audience who’s watching something going on, and you don’t really have any agency to interfere with that.
I was particularly inspired by Punchdrunk’s work, which I absolutely love. It’s what broke me and made me never want to make a conventional show ever again. With seeing that stuff and being like, wow. It really is possible to do this on a large scale. I played around with experimental forms that were not dissimilar to much of the past, but always on a very small scale, like a handful of people at a time. And I couldn’t wrap my head around how you could scale that up to make it financially viable and to see such a large audience completely immersed in another world and not just occupying the same space as the actors (which is often the case in a kind of carousel show), but inhabiting the same world as the actors and interacting with them. Even though in Punchdrunk shows interactivity between audience and actors tends to be quite limited, it’s very beautiful when it’s done and they really do it really well when they do it.
And I’d been so blown away by some of their one-on-one performances, and some of their one to few interactions, I thought there was something made me hungry to make that sort of work.
But obviously you can’t just rock up on their doorstep one day and say, employ me, particularly if you’re a creative and not an actor, but somebody who wants to make shows. And similarly, you can’t just copy somebody else completely. So, I started thinking, well, what is it that they’re not doing? What is it that they’ve not tried? And what is it that other companies haven’t really done? And it zeroed in on that interactivity, where the audience and the actor co-create alongside each other. I wanted to see if that was possible. And as someone who’s done played a lot of role-playing games, I could see like a model there within role playing games for how you could maybe start to make that work.
Most people I spoke to thought I was mad when I tried to lay out the kind of idea for a show like For King and Country. And I managed to convince a group of actors to come and work with me by, I don’t know, drugging them or something. There were some good mates who I had worked with a lot and who trusted me – the fools! – to come and try something new. But I genuinely didn’t know until the opening night whether or not this wild experiment of handing over so much control to the audience was going to really work like I hoped it would, or completely fall on its ass. I was fully prepared to look very stupid and for it to fall apart, really. And that’s why the first show we did like that, which was For King and Country, we gave ourselves two weeks initially, very short run. So I was like, well, if it all goes tits up, at least I can bury it quickly.
Because we hadn’t done interactive stuff before up to that point. The only show we’d done up to that point would be Morningstar, which we’d done a few times. Morningstar was a show that was very much like a one-to-few experience. It was for a maximum of six audience at the time, and it was one actor with that six audience for about half an hour. And it was very interactive, but it was largely silent. It followed Punchdrunk’s modus operandi a lot more closely. This [For King and Country] was the first time we tried something genuinely new that I’d really not seen anyone else do. We created this lavish underground bunker, felt very wartime. We did everything we could to make people feel like they were part of that era and to bring the audience into the world of the show alongside the actors. We had an absolute scant minimum of scripted lines.
We wanted the audience and the actors’ level of verbal dexterity to be equal enough that the audience would feel that they could respond and that they could engage verbally and feel more or less equal. One of the problems you get with a lot of immersive theatre that’s verbally interactive is that it’s been heavily scripted. So the actor’s verbal dexterity is somewhere up here [gestures high] and the audience’s verbal dexterity is somewhere down here [gestures low]. They don’t feel confident to respond in great detail or to actually have a genuine conversation. And then what happens is you have the only people who do respond are the dickheads had too much to drink, or just like overconfident assholes. And so they try and match the actor’s verbal dexterity of the lines that have been scripted for them. They can’t, but they think they can. So they start, like, kind of over confidently to match the actor’s verbosity. They fuck it up and then the rest of the audience, who are watching, who are too nervous and who have a genuine appreciation how verbally dexterous they are in capacity, sort of look at it and think, “Oh, that’s what I’m supposed to do, is it? Oh, crumbs.” Then they either check out completely or they then try and act like dickheads as well. And before you know it, you’ve got an absolute train wreck of a show. I’ve seen too many shows that do that to a greater or lesser extent.
And so stripping back the scripted lines and just having, as far as possible, having the actor generate their text in the moment, in in genuine response to the audience, suddenly you really are co-creating. You’re in in a space where both the audience member and the actor are nearly equals. They can’t ever completely be equals because the actor still needs to be able to shape the experience so that it feels like a story well told. What you don’t want is for the whole thing to degenerate into complete chaos, because that’s unsatisfying. When people go to the theatre and they buy a ticket, they expect to be told a story, and expect to be told it well. So you still need a structure that the actors can play within that maintains a good story structure. We use film structure for that.
Is that where you’d say it comes from? Because I know you mentioned that your experience with role playing games had influenced how you create your work. I was going to ask you where the difference lies between what you do and running a good tabletop session or a LARP or whatever.
I think it’s much closer to that than it is to, for example, a computer game. I think when a lot of people are trying to imitate Parabolic or they’ve tried to make sort of strongly verbally interactive theatre, they’ve gone down the route of trying to script it very closely and they’ve gone down the route of trying to build a decision tree. That’s what people often ask us. Is that how you make it work? Do you create a decision tree like you would for a computer game? If I play even a very complicated modern computer role playing game like Fallout or something, there is essentially underneath that, a decision tree of pre-baked options, and there’s a lot of wiggle room in there, but you are essentially presenting like a simple text adventure. You’re presenting your audience, the player, the gamer, you’re presenting them with a series of different A or B or C options. And then that opens up another row of options and so on and so on. I think that’s the kiss of death to live, interactive work. Because I think the thing that you have in a live show that you don’t have in a computer game or a choose your adventure novel is you have real people standing there who can, in real time, respond creatively to the player, to the gamer, the audience member. And if you rob yourself of that by making all of those options fixed, you’ve lost the thing that makes that particular art form unique.
So, for me, what I want to be able to do is maximise the usage of that intelligent actor who is there, the facilitator, the person who is there to directly interact with the audience, who can make decisions on the fly and who can invent and create things that are totally bespoke to that moment. You can’t do that in a computer game, because everything has to be pre-baked. Obviously it does, because otherwise you haven’t got product to sell. You can’t do that in a choose your own adventure novel because everything has to be prebaked, because it’s a novel that you buy and take off the shelf. So, to have that live, responsive aspect of it is the bit that makes it unique for me. And that’s the bit that every show we make, we’re trying to maximise the usage of that because you can’t do that in any other medium. Yet one day, I hope maybe you can, and whether that is AI or using technology or whatever, VR will bring us there one day and allow actors to perform to thousands of people at once. I don’t know how it would work. I’m not the person to think that up, probably, but right now we don’t have that capacity in any other art form. And that’s the thing I always want to put front and centre, because it’s the unique offer that immersive and interactive theatre has, that no other option has.
Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you. The other thing interesting that you talk about text adventures and decision trees, and I know a lot of the work that we’re interested in promoting is trying to find different ways of using that text adventure, that interactive fiction architecture and helping people to explore different ways, literary ways of doing it beyond what you maybe think of as your standard computer game. I wanted to ask you a little bit about House of Cenci where you used a twine interactive fiction or puzzler game in conjunction with live performance.
It was a wild ride for us.
And it was a real departure because for the first time in the history of the company (and by the time we arrived at making as Cenci we’d made over a dozen other shows) it was the first time that we’d been forced into using the straight jacket of a decision tree. We had to, because we knew that we were putting something out in the world that had to be pre-baked in that way. There was no way around that. And so that was a really interesting experience for me because I’ve railed against using it in live theatre work and suddenly it was the only tool I was able to use. We’re making the show in the middle of the pandemic. We’d not been able to make an in person show for over a year at that point. And we were making work online and we were really outside of our comfort zone, using stuff that we would never have used otherwise. That was exciting because it’s opened up other things since – sometimes it’s really good to be given those limitations – to force yourself to come up with something outside of the box. I think that’s what has changed was for us, it was a really outside of the box project, but I think I find it really difficult marrying the live performance with those pre-baked things.
It was a constant source of frustration for me because it was kicking against everything that I’d trained myself to do over the last few years. It was a real source of discomfort. But we tried to think how we were pre-baking the options available to our players. We tried to be as creative about it as possible, really, and we tried to leave as much wooliness in there as we comfortably could, and it still be fun for the audience to play, so hopefully it was still fun for the audience to play. It was a real technical challenge. We were a very small team. There’s only four of us working on it, and not all of us working on it full time. And we had one person coding it and it was overwhelming for them. We set out knowing we were biting off quite a big chunk of stuff. We tried to slim that down a bit, but it was still like it was like trying to eat an elephant. You can only eat it one bite at a time. You can only eat it so quickly without making yourself sick. We really skirted close to some boundaries with that. But Chloe [Mashiter] really pulled it out of the bag in terms of the coding for that. She did some incredible stuff. Yeah.
Awesome. That’s all right. I think I was asking about integrating the twine element and the live element and how that differed. You’ve explained how that differs from what you’ve done before, but I’m interested from your point of view in hearing about what it added. For an audience who are used to playing interactive fiction, how the experience was different for them, or what it was you were hoping to achieve.
At least what was interesting about it was that our ambition was much greater than what we ended up realising. And part of that was me getting COVID in the middle of the project and having it quite badly. Not really badly, but quite badly, enough to wipe out a couple of months. For me, some of the ambitions we had for the live performance we just never got to realise. We wanted to do some really unusual stuff with the live performance because, bear in mind, we were restricted to actors on the end of a camera on Zoom. For the live performance, we wanted to have physical spaces that had no actors in them, that had interesting stuff going on in those spaces that changed over time. And that idea of the audience being able to move around the different rooms and look into on different things as they were happening, we realised some of that, but not all of it.
I think that was largely, you know, Twine is a really established piece of software and and that form of interactive fiction has a lot of, like, pre-established thought around it. Performing across Zoom was really brand new, still is, really. People only been doing it less than two years now. And so we hit a lot more technical challenges with that than we did with the twine side of it, which in the end meant that the performance side of it diminished from where we wanted it to be and the twine side of it beefed up more than I think we initially intended it to be. Originally, the idea was to connect together a series of live performances with an interesting Twine landscape. That was a way of connecting the performances together. In reality, what we ended up building was quite an exciting Twine game with a lot of puzzling and a lot of cool stuff going on in the Twine part of it, and the performances were slimmed down heavily from where we initially thought we might go. We were really limited by cost as well and by COVID rules. We couldn’t have more than one performer on the same camera unless they were shared a house together, which we just didn’t have that amongst the people working on it. There were things that we couldn’t do that we theorised we would like to do.
What it meant was that there were certain things in the game which we couldn’t change, so the performers didn’t have the same freedom to invent that they did in some of our other shows, and they were much more limited by what was verifiably written as true that the audience could directly access. We couldn’t bend the rules as much as we might have done otherwise. And it also meant that the actors had to really know the game well and how the game fitted together. That worked well for some actors, better than it did for others.
Yeah, they had to really do their research on that one, didn’t they? It was tricky. What’s coming up next for Parabolic?
[00:35:46.270] – Voidspace
We’ve opened a venue in Bethel Green underneath an Anglican church, in the crypts of an Anglican church. Very spooky, atmospheric venue. And we’ve had a whole season of work programmed in there, some of which is shows that either we’ve done before, friends, companies that we’re friends with have done before with a World War II theme, so there were several different wartime themed shows down there. And we’ve got another season coming up. It’s all heavily interactive, verbally, interactive stuff.
We’re also working on a big project called Bridge Command, which is any Star Trek fan’s fantasy, really. You and your friends get to go and command a starship is the premise of the show. We’re building two interactive starships, so you can go and be the bridge crew on them and fly about and hopefully get into all kinds of exciting missions. What we’re experimenting with there is episodic interactive theatre. A lot of immersive shows are standalone. They’re one off things. What we’ve got follows the financial model of an escape room.
We’ve got 6 to 9 players, audience members who come along and they’re on the set for an amount of time, and there’s loads of cool stuff to interact with, but it’s not an escape room. The premise is not trying to get out of it. The premise is to go off and have a Star Trek like adventure somewhere. We’re creating a lot of different adventures. The idea is that every time the audience return, they go and do something different. And what we want to be able to do is you can do the whole series, basically.
We want to tie the audience’s adventures together into something that feels like a sci-fi series. You come and be the stars of your own Star Trek-like show for an entire season. We’ve got a plan to run this for five years, and we want to have a whole new season every year where we change up what the ongoing storyline is, and then allow the audience to play through that. And we want our audience to feel like they are characters in that show. We want to keep track of the decisions that they make from show to show and then tweak and develop things in the later shows based on stuff they’ve done on the earlier ones. We’ve got plans for helping people really feel like it’s their ship and that they’re the crew of it. Mission patches for their uniforms. Everyone’s going to get a uniform – the ranks, you do something heroic, you get medal, that kind of stuff, to really make you feel like you inhabit the world and that it’s something that people can come back to and keep playing in.
From an artistic point of view, science fiction lets you address all kinds of real, culturally relevant stuff in an exciting and interesting and abstracted way. And so for us, the opportunity to tell relevant stories is massive and to allow our audiences to explore those things and to change the outcomes, to play with their own fate within that safe, abstracted world. So that’s the big thing that we’re making. We’re hoping it will go live this year.
Yeah, so there’s a lot of cool stuff happening, but yeah, check out the Crypt, that’s our new venue in Bethnel Green. There’d be a lot of cool shows there.
I’ll put in links and stuff, that’d be awesome. Okay, my final question is based on the premise, unfortunately, that the only people who read litmags are the people who write for them. Yes, I have travelled through that journey and out the other side!
We worried that the only people that go to immersive shows are the people who make a immersive theatre as well.
It’s all good. I’m going to ask you if you have any advice for aspiring creators in the interactive space. So not just theatre makers, but writers, game makers, people who want to do stuff you haven’t even thought of yet, what would your advice be?
Two bits of advice. First bit of advice is, if you can do anything else, do that instead. Because life in the creative industry is really hard. There’s a lot of rejection, there’s a lot of knockback, there’s a lot of heartache and projects not quite coming off or not working out the way you thought. And they don’t pay very well across the board, really. Maybe the computer game sector, if you’re a coder, maybe that pays a lot better, I don’t know. But if you’re making theatre, if you’re writing books, a lot of that stuff just doesn’t really pay anything at all very much. I’m really lucky that I’ll be able to build like a lucrative career out of it. A lot of people just don’t ever get that because they don’t get the luck. Not necessarily because of the talent. I’ve seen really talented people fall out of my industry, not because of lack of ability, but because they just haven’t had the luck of getting the jobs they needed at the time they needed it, and they’ve gone off and done other things. But so, yeah, so you can just build yourself a miserable, frustrating life trying to do creative things where you never earn enough money. Number one thing, if you can do something else that you enjoy, do that instead.
If, however, you can’t get out of your head and you have that drive, you just have to do it and you really want to do it, then run at it with all your energy, enthusiasm and passion and don’t hold back and throw yourself into 110% because that’s the only way it’s ever going to get anywhere. If you try and do it half arsed, it will end up half arsed. I spent a lot of time fannying around because I didn’t have enough confidence in my own stuff. I didn’t believe in myself enough. And I wasted a good load of years just kind of not pushing enough, not taking big enough risks. I was also put off, because I’m an artist and not a business person, primarily, I got put off by all the business side of it. I got scared of – what even is Company’s House. You asked 22 year old Owen. He won’t have a clue what tax returns, what corporation, tax VAT, what all of the scary things that you have to learn about in order to enable yourself to do the fun stuff – that can put you off.
Tackle it head on. But most importantly of all, find something that you are willing to sink hours and hours and hours and hours into for no rewards. That is worth it for you. I spent a lot of time filmmaking. There’s a thing that filmmakers will tell you: don’t make a feature unless you’re willing to spend three years of your life working on that one idea. If it’s an idea that won’t sustain you for three years, don’t try and make a feature film out of it. And I think the same is the case for a lot of these creative projects, and particularly where there is no well trodden path, where you’re trying new technologies, where you’re working on things that other people haven’t tried before, you’ve got to really know in your gut that this is worth it for you. That was the case for me with immersive theatre and I got struck by lightning, basically. Not literally struck by lightning. That would be horrific. I was struck by proverbial lightning inside a Punchdrunk show calledThe Drowned Man, where I was just like, this is what I want to do. And I was willing to sacrifice for it, I was willing to put stuff aside for it.
I was doing a lot of conventional theatres, running a little theatre space, willing to just basically chuck all my stuff in to pursue this thing because I felt like I had an idea that was worth pursuing. I could see a way of making something that other people hadn’t made that was closely adjacent to this thing that I’d loved and experienced myself. That would be my advice.
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