The Theatrical Inventors from Perth Theatre Company share their process
WORDS: SAMUEL FRY
Two years on from their multi-Award winning show “The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik,” Samuel Fry meets up with the creators to talk about their new show “It’s Dark Outside.”
Twenty two days into their run at the Underbelly at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I met up with the team behind one of this years most technologically innovative shows. Sat upstairs in the bar of the Underbelly Topside, the team must be starting to feel the effects of this long run of shows, but they smile and welcome me in with open arms.
Chris Isaacs, sits casually to my left, with long hair and dressed in dark colours he has the air of someone who takes things as they come. Arielle Gray, who sits infront of me – back from the table, still has a lot of energy for someone acting in two shows a day. She can also be found in the cast of Minnie and Mona Play Dead. Finally on my right is Tim Watts, the man behind the electrics in the perfomance. Dressed in a blue Alvin Sputnik t-shirt and wearing a blue NASA hat, Tim, like the others, talks passionately about this play. He is evidently doing just the thing he loves.
They begin by explaining how the show came together. Created through the experiments of Tim, Chris and Arielle – they add that Tim’s dad [Anthony Watts] built the set and is exactly the engineer that they need to make this show a reality. Tim explains that, “We collaborate a lot on theatre shows. I’ll have an idea for a bit of tech and I’ll have an idea, in theory, of how to make it work and dad’s the one that will bring it to life. He wacks out the soldering iron, or whatever.”
While, the technology in the show itself is opperated largely by Tim’s Wii remote, there are three cues that Chris will operate as well. Tim explains that “Effectively, I’m in charge of electrics and Chris is in charge of set. Saying that, we don’t have any specific devide.”
You are all part of the Perth Theatre Company. That is a long way to come from. What brought you to the Edinburgh Fringe?
Chris: They are paying us to do the show [laughs].
Tim: We sought out to come here because it’s a just a really great place to be. There are lots of really awesome shows happening throughout the month. It’s a great place to bring your show and be part of some crazy, amazing anomaly of a month. Just thousands and thousands of shows.
Arielle: It’s also a great place for people in this region to see our work. As normally, they’re not going to come to Perth. So it’s great for that. But also to meet other artists who are making similar work – to exchange ideas and get inspired by what they’re doing.
T: It’s a great market here. We got a lot of interest when we did Alvin [The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer] here two years ago.
The show on your T-shirt of course.
T: [laughing] Yes, we still have one more show to go. So, any plug. Overall, this has been really useful for us, as it was with Alvin before.
You use a lot of techniques to tell the story; animation, puppetry, shadows and music. What came first, a desire to use these technologies or the story itself?
T: Actually, it’s a little bit of both.
C: I guess the best way to describe it is that we, especially Tim, keep an eye on new technologies; the different ways of things working and the different gimmicks or gadgets that pop up every once in a while. Then we effectively just play with them and see what they can do. Then see if it’s an element that will help us tell a part of the story. If it makes telling the story easier; or, simplifying something that we are already doing. We are constantly refining the kind of technology and we change the elements in the show to suit these new technologies. So, it does have an effect. But it’s not as if we say, “Here is the idea, so let’s look for the technology to do that.” We have a loose frame-work to work in and we see what the technology allows us to do. Whether, it inspires us to work one way or if it doesn’t work and we drop it.
A: I think the technology works similarly to everything else in our creative process; in that we just play with it, create images, see what we like and what we think is beautiful. Some of the things we play with look crap. Like, we tested using a mini projector to project memories onto clouds and that didn’t really work. Sometimes it is just about messing around with things to see what looks the best.
T: What is absolutely important from our understanding, is that we play with these elements and technologies in the space. If there is something interesting in that, it often goes on to inspire more story.
Can you give any examples?
T: In Alvin, for instance, there are these lights that we use that have a magnetic switch. Before any of the story, or anything, we just bought these from a shop. We simply thought, “These look fun” and so we’ll just experiment and improvise a scene with those. There is a bit [in The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik] where we use the magnet to turn the light on and off. We simply had a bit of play, back and forth. When we showed that scene to someone we didn’t really know what it was about; but, from that we decided that the play could be about looking for souls in the deep ocean. We really do let technologies develop part of it. If it doesn’t work, then it’s cut. But if it does work then we incorporate it into the show.
C: Or, if it works enough for us to say there is an idea there. Then we’ll refine it. It’s never like it just works. It’s more like, “Ohh, just that little bit here”, or, “Is there a way of making it do this?” and then we try and figure that out. It’s very back and forth. Like everything else.