Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Nat Henderson and Joe Strickland: Conduit, Myles Away and 52 Souls

By | Published on Monday 29 June 2020

Starting this week, and continuing over the summer months, producing company Chronic Insanity will be delivering three different shows via online means. They are all part of the company’s ’12 In 12′ project – yes, that’s right: twelve plays in twelve months.

To find out more about the company, ’12 In 12′ and the three works we’ll be able to access over the next three months, I spoke to creators Nat Henderson and Joe Strickland.

CM: You’re going to be presenting three works by digital means. Can you start by explaining, from a technical perspective, how you’ve gone about creating them?
NH+JS: We wanted to use this summer season of work to experiment with various different technologies which we feel have merit in being used for digital theatre making, and each show uses different combinations of these technologies. Joe is a mixed reality researcher, so has a good understanding of the existing entertainment technology out there that we can tell stories with.

We’re using different ways of recording, including 360 degree video that surrounds the audience and volumetric video that creates 3D video images. We’re building stories and experiences that allow the audience to have an active role in their telling. We planned out the stories we wanted to tell, looked for technology that fit those stories, and then from that point on the process of making work is very similar to live analogue theatre.

However, we need to make sure we have enough time at the end of each rehearsal process to test the user experience of the pieces to make sure that people will be able to interact with each story in the way we intend and won’t face any accidental technical or dramatic hurdles.

CM: Are the three connected in any way? Do they have similar themes or are they completely different?
NH+JS: The three performances are completely different stories, but are all linked by their reason to be. Their existence is to inspire other theatre makers, to educate – as we’ll publish education materials about the making of each piece – and to prove that digital theatre has some major benefits, whether those be accessibility, replayability, sustainability, convenience, etc

CM: Are these all plays that you were already planning prior to lockdown? Have you had to reimagine them for the new format?
NH+JS: Two of the shows we had before lockdown hit. ‘Myles Away’ – our July performance – was originally going to be performed at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham alongside Nottingham Pride. And ’52 Souls’ – our August performance – was supposed to be presented at Departure Lounge Festival in Leicester and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

However, those shows already had a good basis of interactivity in their analogue incarnations so adapting them wasn’t difficult, and other performances we had planned haven’t been adapted in this way. ‘Conduit’ – our June performance – was written from scratch knowing which technology we’d have access to so that we could make a performance that had that tech at its heart.

CM: The first to be released is ‘Conduit’. Can you tell us about that, what sort of story and themes to expect?
NH+JS: ‘Conduit’ puts the audience in the role of the the friend to a character who is desperately missing their partner and trying to use all the technological tools at their disposal to try and feel close to them again. The audience feeds back about each scene and the character continues to become more and more ambitious in their attempts to connect with their absent loved one.

CM: Can you tell us about the second one, ‘Myles Away’?
NH+JS: ‘Myles Away’ is a show about capitalism and discrimination, following a tech company during the day of their annual product launch and all the ways that the day goes wrong as a result of interference from their recently ousted formed chief executive. The audience follows along as a member of the company and is given roles to fulfil to try and keep the day on track. The performance also includes an accompanying virtual reality experience.

CM: And finally, can you tell us a bit more about the content and themes of ’52 Souls’.
NH+JS: ’52 Souls’ is a pick and mix theatre show where the audience uses a pack of cards to randomly select from 52 short theatre performances about death and mortality over the course of an hour. The performances vary greatly in duration, performance styles and each one is presented by a different performer. We’ve got drama, poetry, magic, puppetry, music, illustration and much much more.

CM: As you said, you were planning to take ’52 Souls’ to the Edinburgh Fringe. Do you hope to still perform it there another time, maybe?
NH+JS: Absolutely, we’re already talking to our venue about what their plans are for Edinburgh 2021 and we had so many good ideas for marketing the show that it would be a shame to let it go to waste really. Plus it’s unlikely the show is going to lose any kind of relevance in one year – death is quite a universal theme and if anything we would be able to improve upon the show from any feedback we received this time around.

CM: Tell us more about your twelve shows in twelve months thing? What made you want to do that?
NH+JS: Essentially, we wanted to challenge ourselves.

Part of the reason for doing so many productions was because we felt limited in the places we had previously put on productions, be that in volume of shows or how creative or radical we wanted to be. We kept having loads of great and different, variable ideas, so we were kind of like ‘let’s just do it’ – so we did it!

Twelve shows is a lot of opportunity to explore different kinds of theatre making that we’re interested in.

CM: Can you tell us about how Chronic Insanity came into being? What are its aims?
NH+JS: Chronic Insanity kind of came hand in hand with doing the twelve shows – we were frustrated by the above limitations so we broke away and just did it ourselves.

We were attending the National Student Drama Festival at the time, in April 2019, and we were chatting to lots of people, creatives that were where we’d like to be in a few years time, and they were really supportive about our idea. They were all quite like “wow that sounds like a lot”, but they were really encouraging. So afterwards we started planning to launch in September of that year with ’12 In 12′.

The aims of the company are quite straight-forward actually – we aim to put on good quality, thought-provoking, visually stimulating performances that are diverse and of a high quality, despite delivering a high volume.

We also wanted to create theatre as sustainably and mindfully as possible and we also didn’t want to secrete all our efforts a way – a big part of our aims is demystifying our process.

So we have a blog documenting the running of the company and different creative processes behind different shows, so other people can see how we work. All our performances are archived so people can still see them and we do scratch nights and keep providing opportunities for other theatre makers to gain experience alongside us, with things like writing competitions.

We know that all sounds like a lot, an insane amount really, which is sort of where our name comes from. It’s from a quote in ‘4.48 Psychosis’ by Sarah Kane – we’re both definitely big fans of her work – and it’s about how chronically insane you have to be to stay sane really, especially in this industry that often demands so much of your time and energy, you kind of have to be a bit insane to drive yourself where you want to go.

CM: What hopes do you have for it in the future?
NH+JS: We just want to keep going – continue making innovative theatre, tell more stories to more audiences and make the company bigger and better. Creatives always need opportunities to work and we want to continue to provide a platform for them, focusing on accessibility and sustainability like our original aims. We want to keep being ambitious, keep changing things up and being innovative with technology and ideas for telling stories that should be heard.

CM: Given the way that companies have been rising to the occasion to create works that can be delivered via online means, do you think this fashion will outlive the current closure of venues? Will people still be interested in accessing culture this way after the venues open?
NH+JS: I absolutely think it should. The democratising of all this theatre – high quality, big budget stuff that tickets would usually cost a lot for – has been incredible and likely great for people who maybe wouldn’t have been able to see those productions or those types of productions.

Whether people will still be interested I think is another matter. If theatres continue to utilise streaming services I reckon people would be interested.

But, at the same time, I don’t think regurgitating the same old Chekhovs or Shakespeares in modern dress but now live streamed to your TV will be super popular. Theatres need to innovate more – there’s so much technology they can utilise for people to be able to access what they provide, and if they used that technology to tell stories people wanted to hear, I think they’d be very popular.

We as a company are definitely going to continue with our digital creations – it’s definitely the future and we want to pioneer the start of digital theatre, so why would we stop after this current situation?

CM: What have you been doing to stay sane in lockdown?
NH+JS: Sanity – haha what a concept! But in all seriousness, the privilege of being able to keep making work has definitely provided us with a routine. We’ve been incredibly fortunate in being in a position to be able to continue to make work, managing to get an Arts Council grant for our final six performances this year before lockdown kicked off. We’ve been able to continue paying people and ourselves for their work and their time on our productions. Additionally, we’ve been so fortunate to still have access to technology that can facilitate the projects and the ideas we have.

‘Conduit’ is on from 29 Jun-5 Jul, ‘Myles Away’ from 27 Jul-2 Aug, and ’52 Souls’ from 24-30 Aug. You can book yourself in to all of them on this page here.