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How to… make a play in an unusual place

Terry O’Donovan and Daphna Attias. Photo: Faith Rowley
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1. The space is the thing

The key for our productions is that they should work infinitely better in a particular location rather than a theatre. It’s important to interrogate why your show needs to be performed in an unusual space – the last thing you want is for it to feel like a gimmick. The joy of creating work outside of theatres is that you can invite people to see locations they’d walk through without a second thought in new ways – adding poetry to otherwise mundane space.

2. Audience first

We started making this kind of theatre to place the audience at the centre of the event. Don’t be afraid to state clear rules at the beginning; people tend to enjoy the experience more if they know what’s expected of them. Let their experience influence artistic decisions – we call it ‘choreographing the audience’. Find interesting ways of moving them within scenes to heighten their presence within your production. Care for them – they’re the ones you’re making the work for, so think about how to make the experience enjoyable (especially if they have to stand in a cold building for 90 minutes).

3. The devil’s in the detail

When the audience is so close to the action, you need to place huge importance on design details. These can tell part of your story that’s not possible onstage – what’s written on pieces of paper, or texts on phones, what magazines the character has lying around. You can fill a room with clues about a character’s backstory and desires. All the senses are available to you: the smell in a room can hugely influence the atmosphere, and lighting changes will impact the emotional journey of the piece.

John Byrne was talking to Daphna Attias and Terry O’Donovan, co-artistic directors of Dante or Die, which is celebrating 10 years of making original performances in unusual spaces. Its current production is Handle With Care

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