Interview with BoxedIn’s Artistic Director Oli Savage

With some exciting projects planned for 2018, I sat down with BoxedIn’s artistic director Oli Savage, to discuss his role within BoxedIn, what is currently interesting him in the world of theatre, and what he has envisioned in 2018 for BoxedIn.

So you’re ‘Artistic Director’ of BoxedIn, which sounds cool, but for those who don’t know, can you tell us what that actually means?

Absolutely. So officially it does what it says on the tin – I’m in charge of deciding the overall artistic direction of BoxedIn Theatre. That means picking the shows we’re going to perform and how we’re going to do them, as well as looking at where we want to put them on. It also means that when we get down to do the shows I’m the one directing them and keeping an eye on the overall vision.

group on castle mound

Practically though, it doesn’t work quite like that. Obviously at BoxedIn I’m always surrounded by a great team of incredibly passionate and creative people, meaning everyone is always having crazy ideas and working hard. So really, I see my job more as providing a space for these people to do what they do, while making sure we’re all pulling in the same direction.

So, you have a strong team, which must make working together easier, but it can’t have been without challenges. To date, what’s been the most rewarding part of working with BoxedIn Theatre?  

That is a really tough question! If I were to pick a moment, I would say getting across the finish line with WOOD. The last two weeks…you know, in Manchester, the last few weeks were really tough for everyone both physically and emotionally. We were hit with a bout of tonsillitis, and had to sit down a few days before the end and say, you know, “are we actually going to be able to make it to the end?” But of course we pulled together, and we did make it. So that was incredibly rewarding because it showed how strong we were as a team.    

Pic of Manchester
Everything was not as peaceful as this Manchester skyline

I think overall though, the most rewarding part of working with BoxedIn has got to be the people we get to work with. There are some incredibly talented people in St Andrews specifically, and giving them the platform to work on some awesome stuff is also really special.

You mentioned ‘WOOD’, the show BoxedIn took on tour last summer, what would you say you learnt from that experience?

Oh wow – a lot of things. I learnt to give more time and to plan ahead more. I learnt the importance of fairly distributing the workload, and trusting the people you work with to get the job done. And I think – I know this is quite cheesy but I think if you asked everyone what they learnt the most from our tour of WOOD last summer, the most fundamental thing is that hard work, passion, and determination can make anything possible. Even going on tour with 9 students for 2 months!   

Ludlow group pic
Everyone looking very pleased with themselves after another successful show on tour

Still looking back at last year, I’m sure you’ll agree there was lots of amazing theatre was created in 2017, what was your favourite piece of theatre you saw?   

I saw lots of great stuff in 2017, and I have a couple of favourites actually. The Barber Shop Chronicles, which was on at the National (and still is I think) was a brilliant show. So full of life and energy – we went to see that as a group while on tour, and we all left having had a brilliant time.

Drastically different, Séance, which I saw with a good mate at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was awesome. It used 3D sound to simulate being a part of a séance, with a horrible and very real twist at the end. I think they’re going to be back at the fringe this year, so give them a look if you get the chance (after you’ve seen our shows, of course).

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Edinburgh Fringe – for some great shows this summer!

And continuing to look at the theatre scene, what current theatre trends inspire you?

For me personally, I’m really interested in site-specific theatre at the moment. I think that theatre has a lot of issues with accessibility and it’s seen as a kind of elitist profession or art form. I really believe site-specific theatre has the chance to break that down, democratising theatre and encouraging live performance to go and actively seek out new audiences to engage, rather than expecting audiences to come to it. Site-specific theatre refutes the snobbery that hangs around big theatres, and instead harnesses the power of the new connotations brought to a piece performed in a new or non-traditional space.

I think that in terms of the theory behind site-specific theatre, we’ve still got quite a long way to go before we fully understand the implications of what we’re doing, and the techniques that can help to make this style of theatre as important and connective as it can be. But what we’re doing right now is a good start, and I’m excited to see where it goes next!

Looking ahead to 2018, what are your goals for BoxedIn this year?

I think the main goal for BoxedIn this year was to go international – and by all accounts, if we stay on track for the ‘Back of the Van’ tour, we’ll be achieving that when we spend a month touring around Ireland. Which is INCREDIBLY exciting.

BOV pic

But other than that, our goals are pretty standard. We’d love to get a 5 star review for the shows that we’re working on, and I’d also like for us to make enough money to start thinking about what we’re going to be doing in 2019.

And of course, it would be nice to finish the tour with everyone alive and the van still in one piece…

Yes, this year’s tour! What inspired you to take a group of actors around  in the back of a van for two and a half months? Are you scared at all?

Actually, this tour was directly inspired by me going to see ‘The Handlebards‘ a couple of summers ago. I was up in Stratford-Upon-Avon and they were doing a free performance in a green area just behind the RSC. They’re a really amazing company – they cycle the length of the UK and all the stuff they need for their shows they carry on their bikes. So I thought, “that seems like a lot of fun, I want to do something like that,” but of course I’m disastrously unfit so cycling was out of the question. I mulled it over for a bit and then…Back of the Van was born!

train station group pic
Our intrepid travellers from last year

Scared would be an understatement. I mean, let’s not beat around the bush, this is going to be a big challenge. It’s a long time, we’re going to be living in close proximity, and we’re all going to be tired and working very hard. But also, I think it’s going to be a really fun time. You know, we’re getting the chance to do what we love on quite a big scale with a group of friends, and that’s what I’m focusing on because I think all those positives will definitely outweigh the negatives.

You are also Artistic Director of our sister company ‘Blackbox Devising Company’, what are the main differences between directing a devised piece such as ‘To the Ocean’, as opposed to a written piece such as ‘Lobes’?   

So the main difference is the process and what you need to achieve. When directing a devised piece, you’re basically starting from scratch, with maybe an idea that’s about it. You get together and start coming up with ideas, then from that you play around and come up with a script. From there, it’s about working on the script and tightening all the bits you’ve come up with, basically making it performance ready. The great thing about that is the actors you’re working with usually know the characters and the piece pretty intricately at this stage, so polishing it up is quite easy.

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When working with a script like Lobes, it’s an entirely different ball game. We start with the script, and there’s a lot of script work to go in to that. First, we make a big timeline detailing the events in and around the play. Then the actors have their own work to do – both our actors for Lobes have been given 100 questions to answer and selection of other tasks to complete – timelines, online courses, that kind of thing. That’s to really get under the hood of the script, the characters, and to really understand what it’s about. Then, through the rehearsal we’re constantly putting what we’ve learnt into the piece as we build up to making it performance-ready!

Finally, in the spirit of the New Year, could you pick three words to sum up what you hope 2018 will be for you?  

Three words for 2018. Okay, they’d probably be: exciting, challenging and promising.

So these are all the exciting things we’ve got coming up for this year – don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to make sure you stay up-to-date with how everything is getting on!

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