So, here at BoxedIn we’ve spoken a lot about how we love ourselves some site-specific theatre. But what does that actually mean? Well, one definition of site-specific theatre is a type of performance which uses the properties of a landscape and their meanings to emphasise particular images, stories and events that reveal the complex relationship between ourselves and our physical environment. Which admittedly is a bit of a long, and slightly complicated definition, however, it is not a complicated technique. Site-specific theatre is simply the utilisation of an environment which is not a traditional theatre building to help convey the story and emotions of a play.
Site-specific theatre’s ability to move away from the space of a traditional theatre is a unique quality of this practice which can help to tackle the elitism so often associated with the arts. Our Creative Director Oli Savage is particularly excited by how ‘site-specific theatre can get out in to the communities, engaging with new audiences by bringing performances in to spaces that they know and feel comfortable with.’ This aspect of the practice not only allows the audience easier access to a range of emotions which the play may evoke because they are in a comfortable environment, but it also removes the fear of going to the theatre. Often the elitist nature of a traditional theatre puts people in an uncomfortable state as they feel they ‘do not belong’. This is a fundamental problem, as how are people supposed to emotionally engage with a dramatic piece if their emotions are hindered by an innate sense of discomfort which their surroundings create? As site-specific theatre breaks these social and emotional boundaries down, it allows for a more complete experience and appreciation of theatre.
It is not just us at BoxedIn who are excited by the potential of site-specific theatre. Barrie Rutter, Northern Broadsides’ director, has commented that he is very proud to have been one of the pioneers of the practice, and many more people of note in the Arts world are bringing site-specific theatre into their work. This week, BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) have selected their new Artistic Director, David Binder. Mr Binder’s credentials include producing the Dutch New Island Festival on New York’s Governors Island, which is 10 days of site-specific performance, music, theater and dance from the Netherlands, showcasing how site-specific performances can bring together a range of art forms. It is exciting to have people of influence in the arts recognise the importance of site-specific performance, as it suggests that in the future we can expect to look forward to a more inclusive and emotive theatre scene.
This is ultimately one of the foundations of BoxedIn’s ethos, producing an inclusive theatre community, free from bias and elitism. We want to create a safe, creative environment where everyone feels welcome. And site-specific theatre is a perfect vehicle for this because, as Oli’s said, ‘when an audience steps in to a space, whether they know it or not they’re thinking about what that space means – it’s feelings, and it’s emotions. And that’s always going add to their connection to the piece as a whole.’ When an audience member is not worried about being out of place, or fitting in with everyone around them, they allow themselves the opportunity to truly focus on what the play means to them through their connection to the piece as a whole: the words, the actions, and the setting.
We hope that we have managed to achieve this in our past productions, such as WOOD (summer 2017), and we are looking forward to expand on our success and continue to promote site-specific theatre in our upcoming productions. The first of which is Henry Robert’s ‘Lobes’, which we will present on 13th, 14th, and 15th March.
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