April 4, 2015
I had the pleasure of a SKYPE interview with Amanda aka Claire de Loon Head of Design with Oily Cart theatre company in Britain. Being in Arizona and a 9 hour time difference to London I hope I was coherent enough to ask pertinent questions. Most importantly I hope that the interview accurately reflects her answers. My apologies to her if it does not.
Chris: Can you tell me about any current projects you are working on?
Amanda: Our current project is a piece called, Light Show. We have created two versions of the show, one for autistic students ages 3-11 and another for those with learning disabilities. We are using an all white set and costumes. The props for the show are very colorful and multisensory. It is very simple, less is more has been the approach. The show introduces one color at a time to the audience.
Can you tell me how your approach new works? So many times in the TYA world we tend to focus on book adaptations and fairytales.
We rarely start with anything scripted or that already exists. All of our work is original. Our work is influenced by observation, best practices and our audience’s reactions. We might start with a paint color. We could start my observing students feeling of loss, what excites them, themes of friendship. We might begin with ordinary things like paper as a theme. Ordinary activities such as doing laundry or sleeping might influence a new piece of work.
Where do, or can, you produce your specific type of theatre if not in a traditional theater setting?
We have explored performances in hydro-therapy pool. This show involved 2 performers and a musician in the water. We have a piece titled, Bounce that takes place on trampolines. Most of our shows are in an open space with a 360 degree setup.
What do you take into consideration when establishing safe boundaries for your work and when creating an immersive, interactive, multi-sensory performance?
In terms of boundaries we find it very important for our audiences to know what the material being presented focuses on ahead of time. This allows everyone to be more prepared for the experience. A very clear timeline established early also lets everyone know what to expect. We try to incorporate obvious and clear tasks into our performances and those too are established early.
For immersion most our work has music attached to it. Audiences can for the most part figure out a simple chorus and join in. Repetition is also very important. The more something is said or done the easier it is to follow it. We may have a scene on a hot beach and the audience would fan themselves to cool off. If the show is about the color red we might have the audience bring something of their own that is red to be part of the show.
What is different about your presentation than most traditional TYA work?
The build up to the show is very important. Give as much information ahead of time. At the actual performances build into it. You can’t just start the show and expect a positive response. You want to be sure that the beginning Is not too alarming.
As you are the Head of Design, what do you take into consideration when designing for your type of theater?
Color is very important. I also love textures. Children love to touch and feel things, so texture is important. We do our best to incorporate all the senses so different smells and perfumes are a consideration. It is important to engage all of the senses, especially when your audience is so close in proximity to the performance. I also want the performance space to be inviting. We incorporate kinesthetic senses too. The space needs to allow for movement from the audience and the actors. Even the carpets on the floor for sitting are incorporated into the design.
Do you have favorite materials you like to use or colors?
I like things that are easily cleaned. Sheep skin is fun to use. Children love to touch and feel them. I like things that are shiny. Oh and stripes. I love black and white stripes.
Are there other sensory adaptions you take into consideration?
We make sure that the space is welcoming upon entering. We use lobby pictures if we can to familiarize the audience before the show. Making sure that entrances and exits are very clear. Most shows begin very bright and end darker.
What do you think is the future is for non-traditional TYA and companies like Oily Cart?
I hope that there is more non-traditional work. There is lots of demand. This isn’t commercial work because you must work with low numbers in the audience. That means the money isn’t often there. I think that the future though is a blank page and hopefully we will see more of this type of work happening.