The rise in immersive and interactive theatre means audiences are used to being part of the action. But what about hosting a show in your own home? And what if it’s based on your own life?
That’s the concept of “home theatre”, created by directors Kerry Michael and Marcus Faustini. “It’s about looking at the power between those who decide what audiences should be seeing and what audiences may want,” says Michael. “By taking the show to people’s homes, the homes of those who have been the inspiration for the work, there is a hierarchical reset.”
Michael initiated such projects at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where he was artistic director, and they have since sprung up elsewhere. It’s a great way of creating work for audiences who don’t – or can’t – come to a theatre building.
Some have made this into an “exclusive” event: theatre company Revels in Hand perform in the homes and yachts of the super-rich, staging Shakespeare in Hamptons beach houses, with a hefty price tag. Last weekend, inspired by home theatre, I organised the Welcome festival in Walthamstow, east London. Residents in one of the borough’s most deprived areas invited in local theatre-makers to perform pieces created for them. It didn’t cost audiences a penny.
A week before the Welcome festival performances, artists met their hosts for the first time and quizzed them about their lives, home and family history. I was struck by how open the hosts were, sharing personal stories, and how the artists took inspiration from small details.
The comedian Kat Bond met Bob, a retired teacher, and asked him, if he were a food, what would he be? The answer was cheese so Kat created a gameshow, sending her audience around Bob’s home, looking for pieces of cheese, each accompanied with a fun fact about Bob.
Theatre-maker Del Taylor created a fable from the story of how her hosts, Gurmeet and Emilie, met and made a home together. Her inspiration came from a cabinet made by Emilie’s grandfather, a wooden mask collected on a visit to Sierra Leone and a tar shehnai – an Indian instrument played by Gurmeet. Del imagined these wooden objects coming from a single tree, broken in a storm and scattered over the world, then reunited in their home.
Matthew Xia dazzled Natali and Luca with magic tricks in a show about luck and coincidence, inspired by their chance meeting. Actor Catherine Skinner led her hosts on a quest inspired by their favourite novels. E17 Puppet Project delighted their hosts with a story inspired by a lampshade. We then brought everyone together in the local community centre.
Though it will be London’s first Borough of Culture in 2019, Waltham Forest is the only borough not to have a producing theatre. With my neighbours Ursula Early and Cressida Brown, I founded Blackhorse Arts. A passionate local councillor, Karen Bellamy, helped us apply for funding for Welcome, so we were able to offer a unique experience to residents. Nearly half of those watching the performances said they “almost never” go to the theatre. Ten percent had never been. Two of our hosts despite living only doors away from each other, met for the first time through collaborating on the festival.
Theatre is often defending itself against claims of inaccessibility. With West End ticket prices, it’s not hard to see why. But productions like the National’s Pericles show what can happen when a theatre puts a community centre-stage. When theatre works its magic, it transforms a collection of individuals into a glorious whole. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need these inclusive experiences, and fewer exclusive ones.