My name is Marie Woodhouse and I am a 22 year old University student studying BA (Hons) Theatre at the University of Falmouth. As part of my education in my third year as well as conducting my own practice in context project I was asked to find a placement for the duration of my first semester. Always being interested in immersive theatre, I contacted Katie Day from The Other Way Works to ask if there was the opportunity for some work experience. Following an initial meeting in early September 2013 I began to shadow Katie and the company’s work for three months by attending meetings, workshops and working at the company’s head quarters in King’s Heath.
When I began my placement with Katie I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was excited and eager to see how a ‘real’ company operates and ready to learn new skills. The first meetings I attended involved the future projects of the company opportunities for funding. Working with freelance producer Thomas Wildish we planned out the next two years for The Other Way Works, including exciting new projects such as After Life and the future of Black Tonic and Avon Calling. During this time I had the pleasure of meeting co-founder Louise Platt, core artist for the company and drama therapist. I was surprised to learn there was a lot more paper work and funding applications than I had anticipated when creating your own theatre company.The reality of work is entirely dependent on the application of money. I realized that to succeed as an artist or a company they are a ‘necessary evil’ in order to produce the work you want to produce.
Following these meetings I was inspired to look at my own work as a student and artist, especially in the context of The Other Way Works’ future project, After Life. The company are basing their performance project on the 1998 Japanese film After Life, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. After Life is set in a derelict waystation, a place where dead souls are taken to be processed before they can move on. Each week a new group of souls arrive and check in, and with the help of the social workers have to replicate as accurately as possible their happiest memory. These memories are filmed and then showcased at the end of the week. As the person watches their memory relived on the screen they disappear and move on into the afterlife, a state in which the person lives in that single memory for eternity.
The Other Way Works want to invite audience members on a residency, bringing them to a boarding house or secluded location. The duration of the performance or experience will last roughly a weekend, in which the audience members will undergo a similar process to the dead souls in After Life. They will have a few days to select a memory, duplicate it and record it, the end of the performance resulting in a showcase similar to the film.
I was shocked, surprised and excited when I heard about this project. I was stunned at how similar After Life was to my own. For my practice in context project I have chosen to look at memories, in how we may recreate and reassign them, to resurrect them. I will be working autobiographically and on site to immerse myself back into the memories of my childhood, in particular those related to a dead relative. What is this allure of recreating memories and how can these be used as a cathartic release when mourning a loved one? Maybe it is the idea of being at peace within ourselves, to capture a beautiful moment and relive it. The moments or memoires within our lives are what bind us to being human. Imagine how it would be to have had no memories, no experiences. Memories are the meat on our bones, what flesh us out as human. Could it be that memories are the only thing that can define us as alive?
The workshops that I enjoyed the most were working with Alyson Fielding and John Sear on the CATH project for Black Tonic. Meeting at the University of Birmingham we had two full days of planning and expanding ideas, allowing the creative juices to flow instead of being stunted by funding applications. We researched new technologies to enhance the level of immersion during performances as well as video games and story ideas and formats, in particular an immersive computer game called Dear Esther. The story follows an unnamed protagonist as he travels through a lonely Scottish Island whilst trying to process the grief for his dead wife, Esther. The player is invited to explore the island as the narrator, gaining pieces of the story in a non-chronological order which you have to decipher yourself. The game features a lot of themes such as lonesomeness, the unreliable narrator and mourning. It reminded me of my practice in context project as the beautiful graphics and interactive play acted as a story-telling implement in regards to loss and memories. I am looking at how memories can be fickle as we only rely on the brain to retain them. If we forget our memories do we forget ourselves? How do we remember the people who have passed on, how do they live in our memories?
Katie introduced me to theatre maker and performance artist Francesca Millican-Slater. I met with Fran to have a discussion about my project as her degree show, Me Myself and Miss Gibbs shared similar messages and themes with my own work as we both investigate how you remember people who have passed on through memory.
As a student interested in immersive theatre my life ambition is to begin an immersive theatre company of my own that helps to educate young people by using exciting and immersive performance methods. I throughly enjoyed my time working with Katie and The Other Way Works and learnt in particular how a founded drama company operates, funds itself and creates work and ideas. Working with the company and seeing how it operates strengthen my future ambitions and gave me new aspirations, confirming my decision that if you want to work in theatre and performance it can be achieved if you are willing to work for it.
Marie Woodhouse, 20th December 2013