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SOLO | An Innovative Immersive Audience Experience

Posted by Laura Swain, 9th September 2019, 13:57pm

Co-commissioned by Lincoln Performing Arts Centre for Frequency Festival 2017, Solo was first performed at The Blue Room at The Lawn, Lincoln and has since toured to other intimate, non-theatre spaces. We’re delighted to welcome back this mini-theatrical gem for PopOut in the historic setting of St. Mary le Wigford Church. In this interview Michael Pinchbeck and Ollie Smith share their influences behind the creation of the piece.

Tell us about you – who are you and what do you do?

We’re solo artists who have been collaborating together on theatre and performance projects for around a decade. The first piece we made was a two-hander called The End – and it became one part of a body of work called The Trilogy, along with The Beginning and The Middle. We try to find new and unusual ways of creating audience experiences, often with the audience themselves at the centre. We are also interested in the role of music in telling a story.

What inspired you to make this show?

After The Trilogy we made a second triptych of shows inspired by three musical compositions by Maurice Ravel and their connections to war. The first show Bolero was about the creation of Ravel’s most famous work, and the legacy left after Torvill and Dean danced to it at the 1984 Winter Olympics. This timeline was played in tandem with the history of conflict in the city of Sarajevo, where the Olympics took place. Sarajevo was the location of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the catalyst for the beginning of the First World War, and the city was besieged in the 1990s when the Olympic stadium was bombed. Concerto was about the ‘Piano Concerto for the Left Hand’ and how Ravel’s role in the First World War affected its creation. Solo is about the jazz-infused ‘Tzigane’ and how a virtuoso violinist called Jelly D’Aranyi was given just days to learn what Ravel himself thought was practically unplayable.

What makes the piece different to other performances people might have experienced?

This performance is for just two people at a time, so it’s a very gentle and intimate experience. You and a friend will both be given headphones and through these you will hear the story of ‘Tzigane’. You’ll then be guided around the performance space by Michael and Ollie who will help bring the words you’re hearing to life through physical and visual storytelling.

Are there any important themes or moments we should look out for?

Participants should watch one another as they listen to the story. Visual moments have been carefully timed to sync up with the words and music you’ll be listening to. The projections on the walls also add imagery and context to the story – places and portraits – so keep an eye on them too. We visit Ravel’s garden outside Paris, a restaurant in Soho where the two protagonists met and the Aeolian Hall in London where the piece of music was premiered.

What drew you to the immersive experience rather than more traditional storytelling modes?

We thought that anyone can read up on the history of a piece of music, but it’s quite different to try to imagine what it might feel like to be one of the key figures and experience sounds and images as if you were those people involved in the story. That idea was our starting point for making Solo. We have also been involved in site-specific and one-to-one performances in cars, on park benches and on Roman Walls which we also consider an immersive experience.

For those that experienced it – how is Solo different to Concerto?

Solo is much more hands-on. Audience members will be immersed in the action and will walk around the performance space, focussing on different images, interactions and ideas from moment to moment. However both pieces are similar in that they explore a piece of music by Ravel – Solo lasts as long as the music that inspired it.

How will it make audiences feel?

Past audience have described it as very warm and tender, and they enjoyed experiencing something that focussed solely on them. For anyone who feels wary about audience interaction, it’s not in the slightest bit scary! It might make them feel a little bit sad, as some of the story is about being alone and how both Ravel and D’Aranyi found solace in this piece of music and the act of writing or playing it. It might make them feel like they are in the story.

What are you working on next?

Next we are making a piece inspired by John Berger’s photodocumentary book A Seventh Man (1972). It is looking at migration and it will also have an unusual approach to its staging so watch this space!