‘Drive By’ – Immersive Theatre, is it for you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016 • Liverpool Arts Society

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October 2015 brought about my most exciting and challenging opportunity yet; I was cast in a one to one performance piece, Drive By, that was to feature in Hope Street Ltd’s On The Verge Festival ‘15. Having previously stage managed one to one performances, acting in one was something completely alien to me, but also a welcomed challenge.

The piece was set in a car and followed the journey of ‘Sophie’ as she navigated through life’s many twists and turns. Due to the intensity of the festival schedule, it was decided by director Bethany Sproston that two actors would play the character of Sophie consecutively, therefore the role was taken up by both myself and Danielle Edwards.

The On The Verge programme perfectly described the piece as follows:

‘Drive By immerses the participant/audience into an environment where all senses are opened up and directed by his or her responses. The performer makes each performance unique to the individual involved’.

For me, this was what made the piece so special. As the actor, my main obligation wasn’t to remember my lines or to try to convey a message; it became about listening and connecting with my audience member through a mutual encounter.

The rehearsal process was intense but amazing fun. As the piece was to be led by audience response, Bethany had us work off a loosely scripted base structure in which Danielle and I would guide the performances. The majority of rehearsals saw us getting in tune with ourselves and our reactions to different stimuli and we drew upon personal memories to evoke different emotions that would crop up throughout the piece. We did a lot of chakra work, which was completely new to me, and that really helped me to understand some of the thoughts and memories that may have shaped and defined me as a person. From this, Bethany reinforced the idea that although Danielle and I were to play a character, Sophie needed to be genuine and raw. She wasn’t real but her feelings were, she had experienced different things in life but she had felt the same way as we did- she was our twin. We also worked on improvisation and did so until our brains hurt! Soon though, it began to feel natural. We were having conversations, finding common ground, enjoying each other’s company and most importantly, NOT acting. Our character’s experiences altered our responses but they still came from us. This, however, is where the potential problems lie. Immersive theatre can pose many issues, not least the issue of authenticity. Should we play a character or should we just be ourselves? If we’re not ourselves, does that mean we’re lying to our audience? There’s no right or wrong answer, but in this case Bethany thought it in our best interests to play a character. If not, the piece would have been autobiographical and potentially too personal; Sophie was our safety net.

Finally, festival week arrived and it’s one that I’ll never forget. I’d never been so nervous about a performance in my life; it was essentially going to be just me and a stranger in a car together. However, as each performance went on, it didn’t feel like a performance at all- it felt like I was sitting with a new friend drinking tea and chatting about anything from families and missing home, to dressing up as pandas and The Big Bang Theory (the TV show. I’m not that clever). Each time was different and each time I learnt something new. Some people offered me advice, some shared their stories, and some sat in silence as we simply enjoyed each other’s company. At the end, we asked our audience the question: ‘When we get to a crossroads in our lives, do you think we should break, or accelerate?’. The responses we received were so diverse and inventive, and it was fascinating to see the way in which different people navigate life’s ups and downs.

On The Verge festival was created to remind us that theatre doesn’t only exist in the black box or the proscenium arch, and Drive By served to remind us that theatre can be in the everyday… the conversation with a taxi driver, the smile to a passing stranger, the moments we share. Until the next journey.

 Twitter Reviews:

‘Bethany Sproston’s Drive By is a clever mix of storytelling & conversation. A moment shared and that’s where its power lay #ontheverge’- Matthew Linley (Artistic Director at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool)

‘Beautifully driven, meditative & thoughtful 121 show in a car & crossroads of life @drivebyOTV @hopestltd #ontheverge’- Ana Gillespie (Freelance Producer, Project Manager and Arts Manager of Performance, Festivals and Events (Edinburgh International Festival, Barbican Centre, The Generating Company, The Red Room))

Special Thanks to:

Bethany Sproston, Danielle Edwards, Montse Gili, John Leyland, Peter Ward, and the rest of the Hope Street team.

Follow Drive By on Twitter at @drivebyOTV