Punchdrunk is one of the most innovative theatre companies in the world, what did inspire you to start it? Why did you do it?
Felix: Punchdrunk was born from a desire to explore new ways of engaging with an audience. We wanted to create a theatrical experience that felt more real, more physical, more visceral. I love conventional theatre, so this was not a rejection of something, rather an exploration of new ways of doing things. We did it to test things – ourselves and the audience. The most interesting moment came when we introduced masks, suddenly inhibition fell away and people began to exist in the stories they were watching. They became part of things…
How did the idea come about to release The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable book?
Maxine: Julian Abrams, the photographer, came to Punchdrunk’s office and delivered a beautiful proposal of how he would like to photograph the show. We loved his work and his ability to photograph spaces with found light. We have been talking about a book for years so we leapt on Julian and let him have free reign of the space. We often work from ideas based on images and love photography as a stimulus, so trying to capture our imagery in book form felt right.
You have quite a few massively successful productions; how do you reinvent yourself for the new productions? What’s your creative process, how do you find ideas for the new productions?
Felix: Punchdrunk is constantly trying to reinvent itself. The large scale masked shows like The Drowned Man are only one part of what we do, so the creative process varies from project to project. For a show like The Drowned Man, the idea of blurring the lines between faded Hollywood glory in the first half of the twentieth century and the crazy story of Woyzeck has been with me for years. Finding the right place to stage it took a long time, and then once we knew it was on, there was a lot of talking, discussing how things should look and feel, and then a long time rehearsing and building the environment. Ideas for things come from all over the place. It could be a conversation over dinner that sparks something, it could be reading a book, it could be seeing a picture somewhere.
Where do you think immersive theatre is heading to? How is it changing/evolving?
Felix: I don’t think it’s really for me to comment on anything beyond what we are doing. For us, the premise always stays the same. We push at the boundaries, we try to stretch the limits of what has been done before. Never sit still.
Maxine: Immersive theatre is taking over the artistic world! In New York there is literally an explosion of work happening in non traditional spaces like empty warehouses, sugar factories, cemeteries…. This work seems to engage a wide spread of audiences – not just artists – by inviting people to be bold and curious. I think dancers, choreographers and directors are becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial – constantly seeking out new spaces to present work and offer a bespoke audience experience. It’s an exciting time. There are lots of great companies in London creating work out of a black box scenario, sending people on journeys around the city and offering all nighters, all in the pursuit of a great theatrical experience. The appetite for immersive work is feeding the form.
Does audience influence your decisions for the future productions?
Maxine: The audience and the role it plays within a Punchdrunk production – be it a large scale mask show or an experience created for an audience of one – is hugely important. It’s not so much that we change our idea in relation to the audience, rather that we deepen the layers of potential discovery. We aim to make the experience rich and dense with potential for both intimacy and intensity whatever the form.
The book of photography from Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable by Julian Abrams is available to buy here: www.tdmbook.bigcartel.com