Tell us about Block 9? What did inspire you to start it?
The Block9 partnership was (mal)formed following the success of the NYC Downlow which debuted at Glastonbury in 2007. People couldn’t get enough of the UK’s first authentic gay festival venue – a frozen in time late 70’s New York gay club inspired by some of the incredible stuff happening out at Burning Man.
What were your most successful shows/installations so far and what projects did you enjoy the most so far?
Our most successful installations are found at Glastonbury. Since we started, the Block9 field has been an integral part of Glastonbury’s Late Night Area and incredibly busy all through the night till 6am, in fact the field is so popular that this year we had headline acts programmed from 4pm each day. We have a brilliant team of full time staff and freelancers who keep the show on the road. There are always challenges and it’s extremely hard work (we are on-site for a month) but it’s also very rewarding – seeing it all come together and then crescendo in such a massive way over the festival – thousands and thousands of people all having the time of their lives! It’s also VERY satisfying to take it all down, pack it all away and return the field to its natural state.
Tell us a bit more about your latest project Utopia and co-operation with Penny Woolcock? What is unique about this particular production?
Penny Woolcock – the lead artist – is an incredible story-teller and seems to have an uncanny knack of being able to gain people’s trust in such an extraordinary way that they then feel free to reveal their true selves and share their most intimate stories with her. The piece is unique for a number of reasons, it is based on conversations Penny had with people from the Camden area, from all sorts of backgrounds, and the things they said. We worked closely with her in finding threads of narrative – themes that came through – which we then devised ways of ‘illustrating’ in 3D as a series of spaces that you can walk through. Lots of the people she spoke to seemed to be drawn towards the same big themes – education, inequality, consumerism, gentrification – people from different social and ethnic backgrounds wanting to talk about the same things. I also felt that there was an overarching idea that presented itself about challenging pre-conceptions; judging people because of the way they look or the way they speak. This is a site-specific piece for Camden, for the Roundhouse, so in addressing that idea we have tried to create spaces that challenge the audience’s pre-conceptions of what they are hearing, what they are seeing and even where they are.
What is your secret in creating seamless immersive experiences for the public?
We are about asking questions – there are a lot of ‘what if’s?’ so we try to build environments in which people feel free to express themselves more than in everyday life – to take charge of their own destiny for a while; to take action and participate rather than just being spectators staring at their camera phones – and that often has long lasting effects.
What are your future plans?
We have a couple of major new ideas on the drawing board for the Block9 area at Glastonbury although we might need to find some more room…
Utopia runs until 23rd August as part of Bloomberg Summer at the Roundhouse.