Kirsty Harris is an artist and designer who has worked with the likes of Punchdrunk, Shunt, Kneehigh, Southbank Centre and National Theatre of Wales.
We sat down with Kirsty to talk about the creative process of The Droves and what it’s like to design for a group of 6 – 11 year olds.
Can you tell us about your previous work and what really draws you to designing immersive theatre?
I work a lot in found spaces and buildings that aren’t made for theatre, places that come with a story and something to react to, I find that very exciting. You can look around and see the gifts a place is offering, and pick the things you want to unwrap in the design of the experience. I see immersive worlds as places that can put audiences in a liminal space, where they may reveal a bit of themselves to themselves that they didn’t know was there. By creating a world that is a bit strange and a bit “other”, it opens up stories and possibilities to the person experiencing it; a sideways step from their everyday that illuminates some part of them in the stepping.
In Momentorium: Photo by James Allan
The Droves is unique as the Young Company are the creators for every aspect of the show. How have you been teaching the Young Company about designing for theatre?
I tend not to teach as such, more set up some challenges and see where we go together from there. It’s a two way exchange, making offers, feeding back and making more offers to each other. Also, I’m not a traditional theatre designer, and creating interactive experiences is a process that works best making it up as we go along (to some extent!) so that we can try out the interaction, the spaces and get a sense of how the broader narrative is playing out.
The concept of immersive theatre is a tricky one to explain to young people (and adults!) which is ironic as they make immersive worlds all the time through play. So I guess it’s been a bit about tapping into that innate ability in a playful way and then focusing on specific things to explore, such as mapping space, thinking about texture, colours, light, and what these elements can make a person feel when surrounded by them. We’ve also looked at making miniature versions of worlds and creating large scale models of particular scenic elements – so switching up between the conceptual ideas and very practical ways of realising them.
What is the wackiest idea the Young Company have come up with so far?
Ooh I don’t want to give away the very wackiest things- there are some absolute bonkers treats in the show! I will say, that there’s has been a fixation on mushrooms and exotic fungus which I find quite fascinating and very fun to design with – that has brought a brilliant weirdness to the world.
The young company’s freedom in mashing together different elements that a grown-up might think were too illogical or far fetched has been really freeing to experience. I’m definitely going to try to retain some of the “why not?!” mentality the young company bring to the creative process.
Immersive performance comes with its own unique challenges, What are some of the most interesting things about working in a space like CoLab Factory?
There are lots of practical challenges, things that one might take for granted when working in a more traditional theatre/art space. Lack of power to light the show is a big challenge, but this has led to exciting solutions that actually serve the work rather than hinder it. Those things can be gifts as well as the more obviously inspiring things a space such as CoLab offers. Working in any space with a history is always inspiring, you already have stories to explore, to warp and play with. As a visual artist, it’s wonderful to be surrounded by the textures, shapes and visual interest of a historic building. It’s like a sweet-shop for scenic painting references!
The building history comes imbued with the human history; that’s every mark on a wall, every piece of equipment or strange surprise in the basement. A whole bank of inspiration and creative fuel waiting for you – what a treat!
Do you have any advice for a young person looking to get into designing theatre?
Don’t think that you have to take a conventional route if that doesn’t feel right for you. Follow your instincts. I don’t have any formal training in theatre design, university wasn’t right for me so I just got stuck in volunteering and working in all the areas I could.
Listen to things going on around you, respect the people who can support your development and teach you things, and don’t be afraid to ask for help or instruction – be curious!
As well as that, remember to respect your own practice and what it’s worth, and don’t be taken advantage of. Even when volunteering, you should feel like you are getting a rich experience on any project. Take time to choose things that nourish your practice.
Oh, and sturdy boots and a head-torch are essential!
Find out more about The Droves and book here.