Let’s talk about Walkabout

The epitome of ‘get involved’

Picture this, you’re sitting in the audience, watching a friend act their heart out.

You sit there listening to their dialogue, slowly understanding the story. But there’s something missing. Sitting there, you may start feeling like something’s wrong, whether that’s due to the feeling of losing your legs, the urge to simply do something or the desire to get involved into the story itself.

Well, Walkabout Productions, a company founded by Max Shanagher (2nd Year English) and Tully Hyams (2nd Year History), has you covered. Inspired by the concept of Immersive Theatre while attending various productions in London, Max and Tully hope that Walkabout could “catch up to the theatre scene” there.

Having had the pleasure of interviewing both founders, we provide some insight into immersive theatre, Walkabout Productions and their latest production, a Wilde Night.

The founders of Walkabout Productions (Top: Max Shannagher; Bottom: Tully Hyams)

What is Walkabout Productions?

This production company is, in fact, Durham’s first, and currently, only immersive theatre company, specialising in projects that exceeds the typical boundaries of staged drama. It aims to create stories for audiences to not only watch, but to explore.

Moreover, this production company promotes student writing, by offering workshops to train aspiring writers to create plays that adapt to non-traditional venues and place audiences at the heart of the action. Actors will be partaking in a different form of acting, distinguishable from traditional plays in the sense that it tests the actors’ abilities to “break the fourth wall” and “get the audience involved”. They also hope to display Durham in a “different light” and to “make Durham a cultural hub for” immersive theatre.

Max and Tully gained their inspiration to start Walkabout Productions after watching Burnt City, a production by Punch Drunk (a London based Immersive Theatre company) about the Fall of Troy, where the venue included model catwalks, ‘sacrifice rooms’, and a village containing letters and props allowing participants to explore the story themselves.

What is Immersive theatre?

Immersive theatre provides productions which use venues in creative and elaborate methods, and involve the audience in the lore of each story itself. The audience won’t be sat down in front of a stage but will be moving around the space, having the freedom to do what they like. Audiences not only have the opportunity to watch a story, but to participate in the various characters’ lives, through simulations of various situations, such as possibly overhearing gossip in the TLC or Paddy and Scotts.

“It’s about having none of that 4th wall, creating stories with the potential to hit a bit different with the audience. You can get under their skin a little bit more, not in a bad way, but to test what the audience considers as theatre. It’s all about the actors directly acting at the audience and getting them involved in the production”.

“I think it’s also important to note that immersive theatre uses non-traditional spaces, and obviously Durham is a small city, there’s a limited amount of spaces to perform theatre and one of the perks of immersive theatre is that you get access to random venues”.

How is it different to a ‘normal’ production?

This concept “tests the actors” stemming from the need to accommodate improvisation through its interactions with the audience. Actors have to get used to “imagining the audience to be there” and “going around the venue and using the space as effectively as possible” during rehearsals.

Most importantly, and possibly the biggest challenge for any actor, it’s also about getting actors to “interact with the audience”, especially during monologues. It’s about being able to convey the same level of intensity and knowledge shared among the actors, but with the audience, and ultimately about “changing the relationship with the audience”.

A Wilde Night

Walkabout Productions’ latest project, A Wilde Night, portrayed the world of Oscar Wilde and his fall from grace using Hatfield Chapel and the Birley Room. The production included many different influences from Oscar Wilde’s life, including “the dinner scene from Lady Windemere’s Fan” where “audiences were a part of that dinner party, with Lady Windemere greeting the audience and welcoming them in”; and a “court scene which Wilde is prosecuted, where the audience is a part of the court” and “see Wilde’s final moments”.

It “changed these places where the audience felt like a part of the scene” and “kept true to Wilde’s own language” through the use of Wilde’s own letters and the trial transcripts in making the play.

However, it would probably be helpful to not to view this production just as a play, but rather an adventure into the world of Oscar Wilde. For example, despite the poster stating to attend the play at Hatfield chapel, we were immediately directed from the start to walk across Hatfield to “Lady Windermere’s dining room” situated in the Birley Room, while being greeted passionately by stage hands posing as ‘butlers’ and ‘maids’. As we entered the ‘dining room’, we were offered sandwiches exuding a sense of sophistication while conversing and overhearing conversations with ‘Lady Windemere’s guests’. Yet, perhaps the most shocking and surprising part of it all was when I left in the middle of the production to use the loo, and got scolded for being “late to the dinner party”. It was almost as if we were a part of the story itself.

What more can we expect?

Walkabout productions aims to produce two immersive play productions a year as well as provide workshops for aspiring writers. The workshop aims to implement “collaborative writing” through writers “sound boarding ideas”, creating an “end product which is a combination of everyone’s ideas”. For aspiring writers, it will provide the opportunity to “work in a team as writers”, a very different skill to writing by yourself.

“If anyone’s interested in going into writing, it is a good insight to what it is going to be. You join a team of writers rather than write your own piece”.

Expect to see more wacky venues, unnerving engagement from the actors and to be constantly kept on your toes throughout the whole

For more information about Walkabout Productions, see here for their Instagram account.

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