Interview: Once – Valentine’s Table Top Theatre for Two

Once talk to Theatre Bristol about Valentine’s Table Top Theatre for Two – their new miniature theatre experience for valentines to play at home.

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What gave you the idea to send people away to make theatre on their own?

We’re interested in interaction. How do people get really involved, in a meaningful way. This is the ultimate participation we’ve come up with so far. We give people a place to start, and some inspiration and guidelines to keep them going, but it’s their event. Each one will be unique.

All our work is about using the tools of performance to create a space for exchange and reflection. Sometimes that might be a personal ceremony for a family, sometimes it might be a more traditional theatre event. This feels like another way of using the same language, but being able to share it with a really large amount of people, whilst for them it’s a really intimate experience.

Also it’s just about the sheer delight and magic of receiving a mystery parcel through the post. Theatre is always about journeys, about revelations, but if we manage to transport people out of everyday space when, actually, they’re sitting at their own kitchen table, then that feels really exciting, like it’s becoming more integrated into their lives and relationships.

Is it really theatre?

Well, in a very simple sense, yes. It’s live. There are scripts, costume, props, you create a set and tell a story.

It’s a framed space. What happens between the two players is constructed and mediated by the structure we, as artists, have created. It uses a narrative, which they both experience. They are audience and player at once. It’s very visual, and a lot of what seems to stay with people are the images they create.

Do people actually do it?

Yes. Not everyone does it on Valentine’s Day. Some people save it for a special day, like a wedding anniversary for example, but mostly people are really keen to find out what’s inside. It’s like when you get a parcel for your birthday, and it’s sitting there on the table. You wouldn’t forget to open it.

People have actually been really keen to tell us about their experiences, so this year we’re setting up a Facebook site so people can share their highlights afterwards!

What kind of thing do you get in the parcel?

Ha Ha… That would be telling! Everything you need.

What kind of experience can people expect from VTTT?

Romantic, unique, fun, moving… It really depends on your personalities and relationship. It can work if you’ve been together for two days or fifty years. Some of it is set out for you and scripted carefully, but there are also sections where you have to add your own thoughts, feelings, memories… so it really is very personal to you. People are often surprised by how easy they find it to get involved, even if they aren’t the type who would normally do that sort of thing. By the end there’s barely a dry eye in the house! Couples say that it’s great to do something together that is creative (but not scary or too demanding), intimate and fun, where no one feels put on the spot. Our aim is to create a make believe world, which, through experiencing it, connects you more strongly with your real world.

What’s next for you?

Well Valentine’s Table Top Theatre is part of a growing series that we are continuing to develop. We created PICNIC last year for the Bristol Do. This is an outdoor version of a Table Top Theatre, designed to be played at festivals and events in its own little arena, which is about friendship, summer holidays and adventures. This will be touring this summer. Then in the winter we are working with The Tobacco Factory to sell one through a theatre box office, like you would buy any other theatre tickets. This one will explore the feelings created by winter and the turning of the year. And we’re full of ideas for others we want to do – there are so many possibilities when you start to explore it.

Alongside this we are continuing to develop highly interactive theatre work that still includes us as performers. We’re not ready to give that up completely! In the long run we’d like to combine the two, so that a table top theatre is the first stage of a larger, more public, project.

Is this the future of theatre?

It does seem that people are more and more looking for personal, interactive experiences from their theatre. And it links with the whole move towards user generated content I guess. I’m sure it doesn’t mean traditional theatre will cease to exist, but theatre as a whole is embracing the current atmosphere, which feels like an exciting place to be.

You can find out more about the Valentine’s Table Top Theatre for Two on Once’s website

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All images are © Once, 2009