Shunt, a collective of theatremakers that had huge success with their site-specific productions around London Bridge from 2000 to 2010, has also spawned Darkfield, founded by former Shunters Glen Neath, David Rosenberg and Andrea Salazar. In our interview, Glen explains how Darkfield’s binaural work in shipping containers has evolved. Time to get booking!
Parking up at outside The Vaults, Séance runs the length of this year’s VAULT Festival from 23 January to 17 March 2019, with twenty-minute performances running every night from 6pm, with fellow Darkfield show Flight arriving in an adjacent container from 20 t0 27 February.
Séance explores the psychology of a group of people who have been bombarded with suggestible material. It is an intense sonic performance for twenty people at a time, lasting for twenty terrifying minutes. Flight is a 30-minute experience that explores the many worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics that proposes all possible outcomes that could occur are occurring in countless worlds of varying similarity.
Talking to… Glen Neath
Glen Neath co-founded Darkfield with joint artistic director David Rosenberg (also pictured) and producer Andrea Salazar. The company presents a collection of individual theatrical experiences in shipping containers. Each show employs binaural sound, pitch darkness and movement to situate each audience member at the centre of an evolving narrative.
How did you three first meet?
I met David at Shunt in 2000, at one of their monthly Sunday night cabarets. Andrea met us both when she came to work for Shunt.
Where did the initial idea for Darkfield come from?
Having made two ‘dark’ shows already, we were looking for a model that allowed us more control over the space they were shown in. Those first two shows, Ring and Fiction, toured to many different venues, all of different sizes, and there were no sets as such. From that came the idea of making a shorter, more intense show in a space we could design and manipulate. A shipping container seemed ideal, as it is easily transportable – of course, we planned to tour this show too.
After Séance, we came up with the idea of a series of shows that would ultimately be shown together in the same location – a village of shipping container shows (with a bar). Along with this, we created the aesthetic – white shipping containers with single word titles drawn on the side. The name Darkfield was as much about the nature of this final configuration as anything else.
What interests you about working in darkness/with binaural sound?
The sound technology we employ is very effective in making the shows intimate to every audience member, but of course, this only truly works when the lights are out and every audience member is able to enjoy the same special treatment.
How long does it take to kit one out for one of your shows?
It takes a month or two to kit them out. The designs for these first two shows have very much been in response to the material presented inside. Future shows might begin to play with the idea of the space you enter into versus the world you find yourself inhabiting when the lights go out.
How do you come up with the ideas for your shows?
Séance came about in response to what seating configurations we could employ. We liked the idea of audience members looking at each other and once that was decided, with a table between them, it seemed we were halfway toward presenting a seance. The word seance itself means ‘a session’, and the idea of a spiritual element was not in our thinking at first. Realising that having audiences arrive with half a narrative in their heads already – we all have an idea of what happens at a séance – was a benefit when considering how we would create a satisfying narrative for a 20-minute slot.
We’d started thinking about shows that explore fear, and so our second shipping container show, Flight, sort of suggested itself. Creating a very life-like aeroplane inside a container and then turning the lights out was exciting.
Our thoughts around quantum theory, which is explored in Flight, came from a discussion about how to play with the audience’s knowledge that they are not really on a plane. Having a couple of realities playing along side by side allowed us to engage with the idea that we are on a plane and not at the same time. Whilst the story that’s running along on the plane is quite scary, we also thought a lot about the real situation of being in a shipping container in the dark with a bunch of strangers.
How did you feel when you first experienced Séance & Flight?
Working on the shows, sitting at the computer, listening with eyes closed is very different to being in the space they are made for. It’s very exciting when we first get to experience them with an audience.
Any audience reactions that have particularly surprised you?
I suppose I’m more surprised by the variety of reactions rather than any one in particular. Some people find the dark soothing, others are terrified. I believe the stories are open-ended enough for each audience member to finish the show in their own particular way.
What do you enjoy about playing at VAULT Festival?
It’s exciting to have both the shows on together – if only for a week – as that has not happened before this month. They’re both on together in Adelaide so we’re looking forward to that too.
What’s next for Darkfield?
A new show, hopefully for Edinburgh, and we’re also working on a VR project. The containers have so far been built in Australia and Mexico, and we’re also hoping to have new ones in Korea, Canada and Greece this year. The plan is for Darkfield to exist everywhere.