Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Haunted Dramaturgy: Andrew Campbell @ Ayr

It’s the end of the world. The dead roam the streets. The last survivors barricade themselves in Ayr Town Hall.

What follows is a terrifying spiral into the worst parts of humanity. Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Ravenous brings audiences face to face with one of Scotland’s most notorious villains in a blood-soaked and visceral new-take on the traditional Haunted House. The audience will be led through an interactive horror experience that promises to startle, disturb and disgust.

On Saturday and Tuesday evening we are offering an extended run where you will be lead to a second venue for a horrifying take on the traditional Escape Room.

NOTE: Over 16s only - discretion is advised.

Venue: Ayr Town Hall Prison Cells

Friday 27th October: 17:00 - 22:00
Saturday 28th October: 11:00 - 22:00
Sunday 29th October: 13:00 - 21:00
Tuesday 31st October: 17:00 - 22:00
Wednesday 1st November: 17:00 - 21:00
(shows start on the hour, every hour)

What was the inspiration for this performance?

For the past five years we have been running Haunted House attractions in Ayr using the same historic building: an abandoned underground prison beneath Ayr Town Hall. Each year we try to change the style and the format. Rather then relying on simple jump-scares we will look to cinematic or literary traditions to try to create something that uses familiar imagery and then twist them to create something that is unsettling and not just startling.  

This year with the death of both George A Romero and Tobe Hooper we tried to synergise their styles to create something that references both but is also unique in of itself; so merging the political satire of Romero with camp-grotesquery of Hooper. 

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely. It can lead to face-t0-face interactions that the artist could not have predicted; outside of the performance space itself the ideas are carried by the audience and into the public sphere. A dear friend of mine recently told me that after seeing Betty Grumble she discussed the performance with a taxi driver on the way home which lead to both openly discussing concepts of eco-sexuality and burlesque. An interaction that would not have happened were it not for the show.  

How did you become interested in making performance?

As a child I had a speech impediment which made it difficult for me to communicate and affected how I perceived my own self-worth. While speech-therapy helped a great deal, it was when my parents signed me up to drama-classes that my life really changed. 

It encouraged me to not only control my breath, better my enunciation and so on but it also taught me that I had a voice worth hearing. That my ideas and overactive imagination where perhaps not the barriers I thought they were. It sounds hyperbolic and sentimentalised to say but performance literally gave me a voice. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

My focus with our Haunted Houses is to create a world. The show runs over a minimum of four days with a show every hour on the hour. So for me it is important that the cast not just jump out of cupboards and shout "boo" but understand what their creature is, how its anatomy works, how it fits into the world of the narrative.  

We spend a lot of time asking questions about the logic of our horror. If the performers believe in what they are doing then so will the audience. We need to break down that thought in their head that says "I know this is an actor in a mask". We block the basics of movements and allocate "safe words" which are used to inform the performer that it is now safe to leap out, scream in someone's face or pour that bucket of blood. 

But it is the performers that are interacting with the audience (and usually in extremely close proximity) so it is important for them to understand their role beyond the actions. They are not a jump-scare; they are a fully fledged creature/character.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

I would say so. I wear my influences and obsessions on my sleeves. As productions are not my sole means of making a living I have the privilege of being particular about what productions I wish to be involved in. Rather predictably my preoccupations are all the things that my religious upbringing deemed taboo. 

Horror movies, sex, drugs, the sinful. Like most of my work the Haunted House pushes interactivity as a means of bypassing our apathy towards these subjects. We have gotten use to cinematic portrayals of violence and horror. But being locked in a room, in the dark, while it happens in front of you, it makes it real again. Brings back that element of danger. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

The obvious answer would be fear but for me there is a nostalgic quality to it all. For a least a few brief moments I want people to forget that they are no monsters in the closet and to revel in that speculative space between the real and the not-real.  There is also a comfort in the sense that the horror is contained within a space or a character. There is something nice in the feeling of stepping into the real world and feeling relief rather then weariness. But I guess I am revealing to much about myself there. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

Something that comes up a lot is creating a sense of immediacy. We are  asking an audience to suspend their disbelief  so we try not to create any barriers. Set the show now, don't get too referential or meta. Keep the pace up. For every logic-bending narrative jump create something that is so shocking, confrontational or disturbing that they can't help but get involved on an emotional level. 

We also want a break-neck pace. Don't allow the audience to become comfortable in their surroundings. And if they must keep still, plunge them into darkness. Decorate the walls with so many grotesque nick-nacks that they become confused rather then settled. 

But above all else safety. It is an illusion of being unsafe but we never allow ourselves to go too far. Everyone is armed with a safety word which will trigger the pre-mature ending of the show. Audiences are always escorted by at least two characters. The trick is hiding these safety measures; embedding them in the plot so deep down that it never crosses their minds. 

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