Detail from “Fashion Zoo Animals” Photo Series by Yago Partal

The least useful thing in a rehearsal room is fear

Dan Barnard and Rachel Briscoe are the artistic directors of fanSHEN, a company producing theatre, live events and interactive experiences. They let us into their playful, dramatic world…

“Fashion Zoo Animals” Photo Series by Yago Partal

Firstly, we have to ask — what does fanSHEN mean?

fanSHEN is a Mandarin word which translates roughly as ‘to turn the body’ or ‘to turn over.’ The word was used by the Chinese Communist Party to describe their radical, ambitious and ultimately highly destructive land reforms in the 1940s, so it evokes ideas of radical change and how terrifying radical change can be — themes which recur in our work.

What is interactive theatre?

There’s as many answers as there are people making it! For us, it’s an experience involving some element of performance where the actions of of the people participating will have some effect on what happens. We prefer ‘playable theatre’ — people know what play is and also it sounds more fun. Which Disaster Party is.

Rachel, we know you are a Feldenkrais practitioner — what is that?

Feldenkrais Method is ninja skills for daily life. It’s about finding ease and efficiency in movement but also in how you approach things. It’s beginning to be used in actor and dancer training and also by some sportspeople.

What comes first — the idea or the form?

The idea. Then we find the right form to explore it in. We’re fascinated by how we can take massive, important subjects like climate change or political agency and synthesise them into playful, approachable formats. We want to explore the different ways we can co-create with the people who experience our work — whether that’s about them playing within a structure we make, creating content, or committing radical acts of imagination.

Why are residencies worthwhile?

Anything that brings you into contact with ideas or viewpoints you don’t often encounter is worthwhile. A residency in a university feels like a door into an incredible realm of knowledge — you can talk directly to the leading thinkers on a subject. That’s incredible. The only downside is having to make sure you don’t say anything (too) stupid.

What’s the key to getting it right?

The least useful thing in a rehearsal/ making room is fear (Phelim McDermott wrote a blog which touches on this here). 3

What were your inspirations for Disaster Party and how did you use them to develop the work?

In 2015, we made a piece called Invisible Treasure. It was a kind of playable space where a group of people made decisions about how they’d respond to various games and challenges. Some people came out and told us they’d wanted to do x or y but hadn’t. When we asked why, they said things like ‘I didn’t want my friends/ husband/ daughter to judge me.’

We started to wonder what mechanism we could have used which would have meant people would have given themselves permission to do what they actually wanted. If you’re playing a character, you don’t worry that what the character does reflects on you. You’re pretending. We started to wonder, could we create an experience which gave enough ‘character’ to free people but not so much that they were really far from themselves?

That was the starting point for what became Disaster Party.

Tell us about Disaster Party

You are cordially invited to the party of the year, at the exclusive residence of Texan oil tycoon Dame Esmerelda Malone so get ready to play as you become the star of the experience. Along with fourteen other players, you will be given everything you need to become a guest at a party to remember.

Have you ever wanted to be someone else for a couple of hours? Well now you can — pop in your headphones, listen to your lines, and leave yourself behind as you become a character in this interactive show.

As the evening plays out, there are drinks and dinner and some dramatic developments that nobody had anticipated. How will your character respond? You decide.

Will the party be a disaster??

Yes. But also no. That’s kind of down to the people who come to decide!


Want more?
Disaster Party tour dates on the fanSHEN website including in Lincoln on 26,27 October and in London in November 2017.