LOCKDOWN has been, at best, a long hard slog for everyone. We’ve had no access to the things we love- restaurants, cafes, museums… and of course theatre and family events. As the world begins to open back up, with light at the end of the tunnel for theatres and theatre fans alike, two theatre companies have teamed up with their venue counterparts to create The Curious Case of Aberlliw, an accessible outdoor digital adventure in three parts – to get those creative juices flowing before we can get back into our beloved venues.
Elise Davison, Artistic Director of Taking Flight explains “We really wanted to create something for families to enjoy together, to get outside and to problem solve. Over the last year, we have continued to work on productions using various digital platforms. We used the time as an opportunity to be able to explore ways of providing an equality of experience that isn’t just streaming, that goes some way to create immersive events that can be enjoyed on a physical or digital platform or through a mixture of both. To me that throws up some really exciting possibilities. We collaborated with Barra Collins from LAStheatre, who I met on a project with Bath Spa Productions, to look at integrating access in VR performances and performance spaces, and it seemed natural to continue working together as we all begin to emerge from the enforced hibernation the pandemic has placed us all in.”
The collaboration led them to the Department of Strange Events, a concept for creating outdoor Covid-safe adventures for families with digital twists and turns. In The Curious Case of Aberlliw, a site specific adventure trail at Bryngarw Country Park and Llyn Llech Owain this half term; families take on the role of new recruits to the Department, thrown in the deep end with the troubling news that a small town in Wales is suffering from a catastrophic, complete loss of colour. One year ago something stole all the colour and nothing has been the same since. For those who help the townsfolk bring the colours back to Aberlliw in just 60 minutes, promotion and a permanent position within the Department are on the cards for sure – well, at the very least a Zoom debrief with cast Stephanie Back & Jed O’Reilly, who recently appeared together in the Taking Flight/ Deaf and Fabulous coproduction, Fow.
The three-part adventure begins with an early evening digital performance the day before the trail, where audiences are introduced to Huw and Nia, the only people in Aberlliw who haven’t completely given up due to the lack of colour and aren’t working from bed. We discover that they have developed a machine that they hope can restore the colour to Aberlliw, but that they need help from The Department of Strange Events to send the machine data to process samples of colours and texture found in nature to enable the plan to work. Participants use an app to complete puzzles and challenges, sending their answers and results to DOT, the machine back in Aberlliw.
Barra said: “As lockdown eases, ‘The Curious Case of Aberlliw’ provides a really exciting approach to hybrid theatre making with live online elements and an app that leads audience members on a engaging, socially distanced journey featuring songs, puzzles and some surprising twists and turns. Our first two locations Llyn Llech Owain and Bryngarw Country Park are places of real natural beauty. As the project grows, we hope that our story, about a little town that loses its colour, provides families with an opportunity to connect with nature, appreciate the beauty on their doorsteps and explore their local area with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of wonder”.
Elise continues: “We are working with graphic designer, and all-round technical magic maker, Matt Wright, who co-created the award-winning ‘Border Game’ (National Theatre Wales) to design a bespoke app experience that is perfect for families – it’s really engaging and looks gorgeous, so it’s not something that you’ll just want to hand over to the kids to do on their own, parents are going to have lots of fun doing this too. This piece is a way of combining our outdoor theatre experience with our digital discoveries. The audience solve the problem, they are the experts and they make the difference, bringing back the hope for the future.
“At Taking Flight, we’ve been working tirelessly over the last 14 months on developing accessible digital theatre experiences. We want to get families- including those families who have access requirements- back enjoying theatre together but we need to keep them- and our Deaf, disabled & non-disabled performers, safe. The routes for the outdoor part of the experience are wheelchair accessible, and the performance elements on the piece are in English & BSL with some everyday Welsh and embedded audio description; they are captioned throughout so that nobody is excluded from enjoying them.”
To keep the adventure Covid-safe, families will be given their own starting point and time slot meaning they can stay in their own bubble (only one ticket is available for each time slot, for up to six people from up to two families, children included). Adventure completed, families head home for a final digital de-brief with Huw & Nia where they find out if they have been successful and if the colour has returned to Aberlliw.
The Curious Case of Aberlliw has been made possible thanks to a partnership with Awen Cultural Trust and Carmarthenshire Theatres. Sharon Casey, Theatres Development Manager for Carmarthenshire Theatres said: “We are so excited to be presenting our first live activity via Carmarthenshire Theatres in over 14 months. Although we have been streaming lots of productions online from our theatres throughout lockdown, it will be wonderful to offer families a physical experience that they can enjoy together safely. Llyn Llech Owain is a beautiful site to explore, and coupled with the app, it will give families an exciting adventure that is truly unique. As we emerge from the pandemic, engaging in the outdoors and creativity can help people with their physical and mental wellbeing, and we also expect it to be a lot of fun!”
Richard Hughes, Chief Executive at Awen Cultural Trust, added: “We are delighted to be working collaboratively with Taking Flight, LAStheatre and Theatrau Sir Gâr on this co-production for Bryngarw Country Park. The pandemic has shown that parents have really valued the opportunity to spend more time outside with their children, and the physical and mental wellbeing benefits that being out in the fresh air brings with it. With our theatres still closed for live performances, we welcome this opportunity to help families reconnect with the arts, by using nature, outdoor adventure and interactive technology to encourage all ages to get involved.”
An outdoor adventure for families about the magic inside all of us, The Curious Case of Aberlliw will be at Llyn Llech Owain, Cross Hands from 1st – 3rd June and Bryngarw Country Park from 4th – 6th June.
Places are strictly limited to keep the adventures Covid safe, booking is now open at www.theatrausirgar.co.uk and www.awen-wales.com. For further information visit www.takingflighttheatre.org.uk