Zoë Seaton: Hijacking the Familiar: The Work of Big Telly Theatre Company (Keynote lecture)

In this keynote, I will explore what we have learnt about the experience of theatre by audiences through the pandemic. Since March 2020, Big Telly has created five theatre productions, an interactive online soap opera, two virtual weddings where the audience/guests make their own meals and a digital food festival. As with so much of our previous repertoire, these involved hijacking the familiar to hide surprises. They also involved the challenge of providing an experience through technology that connected people remote from each other, both theatre makers and spectators. We started from the premise that we wanted to provide for our audiences a much richer experience than a poor imitation of face-to-face theatre spectatorship. This meant considering issues of  technology and liveness; questions of presence; and, the choices available to an audience. Our response to those issues was to develop approaches to participation and inclusion, by learning how to invite people into your world, and how to step into theirs. Such theatrical colonisation of domestic space entailed detail consideration of what’s possible for a site specific company when the specific site is someone’s home and what ethical boundaries might need to be in place to respect that.

I’ll chart the journey of our relationship with audiences through this work, and also how this relates to our pre pandemic work which was often durational, game-based and in unusual locations – using the examples of The Little Mermaid in swimming pools, Worst Café in the World in empty shops and our undercover operations in schools, with actors and the police. Post-pandemic we have a fresh opportunity to create hybrid experiences which connect remote and live audiences to create community, complicity and curiosity about the world outside our bubble. And coming from a small place like NI, that’s got to be a good thing.

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