It never fails to amaze me how much some students can fit into their working week. It’s very easy for sleep to take precedence over extra reading or going to the gym and yet some students do indeed do it all. The level of creativity in St Andrews is truly astounding, you only need to have a look at the programme of weekly events to see that.
This week we are shining the spotlight on Boxed In Theatre and its artistic director Oli Savage. Oli is a regular on the St Andrews theatre scene, whether that is gracing the stage or behind the scenes. Last year, after acknowledging that the kind of work he wanted to do stretched beyond the realms of Mermaids, he took inspiration from previous student-led groups and set up an actual company: Boxed In Theatre.
“Theatre is dying. I want to explore unusual ways of making theatre that will enable us to reach a wider audience.”
The global theatre scene is starting to see more and more innovative productions. Punchdrunk, a name that we should all take note of, wowed London audiences in 2013 with their immersive promenade production housed in Temple Studios. The audience wore masks and made decisions about which character’s story they wanted to follow, both physically and mentally, which meant that everyone’s perception of events was different. It was a special experience to be a part of, one that I will never fully understand but can appreciate for its risk-taking.
In this vein, Boxed In Theatre’s first production was an immersive retelling of Romeo and Juliet with a masked audience split into Montagues and Capulets in the St.Age. From there, they toured Wood over the summer and are now working on Lobes which is going to be performed in the Med Lab as well as a tour of the UK and Ireland this summer. There’s lots of projects to come for this group of talented creatives.
Theatre is about more than putting on a show and turning a script into a production.
Frantic Assembly, a name that may not be particularly well-known, is a theatre company which explores storytelling through movement and music. This company was founded along much the same lines as Boxed In Theatre by students from Swansea University. They have since gone from strength to strength with one of their biggest co-operative productions winning a Tony Award in 2016 for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
There are of course some more classical influences on Boxed In Theatre’s work such as Michael Chekhov in accessing the unconscious self. A lot of the time as an audience, we forget the amount of work that goes into a production and the faces and names that we remember upon leaving a performance are the main characters, never really the creatives behind it. “It is a hard industry to get famous in but that is not necessarily a bad thing.”
Mr Savage has been interested in theatre for as long as he can remember and takes great pleasure in discovering new practitioners and groups. Oli has a keen interest in site-specific theatre as I discovered when interviewing him for the Lobes preview. “It’s not about building an elaborate set or working against the space but using the space for what it is.” This is an idea that is also played with by Jethro Compton.
A typical day for him is planned to the hour and he even has a weekly food diary to keep him up to date. His directorial style relies heavily on communication and patience, which can sometimes be difficult. “I don’t like sitting down in rehearsals, I like to be active and putting the same amount of effort in as my actors.” However, none of the successes of the company would have been possible without the Boxed In Theatre Team: Oli, Emily Hepher (Stage Manager/Executive Producer) and Sarah Chamberlain (Producer).
There is a massive benefit of being able to operate the company within St Andrews. The student scene is great for trialing new techniques and having many talented actors at their disposal. On the other hand, looking to the future, St Andrews is a microcosm and very much a safety net for the company and the team must remind themselves of this as they begin to plan for after graduation.
So, what can we look forward to from the company in the long term? Well, Oli has a highly detailed five-year plan which he delved into during our interview and it seems like there are big things on the horizon for both him and for Boxed In Theatre. There is going to be more original content from Henry Roberts, more Shakespeare and even the possibility of owning a theatre and writing a book. Although this seems like a long way off, the motivation is there: “The biggest thing I’ve learnt since taking on this project is that things only happen if you make them happen”.