‘Are you here to play ROOM?’ Less than five minutes later I am blindfolded, bodily seated on a chair, while three narrators lead my mind else where.
ROOM, a single audience experience, is so exhilarating that two days later I find myself interviewing Sophie Grodin and Jemima Yong of the narrator group.
‘The concept was born when one of us, Alan Fielden, read me a script he wrote’, says Grodin. ‘I closed my eyes and saw the film happening in front of me. We also discovered an old computer game, where the player was asked questions and had to make the decisions to advance the game. We tried a real-life version of this at Stoke Newington International Airport: a story with a pre-planned plot where the audience member had to find their way out of a room.’
The concept got commissioned by Theatre Delicatessen in Spring/Summer 2012, as part of the Bush Bazaar: with three more collaborators, the group practised improvising as ROOM got developed further by testing ideas, concepts and performance duration. After a stint at the Sprint Festival at the Camden People’s Theatre ROOM is making its way to the Pleasance Courtyard at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
The show has changed from the initial concept, Yong explains: ‘We improved on our improvisation storytelling craft. We found different ways of leading people into the experience and of facilitating people’s imagination.’
Though it can be a vulnerable experience for some, the women both are adamant that it is not therapy: ‘ROOM is about the audience member leading, the goal is a free experience.’ There is no singular experience: how the game is played depends on the person.
Feedback of the player is important for the narrators: there is no structure, so they just jump in during the story and trust each other in their decisions. Despite insisting on the player to be in charge, do the narrators steer though? ‘Only to progress to the next ‘scene’, there is no end goal.’ The guiding is done skilfully: ‘You learn to describe sensations, rather than emotions because the player might feel resistant to those.’ The sensations are helped by smell and sound, along with the words of the narrators they create the scenography of ROOM.
ROOM is becoming a method that might have a future in different communities. This is the beauty of the communal workspace that is Ziferblat, just before this interview Yong exchanged cards with Shaf and Max, who happened to work for Action for Blind People . ‘I wonder how they would experience ROOM,’ she muses.
It is another strand to develop with this intriguing concept, that will only take 20-25minutes but will make your day, as Grodin explains: ‘ROOM is about visiting the imagination, it is not structured, it is not about the story. We facilitate purposeful daydreaming.’
ROOM is perfomed eight times a day on 8, 15, 20 June at:
Tickets are only £5 and can be booked through Pleasance London.
Find out more about Action for Blind People.