Intronauts: A Journey That Gets Under The Skin…

Resident theatre company Green Ginger, known for their inspired mix of art and lunacy, are in the midst of another artistic adventure with the UK tour of their brand new show, ‘Intronauts’. We caught up with Green Ginger’s Artistic Director, performer and designer, Chris Pirie, and the show’s Director, Emma Williams, to find out more about the creation of this fabulous futurist puppetry performance.

Adam Fuller & Chris Pirie with puppet
Photo credit: Emma Windsor

‘Intronauts’ propels audiences into a madcap, microscopic journey through the human body.  Where did the original idea come from and how did the story evolve through the theatre making process?  

CP: Three strands: submarines, nano-surgery and hazardous waste, converged during the early part of the creation process of Intronauts. Ever since Green Ginger made Rust in 2005, an obsession with submarines has never really been shaken off. These are, essentially,- extraordinary craft travelling in extraordinary places and provide perfect contexts for the company’s approach to fantastical story-telling. Another kernel of inspiration goes back even further, to a childhood comic strip called The Numskulls, featuring tiny white-coated technicians inside the head of a man, and each in control of his sensory functions.

Emma Keaveney-Roys. Photo credit: M Dawson

Thirdly, a fascination with hazardous waste and its production, management and disposal informed the initial research and development week. A team of eight, comprising performers, writers, composers and designers met to throw ideas around, create new provocations and improvise material suggested by the theme. A loose narrative structure was then taken up to Norway by a small team of four, who spent a week working with our co-production dramaturg to develop it into a story that would inform the design and fabrication team. Some key decisions were made at that time; to restrict it to tell the tale of two central characters and to work with Hologauze, an innovative gauze material developed in Bristol that we would project animated sequences onto.

Once the design team had fabricated skeletal scenic structures and prototype puppetry solutions, the whole lot was shipped out to Norway where the full production team – performers, director, lighting designer, composer, VFX animator, makers and producer – spent seven weeks in a devising rehearsal process to finish the show. The story continued to develop throughout and even now as we tour, we are able to tweak things in relation to audience feedback.

Video production: White Rabbit Animation. Music: Simon Preston.

The show uses performance, puppetry and projected animations to create it’s visual universe.  What were the challenges and rewards of bringing these mediums together on stage?  

EW: When we started working on this project our biggest question was: how? How is this going to actually work? How are these very different ways of communicating going to fit together? They not only say different things to an audience, they are made in different ways. Live performance is very fluid, you can shift and change elements right up to the last minute.  Filmmaking is completely different and once its finished it is fixed.

 We also didn’t know what the world would look and feel like when we placed a screen with animated projections between the audience and the live action.   Would this affect the puppetry language we normally use and Green Ginger’s distinctive story-telling style?

Adam Fuller. Photo credit: Paul Blakemore

We spent a long time trying things out in the space, discovering a rhythm, a tone and a visual aesthetic where we hoped these mediums worked together.  It was a painstakingly slow process with lots of experimenting and collaborating. Discovering the solutions was incredible rewarding.  We were trying something new, something none of us had ever made before, and that is a fantastic way to create theatre, even if it is exhausting at times.  

The show is highly cinematic.  How did you work with composer Simon Preston to reflect this cinematic vision in the soundscape of the performance?

EW:  Initially we had meetings with Simon to discuss the concepts of the show.  We talked about the two central characters, their personalities, internal struggles and the musical themes that might exist in the very different worlds they inhabit.

We talked about the technology we were using and the cinematic effect this would have on the show.  We discussed the great sci-fi films of the 70’s as well as Fantastic Voyage and Inner Space. Two films that had thematic similarities to the show and distinct and bold soundscapes. Finally, we discussed the sound world of the body and what this might be.  

Emma Keaveney-Roys. Photo credit: Emma Windsor

 Simon then created a library of extraordinary sounds and musical compositions.  At first these were just short thumbnails, 15 second examples which we discussed and catalogued.  Then a number of tracks were selected and developed into longer, more complex compositions.  Finally, Simon came out to Norway while we devised and rehearsed the show. He would come in and out of the room trying out musical scores and sounds he had been experimenting with.  He had to deal with some odd requests, for example what’s the sound of a hiccup heard inside the body? Or, if you went into someone’s brain, what would you hear?

 Simon played a crucial role in the overall creation of the show and the complexity and richness of the sound design is the result of his skill and craft and hard work. 

Emma Keaveney-Roys and Adam Fuller with puppet
Photo credit: Paul Blakemore

Intronauts is co-produced with Nordland Visual Theatre and has played to audiences in both Norway and the UK.  Is the show received differently by audiences in other countries or are its themes fairly universal? 

CP: While Intronauts – alongside other Green Ginger shows – embrace quite universal themes, audiences can differ greatly from country to country and that’s partly what makes international touring so fascinating. We have performed for many years in Scandinavian countries and are quite used to very quiet auditoriums during shows; in itself unnerving as it feels like we may have ‘lost’ the audience, but they are simply concentrating, listening and thinking; by the end they will break out into loud applause that invariably merges into a sustained collective rhythm. It’s disconcerting to experience for the first time, but we’ve become accustomed to it over the years.

Further south, cultural festivals in Mediterranean countries have a tendency towards performances starting later in the evenings and that (particularly when combined with light alcoholic lubrication) can make for some feisty audiences! Green Ginger has been creating internationally-focused productions for four decades and will continue to make work that transcends borders and speaks to different cultures without translation or modification.

Interview with Emma Windsor

Intronauts is currently touring the UK until the end of March 2019. For information on tour dates and venues, visit Green Ginger’s website. For all the latest news from the company, check out Green Ginger on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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