WELCOME

INITIAL IDEAS

UNLOCKING THE BUILDING'S POTENTIAL

STARTING WITH THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

A SHOW THAT REVOLUTIONISED THE WAY WE USED THE BUILDING

The Masque of the Red Death was a co-production between Punchdrunk and Battersea Arts Centre. It ran for seven months and was experienced by 46,000 people. It completely changed the way we thought about the building. 

Prior to The Masque of the Red Death, Battersea Arts Centre used three black box studios. Punchdrunk enabled us to look at the Old Town Hall Building with fresh eyes, seeing the potential in every room, corridor, stairwell and cupboard, opening up areas that had been shut away for years. It became the first Playground Project and enabled us to test out a series of ideas across the site.

Bloomberg were sponsors of the production, which kick started three years of support for Playground Projects across the building. Bloomberg’s ongoing commitment to artistic projects that propel original ideas and reach new audiences has been invaluable to this process.

Another key partner in the early days of Playground Projects, after The Masque of the Red Death, was the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. David Jubb and Battersea Arts Centre were recipients of the foundation’s innovative Breakthrough Fund, a three year programme of support to help an individual and organisation transform. 

Unlocking The Building's Potential SLIDER

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FROM SCRATCH TO PLAYGROUNDING

‘In early 2007 I can remember sitting in the courtyard of the old Town Hall discussing with David Jubb a concept that he called ‘playgrounding’ – working with artists to open up the building as an extraordinary set of spaces for performance… Our first experiment to help deliver this ambition was with Felix Barrett and Punchdrunk with whom we collaborated later that year on The Masque of the Red Death.'

David Micklem, Ex-Joint Artistic Director

“The point of Punchdrunk was to get away from the safety and staidness of so much theatre. Normally, you sit in your red seat, the lights go down and you see the show. We wanted to shake things up – to make the audience the epicentre, to let them shape their experience within what we create."

Felix Barrett, Artistic Director of Punchdrunk


FROM SCRATCH TO PLAYGROUNDING

The Scratch process is based on six principles which define the ethos of Battersea Arts Centre and the flavour of the work it produces:

  • TAKING RISKS is fundamental to creativity. Scratch allows artists to experiment, to change their mind, and gives them the opportunity to make mistakes, which is crucial to the creative process.
  • IMPROVISING: Scratch allows you to set off without being sure what, where or when the end will be. It legitimises making it up as you go along.
  • Scratch is ARTIST - LED. It is designed as a development process to support the growth of a project from the idea inside an artist’s head, to a full production.
  • COLLABORATING: Scratch places the artist at the centre of a network of collaborative relationships that support the work (in particular with their producer and with the audience). In Scratch the artist opens their work up to feedback, drawing a wider group of people into the making process.
  • TAKING TIME: It takes time to make good work. Ideas are often scratched on a number of occasions with several months in between. The time spent away from the idea can be just as important as the time working on the idea.
  • LEARNING: Each time an artist returns to an idea, learning from the previous Scratch is incorporated. Scratch creates a constant ‘feedback loop’. It is an iterative development process.

We wanted to find a process for changing our building which takes account of instinct and story, accidental discovery, messiness, a search for the unknown and a love of play. In another word, theatre. 

HOW THE BUILDING WAS USED

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THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

Practically, The Masque of the Red Death allowed important ideas to be tested through theatre before being committed to in the permanence of architecture, something Steve Tompkins describes as 'a rare luxury that is seldom achievable in more orthodox developments.'

Punchdrunk's work takes shape in response to a place and the theatrical possibilities it offers. It begins with Felix Barrett sensing the atmosphere of a building and imagining what kind of theatrical world is latent in the space. When asked to describe the essence of Playgrounding, David Jubb often refers to the day when he, Barrett and Tompkins first walked around the building together to discuss the project. He recalls a moment when Felix was talking about the symbolic significance of fire in Poe's work. Steve said that Battersea Arts Centre had a number of boarded up fireplaces and suggested opening one up to use in the show. In the video below David Jubb discusses the scale of opportunities this conversation opened up.

Due to the campaign to save the building, Battersea Arts Centre was thrust into the national media at an unprecedented level, at around the same time the collaboration with Punchdrunk and Haworth Tompkins was announced. When speaking about the ‘Wandsworth crisis’, David Jubb (Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre) reflected on how positive it was for the Punchdrunk project: Battersea Arts Centre’s board allowed the production costs of the show to escalate from a predicted £200,000 to £460,000 ‘because it was do or die.’ The crisis raised the artistic and financial ambitions of the project.


The Building Transformation


David Jubb

'Felix's excitement about the potential magic of this in the show was matched by my excitement of the legacy of that fireplace in the building. It was a moment when theory fell easily into practice and I realised the idea [of Playgrounding] had legs.'


Steve Tompkins

Steve Tompkins is the Director of Haworth Tompkins Architects and was involved in the collaboration with Punchdrunk from the very beginning of the project.

THE FULL STORY

“The Masque of the Red Death left me Punchdrunk”

Lyn Gardner
Read the full article here

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THE MASQUE OF THE READ DEATH - SYNOPSIS

The Masque of the Red Death drew on eight short stories of Edgar Allen Poe including The Black Cat and the Tell Tale Heart. Using a cast of 35 and a detailed design transformation of the space they created an immersive theatrical environment in which the stories overlapped and the audience were allowed to roam freely.

To read synopsis' of all the stories click here

The Masque of the Red Death Press Coverage

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH PRESS COVERAGE

“The most extraordinarily dramatic event you will find in any theatre”

Sunday Telegraph

INVOLVING PEOPLE

MAKING PLANS

PLAYGROUNDING CASE STUDIES

FINDING FUNDING

THE MASTER PLAN

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