Department Story Web
Festival News

Pioneers of immersive, site-specific theatre production, Big Telly Theatre Company are set to present the world premiere of Department Story as part of this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival. This new production created for both in-person and digital audiences by Big Telly Theatre’s Artistic Director Zoe Seaton and interdisciplinary artist Jack Hardiker runs from 20 – 31 October 2021.

It’s time to tell a different story…

Having developed a well-established and respected reputation over the last 30 years for innovation and accessibility, Northern Ireland’s Big Telly Theatre have earned world-leading status in live digital theatre production over the course of the pandemic. The company has produced innovative, boundary breaking works during lockdown including; Macbeth (which appeared at BIAF20), Incognito and Dear World. Following a year of hijacking audiences’ homes with virtual mayhem, the company are back and are going hybrid with Department Story, a heady mix of the live and the digital. A unique experience where a digital audience can collude with a physical one and be part of a real-world experience in a way that has never been done before. 

Department Story is a site-specific production set in empty retail units in Belfast’s City Centre which smashes together flash theatre and physical fiction in a killer spree through a department of stories, where everything returned has a tale to tell – a talking toaster, a dress with a past, accessories after the fact. Browse through classic brands like Gogol or take a punt on our new collection of global writers. Take stock, grab your shopping list and be sure to ask the staff (?) for help.  But of course, this is no ordinary Department Store. Customers have choice but alongside choice comes great responsibility and before long there are decisions to be made. When the in-store shoppers end up with more than they bargained for, their fate lies with those online – but can they deliver?

The new production is also a testbed for Remote Control, a transformative white label platform which revolutionises digital audience engagement, maximising the potential of a unique relationship between physical and remote (digital) live audiences. Developed with London based creative studio AFEW, the new platform offers digital audiences as much interactivity and quality as the physical audience, by presenting both groups complementary experiences of equal value. Remote audiences will have a different perspective, be given different information and have digital influence through IOT (Internet of Things) and CCTV, being able to speak directly to physical audiences and live actors through the show, influencing the route, action and outcome remotely.

The development of Remote Control reflects Big Telly Theatre’s belief that now is the time to combine their previous success in reaching communities and creating work outside traditional arts spaces with recent success in digital innovation. The company firmly believe the new platform represents a genuinely unprecedented opportunity to finally redress the inequality of professional arts provision across Northern Ireland. It will lead to a reduction in isolation, redefine the sense of community on both an individual and communal level, help individuals better and more emotionally respond to the town they live in and also on a more global sense be part of a wider community, and joy, it will create a lot of joy.

Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director of Big Telly Theatre Company said: “I couldn’t be more excited about Department Story. It feels like it’s the coming together of projects in shops like Worst Café, with the theatricality of something like Melmoth the Wanderer or Faerie Thorn and the digital wizardry we’ve explored throughout lockdown. The creatives are a dream team and the cast couldn’t be more charismatic. This is our first major collaboration with Jack Hardiker who really does ‘tell better stories with art and technology’ – Department Story is full of amazing stories, beautiful visuals and the most special of effects”.

“I just can’t wait. One of the most exciting things about it, there are many, is that we’re launching a unique platform called Remote Control, which will enable digital audiences to play a part in and actually influence the live show. Always at our best when we’re breaking new ground and throwing away the rule book, projects like Department Story are why we do what we do”.

Jack Hardiker said: “For a number of years I have been exploring ways to improve access to the arts using ubiquitous technologies such as phones and computers. Covid-19 has accelerated this objective. Big Telly Theatre Company has done incredible work through the pandemic, developing Zoom shows entirely remotely. As the world opens back up again, we have the opportunity to explore new, hybrid models for performance. We now have an opportunity to help define an exciting new chapter for theatre and the arts. I’m thrilled to have brought together a talented team of designers and developers in the creation of Remote Control.”

Department Story runs from 20th October – 31st October 2021 online and in-person.

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