We talked to Georgia Crump from Frumpish Theatre about their debut show 'How To Hug', a socially distanced outdoor show for audiences of one. Their small-scale outdoor show is a sustainable blueprint for alternative forms of theatre away from the stage.
What is your show about?
'How to Hug' is a 1 to 1, socially-distanced exploration of the connections possible between strangers. The performance takes place between one audience member and one actor in parks and outdoor spaces around the UK.
This is our first show as Frumpish Theatre, which was very much born out of the pandemic and feelings of disconnect from the world and human contact, particularly missing the everyday interactions with strangers that we’re so used to taking for granted. We wanted to see if it was possible to create the conditions for connection with a total stranger, basically engineer a moment of chance encounter, and see if from that moment could come a genuine emotional exchange.
So far we have done 17 performances in London, Glasgow, and Bristol. Every one is different because of the interactive nature of the show. Although the British weather makes it difficult to perform in winter, we are hoping to do more performances in spring 2021 as well as adapt the play for a more traditional theatre venue.
Where did the idea come from?
Georgia Figgis, the writer and performer, was in lockdown with her Mum and step-Dad who were both shielding. She realised she hadn’t spoken to anyone new for several months, and was missing random moments of connection and intimacy with strangers, like catching someone’s eye across a train platform, or holding the door for someone in a shop.
We were inspired by Daniel Bye’s 'Palm Reading', which was written for two strangers to read to each other across zoom as a kind of immersive piece, involving music that you play to each other. This kind of immersive theatre brings real life into fiction and replicates a moment of intimacy that is both you and not you. This is something that we were really interested in exploring further, to see whether it is possible to create the conditions through theatre for a genuine connection between people.
'How To Hug' started as an experiment that each performance gives us a new insight into - it is really powerful to see the effect that the show has on audience members. Lots of people have said how much they’re missing live theatre and meeting new people, and many have come away saying that they feel like they want to go and give their loved ones a hug, which is the best result for us.
How have you made your show more environmentally sustainable?
As theatre-makers we were keen to see if we could make our show sustainable, cost effective, and in accord with social distancing guidelines. In the absence of theatres, festivals, and the usual fast pace of the industry, one small silver lining that we took from the situation was the opportunity to think outside of the usual ways of performing and creating, with the goal of being more sustainable in our practice.
Many of the usual challenges for creating theatre in a sustainable way were eliminated simply by choosing to perform outdoors at such a small scale - we had no lights or technical equipment, only one actor wearing her own clothes as costume, no set and no transport necessary.
We decided at the beginning not to use any props that we didn’t already own, except for a single yellow balloon (which for future performances we are going to replace with a recycled object). We also wanted to choose performance locations that were easily accessible by public transport and by bike.
What have the highlights been of developing the show in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?
The biggest success of 'How To Hug' from a sustainable and a creative perspective has been making a show that goes back to the core of storytelling. We strip everything back to just have the fundamental components of two people and a park bench. We weren’t sure if this would work, and we questioned whether people would even consider this a valid form of performance, but it has been really eye-opening for us that in practice it doesn’t feel lacking in anything.
Stepping back from the usual way of performing theatre has made us much more aware of all the ways in which our practice was previously less sustainable, such as using cars to transport props, and the electricity required for rehearsal and performance venues.
At the time of creating and performing the show, in a normal year we would have been at the Edinburgh Fringe, which is still one of the worst culprits for unsustainable practice in terms of the volume of flyers, props, and the whole temporary nature of the festival that takes over the city for August. I think having a year away from the Fringe has made us reflect on how much of a problem it has become and how we might change this for the better and consider our participation in the industry going forwards.
What have the difficulties been of developing the show in a sustainable way? What have you learnt?
The downside of 1 to 1 theatre was that we did lots of performances to be able to show it to the same number of people, meaning more use of transport to and from performances than if there had been just a handful of shows. Although we cycled when we could, we also had props to carry and some days were coming from across the city. If we do another run of the show, we would like to offset our carbon emissions from the transport used, and factor this into our budget.
Although we didn’t have any paper marketing, we relied heavily on the internet and social media to spread the word about our production. The environmental impact of internet usage, and the doubtless spike since the start of lockdown is something that I know little about, and would like to do some more research into to make sure that we are making informed decisions with a view to long term sustainability.
Who should carry the responsibility for making theatre more sustainable?
I think every individual has a responsibility for their role and their performance, for example costumiers making costume decisions sustainably, but especially for smaller companies and individuals, there’s only so much change that you can make on your own, especially while trying to break into an established space. That’s why I think it’s so important that examples are set by venues and the players at the top of the theatre industry. I have a lot of respect for companies like Staging Change who are taking these important conversations to people who have the power to set important precedents for change, and engaging them with more sustainable practice.
What can emerging artists do to be more eco-friendly?
Start with the small things like agreeing that you won’t ever bring disposable plastic into the rehearsal room. Make sure your goals and reasons for them are really specific so that you do stick to them. Follow accounts and theatre companies that have good sustainable practice to be inspired by what they do and learn from them. Discussing sustainability at the very beginning of the project means that you can shape the production around this goal, when considering artistic vision and set design, rather than trying to be sustainable later in the process.
Find out more about Frumpish Theatre