Is gender a barrier to going out and having fun?
Olivia Munk and Jessica Bickel-Barlow are the driving forces behind production company Part of the Night.
Their latest venture is Theatre on Tap – bringing immersive theatre into a London pub and challenging a perception that going to a pub isn’t something you can really do on your own.
The idea for the event emerged when Munk and Bickel-Barlow realised that while they weren’t comfortable going to a pub or club alone, they always enjoyed going to the theatre alone – so they decided to bring the two together. Having spoken to a number of people who identify as female, non-binary, trans, and queer, they found that this sentiment was echoed by lots of people for a variety of different reasons.
I caught up with Munk and Bickel-Barlow for a behind-the-scenes look at the event.
You’re taking pub theatre to the next level by bringing the action downstairs from the Red Lion’s theatre space into the actual pub. How’s that going to work?
For Theatre On Tap, we have challenged some amazing female, nonbinary, and queer artists to create three short plays specifically for the Old Red Lion’s pub. On 16 June, the playwrights will write in the Old Red Lion Pub, taking inspiration from what’s happening around them. Then on 17 June, the actors and directors will rehearse in the pub, so that they can tailor their staging to their environment.
We aren’t just plopping a regular play into a pub space. On the contrary, this will be a performance that couldn’t happen anywhere else. We open the doors to the pub around 5 PM, so there will be plenty of time to grab pies and pints before the first performance begins at 6:45 PM. You won’t have to stay seated in the same place, and plays will move around the pub, so that there’s no one ‘best seat’ in the house. We’re capping the audience at 65 people.
Why is there a need to combine the theatre and pub experience in this way?
In recent years, we’ve seen theatre and nightlife start to trend toward each other. There’s more and more demand for unusual experiences, so nightlife is getting more theatrical. At the same time, theatre is become more interactive and immersive – in short, more social. So, combining these two forms feels like the natural next step, but it also feels like an opportunity to do better for people who have felt excluded from nightlife in the past.
For Theatre On Tap, we’re going back to basics and focusing on storytelling – something both plays and pubs are good for. We actually see it as an asset that the culture of theatre allows for going out alone or with friends. There’s a lot of freedom in feeling welcome to go to something by yourself, whether or not your friends are available to go with you, and feeling safe enough to have a good time with the people who show up. We want to bring the elements of theatre that make it okay to go out alone to the familiar locales where you might meet up with friends for a drink.
How did you select the theatre-makers who will be featured in this event?
A variety of ways – some were artists we’ve worked with before, or whose work we’ve seen and admired. For example, director Fumi Gomez was part of Park Theatre’s Script Accelerator program the same year that we participated. She was directing a new play called Scum by Tatty Hennessy about Cuba, punk music, and the AIDS crisis, and we loved the way she brought movement, story, and music together to capture a frenetic period of time. When we were putting together the event, we thought the energy and vibrancy that drives her directing would be perfect for a nightlife environment.
Others came to us by recommendation or through artist call-outs. We didn’t hold auditions – how do you audition for a character that doesn’t exist yet? Instead, we interviewed artists whose work we weren’t as familiar with to get of sense of what their artistic ambitions were, what they enjoyed about their past work, and what they hoped to do in the future.
When you’re making work as quickly as our artists will, it’s all about being flexible and bringing your own passions and experiences to the process. One of our actors, Robyn Holdaway, sent us a podcast on which they were a guest and in which they spoke about navigating casting as a nonbinary actor. Another, Mia Foo, told us about how her undergrad degree in Design Engineering has shaped her approach to her craft. As a result, we’ve found a multi-talented, and in many cases, award-recognised line-up of artists who are excited to bring their experiences and talents to the Old Red Lion on 17 June.
What does success look like for this event?
Success for Part of the Night is building an environment where people feel more comfortable socialising and enjoying themselves in a nightlife space than they would have had we not hosted our event. Theatre on Tap is our launch event, so we’re excited to bring more events like these to pubs and clubs around the UK.
We’ve been working with writer Emma Fenton-Wells to develop a show to be performed in nightclubs, and we hope to premiere and tour this piece in late 2019. Co-founder Jessica Bickel-Barlow is planning a series of interactive pop-ups in pubs around London centred around the question, – What if you found yourself in a romantic comedy?
Ideally, Theatre on Tap will spark new ideas and conversations about where Part of the Night can go.
What do you hope that people feel when attending Theatre on Tap?
We want everyone who attends to feel completely comfortable striking up a conversation with the person next to them. Pubs are all about camaraderie, and sharing stories can help us build this sense of community. We hope you have the same feeling at Theatre On Tap that you would swapping stories with your mates at drinks. You should feel as comfortable coming to a Part of the Night event alone as you would attending a traditional theatre production solo. Everything we make is underscored by our ethos that everyone should be a part of the night.