Site-Specific theatre and theatre in non-standard spaces - Practicalities

Convener(s): Mike Knowlden ([email protected])

Participants: Sadly unrecorded…

Mark Stevenson

Kate Neall(?)

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:


Site-specific | Non-standard | Immersive/interactive




Ex-industrial/ex retail | shopping centres, dockyards, toilets, museums

Council, commercial estate agent, private agreement or other arrangement?


Council – get them on your side early on. Develop a genuine relationship and ensure that they can trust you. Presentation, courtesy, timing. Don’t treat it as an economic blag, but a relationship worthy of respect.


Estate agent - Is there an exchange/in kind economy – what can you do for them?



Talk of a difficulty in getting funders to commit in advance if a venue is not certain to still be there/available. Sometimes best to brazen it out – secure your funding and cross that bridge when you come to it… Fortune favours the brave.

How well set up is your space in the first place? The worse, the more contingency you will need to build in to your budget. Expect surprises. Think about what you don’t have in terms of infrastructure that other standard spaces do.

One unexpected thought is that some costs are incurred when doing more than a one-night show, such as building security – could it (although unlikely) be cheaper to tour your show as one-offs in non-standard spaces? One participant to the group had found this.

Equally is it best for you to do two shows per day?



Normal provisions in standard spaces: toilets, a roof, refreshments, insurance, ticketing service, security, stewarding, electricity, water, fire marshalling, stewarding, marketing department, press, risk assessment…

You will have to work out how to replace all or much of this, and often how to do it for a harsher environment than a modern building.

Expect the unexpected!

Insurance essential as always – public liability but perhaps also product and employees.



This is often a greatly increased problem in non-standard venues. Do a full assessment and be clear in communicating specifics when people need to know.

Disabled access advice charity – Attitude is Everything (mostly working with music venues).


Licensing and authority, Health & Safety

Licenses are totally inflexible. Be aware of this and operate accordingly.

Do you need a Temporary Event Notice? If there is no problem with your application the lead time on this may still be at least 28 working days. These seem easier to get in public buildings. General concerns from those working in Camden!

You need to risk assess everything. Bear in mind if you are using a public space, the poor maintenance of e.g. the pavement by the council becomes your problem whilst you are performing there.



Are you looking after your cast and crew adequately in a harsh environment? Thermal underwear often needed. How and when are people travelling around?


Marketing and Audience

It is crucial that your audience understands what they are coming to, if not the specifics of the experience they will have.

  • Adequate directions to the venue.
  • Explanation of transport provision/laying on transport as part of ticket price. Cabs, last trains, coaches…
  • Maps
  • Parking
  • Timings
  • Facilities
  • Start early getting your audience to trust you.


Performers and audience – behaviour

How do the actions of the performers set the expectations of the audience and how do they give them permission to act in certain ways? What culture/community are you creating in your venue. The importance of this in immersive/interactive work.

How big should/can your audience be? How are the sightlines in a building not designed for showing work?

Movement – getting audiences to stand takes longer than getting them to move… Who manages your crowd – actors or stewards. Actor as steward a rich proposal but gives audiences certain permissions. What is your mode of ‘controlling’ the audience?

Timing – does everyone arrive at once? How do you deal with the staggering if not, can they move back through the set? Are people arriving at different times but need to end up in the same place for a denouement? How will you achieve that? How do you deal with people moving at very different paces? 

Trust – how do you get the audience’s trust. Do you want it?! As a performer it is a demanding task assessing how ‘far’ you can go with audience memebers.

Devices – do you need a piece of e.g. costume for each audience member to set a tone for their involvement in immersive/interactive work?



Increased audience numbers, ability to piggyback on their infrastructure, especially marketing. Check on the licensing requirements in urban festivals.



Empty Shops Workbook (online)

Toolkit for adapting empty shops as galleries/performance spaces/pop-up shops

Repurpose: Space for the Arts

Forthcoming toolkit distributed free online (end Feb 2010) for makers of all sorts working in non-standard and repurposed venues – email [email protected] to stay in the loop.

ITC (used to?) run a course on site-specific theatre.