Sometimes in life remarkable opportunities come along and you have to pinch yourself. One such time was when I happened to be standing in the pitch dark, in a subtropical jungle under the canopy of strange plants, in a biome - in a quarry in Cornwall. All around in the darkness I heard bestial howls and screams, lots of screams.
Back in the autumn of 2013 I undertook the job of devising, siting and directing a scare experience within the worlds largest indoor rainforest at the internationally celebrated Eden Project.
The gig was this, assemble a group of performers and place them along the walkways and trails within the awe-inspiring domes under enormous trees.
At Halloween the forest would come alive to scream its anger at the world. Those intrepid audience members would file through in congas of 10 at a time on a journey into the unknown.
The Eden Project is a truly unique place and those that run it are superb people to work for, it’s an oasis not only for eco endeavour but also for artistic ideas on a huge scale.
This was an industrial pre production almost eclipsing some of the larger scale youth theatre projects I have been fortunate to direct.
We auditioned actors and circus performers and I set about structuring a journey for those attending to experience. This kind of project only works because of strong passionate team work.
What does that mean? For the production team (Ioan Bramhall Production Manager and Set Designer and Gus the Sound Designer) and performers it meant long hours in the sweltering heat of a rainforest. One performer spent hours submerged in water, for others hours on stilts in full costume was the order of the day (and night).
Each element of the piece was ascribed certain narrative conditions and the work was devised piece by piece. It was not simply jumping out of a dark space and shouting 'boo'. Fright work is about building tension, wrong footing the viewer metaphorically speaking. Nobody was injured and we did take great care to prevent damage to this wonderful environment.
It meant figuring out how to safely use chainsaws in the dark, it meant working with the most evil smelling fertiliser made out of chicken shit and it meant personally for me, scaling some heights both metaphorically in terms of bringing together a large scale project safely and on time. Literally it meant at one stage overcoming my vertigo and scaling the heights of the Rain Forest Lookout to figure out the timing of dropping warm water on the heads of passing walkers
And yes pinching myself on the first night as the biome began to ring out with the screams of those entering 10 at a time, thousands of them feeding the rain forest with their terror. I thought 'this is what it’s all about'. This is living.