Punchdrunk (theatre company)
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Punchdrunk is a British theatre company, formed in 2000, by Artistic Director Felix Barrett MBE. Since its inception, Punchdrunk has pioneered a form of "immersive" theatre in which the audience is free to choose what to watch and where to go. This format is related to "promenade theatre". Artistic director Felix Barrett prefers the term "site-sympathetic" when describing their work. In 2015, Punchdrunk formed a new company, Punchdrunk International, which produces a selection of Punchdrunk's commercial productions for national and international audiences.
Punchdrunk was founded by Felix Barrett, who continues to be the company's Artistic Director and works closely with the company's creative team. Punchdrunk's Executive Director is Rebecca Dawson and Peter Higgin is Director of Enrichment and Punchdrunk Village. Company members include Associate Director and Choreographer Maxine Doyle, Creative Producer Colin Nightingale, Creative Director Stephen Dobbie, and Design Director Livi Vaughan.
In 2015, Punchdrunk founded a new production company, Punchdrunk International. Punchdrunk International produces artistic works created by Felix Barrett and the Punchdrunk creative team, including Sleep No More, Shanghai.
The company also creates innovation-led partnerships with selected organisations on a bespoke basis. This has included a long term creative partnership with Samsung North America. Projects made in collaboration with the company include Believe Your Eyes, a VR experience for Cannes Lions Festival, 2016. The experience has since travelled to Art Basel Miami, Samsung 837 in New York and Phi Centre, Montreal. Believe Your Eyes was awarded a Silver Lion in the Entertainment category at Cannes 2017.
Punchdrunk International also collaborated with Samsung and Rihanna. on a major campaign for the launch of her eighth album, Anti. A cross-platform experience, ANTIdiaRy told the story of Rihanna's life and transformations, through a series of rooms audiences could journey through. Punchdrunk International gave creative direction to a series of TV films, a digital experience and live events throughout the US. ANTIdiaRy was awarded a Bronze Lion in the Integrated Campaign Led By Promo & Activation category at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2016.
In 2017 Punchdrunk International were commissioned by Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) and Civic Entertainment Group, USA to create an interactive experience for the launch of Search Party season two. In November 2017, guests were invited to Public Hotel, NYC to delve into scenes from season one and granted a sneak preview into the darker themes and narratives of forthcoming episodes through a series of interactions with performers.
According to Punchdrunk International's website, updated in June 2019, Punchdrunk International are planning a major new production in London, for which they are now recruiting personnel.
In July 2019, production began on the company's first television project, The Third Day, a co-production between Sky Studios and HBO, in partnership with Plan B Entertainment, writer Dennis Kelly and Punchdrunk International. It will air in the UK and the US in 2020.
In 2008, Punchdrunk founded a new branch of the company focussed on outreach to communities and schools called Punchdrunk Enrichment. Punchdrunk Enrichment projects are mostly aimed at children and young people but they are created out of the same ethos as Punchdrunk's main projects, with a similar ambition in terms of form, scale and design.
Peter Higgin, Punchdrunk's Director of Enrichment, described these projects as "transformative experiences with a wider educational focus and the trademark design and imagination that you’d get in bigger Punchdrunk shows."
Projects from Punchdrunk Enrichment include:
- Under the Eiderdown (2009 - 2014), a theatrical experience in which school pupils are invited to visit a magical bric-a-brac shop, encouraging them to show an interest in creative writing.
- The Uncommercial Traveller, (2011), an experience with Arcola Theatre Over 60s theatre group inspired by the writing of Charles Dickens
- The House Where Winter Lives (2012, 2013 & 2014), transformed the Discover Children's Story Centre in Stratford into a magical frozen forest. The project also toured to Perth International Arts Festival in 2014.
- Up, Up And Away (2012 & 2013), a primary schools project that told the story of balloonists Marianne Montgolfier, Vincent Lunardi and Bernard Blanchard.
- The Lost Lending Library (2013-), an immersive experience for primary schools in which a librarian shares her love of books.
- Searching for Stories (2013-2014), a project for Westminster primary schools that began in the classroom and led pupils on a clandestine visit to Temple Studios, the location for The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable.
- St Ethelburga's Hallowtide Fair (2014), a mysterious and magical theatrical experience made in collaboration with and for the residents of Barking and Dagenham.
- Prospero's Island (2014)
- Beneath the Streets I & II (2014 & 2015), a unique theatrical experience produced in collaboration with Hijinx Academy.
- Against Captain's Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted (2015), an immersive exhibition for children at the National Maritime Museum in London.
- Greenhive Green (2016), a project for Greenhive Care Home residents, including those with dementia, in partnership with Magic Me .
- A Small Tale (2016-), a teacher-led project for primary schools.
- The Oracles (2017), a cross-platform experience developed for school children in Haringey.
- Small Wonders (2018 & 2019), a magical, interactive experience for children aged 5–11 years old and their families at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, Tottenham and Edinburgh International Children's Festival.
- A Curious Quest (2018-), a teacher-led project for a whole primary school in which school pupils are encouraged to engage with their local history
In 2017, Punchdrunk opened Fallow Cross, a unique research and development space at their home in Tottenham Hale. Set across 11,000 square feet, it was developed as a space to innovate, incubate and explore its future artistic and enrichment practice. It provided the canvas for the company to continue to push the boundaries of live performance and storytelling for a growing range of audiences.
Fallow Cross housed ideas that spanned the breadth of the company's work including core artistic activity, enrichment projects, sensory work and the intersection with new technologies. It built on the success of Punchdrunk's ambitious and transformative projects in order to devise a new generation of remarkable productions and audience experiences.
It was not a public or production space, but was used projects such as Punchdrunk Enrichment's The Oracles. It was also used for Punchdrunk's programme of workshops and masterclasses.
In a typical Punchdrunk production, audience members are free to roam the performance site, which can be as large as a five-story industrial warehouse. They can either follow the performers and themes (there are usually multiple threads at any instant), or simply explore the world of the performance, treating the production as a large art installation.
Masks are another signature element of Punchdrunk's work. Barret says when the company "...introduced masks, suddenly inhibition fell away and people found a sense of freedom in their anonymity, allowing them to fully explore their surroundings and become totally absorbed in the world around them." 
- Woyzeck (2000), Punchdrunk's first adaptation of the play by Georg Buchner. This production can be seen as something of a prototype for what the company's work would eventually look like. The action was set in an abandoned army barracks in Exeter and the audience wore masks as they explored the story for themselves.
- The Cherry Orchard (2000), based on the play by Anton Chekhov
- The Moonslave (2000), an experience that saw single audience members taken to an old mansion house by a masked chauffeur, following candlelit paths through a dense forest where the story unraveled.
- The House of Oedipus (2000), an adaptation of Oedipus Rex and Antigone by Sophocles, staged in the garden of Poltimore House, Devon.
- Jonny Formidable: Mystery at the Pink Flamingo (2001), an interactive show that invited an audience into the world of Jonny Formidable, a three-dimensional noir flickbook set to a jazz soundtrack.citation needed
- Midsummer Night's Dream (2002), an interactive, promenade reworking of the Shakespeare classic set in a private house and garden.
- Chair (2002), an adaptation of Eugène Ionesco's The Chairs, performed in the Old Seager Distillery in Deptford.
- The Tempest (2003), an adaptation of the play by Shakespeare, again performed at the Old Seagar Distillery, using its five floors to create a dark vision of Prospero's island.
- Sleep No More (2003); see below for the 2009 and 2011 reinventions. An adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth in the style of a Hitchcock thriller, using reworked music from the soundtrack of classic Hitchcock films. Staged at the Beaufoy Building in London, an old Victorian school.
- Woyzeck (2004), an adaptation of the play by Georg Buchner. Performed at the Big Chill Music Festival.
- Marat/Sade (2005), an adaptation of the play by Peter Weiss. Performed at the 2005 Big Chill Music Festival.
- The Firebird Ball (2005), inspired by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird. Staged at Offley Works, a disused factory in South London. The Firebird Ball ran for six weeks and received The Observer Review of the Year award for Best Out-of-Theatre Experience.
- The Yellow Wallpaper (2005), a co-production with Battersea Arts Centre for Octoberfest 2005.
- Faust (10 October 2006 until 31 March 2007), an adaptation of Goethe's Faust Part One, relocated to a small town in the 1950s Midwest. Staged across 150,000 sq ft (14,000 m2) of a derelict 5-storey archive building at 21 Wapping Lane in the London neighbourhood of Wapping. The production, which was presented by Punchdrunk and the National Theatre, earned the company a nomination for the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Newcomer and won the 2006 Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Designer.
- The Masque Of The Red Death (2007 play) (2007–8), a co-production with Battersea Arts Centre. An adaptation of stories by Edgar Allan Poe including "The Masque of the Red Death". Performed at the BAC from 5 October 2007 until 12 April 2008. While each performance culminated in a ball scene, Friday and Saturday night performances were followed by Red Death Lates, an elaborate after-party with interactive performance, celebrity guests, live bands and cabaret.
- The Bunker (2008), presented by Punchdrunk and Aldeburgh Music as part of an experimental music festival called Faster Than Sound at Bentwaters Air Base. The production ran for one night only and included a performance by Seaming To and Semay Wu.
- Tunnel 228 (2009), a collaboration with the Old Vic theatre, in the abandoned tunnels beneath London's Waterloo station. The production showcased the work of 23 artists working in the unclassifiable territory between theatre and contemporary art.
- Sleep No More, a 2009 reinvention in Boston of the 2003 London production. An adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Produced in association with the American Repertory Theatre at the Old Lincoln School in Brookline, Massachusetts. It won the Elliot Norton Theatre Award for Best Theatrical Experience 2010.
- It Felt Like A Kiss (2009). Commissioned by the Manchester International Festival and produced in collaboration with documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis and musician Damon Albarn at a deserted office block in Spinningfields, Manchester. It depicted "America's rise to power in the golden age of pop, and the nightmare that came back to haunt us all." The production won the Manchester Evening News Theatre Award for Best Special Entertainment.
- The Duchess of Malfi (2010), an operatic adaptation of the play by John Webster with a score by Torsten Rasch. Produced in collaboration with English National Opera and performed in a vast, decommissioned pharmaceutical headquarters at London's Great Eastern Quay.[dead link]
- Sleep No More a 2011 reinvention in New York of the 2003 London production (also revived in Boston in 2009). Performed in disused warehouses at 530 W 27th Street in Manhattan, which was transformed into a faded hotel. Sleep No More won a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and a Special Citation For Design And Choreography at the Obie Awards.
- The Séance (2011), a co-production with MIT Media Lab, as part of NESTA's pilot Digital R&D Fund for the Arts, funded by NESTA, ACE and AHRC. Audience members from Sleep No More were teamed with online counterparts to solve a mystery.
- The Crash of the Elysium, commissioned by Manchester International Festival, BBC, London 2012 Festival and Salford City Council. A 2011 one-hour show for children aged between 6 and 12, made in collaboration with the television series Doctor Who.
- Black Diamond a 2011 a travelling production that took place across 7 venues in East London between 3 July and 1 September to launch Stella Artois Black.
- And Darkness Descended... a 2011 site-specific performance that took place in the tunnels beneath Waterloo station to launch the PlayStation game Resistance 3.
- The Borough (2013) – an immersive theatrical experience inspired by George Crabbe’s poem The Borough and Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes. Presented by Punchdrunk and Aldeburgh Festival.
- The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable (2013-2014), an adaptation of Woyzeck set in a sixties film studio, performed in a disused postal sorting office in Paddington, London. Presented by Punchdrunk and the National Theatre.
- Kabeiroi (2017), a two person adventure that took place across London over six hours, inspired by the Greek myth of the women of Lemnos.
Punchdrunk International Productions
Sleep No More, Shanghai (2017 - )
A re-imagined version of the original production (London, Boston and New York) set in 1930s Shanghai. Co-produced by SMG Live, Sleep No More tells Shakespeare's classic tragedy Macbeth through a darkly cinematic lens. Taking place over five floors in the Jing'An district in the city, the production is already the second longest running production in Shanghai theatre history. Sleep No More, Shanghai received the prestigious Best Breakthrough Act at Shanghai’s Annual TV & Culture Awards in June 2017 and a Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement in Connected Immersion Theatre in November 2017.
The Third Day
The Third Day is a co-production between Sky Studios and HBO, in partnership with Plan B Entertainment, writer Dennis Kelly and Punchdrunk International. The six-part, one-hour episode limited series stars Jude Law as Sam, who after being drawn to a mysterious Island off the British Coast, is thrown into the unusual world of its secretive inhabitants. The Third Day will be the first original drama to be produced by Sky’s new production house, Sky Studios, and will air in the US and the UK in 2020.
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- Punchdrunk official homepage
- Sleep No More official website
- Temple Studios, The Drowned Man official website
- National Theatre information page on Faust
- National Theatre information page on The Masque of the Red Death
- New York Times review of Faust
- Guardian newspaper review of Masque of the Red Death