Shunt (theatre company)
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Shunt is a London-based performance collective, founded in 1998. Most of the co-founders of Shunt met at Central School of Speech and Drama in London on the Advanced Theatre Practice MA in 1997/1998, which specialises in collaborative practice.
In summer 1998 Shunt's final term show 'Twist' was taken to Hill Street Theatre for the Edinburgh Festival under the company name Stephanie's Fridge. The members of the company at that time were David Rosenberg, Lizzie Clachan, Louise Mari, Mischa Twitchin, Gisele Edwards, Su Jin Lee, Laura, Catherine Bowman Shaw, Kirsty Yuill, Hannah Ringham, Serena Bobowski, Gemma Brockis and Heather Uprichard.
Shunt's work is centered on immersive, site-specific performance, usually in a grand scale, and has been supported by Britain's Royal National Theatre, NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and Arts Council England. It has been the subject of much critical and academic discussion over the last decade.
Shunt has been awarded the Peter Brook Empty Space Award, in 2003 and 2005, the Time Out Live Award in 2003, the Total Theatre Award in 2000 as part of the London International Mime Festival, and many critics' awards in the United Kingdom.
Shows and projects
The Ballad of Bobby Francois
"On October 12th 1972 a Fairchild F-227, chartered by an amateur rugby team, left Uruguay for Santiago in Chile. It never arrived...."
On their return from Edinburgh Shunt procured the railway arch 12A Gales Gardens in Bethnal Green and the group reformed. Those who remained in the collective paid the rent between them. The group was now David Rosenberg, Lizzie Clachan, Mischa Twitchin, Louise Mari, Hannah Ringham, Laura, Gemma Brockis, Heather Uprichard, Serena Bobowski and they were joined by Andrew Rutland. They began work on their first show The Ballad of Bobby Francois, which was loosely based on the book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Reid. The show opened in their space in Bethnal Green in the East End in London in May and October 1999. During this time Laura left the group and Layla Rosa joined the performance collective. The cast was joined by the performer Amber Rose Sealey. 'The Ballad of Bobby Francois' was then taken to the Pleasance Dome as part of the Edinburgh Festival in August 2000, where it won a Herald Angel and a Total Theatre Award. The show was revived at The Drome under London Bridge Station in January 2001 as part of the London International Mime Festival.
In autumn 1998 Shunt started bi-monthly cabarets at the Bethnal Green Railway Arch 12A on Sunday nights, where the members of the collective would show ideas for company or personal work in front of a live audience, limited to 8 minutes. The Shunt cabarets ran from December 1998 to August 2003 providing a platform for new and emerging artists as well as providing Shunt members with the opportunity to try out new ideas and form collaborations from outside the company. With an emphasis on the experimental, the cabarets were truly multidisciplinary fusing theatre, circus, sound, visual art, installation, video, dance and any other number of strange hybrids. The event was always free.
The Tennis Show
'Lawn tennis and dirty tricks in a derelict loft by the Thames: Shunt looks back to Tennis' golden summer when McEnroe beat Borg in 1982'
In 2000 Shunt made The Tennis Show at The Museum Of at the Bargehouse on the South Bank in London. The collective were joined by performers Ryo Yoshida, Nigel Barrett, Simon Kane, Tom Lyall and Amber Rose Sealey.
In 2001 the company also devised and performed Sightings for Croydon Clocktower, where the company imagined the library and surrounding buildings were slowly filling with water. They were joined by Simon Kane and aerialist Gisele Edwards.
Dance Bear Dance
Shunt's next show Dance Bear Dance was "based on the gunpowder plot and other less successful acts of terrorism" and was performed at Arch 12a in Bethnal Green between May 2002 (with Simon Kane and Amber Rose Sealey) and August 2003 (with Ryo Yoshida).
In 2003 Shunt moved into the cavernous vaults under London Bridge Station. They devised and performed their show Tropicana from Sept 2004 to July 2005, joined by Silvia Mercuriali, Melanie Wilson, Nigel Barrett, Paul Mari, Helena Hunter and Simon Kane.
In 2005 this was followed by the show Amato Saltone in which the company were joined by Ryo Yoshida, Nigel Barrett, Geneva Foster Gluck, Simon Kane, Tom Lyall, Jason Barnet and Rebecca Kilgariff. Amato Saltone was inspired by the work of Cornell Woolrich (1903-1968), the father of film noir, who, for over 35 years, fed the pulp magazines with countless stories of steamy mystery fiction. Films made of his work include Hitchcock's Rear Window and Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black.
The Shunt Lounge
The Shunt Lounge was a project by Shunt from September 2006 to July 2010. It was a night-time art space, bar and club in a labyrinth of railway arches under London Bridge station in London. For the price of entry the public could enjoy for free a huge diversity of experimental performance, art, music, sculpture, talks, film, installation, puppetry, plays, exhibitions, interventions, which changed every week. The Shunt Lounge was open from Wednesdays to Sundays every week. It was technically managed by Andrea Salazar and supported by George Tomlinson. The weekly curation was shared by the company, supported by the artist and musician Nahum.
The Shunt Lounge was designed as a break that would give the company a time to catch their breath but not completely give them a hiatus.  "Attendees enter through a service door near the London Bridge Station and go through a series of tunnels and corridors that have pieces of past sets and dressings. Also in the corridor there can be found films, performance and art that differ from week to week. The crowd has the freedom to explore anywhere in the tunnels and, hopefully, end up at a bar, where there is music, and time to socialize. Twitchin says, “It’s not advertised, there are no reviews, you pay to come into the space… and then you have access to everything for free. So, whether it’s Stationhouse Opera trying something out, or an opportunity to tattoo bananas, there’s no prior judgment. That’s important where artists are experimenting with an idea”.
"For four years it played host to all manner of weird and wonderful performances: theatre and dance, art installations, film screenings, bands and DJs, all tied together with an undercurrent of wild abandon. Along with providing a unique location in which to showcase performance of all kinds, something in the nature of the venue fed into the hedonistic tendency: it was as if the visiting crowds, descending into a space that existed physically outside the confines of everyday life, felt themselves exempted from its rules." 
In 2009 Shunt rented a former tobacco warehouse in Bermondsey Street, a short walk from the vaults, where they devised and presented Money inspired by Émile Zola's book of the same name. They built a three story performance space with glass floors and ceilings in which the show took place. Collaborators in Money were Nigel Barrett, Tom Lyall, Simon Kane and Téo Ghil.
When the show closed late in 2010, Shunt continued to run the space and the machine they had created as a bar and club in the same vein as the Shunt Lounge, as this space had now been returned to Network Rail for station improvement works. The company left the Bermondsey Street space in early 2012.
In November 2012 they opened with a new show called 'The Architects' at V22, The Biscuit Factory in London-Bermondsey. The company were joined by Nigel Barrett, Helledd Watkins, Matthew Seadon Young, Dave Vigay and aerialists Pablo Meneu and Anna Perez de Manuel.
The Boy Who Climbed Out Of His Face
This show ran for six weeks in August and September 2014 on "The Jetty" a disused coal jetty over the River Thames, at the Greenwich Peninsula, in London
Sound and video design
Max and Ben Ringham (Conspiracy) have been Shunt's associate artists since 1999 and have worked collaborative with Shunt on all their shows. Susanne Dietz has been an associate artist of the company since 1999. She has worked collaborative with Shunt ever since. As well as creating moving images for all their shows, she has set-up and maintained the Shunt Archive.
Serena Bobowski, Hannah Ringham, David Rosenberg, Louise Mari, Lizzie Clachan, Gemma Brockis, Layla Rosa, Andrew Rutland, Heather Uprichard, and Mischa Twitchin. The Shunt artists met on a one-year postgraduate course at Central School of Speech and Drama Location
The founding members are all artists in their right who also make work outside of the collective.
Some believe the idea of Shunt is to ”challenge the model of the single author”. But this was not the founding idea, which was to "explore the live event". The group agrees on a theme or subject and as individual artists they all contribute proposals for scenes. Though they strive for minimal hierarchy, there are normal roles that the artists fulfill later in the process, such as a dramaturg, lighting designer, sound designer, director, performers etc. This collage is described as “a framing device that holds together disparate found material: the fragments of reality are not fully integrated into the representational scheme of the work of art”. Most devised theatre is a ‘montage’ or “artwork that brings together assorted material but forges it into a new whole so that all elements are related rationally to the whole despite the heterogeneity of their source”. Shunt is a mixture of these ideas because they are intelligent and strategic in terms of intrigue, suspense, and structure. Like in any group, Shunt has disagreements and clashes of artistic vision. Company member Mischa Twitchin says, “There’s no need for rose-tinted glasses, sometimes it’s fraught and difficult, but there’s an ethos”. Later he also says:
- “That spirit of collaboration is something special; it’s about the quality of the particular person, not simply their extraordinary skills, but their own ethos. Professionalism is a necessary condition but it is not sufficient. You can’t institutionalize individuals’ sense of commitment to their own work within a situation like that”.
Notoriety followed Shunt after The Ballad of Bobby Francois, winning them a Herald Angel and a Total Theatre Award. Continuing on this streak, Dance Bear Dance received Time Out’s ‘Live’ Award and an ‘Empty Space’ Award. The Shunt Lounge was listed as number 25 of the 191 ‘star bars; in the Independent.
The audiences have been an integral part of Shunt’s process because they provide valuable feedback. The artists know instantly if something works or does not work and they get the chance to evolve constantly. Shunt’s shows are known for being interactive and giving the audience a chance to discover situations on their own. Twitchin describes importance of the audience:
- “…one of the main interests of the company is to consider the journey of the audience. The work includes ‘an audience’, distinct from a group of people wandering randomly. How they are included is our responsibility; we are making an experience for an audience, in an environment that we are constructing. It’s not a Happening, it’s a rehearsed show and even if it’s not apparent to anybody – even ourselves sometimes! – there is a narrative structure.”
- Alex Mermilides and Jackie Smart. Devising in Process. Palgrave Macmillan. July 20, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-57366-6
- corin faife. urban times
- Andrew Eglinton. "Mischa Twitchin on the history of SHUNT and their new show Money." http://www.londontheatreblog.co.uk/mischa-twitchin-on-the-history-of-shunt-and-their-new-show-money/. November 3, 2009
- Alex Mermilides and Jackie Smart. Devising in Process. Palgrave Macmillan. July 20, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-57366-6
- Andrew Eglinton. “Mischa Twitchin on the history of SHUNT and their new show Money”. http://www.andreweglinton.com/ltbarchive/2009/11/03/mischa-twitchin-on-the-history-of-shunt-and-their-new-show-money. November 3, 2009
- Shunt co-founder Louise Mari Interview 
- Shunt co-founder David Rosenberg Interview 
- Feature about The Architects 
- Inigo Alcaniz. “Shunt Lounge”. https://vimeo.com/album/245523/video/11365860
- Susanne Dietz "The Shunt Lounge". https://vimeo.com/album/245523/video/12795105