Theatre + Science = Best Festival Ever

Nikki Kennedy is one part of the independent theatre company, Boho Interactive. Founded here in Canberra, Boho will be bringing their latest production, Best Festival Ever: How to manage a disaster to Canberra for a run of shows at The Street Theatre starting Wednesday 12 August.

I caught up with Nikki to chat about the production, Boho Interactive, and why she loves working in theatre.

Tell me a bit about Boho Interactive. How did it start and how would you describe it? 

Boho1Boho create interactive performance in collaboration with research scientists. In the past they’ve created performances exploring Game Theory, Network Theory and Complex Systems Science. They spend a lot of time researching and comprehending complex scientific and mathematic ideas and then create performances that convey these ideas in a creative, engaging and fun manner.

I am an associate artist with Boho Interactive so I’m not totally clear on their official origin story, but in 2012 David Finnigan approached Nathan Harrison, Rachel Roberts and myself about working them on a new show which eventually became Best Festival Ever. The initial concept was to use board game mechanics to communicate ideas from systems science in a performance setting.

Best Festival Ever has a pretty unique premise – could you explain the concept a bit further?

Best Festival Ever is a pleasant mash of performance lecture, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-story and tabletop game during which you create and manage your own music festival and asses its success. It’s an interactive performance for an audience seated around a table – a bit like an enormous board game –  with stories and science and music. You get to choose who your festival headliner will be (Savage Garden and Destiny’s Child are options), design and build your festival and then play with its different sub-systems like garbage collection and electricity usage.

The show puts ‘systems science’ into a tangible setting – what’s the benefit of using theatre to start conversations about science?

Boho3In Best Festival Ever, theatre helps to give context to the scientific concepts. We use characters, genre based narrative devices, set and sound design to make the scientific concepts relatable. We do this to make it easily digestible, fun and approachable. With Best Festival Ever the benefit of using theatre to convey these ideas around systems science was that we were able to communicate a lot of information quickly through embedding examples of these concepts in a narrative, with an added hands on element in the games. Theatre is often used to present complex situations or phenomena or arguments and this is no different – we are just also embedding explanations of how systems operate, can change, and the ways we examine them.

What do you enjoy about creating interactive theatre? What’s  the biggest pro? Con?

I love creating theatre that people WANT to interact with and feel comfortable doing so. We spend a great deal of time making sure the show is calibrated to ensure that the audience experience is just as important as the content of the show and it is this crafting of a safe and trusting environment that is so exciting to me. Once you have people feeling comfortable and having fun everything else in the show gets easier – explaining the science, getting them to play the games and so on.

Performing interactive theatre is also a lot more confronting than having the audience sit out in the darkness. We empower our audience to interact so the performers then have to be sensitive to, and adjust for, different audience dynamics. This is a risk and it makes performing the show all the more enjoyable because you have to be able to be flexible and work with the audience.

You’ve programmed some great guest speakers for each show – what’s the purpose of these post-show chats and what do you want people to get out of them?

Boho4The post show chats are for the audience to be able to listen to a real world application of what we’ve been talking about during the show. It’s a chance to use the concepts in the show and to hear from awesome people who are using them everyday to examine different aspects of the world. The line up of scientists we have for Canberra is incredible and I am super excited to hear from them all.

Tell us a bit about you – how long have you worked in theatre? And what do you have planned for the rest of the year? 

I have worked in theatre for around ten years now – starting at Narrabundah College and moving to Wollongong, Sydney and the UK for training and opportunities. I work primarily with Sydney performance collective Applespiel – along with Nathan Harrison and Rachel Roberts – but also as a independent dramaturg and theatre maker. After Best Festival Ever I will be performing for CRACK Theatre Festival in Newcastle and hopefully more development on a new Applespiel show for 2016.

Best Festival Ever: How to manage a disaster is showing at The Street Theatre from 12-22 August, with a different guest speaker each night. Head to The Street Theatre website to book your tickets!

Images: supplied.

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