A MIDNIGHT VISIT is Sydney’s first large-scale immersive theatre experience. Sited in Newtown, it opens to Previews soon and we caught up with Kirsten Siddle one of the Creative Producers.
A MIDNIGHT VISIT draws on the works and worlds of the macabre master Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration, inviting Sydneysiders into an immersive playground. From the creative minds of director Danielle Harvey (Festival of Dangerous Ideas, Antidote festival, All About Women), creative producers Kirsten Siddle and Simon Hayward,A MIDNIGHT VISIT brings together influences from experiential work Sleep No More and escape rooms, to the pop culture worlds of David Lynch and Stranger Things .
SAG: So you must be fairly busy about now with the event opening to previews on September 19.
KIRSTEN: (laughs) We have been bumping in for months now! We’ve been in the venue for over 3 months and we have built over 34 sets.
SAG: It’s big picture artmaking isn’t it? What are the inspirations for such a big undertaking?
KIRSTEN: That’s a really good question, why are we so crazy enough to do this? Danielle Harvey and I have been curators and programmers for some of the country’s biggest performing arts organizations and centres and we felt that there were things missing from our arts scene.
We particularly loved some of the immersive experiences that we experienced overseas and we really wanted to create something that was very different for audiences, that responded to what we believe audiences are looking for, outside of traditional theatre experiences.
And one of the things I’ve been involved is the SummerSalt Outdoor Arts Festival. It was completely done outside but it wasn’t street theatre, it was very much high-quality with extraordinary production but doing it in an environment that is non-traditional and invites the audience to experience the performing arts in a different way.
But one of the really beautiful things about this creation is the collaborative nature of it, it’s a whole cohort of artists coming together to contribute. There’s been an amazing amount of generosity from so many who have bought into the vision and ambition of this. And we are incredibly grateful that our community of artists and technicians and industry colleagues have been so quick to embrace this … the craziness of it.
SAG: That’s certainly reflected in your media release which says it’s a “choose your own adventure”. Once people get into the space what are they going to be experiencing?
KIRSTEN: I liken it to the choose your own adventure books that are used to read as a kid, you know you get to a point in the story and it says if you want to go to outer space and follow someone so you go to page 84 but if you want to wait for your contact to arrive continue here. So we’ve taken that idea and put it into the venue.
When you arrive you are welcomed to the House of Usher which is a funeral home. The undertaker welcomes you to the space and from that point there are three doors that you might be directed to. So you go through that first door and after that you’re on your own.
It’s set over two floors, there’s over 30 rooms and you walk the space on your own, to discover the rooms or secret places. There might be rooms you don’t want to go into and there might be rooms that you want to embrace and along your journey there are characters to encounter. There are performers who will sometimes act as guides and sometimes you’ll just come across them in the space.
It very much takes the choose your own adventure idea and allows you to go where you want to go and see what you want to see. And when you get to the bar at the end of the adventure you’ve probably seen different things to the people you went with. And it’s been deliberately designed that way so people do have a very personal experience… secrets and wonderful things just for them.
SAG: So is there an element of the escape room in A Midnight Visit ?
KIRSTEN: Yeah that’s really, interesting because one of the references in our making this work what was the escape room. Poe was a great cryptologist, he loved puzzles and many of his stories have puzzling and discovery as part of the story and we really wanted to weave something like that into the experience and so we created something quite specific there. Yes, but throughout the experience there are things that are there to open and explore, letters to read. There’s just layers of discovery which speak to your level of curiosity. Danielle calls them Easter Eggs and you’ll find these Easter Eggs all the way through the experience.
SAG: Do you have any sense yet of how long people will spend in this space with this experience?
KIRSTEN: Yeah we think 60 to 90 minutes is about right. There are some large scenes where the performers come together and there’s more intimate scenes, and it really depends on the individual but that’s a best guess that’s what we’re predicting.
SAG: It also struck me on your media release that you mention adult concepts and is that about horror, or how adult know we talking here?
KIRSTEN: So the experience is 15+, minors should be accompanied by a responsible adult. Certainly Poe’s work deals with the macabre. There’s a lot of, you know, death and it deals with illness, there is some very dark themes in there so it’s certainly not something we think that young people should be coming to without guidance.
But it’s not all dark moments there’s some naughtiness in it and a lovely humour in it with some great light moments, and some great moments for the audience where it really is just pure joy. A whole range.
SAG: That’s those David Lynch influences I suppose. Just let me geek out slightly with you. There are obviously quite complicated soundscapes involved but are we walking into the Tell-Tale Heart under the floor?
KIRSTEN: You are so on the money there, yes we have been working with an amazing composer and sound designer. We really are creating, in each of these rooms a world, and it is absolutely extraordinary how each room has its own soundscape. I think people really understand that there are layers and layers and layers of invention in this experience and they are coming into an adventure land.
And it’s big. The warehouse is 3500 m² and some people who are interested in audio design will be just wowed by what they encounter but it’s very visual as well.
SAG: That was actually my next geek question. How have you converted the space because obviously it’s going to be very atmospheric with not just the audio but with the lighting?
KIRSTEN: We’ve installed three-phase power because it’s been an abandoned building and it’s going to be torn down at the conclusion of this and apartments being built. So it’s been wonderful in many ways especially because we’ve had this blank canvas that we’ve been able to build whatever we want to build in here and we’ve had that complete freedom.
SAG: As a Techie and horror lover, I see me as your perfect audience but who are you expecting?
KIRSTEN: Well, our audience are people who are very much looking for unusual, unique and different experiences. We can sort of see from the audience that is already booked in, it tends to be a rather younger audience and we sort of knew that that audience existed… People for whom going to a traditional theatre is something that they would do on a special occasion perhaps.
Because people have so much agency in this experience, it’s really appealing to people who do want to get involved who want to participate in some way. But it’s designed to appeal to all adults. We have had a big spike in bookings around Halloween!
SAG: That figures! From what from what it sounds like, I might need to do it more than once. It’s a long season isn’t it?
KIRSTEN: Yes we’re running 3 to December and our tickets are selling really fast so it’s clear that Sydney has been waiting for an event like this!
SAG: Aaaand … it’s physically fine for, let’s say, old ladies with a new knee?
KIRSTEN: ( Laughter) We do say that there is creeping, crawling and climbing in the experience but all those things are completely optional … you’ll be fine! That’s the absolute beauty of choosing your own adventure.