TRCH The Merry Widow

Movie Nights, Popcorn, and Serial Killers with LaPelle's Factory

2 June 16 words: Hazel Ward
"It really plays on your morbid fascinations with things… We've had a lot of people who've had dreams about the show afterwards"
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How did you get together to start LaPelle’s Factory?
Olwen: We met at Circuit Festival in Leicester. Ollie had a project called Cat in Hell, and one of the performers had dropped out so he asked me if I’d like to collaborate. A little while later, I wanted to collaborate with other artists on an equal footing and I felt like it was problematic to do so under my name. Ollie had been thinking of starting a company, so we created LaPelle’s Factory.

What’s behind the name?
Olwen: It’s from Eraserhead. For a while, I really wanted to name it something after Rosemary’s Baby but we couldn’t find anything appropriate...

Tell us more about Cloudcuckoolanders...
Ollie: It’s framed as a movie night, so we invite audiences into our performance space, and tell them we’re going to watch a film together. Slowly but surely, they realise that there may be something else going on under the surface. We won’t tell you what because that would spoil things. The show uses the idea of cinema and movie nights to explore some of the darker things that go on, specifically between couples.

We did a lot of research into couples that perhaps go mad together, share delusions of grandeur or have an inflated sense of self and ego. We looked at Bonnie and Clyde, John and Yoko, Sid and Nancy, and then the darker end of the spectrum with people like Fred and Rose West. We tried to get under the skin of the connection they had that gave them licence and mind to do the things that they did. More often than not, they’re really terrible things, but the couple believed that they were somehow justified. The show looks at that blur between what’s real and what’s fantasy.

What are some of the other influences behind Cloudcuckoolanders?
Olwen: Most of the films we talk about are based on real criminals. Bonnie and Clyde was a big influence in our work, but we’re obviously not allowed to show it, which is a shame. We’re exploring films that look at or glamourise crime. Also, why we’re interested in it and why we find it quite romantic.

We have a live camera feed on stage, so we looked at how you can construct a scene to make it look interesting on screen, but something a lot less dangerous is happening off screen. The world of the screen may look like someone’s just been murdered, but in the world of theatre you can see everything that makes that up. It’s actually more domestic and more mundane than you might think.

Ollie: It’s the cause and effect idea – we let people in on the trick. They can see the final shot on the screen, but they can also see how we’re including it. We’re letting people in on the illusion and trying to say that we all know this isn’t real, but it still has this effect.
Olwen: We also looked at the convention of going to the cinema and having people to your house to watch a movie.
Ollie: It then becomes about the social construct between the performers or the hosts of the evening, and their guests or their audience, and how that relationship shifts over the course of an hour.

What’s the audience reaction been like so far?
Ollie: Really good. We finished it last summer so we’ve been touring for almost a year now. People enjoy the fact that we play laugh out loud moments against much darker material. We try to employ the humour and fear against one another and balance on that knife edge.
Olwen: It really plays on morbid fascinations. It’s a funny show that takes you on a journey that a lot of people enjoy. We’ve had a lot of people who’ve had dreams about the show afterwards.
Ollie: There’s something quite visceral about the show. It gets under the skin.

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You’re participating in the national theatre event All Tomorrow’s Theatre. What do you think about current initiatives to support theatre artists?
Ollie: I think there’s a lot happening but it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, everybody knows the funding situation is difficult at the moment and there’s all sorts of questions flying around about arts funding specifically – what value is it? Does value mean financial return? I don’t think anyone in the arts really believes that. There’s a whole worth of benefits that you get from exposing yourself to different life experiences that no amount of money can buy.

There are loads of initiatives around the country, and if artists plug into them they’ll be hugely rewarded, not just financially, but with networks and communities that they can foster. We’ve been lucky enough to become associate artists with In Good Company, which is a partnership between Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, Derby Theatre and Create Theatre in Mansfield. They’ve been nurturing the East Midlands community for a while now. They were invited down to London to be a part of All Tomorrow’s Theatre, and they asked us to go and represent the artist side of things. That’s great for us to be able to meet London programmers and continue that ongoing task of growing networks. That’s what it boils down to. You can’t sit and wait for people to come to you. You have to go forth, meet people, and tell them what you’re about.

In terms of longevity, a small pot of money available for a project or work in progress doesn’t nurture that sense of an ongoing relationship. To be attached to a venue or a scheme for an extended period of time is hugely beneficial and long-sighted. Giving someone a small commission to tick a box isn’t the right way to go about it.

Olwen: I think we’ve got really good groundwork to improve support for artists. We had to interview for our In Good Company association, and we had interviewed for a few things before that we weren’t taken on for. It could be improved upon by offering different stages of tapping into that support. I also think we need to grow a community of artists that help each other.
Ollie: Skillshare. If you have access to equipment or rehearsal space, help each other out. Go and sit in someone’s rehearsal space for a day and share that critical feedback with each other without money exchanging hands.

Anything else you want to share with readers?
Ollie: We’re creating a new show with some more East Midlands-based artists called Desperado that’s riffing on dance marathons, rock gigs, school sports days and rodeos. It’s very high energy – exhausting for the performers – and from the work in progress we hosted a while ago, it’s quite compelling viewing. We’ll be previewing that at Derby Theatre in July.

Otherwise, if any LeftLion readers are interested in any kind of dialogue with us, just get in touch. There’re contact details on our social media and website, and we’re always up for meeting anyone who wants to talk about theatre and live performance. We want to open as many dialogues and collaborations as possible.
Olwen: Yeah, and they should come to the show. We give out popcorn and fizzy drinks, and all the sunshine joy that you can get from a show about crime.

Cloudcuckoolanders is part of NEAT16, Nottingham Playhouse, Sunday 5 June, 8pm.

LaPelle's Factory website

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