Enclosed Spaces / by Lenni Sanders

As a child, for fun, I used to climb into suitcases and shut the lid. It probably stands to reason then that I would enjoy performance and theatre that takes place in small, strange, maybe even claustrophobic areas then. A piece that made a big impression on me when I first saw it a couple of years ago is The Whale by Talking Birds: you climb into a beautiful, shining metal whale, where a performer sings to you, tells you a story, and folds you a whale from paper. The performance lasts only a few minutes before you emerge into the open air again. It’s absolutely enchanting and I’m keeping an eye out for it so I can see it again. The Whale came to the opening of Home earlier this year but I sadly couldn’t make it.

This Halloween, Manchester based actor, story teller and comedy writer Jenny May Morgan put together a wonderful event called Spooky Tales In The Vaults at the Kings Arms. If you haven’t been into the basement area of the Kings Arms I would recommend it loads. Far below the ground floor, it’s dark and cold: the perfect place for getting spooked. We heard eight performances from a range of really great artists and it was huge fun, variously frightening, funny and lyrical. (I was delighted to take part, telling a story about aliens, and standing in the full glow of a greenish lamp.) One of the aspects I enjoyed about it most was how removed you feel from the world upstairs. Because the vaults take up several different rooms, Jenny’s performance used noises from the other side of the wall to fabulously eerie effect. Throughout all the performances and stories I felt acutely aware of the small dark rooms we were in, with the only clear way out the long steep staircase leading back up to the bar.

We’ve made quite a lot of use of smallish, enclosed spaces as iOrganic. It’s really enjoyable to transform a little area for the duration of a performance. At Sensored festival, Contact kindly gave us the use of the low stage in Space 5, the ground floor area between the entrance and the bar, and allowed us to curtain it off and create our Empty Kitchen restaurant within it. The moment when we swish our heads out from round the curtain and invite our dinner guests in was always great fun: when we close it behind us, it’s a bit like we’re locking the participants in, but in a totally non-threatening, absurd way. It felt like a very unreal space, in a way I was very happy with. The suggestion of restaurant, or an implied restaurant, with some props and with only one table and enough room for us to pace around the backs of the chairs a bit.

At Chetham’s Library, performing Symptoms + Suggestions, we loved how the wooden gates that separated the reading booths and nooks from the corridor had bars and slats that the audience could see through: it was half enclosed, half open. With one participant in the little room with us, curious people could peep through the door and watch, as a kind of secondary audience. The blindfolds we give to participants as part of Symptoms + Suggestions also created another level of enclosure: the participant experiences the performance without being able to look around. It felt very playful to have these two levels of audience: the participant in the room with us, and the onlookers.

(We’ve also used spaces that are more open, like the alcove in Manchester Museum we performed Truth or Tale?! in, which offered a different experience and was exciting for us in different ways – it was so good to have that open area people could just wander into.)

Lenni