Wales Arts Review spoke to Hijinx Theatre Company artistic director, Ben Pettitt-Wade to find out more about the company
Cardiff’s award winning theatre company, Hijinx, make outstanding theatre and films with learning disabled and/or autistic actors. In the last five years alone, they have created productions in collaboration with companies such as Blind Summit, Spymonkey and Frantic Assembly. Their productions have sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and toured all over the world. At a time when theatres and cinemas are closed, Hijinx have decided to launch their first online festival.
“As our theatres and places of gathering stand empty and silent, how does a form that relies so much on the collective experience survive? How do we prevent becoming isolated while in isolation? Does what we do rely on the power of human contact? It is often said that art is community, therefore, how do we maintain community through this separation? These are the questions we have been asking ourselves in the last couple of weeks,” says Ben.
So how has life changed at Hijinx with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Well, as we have started to become used to working from home, one surprise in this whole experience has been how technology and the collective experience has bought us closer together as a community. In the past three weeks at Hjinx, we have been focussing on bringing all of our Academies, Drama Foundations, youth theatres and our community theatre, Odyssey, together online. With each group we are holding weekly video calls where we can check in, chat, laugh and play together. We may not be stood side by side, but we have still managed to find the joy in these virtual rooms, and travel in an instant to meet people in our community in all corners of Wales. In many ways this separation is bringing us all closer.
With all of our groups meeting each week in virtual rooms to share their stories and experiences, our focus is now on how we share our work. If we are not able to do this in venues, then how about with a virtual festival?
What should we expect from the Hijinx Online Festival?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: For each of our theatre productions over the past five years video maker Jonathan Dunn has created and edited full-length film. We would usually only share these with promoters and festival bookers, however, we’ve decided to give exclusive access to everyone. Each Monday, starting on the 27 April and throughout May, a new production will be released. Each production will be available to stream for a full week (up to the Sunday evening), with details on our Facebook page. Every Friday, we will also be giving you the chance to see our Associate Artist Richard Newnham’s comedy series Flatmates, which was both co-written and performed by Richard with support from Unlimited IMPACT and Hijinx.
We also hear you are planning to give a premiere screening as part of the festival?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Yes, we’re excited to share Hijinx’s first in-house short film The Matthew Purnell Show, a behind the scenes comedy about the world’s biggest chat show as it reaches its 100th show. This will have a set release date and time [Wednesday 20 May, 8pm], and we encourage everyone to make an event of it as we try to emulate an online collective experience. Roll out a red carpet, get your tux and glad rags out, take photos and share what you are up to with us via our Facebook page. The premiere will be followed by a virtual end of festival party, which will be BYOB (bring your own bottle) of course. We feel all festivals should end with a party.
Will there be additional festival activities?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Of course. The experience of going to the theatre is about more than sitting and watching, it’s about the conversations and discussions that a production generates – it’s about the chat in the bar! Ok, we won’t be running a bar (though you’re very welcome to bring your own), but each screening will be accompanied by the chance to participate in a live Q&A with a selection of the artists and companies involved. This will include conversations with our partners and co-producers, Mark Downs (Artistic Director at Blind Summit), Toby Park (Managing Artistic Director at Spymonkey) and Scott Graham (Artistic Director at Frantic Assembly). The Q&A, will take place via our Facebook page on a Thursday afternoon at 4pm, giving you plenty of time to watch the production at a time convenient. There will be the opportunity to either post your questions ahead of time or live during the discussion via the Facebook comments.
And workshops too?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: Yes so the festival programme will also include online workshops – a chance to participate in an inclusive virtual room where we will share some of the fantastic games we have been able to continue to play with our groups around Wales. There may be guest facilitators, there may be an exchange of games, some may be focussed on particular skills. The one guarantee is there will be chaos and joy.
When and where can we join in?
Ben Pettitt-Wade: The festival takes place online from 24 April – 22 May. Head to our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter or Instagram @HijinxTheatre for more info. The full festival programme will also be available on our website.
(Photo credit: Jonathan Dunn)