If you can’t get to the theatre, then why not let the theatre come to you? That’s the aim of Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir’s new show, Deliverance which comes to Byre Theatre audiences on May 25.
The concept and text for Deliverance was created by Icelandic director and playwright Kolbrun. The Edinburgh-based founder of Brite Theater explains that; “For the spring/summer tour I have re-worked the show with associate artists Rob Jones and Alisa Kalyanova and consultant Emily Carding and helped prepare the tour with producer Eleanor Scott. We’ve also made accessible versions and I’m recruiting local performers before handing over to project manager Tuesday McPhail and the performers for the tour.”
Deliverance is Kolbrun’s response to the big question that has faced theatre companies all over the world since March 2020: “How we at Brite Theater might reach audiences at a time when we weren’t allowed to meet up. Our work is usually quite audience participation heavy and we missed the connections made terribly.”
She says that the time has allowed her to pause and “reflect on my life in general as well as examine why I make theatre.
“I found that by not going to the theatre I had very few opportunities to stay away from screens or to process my feelings about things in a way watching something without a pause button offers. Deliverance is an attempt to give audiences participatory experiences even if we can’t witness them ourselves. I wanted to make something that gave audiences opportunity and permission to spend time away from the mundanity of our lives, our new routines and just process this time a bit. But in a fun way. In a way that feels like a treat.”
When the show was created in the autumn of 2020, Kolbrun was delighted to be able to bring Vanishing Point on board as producers. “They helped us get the show made and to audiences in the central belt,” she explains. “We really couldn’t have made the show without them. With their help we’ve now managed to secure Creative Scotland funding for touring the work, bringing it to nine areas in Scotland from now until July, starting in St. Andrews partnering with the Byre Theatre.”
For many businesses in general and the performing arts in particular, 2020 and 21 have been tough years. Little theatre companies like Brite Theater, who deal with participation have been hard hit but Kolbrun is keen to innovate and look to the positive, “hopefully Deliverance can bring joy to those that partake in it,” she says.
So how will this new take on theatre work? “Deliverance is a performance delivered to your door, not unlike a pizza, in the form of instructions,” says the director. “By booking a ticket you are given a time slot on the day for your delivery. Once you’ve received your instructions you start following them, taking you on a journey within your own home, with live interaction with us made through a phone call about half way through.
“The show is you, performing to yourself, by yourself, there is no audience, only participants. So to access the magic you have to get involved.”
Kolbrun believes that, although it has been a difficult time, the efforts of the creative community to innovate and experiment through the lockdowns and beyond have been inspiring. Theatre companies have had to ask themselves fundamental questions: “What is theatre when we can’t gather? How do we tell stories differently to books or TV? What is our relationship with our audience? What is their relationship with us?”
“I think it has made it really clear what it is that is unique to live theatre and why we need it. And in a time when we might have struggled to justify the arts, that feels really vital. It makes me angry when people make out there has been no theatre this year because the buildings have been shut, we’ve still been making theatre, just in new ways,” she insists.
Despite coming to people’s homes, the relationship with local theatres has still be key to Deliverance. “One of the reasons we were keen to partner with local venues, such as The Byre, is to help local theatres reach their audiences even if their doors remain closed and to build up our own relationship with those theatres,” says Kolbrun. “I believe that theatres are and should be central places to every community and the pandemic has highlighted just how much of a hub they can be. There is nothing going to replace the feeling of sitting with an audience in an auditorium, we’ve tried for a year and failed, it is a unique, impactful, amazing thing.
“We need it, now and forever, which is why pandemics and technology haven’t got rid of theatre yet. Deliverance might happen in people’s homes, but we would struggle to reach them without the local theatres helping us get the word out and facilitating box office.”
With successful runs and in Glasgow and Edinburgh last autumn, behind her, Kolbrun is hoping for a similar level of engagement when the show tours to The Byre and beyond. “I was surprised at the level of engagement, how up for playing with us people were, and the openness of the conversations we were able to have.
“Times are slightly different now, with things opening up again, so I just hope people still make time for this kind of experience, amongst the novelty of eating out or seeing folks,” she says. “I never thought of Deliverance as ‘lockdown’ theatre, it has a format that works in lockdown but I think it has value in the everyday regardless of restrictions. I hope people dive in and allow themselves this treat, it really is a one of a kind thing. On a selfish level I just want people to do it. I love knowing people are performing my work, in private, for themselves.”
Deliverance makes its way to audiences in St Andrews, Cupar, North Fife and the East Neuk via The Byre Theatre from May 25 to 30. Contact The Byre on 0300 300 1210 to book your place in a performance.