We chatted to the theatre-maker and performer about performing her show The Stove as part of The Living Record Festival.

Could you tell me more about The Stove is about? The Stove is about gathering. I know that’s a strange answer because you think a show should be about a topic or a character, and have a narrative, but really, this show is all about the experience of getting together, and sharing something. So we “share” food by eating together online, and we share and create stories together. I created it as an antidote to isolation, and it’s really about fostering a sense of community in cyberspace, and allowing people to escape into the comfort of nostalgia. As it’s developed into a full performance, it has also gained more of a through-narrative with a kind of adventure to it, but the heart of the show hasn’t changed.

How did the idea for the show come about? Pre-pandemic, I was already starting to think about shifting into a more participatory model, and was really into ideas about theatre as communal event. I really think that as a society we have lost spaces for gathering, and lost the sense of communal ties. I wanted to make theatre that brings strangers together for some kind of common task – dancing together, eating together, cooking together, singing together. Then the pandemic came along, and of course we couldn’t do anything together! But the Stove came about fairly organically. I knew I wanted to do something live, because my work really hinges on the performer/audience relationship, and I was already feeling overwhelmed by the amount of pre-recorded streamable content being put out in a panic in March. And eating together felt like something that would be really nourishing in this time when so many people would be eating alone. It fairly quickly morphed into a kind of facilitated storytelling session over dinner, which I begged friends to help me test. Gradually it spread to friends of friends, and then strangers, and then I developed it as a full performance for Electric Dreams Festival in Summer 2020. It has come a long way, but essentially the core of a place to gather and share has remained the same, and it has been a really heart-warming, rewarding experience. 

How does it feel to be bringing The Stove to the Living Records Festival? It’s exciting to be doing it again, and bringing it to new audiences. It’s always exciting to have your work rubbing up alongside other artists, and I definitely feel the supportive bubble that the festival has provided. I think things like this are also a lifeline for artists. Lockdown 3.0 is so unbelievably bleak, and having something to work on and work towards, and having a stepping stone to further work, is so important for motivation to keep going, keep making. 

What do you hope that people take away from the show? I hope they will come away feeling calmer than they came in. I hope they’ll experience a kind of cocoon for the period of time they’re at The Stove, because it’s meant to feel like that. And I hope they come away knowing that it’s possible to forge these connections, even now, even temporarily, and that there is something really nourishing about spending time with strangers, and leaving our present realities to one side for a while. I hope it makes them want to engage more with live work in the future!

How have you found the last year as a theatremaker? It’s been a real struggle, to be honest. I was incredibly lucky for the first part of the pandemic, as my side hustle as a waitress had allowed me to be on furlough, and therefore protected me from a lot of the financial worries that artists were experiencing last year. It meant I could create, volunteer, and do a tonne of research. But it was also really hard – to spend most of the year feeling useless, wondering if the arts industry would ever recover, could be paralysing and exhausting, and leaves you feeling anything but creative. Most of my friends don’t work in the arts, so they found it quite hard to relate. But before I get carried away with the bleakness of that, I have to acknowledge how lucky I’ve been in many ways, that I’ve made a show, that it’s been part of two festivals, and that I have benefited from all this thinking time. I’ve definitely emerged with a clearer sense of what kind of artist I’d like to be going forwards. 

Do you think this whole experience will shake up how theatre is made in the future? I hope so! My hope is that artists and audiences will increase in significance as a result of shifts this year. Artists have creative solutions to issues around restrictions, and will be the ones to find a voice or expression for the national grief that will surely have to come out soon. In an ideal world, artists should be acknowledged as integral to the recovery process. But I also really hope that artists and venues think more about audiences and communities, especially in terms of access. This year has proved that you don’t need to leave your home, or your local area, or buy an expensive ticket, or go into a building where you don’t feel at home, to experience culture. I hope we do more to bring culture into everyday life – to interrupt the everyday, and bring culture to people where they’re at. It could be an access revolution. 

By Emma Clarendon

The Stove will be presented on certain dates in February. For more information visit: https://live-stream.zarucchi.com/events/the-stove/feed