Leeds-based theatre company Hitcher Encounters will soon be treating us to a brand-new, immersive production from the comfort of our own home. This project, We’re All Strangers Here, invites us to indulge in solely audible escapism. Discussing the piece with two of the four co-artistic directors, who are based at the University of Leeds, Arathi Suresh and Grace Wilkinson told me all about their inspiration for Hitcher Encounters, as well as their experience in the theatre industry.
The idea behind the name of their company is consistent with that of their projects: “It came from the idea of hitchhiking, because that’s the effect we want our productions to have on audiences. We want to whisk them away, and take them to a completely new and unexpected place.”
Hitcher Encounters reached out to people on social media to base the stories within We’re All Strangers Here on real-life people. Not expecting much of a response, what happened next was a complete surprise: “We interviewed seven people who told us their various stories. They were simple, but I actually cried in one of them. We tend to think that people are just out there for their own personal gain or benefit, but these participants were so happy to help us with our project by sharing their experience.”
“We’re All Strangers Here includes four binaural audio pieces and a live phone call. This project is designed to sit alongside your everyday life, you can book a two week slot that suits you and listen to the audio clips in any order at your leisure, within your two weeks.”
We’re All Strangers Here is a two-week experience that will provide access to a password-protected webpage and an optional live phone call. Despite the team behind Hitcher Encounters’s traditional artistic background, I was curious to learn more about how they ended up creating such a modern, digitally immersive piece.
The UK lockdown threw them onto a remote, online stage, where they discovered a new age of performance: “We were able to develop our initial projects for professional audiences, and there is so much kindness in this industry. Theatre companies reached out to us and gave us feedback, so we now have contacts all over the country.”
Above all, the relationship between the creator and audience was a priority to Arathi and Grace. Grace particularly enjoys the glimpses of human connection in theatre. “My favourite part of a performance is always the bows afterwards where the actors reveal themselves as real people. Immersive work allows two humans to acknowledge each other and share an experience.”
Arathi expanded on this by adding: “If you write a novel, and 600 people read it, you’ve actually written 600 novels because each person gets a different experience and a unique outcome from your work.” The reciprocity of We’re All Strangers Here, especially in the phone call, plays into the exciting tension between the creator and viewer.
Moving forward, Hitcher Encounters (officially partnered with University of Leeds’s [email protected]) will continue experimenting with multisensory theatre, focusing on smell, touch, and taste. Further down the line, they may play to their individual strengths by exploring the possibility of dance and musical theatre. But for now, We’re All Strangers Here is available from any two consecutive weeks from the 31st of January to the 28th of February.
You can book tickets here.
Words by Elizabeth Sorrell.
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