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Bringing a magical energy to Shakespeare's Birthplace

We meet Tara Sachdeva, co-founder and director at Compass Presents, and the creative mind behind House Party on Henley Street, which is part of the national Museums at Night festival

Tara Sachdeva
Tara Sachdeva

'All our work tries to give audiences a new angle on content they might not have originally thought of as ‘for them’ — a new, playful way in!'

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to establish Compass Presents…

We started out in 2006 as a film festival, showing cinema from around the world (hence the name Compass) with a programme of wider arts events to compliment the film screenings and discussions (poetry, circus, dance etc). We worked in dedicated film / arts venues such as Watershed and Arnolfini in Bristol, and soon realised we could reach different people, and have more creative freedom with the use and transformation of spaces if we worked in very different types of place so we started to move into pop-up and ‘found’ spaces. Eventually, we began creating shows that used these different arts elements (film, performance, live music) to create a new take on film worlds, and bring new experiences of film content to audiences. Increasingly we have moved into interactive performance and work with archive material — two of the key elements to House Party on Henley Street. All our work tries to give audiences a new angle on content they might not have originally thought of as for them — a new, playful way in!

What inspires your creative work?

I’m inspired by the idea of enabling people to share the experience I have when I'm transported by a work of theatre art — that sense of losing yourself in it and coming out with new perspectives on the world, or your place in it... the idea that this experience is not readily available to everyone, maybe those who don’t feel welcome in galleries and theatres, or aren't in the habit of talking about the films they see with others. This inspires me to find ways that art and theatre, that belongs to everyone, that can be made inviting, fun and accessible. In other artists’ work I'm often drawn to work where the narrative or theme is carried via more experimental means, like projection mapping or movement, although I also seek out work that has appeal to really diverse audiences. Shows I’ve seen most recently and loved are Velvet Petal (Scottish Dance Theatre) Life is a Dream (Ballet Rambert) Barber Shop Chronicle (National Theatre). I also try and seek out work that uses cross discipline as a means of giving new perspective. Bill Viola's projected, immersive worlds alongside the works of Michelangelo at the Royal Academy earlier this year was a fascinating example of this. The Compass team often see theatre at the Wardrobe Theatre in Bristol, and it is through this connection that we have found our dramaturg Steph Kempson and many of our cast.

House Party on Henley Street is giving a modern day twist on some of the real life characters from Shakespeare’s life, his plays and his hometown. How and why did you come up with the idea?

We ran R&D with local people, because the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Royal Shakespeare Company were interested in the views of local people who weren’t particularly inspired by Shakespeare, or who felt that Shakespeare wasn’t for them. Showing elements of the Shakespeare story in new ways chimed with the overarching themes of the Museums at Night festival, and seemed a fun starting point for a show we wanted to be playful, and to present a different sort of invitation. The R&D also reminded us how powerful and accessible archive is. People really engaged with the history of the town, they loved looking at old photos of places they knew well, and discovering stories from the archives. So the idea of lots of townsfolk from across time was a way to use archive as a resource in the show.

There's one million items in our library archive and museum collection, so where did you start?!

Practically, we started with place, as that’s often the easiest way in! Our R&D group chose places around the town that meant something to them, and we found photos and histories associated with them. We also allowed ourselves the luxury to just be led by personal interest! Having always worked with communities that often don’t access theatre and the arts, the chance to work with this content (Shakespeare’s story and the Trust’s Collections) in order for it to inspire even more people has been a real privilege, and one I certainly would love to continue.

What was your favourite item of everything that you found in the archives?

Oscar Wilde’s letter to Bram Stoker, saying that he will still be coming for supper despite his wife being ill! We also used the RSC Collections for research, and touching (touching! Instant spine tingles), the costume that Paul Robeson wore as the first black Othello for 100 years in 1959 in Stratford-upon-Avon.

William Shakespeare is not in House Party on Henley Street, but certainly inspires it. Have you taken influence from Shakespeare in your creative life / career? 

Completely. I love the language of Shakespeare. I used to recite A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the strangest of places at the top of my voice as a (definitely geeky) teenager. I loved the way the language felt in my mouth, and the magic of the poetry. I also love how free he is with inventing words and phrases, and think being silly and fluid with language is really creative and fun; it often takes you to places you wouldn’t go to if you didn’t have someone like Shakespeare being all anarchic and getting away with it!

Why should people come and see the show?

Because it will be heaps of fun! Because the cast and dramaturg we are working with are going to bring a magical energy to Henley Street and the Birthplace that will invigorate it — meaning those who have always thought of it as boring, museumy or 'not for them' will be proven wrong! And those who gasp at the sacrilege of such thoughts about the Birthplace will get to see a museum they know and love with light shone in new corners, with old and known characters waiting to greet them around each corner.

House Party on Henley Street is part of the national Museums at Night festival. Hosted by mischievous Shakespeare characters Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Ariel (The Tempest), guests are invited to revel in the historic Birthplace and the famous street on which it stands, with a chance to enjoy performances and play a part in the quest to shape Shakespeare’s destiny. 

The promenade performance is commissioned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and presented by Bristol-based creative company, Compass Presents. It is supported by Arts Council England.

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