Following the exciting announcement of Immersion Theatre’s open air adaption if The Wizard of Oz, I was lucky enough to have a chat with the creative team and cast. First up, Immersion Theatre’s Artistic Director and Writer, James Tobias Clifford and Co founder and Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, Michelle Parry.
Hi James, thanks for giving us some time to talk about this exciting production. Firstly, Can you tell me a bit about how Immersion Theatre was formed?
Immersion was formed by myself and my producing partner back in 2010. We both started off as actors and so initially wanted to create work for ourselves. The more we produced, however, the more we realised just how passionate we were about creating accessible theatre of a superb quality and truthfully, we now can’t imagine life pre-producing! Our desire to entertain, engage and excite our audiences is what drives us. They are why we do what we do and why we have worked tirelessly to build Immersion from a small, independent company to a touring company playing some of the country’s most beautiful venues and reaching audiences in parts of the country who may otherwise not have access to quality live theatre. We could think of nothing else that we’d want to do.
You’ve done a great variety of shows, what has been your favourite to create and what had the best reaction?
That’s tricky! To say we have a favourite would be impossible in the way a parent loves all their children equally! That said, there are a few productions which we are particularly proud of. Our 1980’s, miners strike-inspired tour of Romeo and Juliet received fantastic audience and critical feedback. We received a number of 4 and 5 star reviews. On the family side, I am particularly proud of our adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”. We produced it Christmas just gone. It was one of those moments where everything just clicks, from the set, to the costume, to audience reaction to the spark on stage between the cast. There was a certain magic and energy which made the show as good as it was which is why we can’t wait to tour it this summer! That said, we have a number of tours coming up which we can’t wait to get started on.
What are the main challenges when creating new productions?
Put simply, ensuring that every single element is just right, from the design of the show to the casting to the tiniest prop. It’s a lot of pressure but that’s the thrill of theatre!
What’s going to surprise people about this show? And what are you most excited about?
The show is a brand new adaptation based on the novel rather than the film, so I can’t wait for audiences to see our interpretations of such fantastical characters. I’m also immensely excited by our cast whose talent will bring them to life brilliantly. Our Musical Supervisor has written a completely original score with a range of musical styles which is guaranteed to have audiences clapping along so that’s also something I am looking forward to tremendously. There is heaps of audience interaction alsol so I can’t wait for audiences to experience our take on this classic story as they will leave having had a fantastic day out. As you can tell, I am very excited by many aspects of the show!
What do you hope your audiences will get from the show?
A great day out and quality time with their family sharing in a high energy and extremely fun theatrical event.
Have you ever had an audience member change the way a performance is going?
Absolutely. Our family shows include a number of pantomimic elements. My personal favourite is the audience interaction and call and response as you never know what an audience member is going to shout out. Often, it adds to the comedy and helps build on the rapport you have developed with them. It also helps to engage the younger members of the audience, keeping their attention. There is no greater feeling than having an audience of hundreds enthusiastically respond to you.
How do you go about choosing your next project? What draws you to a particular show/topic?
Truthfully, I have such a childish streak in me that I feel that if a title excites me, it’ll likely connect with our target audience. We enjoy producing well known titles that parents can recall as they watch our take on it whilst often being able to introduce a number of the younger audience members to an iconic story for the first time.
You’ve got a lot on the go at the moment. Wizard of Oz, Little Shop of Horrors, Journeys End, Robin Hood. You don’t like to make things easy for yourself do you? How do you manage producing several shows at once?
By working round the clock! This has been a year of immense development for the company. The Wizard of Oz is Immersion’s first open-air tour, however, having general managed and helped to produce open-air theatre for the past few years externally, we are coming into this knowing what works, what doesn’t, what audiences want and how best to give them a memorable experience. This is a leg of the company we are looking to expand substantially. Regarding Little Shop of Horrors, we have the great privilege of having been brought on as associate producers by the enormously talented Sell A Door team and Damien Tracey Productions. Learning from them is such a wonderful experience. Re Journey’s End and Robin Hood, these are two very different titles that we can’t wait to put in front of an audience. Journey’s End is a masterpiece which is playing some stunning venues and Robin Hood is this year’s panto playing at the beautiful Civic Arts Centre and Fisher Theatre in Suffolk. Panto is the other side of Immersion we are extraordinarily passionate about growing. We also have a chock-a-block (though as of yet un-announced 2017) but we absolutely adore what we do, so the long days and weekend-less weeks feel more exciting rather than work!
What would you ask the wizard of oz for if you visited him?
More hours in a day!
If you had a magic wand and could do ANY show, regardless of budget or complexity, what would it be?
That’s another tricky question! We are in the process of acquiring the rights for a piece we absolutely love so do watch this space! Other shows we would love to do are Grease, We Will Rock You and a number of other feel good musicals in this style. Oh yes, and anything Disney. I love all things Disney!
Quick fire with Rochelle Parry, Immersion’s co-founder and the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West
For what would you ask the Wizard of Oz if you visited him?
An endless supply of scones
Who is your favourite character in the Wizard of Oz? and why?
The scarecrow as he’s cheeky and loveable
Where is your “somewhere over the rainbow”?
Anywhere warm and sunny!
If you could get a flying monkey to do anything for you, what would it be?
If you could work on any show after this, what would it be?
Les Miserables…a complete contrast to what Immersion produces but I absolutely love the music
Next up – The Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, Rachael Stratton
Starting on 1st July in Cambridge and travelling all over the country until 25th August.
More details can be found: http://www.immersiontheatre.co.uk/outdoor-the-wizard-of-oz/