Shining a light on Cornwall’s pioneers, Seasalt has always celebrated flourishing local talent. Each month, in support of their creativity, we share their inspiring stories. This month, we went down to Tehidy Woods to meet Angelina Boscarelli and Ollie Oakenshield from Rogue Theatre.
How did Rogue Theatre get started?
O: Rogue started in 2004. Angelina and I met at the Eden Project back in 2002 – we were part of a performance company that they were setting up. We realised pretty early on that we were a catalyst for each other’s creativity. When our time came to move on from the Eden Project we were lucky enough to be awarded some money to put on a showcase. We made it into a full-length show, Beauty Versus the Beast, which we took to 36 venues.
After that we created Madame Lucinda’s Wonder Show, which was based on Angelina’s life with the circus before she started at the Eden Project. The first year we did about 70 dates and the second year we did 120 dates. That was really our arrival, although back then it was touring rather than performing in the woods, which was ultimately our goal.
You’ve developed a distinctive style combining narrative, immersive theatre, dance and live music. How long does it usually take to produce a show, and where do you start?
A: We don’t receive funding – we’re a totally sustainable company – so we have to be really efficient. Having a core team of expert performers and backstage crew means that we’re ultra efficient; we try to get as much done as we can, including costume prep, design and writing the stories before we go into rehearsals, so it’s usually between 10 days and two weeks. We take the approach that if it doesn’t work, we’ll chuck it out and move on.
Everyone gets involved to devise the work, and I think that’s where the unique physical style comes from as we have lots of non-dancers and non-physical performers pitching in and helping to create the show.
O: It also becomes a lifestyle in a way. This year we took a show called Wicked Tales from the Wild, (a collection of our favourite dark stories from past shows) to Leopalooza and Wilderness Festival, and while we were at those festivals we were also writing and creating work for performances in the woods.
How do you find working as a couple – do you each take on particular roles?
A: We work together a lot, so we have clearly defined roles so we can give each other creative space and freedom. It makes it easier for us – we divide and conquer. Ollie does most of the writing; we decide the concept, the creative idea and the stories together and Ollie will go away and write them. I do a lot of the costume design and commissioning. I also work with Kirsty on the design elements we use in the woods, and I direct the shows, too. But we work as an ensemble and collaborative team, so we have a very inspired creative process.
Winter Wood has become a regular fixture for many people in Cornwall, and a highlight for visitors. Where did the idea come from, and how has it evolved since you first produced it?
O: Our idea and reason for being in the woods is that we want to create something that takes people away from the madness of the world out there and remind them of traditional pleasures like storytelling, spending time with your family and getting out in the wild. I grew up in Camborne and spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid, so my mind was always full of adventure. We wanted to recreate some of that magic for families. We also wanted to make something that was affordable for people in the local low-income area – and something that had real Christmas charm.
A: We started off touring in venues all around the UK to maybe 150 people if we were lucky, working really hard with big set ups, one day get-ins, get-outs and shows. Things were shifting in the arts scene, so we decided to take a bit of a breather and think about what we wanted to do and what we wanted Rogue to be. We had a chat with one of our good friends, Paul Cooper, who was working at the Lowry at Salford. We decided to do our show Dance With the Devil in three locations: Battersea, Lowry and here Tehidy Woods in Cornwall. During our first weekend in the woods, 2,000 people came to see our performances.
O: We felt like we were home. Suddenly we just got the sense ‘this is us’.
A: It was amazing. It just sparked something in us and it was totally unpredictable, unexpected and exciting. The show was aimed at a much more adult audience, as that’s what our work was at the time. Someone said they wished they could bring their kids, so we thought about how it might work. Winter Wood evolved out of that.
O: Winter Wood was also our first project that was self-funding. Traditionally, when you go on tour you can’t make ends meet, so you apply for funding. With Winter Wood we saw the potential – if enough people came we wouldn’t need to apply for funding. Our philosophy has always been to keep the ticket costs as low as we can so as many people as possible can take part. Our theory proved right – lots of people came because they could afford to come. It’s built up over the years. Last year we had 13,000 people in mid-December in the middle of a woodland in Cornwall.
We attract large family groups because it’s a really interesting adventure. Everyone gets together, they put on their wellies and raincoats and they go for it. They walk through the woods, meet the fairies of the Winter Wood and Old Man Winter. When they get to the marquee, they have a hot chocolate and get immersed in the tales. We’re really into nostalgia and stories that are exciting and accessible for Christmas, but also have a human message.
What do you love most about what you do?
O: Freedom. We are definitely animals that are defined by our own sense of freedom and being able to do what we want. That’s the lovely thing about self-producing. As we’re not funded, we don’t have to ask people permission to do what we do. We’ve got to work with the rangers of the woods, but other than that we can do what we want. It’s also about our connection to people and creativity. I’ve always had this idea that the way that we see the world is shaped by our imaginations; I think that the opportunity to disappear into our imaginations and to ignite other people’s is a really rewarding experience.
A: It is about lifestyle for us – I think that’s what drives us forward. We have the ability to decide what we’re going to do and make it happen. We’re also proud that our children have such a wonderful free life.
You’ve set up the Wild Card Ticket scheme to allow people who couldn’t normally afford to come to one of your shows to participate. How did this come about, and why’s it so important?
A: Creating theatre and breaking down barriers is really important to us, and it became obvious really quickly that making work in the woods was really unconventional. We were seeing a lot of people coming to our shows who wouldn’t normally go to theatre, especially at Christmas. But over Christmas people go out and take part in activities that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t. They came to Winter Wood, not because it was theatre, but it was a Christmas activity. So we decided we would commit to keeping our ticket prices and the overall event affordable.
Making sure our activities and our shows are accessible and available and affordable to everyone is a really important part of what we do
A: For us, the whole point is that culture belongs to everybody, so if people can’t take part because they have no money or they can’t afford it this year because they’ve had a bad year, then cultural providers are failing in what they’re trying to do. As freelance artists, our circumstances fluctuate – sometimes we’ve got money, sometimes we haven’t. So we wanted to think about how we could make it possible for people who couldn’t afford the cost of the tickets to take part.
A: The Wild Card idea came from Italy. It’s based on a suspended coffee scheme where you can buy a coffee for an unknown friend. We wondered if the same principle might work for theatre tickets, so we gave it a go, and it worked.
O: It’s actually been really successful for us. We probably give away more tickets than are bought as Wild Cards (we never turn anyone away) but a large percentage are bought.
A: It’s really heart-warming. A lot of people will buy five tickets for their family and one for someone else. We don’t ask people to say why they need a Wild Card, they just ask us and we give it to them. And you can also pay more for your ticket if you want to as well. I feel like we’re very lucky that people come to our shows and enable other people to do.
O: It changes the shape of the audience. I’m not extending the truth by saying we have lords and ladies sat next to people who have no money who’ve been able to take part through the Wild Card scheme. They’re all side by side, experiencing a human story. For us, that’s what theatre is – that’s what it’s always done and where it needs to be.
How do you balance a busy, successful business with family life?
O: It honestly just rolls into one. There isn’t really a point when we’re not working and a point when we are. When you’re freelance, especially when you’re an artist, you fall into a pattern of never stopping working, because you need to keep it all rolling.
About four or five years ago we decided that we’d take January off. Nothing happens in Cornwall in January, so we try and go away. This year we went over to Japan, which was amazing. We stayed in Airbnbs all over Japan, soaking up the culture. We went off to Aokigahara forest which is known as the Sea of Trees – and the suicide forest. It was somewhere we really wanted to visit, not because of a macabre fascination, but because it has so much ancient folklore attached to it. We went through the snow with the boys on our backs into this forest that’s famous for people getting lost in, and we came back full of stories, inspiration and ideas.
A: We couldn’t do it without help because at certain points there’s lots of pressure to deliver and make sure everything’s safe and working. We have an amazing lady who helps with our boys during the shows. She runs a forest school, so they go off on adventures and make hot blackberry tea and pancakes in the wood. They’re having a wonderful education and life alongside what we do.
O: We’re lucky – our company’s like an extended family (our boys call them their family), so that’s how it works.
Rogue Theatre’s Winter Wood performances take place in Tehidy Woods on most dates between 8th – 30th December 2018, with performances at 1pm, 4pm and 6.30pm. Find out more and book tickets.