Absence – does it make the heart grow fonder; or is out of sight out of mind? These are just two of the many facets of absence and presence that OffPiste Theatre are exploring in R&D at Lighthouse as part of this year’s Sanctuary residencies.
For director Archie Rowell, who lives in West Dorset, The Gaps They Leave is a highly personal project.
“Growing up it was just me and mum, and a father who wasn’t present for the vast majority of my life and when he was it wasn’t warm,” he explains.
“I’ve wanted to do this project about absent fathers and the gaps they leave behind for a long time, but for me it’s about finding both the joy and the reality in the subject because it’s so complex.”
The four-day residency at Lighthouse follows two-day sessions in Bristol and Bridport, all with different groups of actors, exploring stories and notions around the world of absent fathers.
“The actors are incredible. They share as much or as little as they want, and we have ideas that came out of pre-R&D that we can work on as well. I wanted to dig into the concept of absence and what it means and then to flip that and explore presence and what that means.
“We have actors aged 18 to 65, which is quite rare in the same production at this scale. If you have a young girl on one side of the stage and an older man on the other, the gap between them is where the story is told, and for that reason I want the stories to be generational so that they speak across a range of ages.”
A National Youth Theatre Associate Company, OffPiste applied for a Sanctuary residency to develop the project before managing to secure Arts Council funding.
“This is the biggest project we’ve been involved in and getting the Arts Council award means we can hire theatre professionals like movement specialist Sean Hollands who has worked with Frantic Assembly and dramaturgist Alistair Wilkinson, who is amazing at unpicking things I say and focussing on the story. I feel hugely privileged to be working with these people, and if I’m honest, a little out of place… but in a good way.
“Had the application not been successful we would still have made use of the R&D time in a different format, so the point about Sanctuary is that creatives in this area have a focus they can plan around.”
The week ends with a sharing performance on Friday gathering the strands of what the company has worked on this summer.
“The goal is to create a viable piece of live theatre, the foundations and building blocks of a play,” Archie explains.
“We’d then take that forward to the next stage whatever that might be. OffPiste makes theatre and film and hybrids of the two, so we are also filming the sharing on a static camera and as a full gimbal shoot to create a dynamic version that we can share digitally and reach a wider audience. What emerges might look completely different from the R&D sharing.
“For now though, Sanctuary is hugely important because it gives us the opportunity to bring people together, explore the subject and have a good time doing it.
“It’s bloody brilliant!”