Interactive & immersive true stories for the body, as well as the mind

Anagram spent 2015 scooping the Storyscapes award at Tribeca Film Festival, staging immersive experiences at the Tower of London, forming part of the Performing Reality line-up at IDFA Doclab 2015 and creating an immersive documentary installation directed by Caroline Williams, at the Young Vic Theatre that sought to humanise the Syrian war.

I caught up with Amy Rose and May Abdalla ahead of their participation at i-Docs 2016 to find out more about their work and their plans for the future…

Could you describe yourselves and your work?

We make interactive and immersive true stories for the body as well as the mind. By weaving together physical and digital technologies to tell these stories, we persuade participants into taking visceral and intimate journeys of their own.

Our major piece of work “Door Into The Dark” was awarded the Tribeca Film Festival Storyscapes Award for best interactive work in April 2015. An immersive documentary experience about the psychology of navigation, it brings together captivating documentary stories and visceral physical experience to explore what it means to be truly lost in the age of infinite information.

Door Into The Dark trailer from may abdalla on Vimeo.

We make a combination of self-started projects and commissions – and we have worked with the Tower of London, Greenpeace, the Young Vic Theatre and Birmingham Cathedral.

Why have you chosen to make work in the interactive field? What are the positives and negatives?

For us, making interactive work is an opportunity to create playful and dynamic experiences that use the body as well as the mind. We like to engage with the imagination of the participant – and think that there are many ways to tap into this internal state of curiosity and inspiration.

Crucially, we design our pieces to tell strong stories while, at the same time, providing space for the audience to bring themselves and their memories into their experience of the work – which creates a more personal relationship with the story that is being told.

'Now is The Time To Say Nothing' at the Young Vic Theatre

‘Now is The Time To Say Nothing’, directed by Caroline Williams at the Young Vic Theatre

On a practical note, how is your work funded and distributed? Is it something you find easy to do?

For each project we have had a very different and not always happy business model, though we have relied heavily on the Arts Council for match funding most of our work.

The production of Door Into the Dark was funded by a combination of the Arts Council and the festivals who chose to present the work. For film festivals, sourcing a venue of over 6000 square feet is unusual and difficult, and the show necessitates them taking on this cost. The nature of the work – it’s documentary core – means that it is peculiarly relevant for film festival audiences, but these organisations do not tend to have budgets to facilitate live experiences.

“Working out how to integrate these real stories with meaningful interactivity continues to be a meaty and interesting challenge.”

Overall, it is a very expensive show, because of the elaborate nature of the set and the high ratio of crew to audience. We are learning from this though – and would not design something quite like that in the future! We have no problem selling tickets once our work is up and running though – everything we have so far has sold out prior to opening.

Looking to the future, what developments in the world of i­-docs excites you? Is there something you hope you experiment with or new technology you want to use?

We are excited about working more with the body and tactile materials as an integral part of an experience – and, increasingly, technology that can facilitate this is becoming available to use. We are also curious about working in public space, or existing locations that are accessible in a variety of cities – so that the work can be tour-able and not insanely difficult to stage. We are keen to discover a way of making work that can travel but that isn’t as limited in it’s interactive possibilities as a website.

We are always interested in documentary as the core, and intend to stick with telling real stories about people using their own voices. Working out how to integrate these real stories with meaningful interactivity continues to be a meaty and interesting challenge.