The theatre film hybrid

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As ‘The Animals and Children Took to the Streets’ returns to the London stage for a third time, 1927’s film maker Paul Barritt talks to Animations Online about his work, explaining why the combination of live action and animation is a such a heady one.

When you set up 1927, was your USP always going to be combining live action and animation or was that a ‘eureka moment’ that came later?

The combining of animation and performance was something that occurred naturally when Suzanne and I began working together – me being a film maker and she a theatre maker/performer. There were of course many eureka moments during the course of our development and continue to be!!

Why is that combination such a heady one on stage?

I think it is connected to the audience being so used to viewing moving image material outside of the ‘live’ arena. People have grown used to a very isolated viewing experience. Even when sitting with others in a cinema, the experience is far more interior than that of a live performance. This is not a wholly negative thing of course, the viewing experience of a well made film is most certainly a positively affecting thing. It is nonetheless different to that of watching a live performance.

Now critics of the kind of work we make would say that, through the use of animation, we also reduce the importance of the ‘live’ element and that we reduce our performers to mere puppets within the animated world. This is of course entirely true! And is actually the point of what we have, albeit in an organic and haphazard way, achieved. We have ultimately arrived at a cross between film and theatre. It is a hybrid form. Theatre itself should, of course, also always be a hybrid form. So hopefully, for those who get it, you experience the dream-like qualities of watching a film alongside having to make the imaginative leaps asked of you in watching a piece of theatre.

There must be challenges in combining the two…

The technical elements, animation-wise, are undoubtedly huge. We have gone through various means of synchronising it all and of playing back the films, from a DVD player through to Qlab through to Catalyst. It gets easier but then the demands of each new project add new layers of difficulty. It is a process. I think for most it would not be worth the effort but Suzanne and I (and Esme and Lilly too for that matter) enjoy a challenge and the end result is always exciting.

When you’re developing a new performance, what comes first, the screen writing or the play writing?

Both develop together, along with the musical and performance elements. It is a completely symbiotic process. Words are written, songs are sung, films are made, we play about in front of them. We scrap them all and start again, then bring back bits, add bits, take away… it is a long process of elimination. The process, however, is always dependent upon the idea. If the idea is worth pursuing (regardless of what that it is, be it aesthetic, musical, intellectual etc.) then we will try our best to get it to work. I use quite traditional animation techniques (drawing, stop frame), combined with the use of software.

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Tell us a bit about ‘The Animals and Children Took to the Streets’ – the story and the aesthetic, and how one informs the other.

The story is an old one. It is about poverty. The rich poor divide. Something that gets worse globally day by day and something that the economic system we live under has no facility to address. This impotence to do anything about it is endemic within all levels of society from the mayor through to the gossiping old ladies living in the slums. Any attempts made to change are either naïve, violent or worse still, in the case of the mayor, nothing but short-term strategies to brush all the problems of the world under the carpet. The aesthetic used to develop these ideas ranges from many different influences including those of the idealistic early Soviet days of Constructivism through to graphic novels, sci-fi, silent film and even Inspector Gadget!

You’ve been working on a version of ‘The Magic Flute’ in Berlin, can we expect to see it in the UK any time soon?

We have now finished the opera. It looks like it has done pretty well so far. It was a huge project, a huge undertaking. It is bigger than anything we have done before. Also it is the first time we have ever adapted anything. It’s not something we are interested in doing again (adapting things), as we prefer the freedom to be able to author things ourselves. Also ‘The Magic Flute’ has been done several million times! That said we have done a fairly original job on it and hopefully it will appeal to a younger crowd (god knows the opera needs ‘em). I think you have to go to Berlin at the Komische Oper to see it, couldn’t tell you if it’ll hit the UK or not.

And finally – what’s inspiring you right now?

I have just been watching a film called ‘Wunder der Schöpfung’ by Hanns Walter Kornblum (circa. 1925). I had been acquainted with his work via the Prelinger Archive and have actually not only ripped it off (blatantly utilising some of the actual images from it – see the short Lovecraft inspired film ‘Chaos’ I made many moons ago) but have also been hugely influenced by the great beauty and simplicity of his animations.

It is actually an education film about astronomy and includes many beautiful early animated images of the planets and star systems, along with lots of bizarre science fiction images (loosely based around the theory of relativity) of what life would be like according to the various levels of gravity on each planet. The animation in it has been made with scientific accuracy so took months upon months to make. Kornblum himself disappeared into obscurity along with the rest of his output during the 1930s. It is a marvellous film full of startling images and I highly recommend it!

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