Forming in 2009, Non Zero One have shaken up the theatre scene with their unique, immersive theatrical experiences. Challenging conventional theatrical spaces, Non Zero One are renowned for staging pieces in galleries and museums, reinforcing the idea that theatre is a form of art that can be admired, but not from a passive stand point. The theatre collective are now taking part in London’s edition of The Other Art Fair, after receiving a commission from the art festival. Ahead of Non Zero One’s participation at this year’s festival, Theatrefullstop were able to speak to the company’s founder, John Hunter about creating interative theatre performances, taking part in this year’s festival and the inspirations for forming the company!
Hi John, you alongside the rest of Non Zero One will be showcasing Untitled (audio with pen) at The Other Art Fair. How are you feeling ahead of the event?
Really excited to be back again – this time it feels a bit special as it’s as part of TOAF’s 10th edition fair. The Other Art Fair was our first commission in a visual arts context and it’s been great having the chance to think about interactivity in a new environment.
Could you explain what Untitled (audio with pen) is about?
It’s a bit secret, and I don’t want to give it away! But what I can say is that you’ll be blindfolded and given a pair of headphones, and then someone is going to make you a proposal. A provocation, if you like. It’s the most risky piece we’ve ever made and it could go a number of ways, so we’ll see what happens.
Non Zero One consists of 5 artists all hailing from Royal Holloway, University of London. What inspired the formation of the theatre company?
We formed the company as part of our final performance project – we had worked together in various combinations over the three years beforehand on a few things, but never all together. We made a devised piece of interactive theatre, Would Like to Meet, which we performed on campus, and then later re-made for Southwark Playhouse and the Barbican.
Forming in 2009, Non Zero One have enjoyed a series of highlights, from winning the Best Entertainment Award at the 2012 Off West End Awards, to gaining acknowledgment from The Guardian’s lead theatre critic Lyn Gardener. Had the collective imagined this at the beginning?
I think we were just excited by all the companies we’d learned about, and thought we could have a go at making something we’d like to take part in. We wanted it to be good in its own right and not just ‘good for a student piece’ – whatever that is meant to mean – though I hear that said a lot. I spent two years teaching at Royal Holloway and some of the student work I saw there was more challenging and engaging than a lot of things I’ve seen at large theatre institutions. Why shouldn’t students be making great work? When they continue to work out of university, I think it’s fantastic and only fair when it gets recognised on a national level.
As a theatre company of 5, how do you approach creating shows?
Talking, debating, drawing in felt tip on very large pieces of paper. Trying things out until they feel right. And a lot of spider diagrams as well. We all bring ideas together that we would like to explore, and we’re obviously still inspired by the amazing variety of work we have access to in the UK. We are trying to get to a point in each show where we work out what question we’re trying to ask this time round, and then experiment with the best ways to ask it.
Non Zero One specialise in immersive theatre to engage audiences. Why choose this for theatre?
We normally talk about the type of theatre we make as being interactive, rather than immersive, because for us there’s a distinction in there that talks about the audiences becoming active and having agency, about it mattering that it’s you in the room and not just anyone. For us it’s about finding an opportunity to ask questions and then deal with the responses, and about giving choices to people. We would always rather ask a question than tell a story, though maybe the real button is when you find a way to do both…
The Other Art Fair is a bi-annual event, creating a platform for both emerging and established artists. What drew Non Zero One to take part in this year’s event?
It’s the 10th edition – celebrating the best! It feels like we’re at the start of something new for us, working with ideas of interactivity in a non-theatrical setting – it’s become part of our mission recently to really try and push ourselves outside of comfortable or ‘conventional’ ways of working – and TOAF brings a new set of challenges. People expect to behave differently at an art fair than they do in a theatre – there are other rules and different past experiences. We love the energy of TOAF and they’re always trying to give visitors something new to think about – we’re glad to be part of that.
What advice would you give to aspiring theatre makers?
Experience as much work as you can, to give yourself the widest range to draw upon. I’m not saying go and rip people off, but use it all as fuel for thought. It helps you find an original voice – are you going to do this differently or better, and if not, do you need to do it at all? Also, – it’s a truism – but I think it’s important that you love what you’re doing; your work and your process is for you as well as being for your audiences – set yourself a challenge, scare yourself, ask yourself a question. If you’re really pushing yourself in those ways, it’s going to result in more worthwhile work for the people who engage with it.
Interview by Lucy Basaba.
Untitled (audio with pen) will be showing at The Other Art Fair from Thursday 15th Until Sunday 18th October. For more information on the show, visit here…