Where does the far_fetched story begin? I could say that it began when we were children, when on holidays we would write and stage little plays for the benefit of the rest of the family (for a given value of the word ‘benefit’), taking it turns to boss each other around. I could take it from an even earlier start – theatre runs in our family’s blood, with three generations of actors behind us. Or maybe it began when we were among 40,000 punters all totally blown away by The Masque of the Red Death, Punchdrunk’s landmark immersive production in Battersea. Essentially, it doesn’t matter where we got the idea – it’s always seemed inevitable to us that at some point we’d get together and make something fun; something we would enjoy making and that people would enjoy watching.
In 2014, I was living in Australia when my sister, Clem, got in touch with me. She and my cousin, Natty, had been talking and they were very excited about a book called The Phantom Tollbooth. I’d never heard of it, but their enthusiasm was infectious and I sat down to read it the next week.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a treasure, combining the best qualities of C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl. Norton Juster tells the story of Milo, a bored little boy that goes on an incredible journey through the Lands Beyond. The wondrous absurdity that he encounters there leads him to the realisation that the real adventure to be had is back in the real world.
“in the very room in which he sat, there were books that could take you anywhere, and things to invent, and make, and build, and break, and all the puzzle and excitement of everything he didn’t know—music to play, songs to sing, and worlds to imagine and then someday make real … everything looked new—and worth trying. “Well, I would like to make another trip,” he said, jumping to his feet; “but I really don’t know when I’ll have the time. There’s just so much to do right here.”
Straight away I knew that they were on to a winner, and that I wanted in. The Phantom Tollbooth works perfectly as an immersive performance for families, with educational lessons for children, laugh-out-loud moments for adults, glorious quirks and the moral takeaway that the world we live in is an exciting place. If we can get our audiences to feel as Milo does at the end of that book, we will have created something special.
The main problem was that Natty was living in England, I in Australia, and Clem in South Korea, of all places. We decided that when we reconvened in the West Country, we’d make it our mission to turn The Phantom Tollbooth into an immersive theatre piece, called ‘Tales from the Lands Beyond’. In the meantime, there was Skyping to do. Lots and lots of Skyping. We talked about sets and set pieces; mixing traditional performance with puppetry, interactive projection, clowning, and immersive theatre. We held children’s workshops and created quirky street theatre performances, and began the creative process of devising our piece.
Over the course of a year, we’d worked out what we wanted to do: put all our available effort into creating Tales from the Lands Beyond, a show that would be superbly produced, a visually stunning and fun piece of theatre. There were, and remain, logistical speed bumps along the way, not least that to begin with we were spread across three continents! We are ambitious, and our project is no different; we’ve been lucky to watch some unbelievable work over the years by Punchdrunk, Les Enfants Terribles, Secret Cinema and 1927, and these are the standards we have set for ourselves. We’ve started from scratch, having to generate interest and investment however we can in a climate where cultural programmes are rarely able to support themselves without some sort of altruism. Meanwhile, what little government funding for the arts that remains is being dismantled.
So we’re up against it, but that in a way is the point: we called ourselves far_fetched because we think big, we think bold, and we want to do things that haven’t been done before*. For all our previous experience, and the guidance of our amazing mentors, we’re on a steep learning curve that we are enjoying immensely. The curious thing that I have noticed with the funding process is essentially that we have to do an enormous amount of work – just to gain the opportunity to do an enormous amount of work!
Another thing I’ve noticed is that when fundraising works, it comes together in a domino effect – one organisation may agree to match funds that you raise yourself, which in turn will lead another organisation to fund you, and so on. It’s with this in mind that we launched our own crowdfunding initiative, the far_fetched fund – a fun and engaging way to help us raise seed funding through friends, family, and the wider public.
The money we hope to raise through the far_fetched fund will make all the difference, and is essential to our production. These initial funds will give organisations the confidence to invest in our project, and allow us to take the time away from work to bring Tales from the Lands Beyond to life, into schools and theatres across the country. Your support is much appreciated.
To support far_fetched theatre, please follow this link.
*I should mention that Farfetch’d is the name of a hilarious oddball duck-like Pokemon that clubs it’s victims with an oversized leek – this seemed to me to be extra motivation for our name, although I kept it quiet at the time.