Members of the Cambridge performing arts company explain the nature of new show World Factory, an immersive production in which the audience takes part in the action on stage. It comes to Home, Manchester, 7-10 Dec.
How and when was World Factory developed?
The idea was conceived in Shanghai with Chinese theatre director Zhao Chuan, who was talking about communism, capitalism, clothing and factories. Manchester’s role in the industrial revolution was connected with thinking about how little we knew about the world behind the “made in China” labels in our clothes, which makes it appropriate us being here in Manchester this week. A significant element in researching the show was having our own shirt manufactured in China (which you can buy through our website), which gave us an immersive sense of what the show means. It is special because it has barcodes on it which, when you put our bespoke app over it, trigger short films showing all the people and processes that went into making that very shirt.
What made you decide to make the performance an immersive experience for the audience?
We wanted to shift the perspective away from the position of a traditional audience to one in which the audience is making the decisions and therefore paying attention to the social and economic situation in which those decisions get made. This enables the show to be about feeling and experience, rather than judgement. People have a lot of fun in arguing out the different conundrums they encounter.
Why do you think the performance has been so popular with audiences?
Because they have so much fun, and it is completely absorbing. There’s so much going on in the show that it appeals to people in lots of different ways. And although it is about having a conversation, it isn’t a show where you are forced to take part or perform or be on show in any way – so I think people enjoy it being interactive without the fear of being exposed. I hope audiences will get a sense – as we have through researching the project – of how interrelated all our decisions are, and how connected we are to one another through economics.
What is the aim of World Factory?
A conversation. In his book 23 Thing They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang talks about the idea of “active economic citizenship”. We were struck by that, because what we are attempting is to think about what it means to be alive now. If we are participants in this economic and social system, we want to think about what that means – and how we feel about it. We are particularly excited about bringing the show to Manchester. We did quite a bit of research here, and were very much inspired by Manchester’s history. After all, this is where Marx and Engels met, and worked together. Today, many of the changes in society seem to herald a new era of precariousness of living in the UK, which makes this quote from Engels, from The Condition of the Working Class in England, 1844, ring true ever more globally:
“Who guarantees that willingness to work shall suffice to obtain work, that uprightness, industry, and thrift, are really the road to happiness? No one. They know that, though they may have the means of living today, it is very uncertain whether they shall tomorrow.”
What’s next for you?
We are collaborating with economist and journalist Paul Mason on Shakespearonomics (working title), a project investigating Shakespeare’s plays through the lens of economics, thinking about how the emergence of capitalism changed the way people relate to one another, and how that is represented in theatre. While in Manchester we are working with Manchester-based directors and actors on the project.