An exciting new venue has been designed in Nottingham, and named The Void. Situated amongst the city's cave systems, the unique performance space will be host to a plethora of different styles of productions, and promises to be an accessible and low-cost space to showcase works of all kinds.
Artistic Director on the project, Joe Strickland, has explained a bit more about the place.
Can you discuss the concept behind The Void, and what can be expected from this new venue?
Sure! The Void is about offering people choice. So many theatre spaces for fringe theatre makers are black box spaces or spare rooms in other buildings that are attempting to become black box spaces. Spaces that are trying to be neutral and blank to receive any work that can come their way. This seems generous or useful, but if you want to create a fully encompassing aesthetic experience, if that’s what the theatre makers want, it takes a huge amount of time, energy, and resources. It is unsustainable.
The Void is unashamedly a dark cave system, which makes it both an awful and perfect performance space in equal measure. It is a space that can’t be neutral and can’t be ignored: it insists on being a part of whatever is staged there. This allows us to create bespoke work; to think about what stories we could tell in this space; to wrestle with the dark rocky walls, surprising shadows, and uneven surfaces that make up this venue. It keeps us as creators on our toes and catalyses, in my opinion at least, more interesting work. We’ve just spent two years stuck inside rooms- do we want to go back to sitting in the dark in another boring room in our spare time, or do we wanna go in a cave? I’m voting for the cave!
Why does it work to have the performances take place within the cave system, and what challenges have there been with developing this?
I don’t know if I really understand the question. How could it not work? Theatre can happen anywhere. Sure, if people have a play they want to stage and want to do it in The Void regardless of whether its appropriate, then it wouldn’t work, but if someone has a play made specifically for that space, or has a pure piece of theatre which can genuinely be told in any environment, then it’ll feel right at home.
Honestly, there haven’t been many challenges in developing the venue. Everyone we’ve showed the space to (theatre makers, dancers, visual artists, performance artists, etc) have all seen it as the creative challenge that it is and have relished that challenge. Audiences have been excited to engage with the work being staged in the space. That’s all we need really; stories to tell and people who want to be told them in The Void. Other than that everything else is optional. This understanding has been really useful for relinquishing us from any other challenges.
What’s your vision for The Void, and what successes do you hope for it to have going forward?
We hope that this space will encourage artists to think outside the box and create theatre, performance, and experiences in more bespoke spaces in general. We love making work in found spaces, but it can be hard to get access to them in spite of their awesome potential for staging things in. Now that we’ve been lucky enough to be offered this space, we knew we had to find as many ways as possible to let other people use it too.
How important is it for the city to have more performance space?
Nottingham has a number of performance spaces for theatre, but it could definitely have more if you compare that to the number of music or comedy venues in the city. Plus, it can be harder to get your foot into the door with them. We’ve been able to go from first conversation to first performance with museums, gig venues, and pubs & bars in a much shorter period of time than with East Midland theatres. This is almost certainly because theatre venues in Nottingham are so busy, but it can come across as off putting and unencouraging to theatre makers at a time when those artists need support. This can all be remedied by more space to perform in, so when the opportunity arose to help be a part of that solution we had to take it.
How does the venue keep the space affordable and accessible?
The people who use the rest of the building, Cryptology Escape Rooms, are really keen to have the space be used for something creative, as well as also being incredibly accommodating, and offering us a really fair financial deal that allows us to offer the space very affordably to other companies and artists. We are also making sure that every show that is staged in the space can also be staged or recorded online so as to make the many sets of stairs required to walk down to enter the space (it is an underground cave system after all) not an access issue for our audiences when it comes to experiencing the work in The Void. We’ll be able to offer an equivalent on demand digital experience for each of our performances to those less able to do enter the venue for whatever reason; be that mobility, claustrophobia, not being near enough geographically to attend in person, being clinically vulnerable, having caring responsibilities, or even those who just don’t want to go into The Void. This is accessibility in the broadest and most useful sense of the word.
What is your dream piece of theatre or artistry to have at The Void?
When all the lights are off it is completely pitch black in there, like can’t see your hand in front of your face pitch black. I’d love to have a sensory experience that fully utilises the blackout nature of the space to tell a story where the audience’s imagination has to fill in all the visual blanks to explore how that audience might see the world that the storyteller is describing. Then I want to see how the unconscious biases of the audience shape the telling of that story if left to their own devices to fill in the visual blanks and how that can eventually tie them in narrative circles or limit their choices in a branching narrative as a result. I also want to hold more immersive and interactive work without performers, so that audiences can enter the space and explore it to their heart's content, uncovering the stories left behind as they go.
This sounds like such an intriguing venue, with such a (ironically) bright future! Many thanks to Joe for telling us a bit more about what The Void entails, and best of luck with the venture.
You can book tickets to their first events here:
Additional thanks to Alastair Norton for coordinating this interview.