A Fortnight at Aldeburgh (Part 7): What Next For Come Bargain With Uncanny Things?
Updated: Feb 27
This is the seventh in a seven-part sequence of blogs going into the work on Come Bargain With Uncanny Things done during my Creative Retreat at Aldeburgh (supported by the Britten Pears Foundation). You can read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth parts at the appropriate links.
The answer to the title is actually really short.
The show’s ready to go (though it could use a bit of time consulting with experts on how to improve it).
The next stage is, of course, staging it. I’m hoping to present it in late October, around the ‘spooky season’ of Halloween.
Hopefully, this will then lead to it being picked up by producers who’ll be willing to fund a longer run, with good press coverage, word of mouth, and so on all leading to it having strong sales and future runs. Not to mention, of course, more opportunities for me to get commissions, awards, and a bit of a career.
To do that, I’m going to need some money. About £13,000 pieces of it. Once things get rolling, this show really will pay for itself even with 50% sales, but the start-up costs are high if we’re going to treat everyone properly. I’ll go into those costs below, but for now, let’s give a quick round-up of why you should fund it.
An interactive, immersive opera where the audience come and bargain with uncanny things. It feels like you’re doing magic; it’s about how we relate to one another and the world around us. Combining games, opera, and ritual, it’s a truly live experience that’s different every night.
Pitch To Audiences
They exist in the forgotten spaces. They are beautiful. They are terrible. They never lie. They hoard the truth. We can bind them. They are the Uncanny Things.
This is a world much like ours, with one exception.
Those creatures in old stories and legends; the fey in the shadow of ancient trees, the hellkin lingering in bloody cellars, the bastions chanting at the edge of hearing.
They are real. That flicker of movement in the corner of your eye, the faint laugh heard in an empty house - those were Uncanny Things. So too the unexpected gift, or inexplicable sickness. Not always, but often.
Doors to their labyrinths - strange pocket-worlds formed around the Things - bloom and vanish in stone henges, fog-filled streets, and oil-slicked puddles. Sometimes, they extrude into this world, causing phenomena known as the Wyrd.
However, if a community comes together and performs a ritual of bargaining, the Things’ power can be bound, controlled, used, or abused. Though taboo, such rituals are common enough.
You have been requested and invited to attend such a ritual in these difficult times.
As the wyrd rises, what will you do?
What Actually Happens?
The audience are members of the local community, facing a range of problems. To deal with these challenges, they (helped by professional Bargainers, played by our singers) have summoned a mystical Uncanny Thing. Fellow community members send their requests for help - and you decide who to help, and how.
You will find yourself mastering ancient rituals, composing powerful invocations, making offerings, and above all trying to negotiate with the powerful and strange Uncanny Thing.
Is It Any Good?
I think so! I think this interactive opera combines the best of both forms, especially when performed by superb performers. Detailed worldbuilding ties musical motifs to major ideals, issues, and other aspects of the community, while pacing is controlled through a set of ritualistic games. For example, the music might become more consonant or dissonant as a the community grows closer or falls apart, among many other motifs. Many styles can influence it, and the results are as beautiful as rituals often are.
The musical tools were premiered with great success as We Sing/I Sang at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2020, followed by a run at Knaïve Theatre’s Digital Lyceum. Reviews described it as “a truly affecting performance” (OperaWire), “a great show for our mid-apocalyptic times” (London City Nights) and “experimental, challenging, innovative work” (LondonTheatre1). We were invited to return to the 2021 Tête à Tête Festival with Come Bargain With Uncanny Things’ work in progress performance based on those tools, receiving a four star review in The Stage for our “original, atmospheric, immersive role-play opera with real promise” and an invitation to a Snape Maltings Creative Retreat to develop it further in January 2022.
During the Retreat, it developed into its current form - a beautiful, moving ritual where the audience can be given a space to hear beautiful music and share calm reflections and discussions as the story of their community unfurls itself.
This piece is designed to give people a chance to explore their relationship with the Other, and more especially with the environment and the community. Their choices truly matter, and they will see the consequences of helping or failing their fellow people, and of trying to steer their community to yield or compel the Uncanny Things.
It’s participatory, with the audience as equal collaborators with the artists. The tools being used to make the show are going to be cheaply available, meaning they can take what they’ve done and use it at home as casual music-makers, or even make their own show.
It also shifts authority from the author-god (me) to the performers. They are able to make their own choices, and have much more agency in their collaboration with the text.
What Are You Paying For?
The moment this show reaches 50% capacity, it breaks even and starts making a profit. We think it’s exciting enough that it could easily sell to near full capacity on a longer run, and will thus turn a profit after a sixteen-show run. To do that, we need money to get the ball rolling and pay for performers, producers, promotion, and a venue.
The main expense is paying people - the show needs 4 performers, a stage manager, and a behind-the-scenes ‘operator’ to keep the world responding to audience choices. It also needs a producer. I want to pay all of these people a union rate which reflects time in the rehearsal room and time spent preparing. When doing a show this different to what’s gone before (very few people work in both opera and immersive theatre, so everyone will need to learn some new skills), paying for that time seems even more vital than usual.
I also need a dedicated producer so that the show’s performers can actually focus on their creative work - while I normally self-produce my work, this one’s too important to spread myself thinly on. For the proper supernatural effect, I also want to pay a designer to make it as wyrd as it needs to be and help people explore the world.
The next biggest cost is the venue. I’ve found a venue I adore, but it does cost money. They’re being very decent about rates, but it does require a bit of cash to pay for.
Finally, there’s simply the basic overheads of doing a show - marketing costs, rehearsal rooms, and so on.
In all, it comes to £12,670 for four shows. Operatically trained singers need rest days, so a week’s hire includes four shows.
On the plus side, that means that there’s some space in the schedule to support other acts. If we get the money to hire the venue, I want to use the off-nights to give other people space for WIPs, game demonstrations, and so on, selling a few tickets just to break even.
And as I said, as long as we can do better than 50% capacity and secure a longer run than four shows, we’ll turn a decent profit.
But the real thing I want to raise money for is…
Specifically, I want to get money for four things:
To hire consultants to help improve the game’s mechanics and worldbuilding, allowing me to learn how to do better and the audience to have a better time.
To secure a longer London run (weirdly, doing eight shows rather than four only adds a small amount to our upfront costs, but significantly boosts the potential profit margin, thus reducing the amount we’d need to raise from grants as long as we could maintain sales).
To improve the production values.
To tour the show to my beloved York. There’s an appetite for the supernatural and the operatic in York, and a thriving theatrical scene. If I can get the money to pay for people’s accommodation and travel, then I’d love to take the show there to share with some wonderful people. If that's a success, then it's a pretty light show - it could go on to many other places.
I’m rather satisfied with the craft of this piece. I think it’s something really special, and I hope you do too.
If you do see potential funding for a show like this, please yell.
Frankly, though, the most helpful thing you could do is drop me a message sometime, or put up a post on social media, just to let people know how much you’d like to come to a show like this. Funders really do notice. And it really does help me keep persevering.
Thanks to everyone who’s brought the show this far, whether directly or the indirect support of friendship, collaboration, and moral support. I look forward to sharing it with you as soon as possible.
This is part of a series reflecting on my time at Aldeburgh on a Creative Retreat. There are seven parts in total.