Felix giving his talk to the students

Drama alumnus and Artistic Director of Punchdrunk gives talk to students

Felix Barrett, Drama alumnus, Honorary Fellow of the Drama Department and Artistic Director of immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, gave an inspiring talk and Q&A to students on Friday 6 May. The event was organised by the University of Exeter’s Creative Futures Society, a student-led organisation which provides events and development opportunities for students who would like to pursue a career in the creative and cultural industries, led by English student Lara Balkwill.

Punchdrunk was formed in 2000, and the company specialises in blending classic texts, physical performance, design installation and unexpected sites. Immersive is the word that frequently pops up in discussion about Punchdrunk, and according to their website, they apply the word immersive to their work “in order to distinguish it from the familiar conventions of site specific and traditional promenade theatre. The physical freedom to explore the sensory and imaginative world of a Punchdrunk show without compulsion or explicit direction sets it apart from the standard practice of viewing theatre in unconventional locations.”

Felix Barrett has conceived, designed and directed all of Punchdrunk’s productions since founding the company in 2000. Punchdrunk’s award-winning Sleep No More (a collaboration with American Repertory Theatre) has been playing in New York since 2011. Their most recent work includes Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Unchartered, The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable and The Borough. Felix won the Critic’s Circle Drama Award in 2006 for Best Design, special citations at the 2011 Obie Awards for design and choreography, and was one of the first recipients of a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Breakthrough Fund Award (2008-2011).

3rd Year Drama student, James Bush, attended the talk and said, “[Felix] was so enthusiastic about all of his work, past and future and he was really inspirational. He left us all with a sense that not only were the possibilities of theatre and performance truly endless, but that it could be any one of us sat in that room who could create that new work. We just had to go out and do it.”

Abigail Clarke, another Drama student in her final year, said that has never met someone as passionate about what they do as Felix: “Although now a successful and professional theatre maker, Felix still seemed to be like an excitable student with no limits on what he wanted to create and achieve or how. He showed tremendous joy when describing his theatre, insisting to tell us every detail of every piece he has created along his journey.” She explained that Felix gave invaluable advice concerning how to get a theatre company off the ground.

“Although inspirational and clearly someone very special, he also reminded us that he was not some super human. He admitted that he had made some awful productions as well as spectacular ones and that he too refused to admit he was creating a theatre company at first on the grounds of it sounding pompous and generic. He gave advice on how to resolve ‘getting stuck’ when creating theatre, which is so invaluable to someone wanting to go out there and just create!  Knowing he too had done the same degree and even some of the same modules as me gave me hope that with confidence and passion anyone in that room could become just as successful.”

Jon Primrose, Technical Manager in the Drama Department, said that he has known Felix since he first joined the University of Exeter back in 1997: “It wasn’t until [Felix’s] second year that he discovered site-specific performance, and spent the rest of his University career exploring different possibilities until he hit upon the masked audience free-roaming approach that is at the core of Punchdrunk’s work. The department were able to offer him space to explore after he graduated and the first Punchdrunk performance took place at Poltimore House, just outside Exeter. I have many happy memories of being frustrated as Felix gradually persuaded me to contribute more and more University equipment to this seemingly bizarre event, including rigging up a radio transmitter so he could feed audio to the lone audience member’s headphones on cue. The second Punchdrunk show transformed Roborough Studios into a film noir nightclub. We are thrilled to be heading into discussions about collaborating with Felix into the future, as Punchdrunk continue to evolve.”

To find out more about events that are taking place in the Drama department, please visit the What’s On page.

Date: 18 May 2016

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