‘Theatre Within a Theatre’


‘Theatre Within a Theatre’ is the multisensory artwork which I created for the Bristol Old Vic’s 250th anniversary year.

It was displayed at the RWA, Bristol as part of their Centre Stage exhibition. The artwork consisted of a to-scale model of the theatre, complete with stage, proscenium arch and seating. The picture here shows one of nine peepholes, designed to give glimpses of the stage and auditorium from various vantage points. On looking through them, viewers were rewarded with projections of recent shows, along with footage of actors warming up and of stage hands taking sets down at the end of a show’s run. On the outer walls of the gallery were archival projections of the theatre, footage of life backstage and recordings of shows as seen from different sightlines within the theatre.


The piece played on a fifteen minute audio loop, to reveal more about the history of the theatre and what makes it such a special place to play in. This was top and tailed by quotes from Peter O’Toole in which he says that ‘this is loveliest theatre in the world’ and ‘if you can’t do it here, then you can’t do it’. I worked with a model maker and a filmmaker to create this piece. To add to the mood, we used theatre lights, which came up during backstage mode and went down during show state. I also used the aroma of greasepaint to evoke the atmosphere of life backstage. The artwork was on show for six weeks, with visitors responding well to the sense of magic that I had been aiming to create.

Here’s the link to the interview I gave about the project and the collaborative processes behind it’s creation: https://rwabristol.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/interview-judith-aston/


i-Docs 2016

i-Docs 2016 is taking place from 2-4th March at the Watershed Media Centre here in Bristol. This is our fourth symposium and is bigger than ever! Not only that but it has sold out two weeks ahead of time.

It’s been really great that, as Co-Director, I haven’t had to do so much of the day to day organising this time round. We now have Mandy Rose fully on board, more support staff, a post-doc researcher and visiting PhD scholars, plus an ever-growing international network. Casting my mind back to the Documentary Now! symposium in January 2010, where Sandra Gaudenzi and myself first muted the possibility of convening an event around interactive documentary, it is incredible to think how far things have come.

i-Docs 2016

For me, the term interactive documentary or ‘i-Docs’ always was a means through which to establish a community of interest around which a conversation could take place. As more and more people start using it, my hope is that it won’t make things become too fixed. It is the fluidity of evolving practices and the blurring of boundaries across genres that keeps things fresh and keeps documentary-making relevant, as a means through which to comment and reflect upon our times.

I will write more about my thoughts on the relationship between ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’ in a subsequent post – as this keeps coming up, both in my curatorial work and in my own practice.


‘Wraparound’ film-making – a new term from I Am Orion.

My report on  ‘I Am Orion‘ is now available to download via the ORION website. It describes the research behind ‘I Am Orion’ and how we have created a new term to describe the outcomes of this research. It describes ‘wraparound filmmaking’ as being filmmaking with extended content, which involves the application of audience research to create new possibilities for participation in the making and viewing of the film. Whilst it sits alongside other concepts such as transmedia storytelling and multiplatform production, ‘wraparound film-making’ describes a rapidly developing area of practice, which until now hasn’t been given a name.


There are numerous examples of live or event-based cinema plus a whole range of interactive extensions to films, which incorporate the web, installation work or live theatrical events. Wraparound filmmaking embraces all of these concepts and offers a range of different ways in to the core themes of a film. At the heart of this is a desire to enhance engagement and participation by encouraging the audience to become more invested in the story. The intention is that the report will provide useful insights for the creative industries and have wider purchase beyond the specific work on ‘I Am Orion’.

The film recently had its world premiere at Tribeca in New York and has just won the Grand Jury Prize at Nashville Film Festival, so these are exciting times.

My take on interactive documentary

I was recently asked to give my take on interactive documentary for the forthcoming SAGE Media & Communication Video Collection, due to be published in March 2015. This request follows on from my having been lead contributor on interactive documentary for the SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Media & Politics, published in 2014 and edited by Kerric Harvey. The video was filmed and edited by one of my ex-students Robert Jewitt, and in the spirit of knowledge sharing and exchange SAGE have kindly agree to me providing a link to the full ten minute version of this video prior to it’s formal publication:

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watch video

The SAGE video collections are a new venture in which video is being used to summarise key or major concepts in particular disciplines, much like in an encyclopedia but with more detail/context. Available alongside the book and reference collections on SAGE Knowledge, the video content will support a range of levels from reference content for research, to pedagogical content for undergraduate teaching, to higher level academic interest material. I was asked to comment on the definition, history and research context of interactive documentary for this collection.

Working with the Bristol Old Vic

We have just completed two Russian Winter development days with the Bristol Old Vic theatre. They were brilliant and have really helped to move the show forwards to its next level. For our first day we worked with their Literary Associate, James Peries. We analysed our live show footage and talked about our wider ambitions for the narrative. On the second day, we added six actors from the final year of the Old Vic drama school into the mix to try out some of our ideas.


It was theatrical input that we lacked when we staged the show last January but now we are now poised to create a genuinely integrated multimedia show. My dream coming to life – how great is that! We can officially say that we are collaborating with the Bristol Old Vic, with a view to putting our next version of the show on with them next autumn/winter. We just need to find some funds to help us on our way…I will write more about our development process soon.

i-Docs at BBC Academy

I went to this workshop yesterday as the guest of Hazel Marshall, storytelling consultant for the BBC Academy.  We’re putting together a training day for grant recipients from The Space on digital storytelling and what can be learnt from i-Docs. The first session is likely to include those who worked on the Digital Revolution exhibition and on 1418 Now.

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Hazel has delivered a lot of courses on what can be translated from television into interactive digital platforms. I shall be bringing to the party my knowledge of interactive narrative, interface design and user experience. I’m really looking forward to working with her and developing some in-depth case studies drawn from the ever-expanding i-Docs canon.

Looking back

Looking back on the experience, I am delighted with what we achieved in such a short time. It was a privilege to work with such wonderful musicians, Jonathan James was a delight, as was everyone at the Old Vic, and my partners on the film and vj-ing front did really well. By the end of it we had quite a team from UWE and beyond: Michael Sides, James Gates, Sean Gulliford, Rob Jewitt, Joe Haines, Jack Offard, Rob Gordon and Gustavo Barbaroso. Thanks to all. I hope we can work together again and experiment some more. In terms of how to judge it’s success, my view is that it was never going to be to everyone’s taste, given the already intimate nature of the space and intensity of the music itself. My judgement is also that for those already sitting up close and personal to the musicians, the visuals were on balance a distraction. I feel that this issue of seating and placement of screens would need further thought in any future experiments.

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The review from classical-fm.com

However, for those like me standing or sitting even a short distance away, I feel that the visuals did help to increase the intensity of the performance for those who were willing to go with them even if they were not essential to its integrity. I also wondered at one point whether we needed the roving cameras at all and was aware that the physical size and presence of the cameras was quite imposing. I did, however, appreciate the layering of imagery that we achieved and wonder how it would have felt with less intrusive technology. I would also have loved to work with a professional lighting designer to further experiment with immersive effects. Overall, I am confident that what we achieved, as a unified approach across Jonathan James’ talk and the performance itself, did move people and offer new ways into Beethoven’s music. I also hope that it has helped to bring new audiences to the Sacconi Quartet’s wider repertoire. Thank you to Universal Music and the Bristol Old Vic for enabling it to happen.

The performance

It was very hot in the Studio and the Quartet did well to play so beautifully. Not only that but their professionalism was manifest in the way that they seemed so un-phased by the cameras, even though it was a totally new experience for them. We had specifically placed the projections behind each musician so that no-one  would be distracted by a large scale images of him or herself but they must have been highly aware of the two roving cameraman. Whilst their playing in our rehearsals had been wonderful, the extra mile that they went for the performance itself was extraordinary and I was deeply impressed.

Proms performance

As documented by Classic FM

During the performance, I stood downstairs at the back, whilst in the rehearsals I had moved around to experience the playing from different perspectives.  Everything worked in terms of the tech and I was really pleased with the lighting. Whilst there were moments when the cameramen were a bit noisy, particularly when they came on, I was delighted with the shots that they achieved and with the live mixing from our VJs to layer these close-ups over the static mid-shots. I also felt very strongly that we had made the right decision to simplify the visual intervention in the third movement.

Jonathan James’ talk

As part of the Proms, Jonathan James delivered a series of ‘inside the music’ talks. One of them was before our performance, the aim being to shed light on the visionary nature of Beethoven’s String Quartets. This was a great opportunity to talk about the narrative within the music and to help new audience members to find a point of connection with the music. My nine year old son was at the talk and was totally entranced by the enthusiasm and clarity of his delivery. 

Jonathan James

As documented by Prombassador Guy Withers.

As part of the talk, chromaticism was discussed and why it is placed in music. Jonathan linked this to the narrative of longing and suffering that he perceived within the music and described how we had been experimenting with the lighting states to help reflect this. It was also great that members of the Quartet were at the talk, as he was able to engage them in the conversation with his audience. They described how playing Beethoven’s Opus 132 was ‘a new journey every time. The same mountain to climb but with new weather.’ 


Final run-through

Our aim was to create an immersive ‘in the round’ atmosphere to place the audience ‘inside’ the music and accompanying projections. We hung drapes over the balcony in the four corners and set up a static camera feed on each musician. We then had two roving cameramen filming closeups for our vision mixers to layer on top of the static shots. We made the additional decision not to have the roving cameramen in the third movement, to simplify the visual treatment and encourage the audience to focus in on the music.

setting up

The static camera feeds were set-up to provide full profile shots, as I felt that they gave the best view of the musicians playing their instruments. However, the framing didn’t work in the space and we ended-up going in closer. Although this felt a little too intrusive for me, it was necessary to achieve our Caravaggio style aesthetic of the musicians framed against an unbroken dark background. The only irritating exception that broke that ‘magic’ was the intermittent appearance of a green exit sign behind the viola player’s head!