"This projects has not updates"

Shakespearian language aside, the default message that appears when a project has no updates makes a valid point...time to elucidate the inner workings of our ThinkBig machine. There have been some notable permutations to our project since its conception, this is in part a chronology of them. It's strange how sometimes it takes the innocence of a machine to make you realise what you must do!

The original plan / here's what we have been doing so far

The idea:

Last year we created the first emanation of 'A Fresh Start (for Peter Russo)', our multi-sensory narrative (available to two of your senses in the videos tab). At fringe festivals last summer we took over pokey seaside cellars and cavernous tudor halls and transformed them into spaces representative of our eponymous hero's mind's-eye, creating the world of the piece for the audience through scents and carefully design setting as well as audio/video, and from within they could experience the piece itself.

After hours and hours of set-up we soon realised this might not be the most time-efficient way to share our work. So this year we decided to give ourselves the best chance of sharing our this with a wider audience. The mission statement – to take 'A Fresh Start...' to them.

The best way to do this, we concluded, would be bipartite. Numero uno: create a live stream of each performance, relayed via our website, to theoretically every computer screen in the known universe.

Two major focal points of the piece are; a collective human tendency and a story or experience which can be sympathised with universally, and immersion into the protagonist's memory state or sequence. As the domain of the narrative is memory, which isn't a facsimile of reality but is rather created in the mind, we have license to change aspects of the audience's experience slightly each performance. The performance will be different each time anyway, but with this in mind after a few performances there should be several video streams submitted to our website, highlighting the impression that each video is a novel conjuring of the 'same' memory. The same thing seen through different eyes. We found this quite a satisfying way of emphasising the theme of universality prevalent within the piece.

Number B: mobilise the project, and make it as ubiquitous as possible.

1. Create a self-contained 'performance-pod' that can be easily constructed and dismantled to allow it to be situated anywhere; indoors and out
2. Content would emanate from within the pod
3. The band would be set up inside, with PA system, all other equipment
4. The sides of the pod would act as screens for projectors, to be visible from the outside
5. The scents within the piece would also emanate from inside the 'pod'
6. Take this to the people.

The plan was to work closely with a designer to create this bespoke tent or marquee, with various other practical considerations in mind such as moisture permeation when performing outdoors, structural integrity for supporting projectors etc and access to power for amps, PA etc. Further, the area around the pod would also become part of the narrative with the help of set designers and objects relating to the story. To create the world of the piece, as mentioned previously.

But, why?

There are groups and communities around the country who would not normally have the opportunity to experience immersive art spaces simply due to circumstance, location or whatever reason might make them feel excluded - we think that’s a real shame. Our pop-up performances will be free and hopefully readily accessible, making them inclusive and welcome to everyone. We hope it might make some small difference, as its message of nourishing intrinsic values and shunning extrinsic values is shared, while giving people something distinctly memorable, and hopefully moving, for free.

Phase 1 – designing the 'P.O.D.' ('performers only dome')

Come January, the thought process in our collective band consciousness sounded a little like this:

At a testing stage – testing the shape/structure of the frame with prototype quality wood

Most research carried out so far has been into 'pod' building materials. Design at this stage needs to be the most simple – marquee shaped tent.

Criteria – need something strong enough to mount two projectors from ceiling, and be portable/collapsible.

Likely going to use scaffolding.

Questions – will this require a certain sized transport / van?
What is the minimum length we can get the longest pole?

Poles, decidedly, 2.5m maximum – fits in Paul's Alfa estate, but only just, only at the same time as jutting into the driver's personal space

So we need a prototyping session to help us determine whether a 2.5m cube will be big enough for us and our equipment

Likely going to use scaffolding. Scaffolding materials only come in certain lengths --- aluminium would be lighter but more expensive – seek advice from scaffolding specialists, see what they say about type of pole we need. Research leads us to believe there is collapsable scaffolding that can break into halves. Half of 2.5m is reasonable to transport.

As for waterproofing... Pallets and flooring. Extra roofing cover. Waterproof generator... Circuit breakers required. Likely going to need an indoor venue, a sunny day or to be a tent within a tent. Potential problem as part of project is its ability to be standalone, portable. Using just one sheet of material for the outside of the pod could be added waterproofing, then add extra roofing on top

Which material to use? Waterproofing probably biggest issue at the moment, as it affects whether we can indeed take 'A Fresh Start (for Peter Russo)' anywhere, to anyone. Need to make it as weatherproof as possible so that we can be a standalone fixture. Some places, such as festivals, we want to play will either have a tent or roof to put us under, but we need to think about being as standalone as possible.

With all the 'stuff 'comes a need for transportation robust enough to lug all the materials for the pod around.
Will be speaking to a friend in construction who can advise on where to find a large enough sheet of PVC (for the walls of the P.O.D.), how to source the scaffolding and the edifice's structural integrity / waterproofing in general. Need the tent to be strong enough to hang projectors from ceiling as there is too little floorspace

Prototype made out of wood > then speak to scaffolding company for advice, better materials, will the design work, what bits of it wont work - training and advice

2 prototyping stages needed before we can source the materials and make the pod: 1. testing of the size of pod – that it can fit us and our gear safely. 2. testing sample materials for strength and quality of materials – will they hold the weight of projectors, will they be waterproof, will they be able to project an image onto - will they act as required.

Obviously we cannot have anything except audience on the outside – no equipment – as it could get wet etc

But we can only play in the dark – will the pod be dark enough? Have to do it indoors?...

Because we need to project a moving image onto as many walls of the 'pod' as possible (realistically 2 or 3), while keeping all equipment inside the pod, we have sourced and tested a 'short-throw' projector which can create a large image without needing to be far away from the surface it will project onto. Further testing, with more of the structure built, is required before we can order an additional projector.

We have nevertheless increased the height of the 'pod's design so as to minimise interference by us, our silhouettes, with the image. Over head-height.

As for the material used for the surface or walls of the pod, we had initially planned to use thin, waterproof PVC or EVA, having discovered that translucent shower-curtain material can be projected onto from one side and display a high quality image the other side of the textile.

The only snag is that we have not been able to find sheets of either material large enough for one side of the pod as far. Ideally, we would have a piece with a single net large enough to constitute the roof and all four sides of the pod. A potential problem, however, could arise as the weight of such a large sheet of PVC might make it un-liftable. We either need to broaden our search or alternatively find a more readily available material to use.

Along this vein, we have tested the short-throw projector on the cotton/nylon sheet used as a screen in previous performances. It works nearly just as well, but is not waterproof. We may well need to decide how highly we prize waterproofing... We cannot perform in a gale, there are too many potential hazards. But, it would still be to our behoof to make it waterproof / as we want to be able to be self-sufficient, there is a lot of electrical equipment inside the pod, we want to be able to play outside for reasons discussed earlier. We could still play in village halls and barns etc. We want to be able to take this anywhere and to anyone.

Need a generator - inverter generators favoured due to their clean electricity output and quieter volume. We will not buy one until we have tested the prototype pod with mains electricity – something for prototyping day 1.

How will we test the pod's waterproofability safely?
If we cannot make it waterproof what is the solution? (to play indoors, to only play if its sunny? What are the ramifications of this? Limits when we can play, also how reliably we can say 'we will play here, then', so hard to book in advance)
If it proves too hard to make waterproof we will have to find places indoors to play...

Next steps – test for size of pod, whether we can fit in it, with all the gear.

Testing stage – prototype 1

Testing for size - good size - we all fit, but will there be interference with projector image?

Testing for floor space, so we can then buy the scaffolding - plenty of floor space

Does the gear fit in too? Gonna need smaller PA speakers too – so they don't get in way of image. New PA - our one isn't powerful enough, but is very bulky.

Arrangement of other equipment - fine - enough space

New mixer needed - 8 inputs - more possibility for speakers and monitors

Toss up whether we want built in amp w/ mixer, or separate speakers

Need to test with 2 short-throw projectors from inside the pod.

Worried about waterproofability...

The problem

Stuck on step one. February – May-time...

We had been designing and preparing the project for so long as an outdoor venture – but had all our ideas bounce back at us, as though building our own custom, bespoke marquee thats of a high enough quality to interest festivals etc was unrealistic. (During a very helpful meeting with a festival organiser it became increasingly clear that this might be beyond our reach as craftsmen.) I might add here that, in spite of what information we have gleaned from others, none of us have any experience in any field or construction. Come March we realised that we still hadn’t jumped the first hurdle of the whole project (making our own bespoke marquee), and thought maybe this isn’t cost/time efficient.

So, it transpires, it is not practical to create your own weatherproof, sturdy marquee, we have discovered. It's clear that you need A LOT of specialist equipment and knowhow to make it of a certain quality.

This realisation made for an uncertain, unpredictable spring. Or perhaps that was the weather. Or perhaps the fates fomented such vicissitudes in climate as a symbol of pathetic fallacy used to communicate to us that we were going wrong.

The solution

If we did it indoors, as opposed to anywhere we feel which was the original plan, there would be no need for the P.O.D. to be weatherproof.

If we had projections and music coming from outside the P.O.D. (now 'public only dome') and had the audience inside the marquee/tent, there would be no need to make it as sturdy as we would have if they had to take the weight of the projectors.

If the P.O.D. doesn’t need to be weatherproof, it would not have to be so strong / expensive anymore. It would then be lighter, and easier to set up.

With the daunting task of building our own out the window, we moved to thinking about decorating and doctoring a pre-made marquee.

why isn’t the tent for the audience instead?
It would make it far more immersive
in which case tent doesn't need much design
it will be designed already
needs to be portable and adaptable.
and big enough.
thats it

It's a good solution because we were previously so nervous about creating enough of an atmosphere for our audience. The whole idea is transporting the audience inside the world of the piece, this can be more easily achieved if the audience has to physically enter the P.O.D. The marquee creates the environment for the audience to be in, so we wouldn't have to set up the area around the P.O.D. each time, cutting down set up time.

What we're doing now

Moving forward, and with our previously ship-wrecked hopes and dreams now restored again, we must finish the P.O.D. at long last, while contacting venues again. This time to tell them that we're operational once more. We want to take this not only to music venues and festivals, but to fairs, arts schools/colleges, community halls, galleries, student unions - as many sectors of community as possible.

Updates on P.O.D. Mk II soon. It feels great to have the idea up and running again.


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