Punchdrunk reveal their secrets & storytelling techniques…

Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend a day on the set of Punchdrunk’s amazing immersive production The Drowned Man in Paddington as we ran our Art of Immersive Storytelling Workshop along with 26 intrepid folk from a broad range of creative industries – Creative Directors, PR’s, research agencies, film makers, brand directors and media buyers.  The day is an amazing opportunity to see behind the scenes and get some of the secrets that the creative team behind Punchdrunk use to build their immersive story worlds. Below is a snapshot of some of the activities from the workshop.

“Actors live in their bodies, not in their heads.” Katy Balfour, Punchdrunk actor & workshop leader

Participants spent time in the workshop doing physical warm up exercises that helped them get into a relaxed state that Katy calls ‘hazy focus”. The first thing they were asked to do was to put their bodies into ‘neutral’ position. Katy says that our bodies tell a story so you have to be clear on what you are unconsciously saying. Neutral position means standing tall, with your weight evenly balanced on both feet, looking straight ahead with a relaxed expression. It’s a blank canvas on which to develop your character.

Real-world application – think about what your body is saying next time you have to give a presentation or pitch – that flick of your hair, hitching your weight onto one leg or deep sighs give away more than you think. Remember Mehrabian’s famous study that showed the impact of the different elements of communications – words = 7%, tonality = 38%, body language = 55%

“We would never consider doing any creative work as actors without first warming up.” Katy.

Several times throughout the morning we worked as a large group, and in smaller groups, getting physical in the space and warming up. We played rounds of a popular actor’s game called Zip, Zap, Boing (google it!) and played hide and seek on the set, inviting people to take part in tasks using provocations hidden in the set – whisper a secret to the wall, tell a child a story. This was overwhelmingly a highlight of the day for many of the participants combining play, danger, creativity & exploration using the incredible richness of the Punchdrunk set.

Real-world application – warm up! Don’t expect creativity just to appear if you walk into a room and get everyone sitting down, scratching their heads and staring at white walls. Use your imagination in terms of how you do it in an office setting – ask people to tell you an outrageous lie, what’s your theme tune for the day, tell a story one word at a time.

“In every rehearsal room around the country you’ll find a prop box. It might be full of what looks like crap but every object can spark an idea.” Katy.

We invited all the participants to take an object from the set to use as inspiration to develop ideas for a character and a story world. An old hairbrush, fake rose, grubby dressing gown, and pink wig all proved incredible stimulus for the stories. Who owns this? Where has it come from? What 3 words describe it? Use this to start your story.

Real-world application – create your own prop box of random stimuli & use it as a springboard for creative ideas, keep adding to it to maintain a constant stream of inspiration.

Feedback from the day was overwhelmingly positive – the day was described as “Invigorating, thrilling, fun, useful, enjoyable & outrageous“.
“It blew my mind. Give me more!”
“I genuinely feel like the workshop helped me unlock a much deeper level of creativity and audience understanding.”
“Was a huge privilege to experience behind the scenes”
‘It was all stimulating and invigorating and a gift to experience it”
‘Incredibly valuable”

If you’re interested in attending our next Art of Immersive Story Making workshop please email Elin@punchdrunk.co.uk

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