Imitating the Dog - pioneering Lancaster-based theatre company goes online

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 August 2020

A scene from Heart of Darkness, one of imitating the dog's past theatre productions which can be viewed online. Photo by Ed Waring

A scene from Heart of Darkness, one of imitating the dog's past theatre productions which can be viewed online. Photo by Ed Waring

Ed Waring

Lockdown didn’t stop a theatre group creating new work which will premiere this month.

Housedown, one of imitating the dog's video mapped projects presented at Lancaster Castle in 2018. Photograph by Robin ZahlerHousedown, one of imitating the dog's video mapped projects presented at Lancaster Castle in 2018. Photograph by Robin Zahler

A Lancaster-based theatre company took the lead in keeping people entertained during lockdown.

Imitating the dog were one of just 25 arts organisations nationally, and the only one in Lancashire, to win a prestigious national BBC Arts and Arts Council England (ACE) commission as part of the Culture In Quarantine initiative.

The commission will receive production and editorial support from digital agency, The Space, and will run across BBC platforms, bringing the arts to UK homes despite venue closures, social distancing and lockdowns.

The company, who are based at The Storey in Lancaster but work nationally and internationally, created Airlock during the lockdown, an ingenious live action graphic novel, due to be broadcast between July and October.

Airlock which will be broadcast as part of the Culture In Quarantine initiative. Image courtesy of imitating the dogAirlock which will be broadcast as part of the Culture In Quarantine initiative. Image courtesy of imitating the dog

Produced as three short episodes from the company’s own homes, Airlock features a story of romance, a noir detective tale and a post-apocalyptic thriller.

‘Airlock creatively interacts with the video and audio conferencing platforms that many of us have been using during the Covid-19 crisis and explores the themes of isolation, despair and hope,’ said Andrew Quick, co-artistic director of imitating the dog, an ACE National Portfolio Organisation.

‘Our work has been seen worldwide and we have made work for outdoor festivals and events enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people but this exciting new commission represented a wholly new creative challenge.’

Producing pioneering work is nothing new for this theatre company, established in 1998, who specialise in telling stories by fusing live performance with digital technology.

As well as adapting classic novels and films for the stage or creating new stories for theatre, they also produce large scale sited video-mapped projects which have featured in Light Up Lancaster and in 2017, their Arrivals & Departures piece appeared in the opening events for Hull’s year as City of Culture.

The company were enjoying a critically acclaimed tour of Night of The Living Dead™ – Remix, when lockdown stopped them in their tracks.

The stage recreation of the classic zombie movie had successfully played at venues nationwide including Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre but its finale, due to take place at Home in Manchester, was curtailed when theatres were forced to close in mid-March.

However, undeterred, imitating the dog soon began providing online access to their work, including some of their projection projects and theatre productions, every fortnight via their website – imitatingthedog.co.uk.

Each can be viewed on a Pay-What-You-Like basis with any income contributing towards a development fund to support freelance artists and practitioners.

Co-artistic director of imitating the dog, Simon Wainwright, said: ‘We’re in a lucky position to have some fantastic recordings of past work and though it’s obviously no substitute for the real thing, in these isolated days, until we can get together in a room again, we hope these videos will provide joy, thinking and entertainment 
in equal measure.’

Work going online this summer includes: 6 Degrees Below the Horizon, a macabre and playful show featuring sailors, pimps, barflies, chorus girls and nightclub singers, and HouseDown, a sited show made in collaboration with hip hop artist Testament which used drawings of home produced by children worldwide and took place at Lancaster Castle in 2018.

As for the post-lockdown future, imitating the dog had already begun creating the Street project Street with Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre when the Coronavirus struck.

After visiting people in factories, clubs, offices and homes, they had collected stories of everyday life which were due to be retold in a walk-through multi-media installation this autumn but this has now been postponed to next spring.

And the company are looking at many other inventive ways to reach audiences over coming months.

‘As a digital company, we are well placed to work in new ways, from streaming work online to producing new work, but our hearts lie in making work for live audiences,’ said executive director, Julie Brown.

‘The magic and power of hearing stories collectively, in an audience full of other people, can’t be underestimated. We are in conversations with several theatres and also outdoor festivals about new projects and we hope it won’t be too long before it’s safe to return to the venues we love.’

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