Bristol based Roustabout have created The Great Big Christmas Story Mix Up, a live online Christmas show for families that is as close as possible to the live experience of being part of an audience in a theatre.
‘Our country has a long and glorious tradition of family Christmas shows, that are joyously raucous, appeal across the ages, and actively invite participation,’ says performer and director, Toby Hulse. ‘Roustabout’s challenge was to move all of this into an online auditorium, without losing any of what makes theatre so magical.’
The company’s solution is The Great Big Christmas Story Mix Up, an improvised storytelling show for families, presented live via Zoom, in which children make all of the key decisions for the performers.
‘They choose characters, storylines, costumes, and props. One child is appointed musical director and tells us when to sing. We stop the action frequently and ask the audience what should happen next. And, most excitingly,’ grins performer and musician Robin Hemmings, ‘we use pictures drawn by the audience as our scenery. The children watching our show participate in every aspect of its creation.’
One show might feel like Snow Golem and the Seven Dwarfs, another might be Luke Skywalker and the Beanstalk. Minecraft, Star Wars, Frozen, Paw Patrol, anything goes as characters, props and set are chosen by the audience then expertly crafted into an hilarious Christmas show by the experienced and brilliant actors and crew. The best bit is, as its online, you can watch it with your friends down the road or your cousin in Australia.
The actors can see, hear and respond to the audience, and in moments of full on participation, the audience can also see, hear and respond to each other. The experience is a wonderful hybrid of traditional theatre and the thing that secretly we all want – to shout at the TV and have it actually hear you.
It is perhaps not surprising that Roustabout and The Great Big Christmas Story Mix Up originate from Bristol, a wildly creative city that boasts simultaneously cutting edge work in the creative uses of technology and a long-standing history of street theatre, circus, and nonsense, and that has always looked outwards to the rest of the world.
‘In a previous version of the show, we had audience members from all parts of the UK, and from as far afield as New York,’ says performer and producer, Shae Rooke. ‘In one audience we had children nearly 3,500 miles apart, all enjoying the same show. Like all good theatre, we brought strangers together in a shared experience.”
Totally live, interactive, and unique, The Great Big Christmas Story Mix Up brings communities together to inspire creative, imaginative play and celebrate the theatre tradition whilst using the best of new technology. The show is an entirely new form of family Christmas entertainment as befits this increasingly digital age. And, arguably, what is more suited to the festive season than something that brings people together through laughter, and celebrates the traditional whilst embracing the new?
The show is hosted by and streamed live from the wonderfully maverick Wardrobe Theatre, a venue intimately connected with Bristol’s improvisation and family theatre scene, and that has a nine year history of presenting some of the most imaginative and wildest Christmas shows around.
“We’re delighted to have The Great Big Christmas Story Mix Up live-streaming from The Wardrobe Theatre this Christmas. It’s so exciting to be hosting a show that is so interactive and that encourages everyone at home to join in so much to be part of the action! Plus every show will be completely different so we can’t wait to see where each adventure will take us.” says Matthew Whittle, Co-Director at The Wardrobe Theatre.
Join Roustabout Theatre for an hour of seasonal laughter and nonsense this Christmas, and be sure to send in your pictures before the performance. Without your imaginations, the show can’t go on!