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Guest Blog: Hotel Medea, staging an overnight success

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Despite what the title of this piece might suggest, overnight trilogy Hotel Medea is the result of seven years of full-time development. Almost four years passed from the first blink of an idea in November 2005 to its public outing in February 2009. And another three and a half were spent maturing and developing several aspects of the version that will be performed at the Hayward Gallery this summer, from its dramaturgy of participation to the use of communication technology.

For some people the production will be known as the award-winning sell-out hit of Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011 simply because of its overwhelming acclaim by the critics last year. However, what might seem an overnight success has been a subject of interest for many years to those attending its public sharings and performances since 2007 at the old Shunt Vaults in London Bridge.

Hotel Medea came of our desire to work against the arts industry's process of turning a theatre experience into an accessible and convenient commodity. Instead, through Hotel Medea we propose a different contract with audience members. Buying a ticket isn't enough to entitle you to an evening of entertainment. In order for art to be personal and truly transformative, one must give up more than money. Audiences take a risk with us. They choose to give up their entire night and trust us to stay awake together for something we all want to experience. During that night together, Hotel Medea audiences are both stakeholders and collaborators in this re-enactment of the myth of Medea.

For this reason we also take more responsibility than is usually expected of a theatre company. We are committed to each and every audience member from the moment they arrive until breakfast is served at daybreak. Co-director and lead actor Persis-Jade Maravala has trained the ensemble of actors over the years not simply to perform characters, but to host people throughout the night. In Hotel Medea each moment is carefully designed for audiences to have the opportunity to participate in a variety of ways, and audiences are never left to wander - they will have a complete experience. This means no restricted view. Every audience member is a VIP.

Obviously this decision has made life very difficult for us. In order to ensure the quality of this experience for every audience member we have had to keep audience numbers low, and there is never enough funding or box office to cover the full infrastructure. Trilogy ticket prices have to be 80% subsidised to remain affordable, and so we've had to create our own models of international collaboration with long-term partners in Brazil and the UK to sustain the growth of such a mammoth project. These models are not fixed and they don't always work, so we keep experimenting with creative ways of making the project survive.

Previous Hotel Medea seasons in Rio, London and Edinburgh sold out months before opening night, but when the idea was conceived we were told there would be no audience for an all-night show. The company lost the interest of most of its then-supporters in 2006 because it decided to create something “impossible” and completely out of line with its previous productions. Funders, venues and producers questioned whether anyone would come.

And so we had to start again, and alone, and capture other partners along the way. CPC Gargarullo in Rio de Janeiro was a venue that decided to take an enormous risk by hosting us for several months as Hotel Medea was being developed. Their role was, and still is, instrumental to the development of the show. Another key partner in the early stages was the former director of Salisbury International Arts Festival, Jo Metcalf, who supported a preview version of the overnight trilogy in 2008.

Hotel Medea is in for the long run, and despite difficulties we have stubbornly continued our developmental journey through research, experimentation, partnerships, and we are now in our third London season. It started as an act of defiance, and its very existence today can be considered a success. A seven-year-long success.

-- Jorge Lopes Ramos, co-director


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