Hotel Elsewhere are a young independent theatre company, who began life as theatre students at Chichester University. Now graduated, they decided to keep the company going beyond that. We caught up with two members of the company, Lu Spicer and Eddie Lear (hailing from Leiston), to talk about how these young creatives have dealt with show cancellations and adapted to the times, as well as their current podcast project.
Thank you both for your time. Firstly, can you give us a brief introduction – tell us about yourselves, what you do, and the company…
Lu: We’re called Hotel Elsewhere, and we began as a theatre company but I think we now define ourselves as a multi-media Company.
Eddie: We met at University in Chichester, and we originally formed outside of Uni as something different away from assignments. We had a few pauses and line-up changes, but by third year of Uni we had our production module, in which part of our course required you to write a show so we wrote, performed, and basically did everything on a musical-based show called After the Tone. We then created another Uni project, which is an interactive show called Mix-a-Memory. Which we developed after graduating and we usually take to festivals. We were just getting the ball rolling with that, then the pandemic hit. Whilst the company was originally incorporated into a University project, it has lasted past that, albeit in a slightly different format. Now we continue to put fun stuff online in different formats, and we make nice little quirky shows with big characters!
It’s been very tough year for the Arts; how important is live theatre to you personally, and how have you been keeping connected to the Arts?
Eddie: It’s what we’re all really passionate about, especially because we do theatre in the context that we make it and source everything ourselves. Our shows are our baby. Having live theatre, particularly with interactive shows like our own Mix-a-Memory, is about creating a moment together and sharing it. I think that’s really important to people.
If we were having this conversation last year I’d say that, because of social media, we’re all really disconnected, so it’s nice to do shows that feel like you’re connecting with people in the moment. However, the context of that has changed massively. The biggest thing has been adapting that connection between people and that sense of community, which is really important to us and our work.
When lockdown started and we realised we weren’t going to be able to do shows, we sat down on a video call, and said: ‘Right, we’ve been talking about doing a podcast let’s do that’ – as we could do that separately and make it work online. We started in April and the first episode came out in August, so we spent that time writing and planning for this podcast. I taught myself audio editing and we wrote this whimsical cartoon inspired podcast because we still wanted to be doing something creative – and it’s called Through the Attic Door. We also wanted to connect with people in smaller ways, so we started doing Twitch streaming as a way to talk to people and still have some individual connection.
I read that you had begun getting involved in the festival scene… what is that experience like, and how has it been without them this year?
Eddie: Yes, we did Glastonbury last year under the guidance of a company called Boot Works who perform there every year and they got us in. That was really great experience; we did Mix-a-Memory. It was really heartening, people seemed to connect with the work that we were doing and kids really enjoyed the show. It felt really nice to feel like there was a community.
Lu: That was our first experience of doing theatre in a Festival setting. It was nice to take this show that we had done previously in theatres and theatre spaces, and take it to a very different audience. That kick-started our career outside of University and we were in the process of preparing to take After the Tone to Brighton Fringe in May. We had our approval through, our venue sorted, and then the pandemic started. That was going to be our first Fringe Festival that we performed at, but we’re hoping that we can defer our application to the next time they are able to continue. I think once we’ve done Brighton Fringe we will be able to sort of snowball it and keep doing some Fringe stuff with our live theatre.
You’ve been presenting your work digitally through your podcast – have you had quite a good response, and how have you found adapting to that digital world?
Lu: I’d say it’s harder to know the audience. We left this very tight-knit university community where everything you put on stage, everyone in your University, or at least your course and friends, went to go see it. We had this guaranteed audience that we knew would turn up; and when we were planning Brighton Fringe, we knew that a lot of them were planning to get tickets. As soon as we got online, it’s harder to know if people will turn up to listen and engage; but we’re finding a newer audience beyond the people we know, and we’re just trying to push our social media presence so that we can get out to a wider audience outside of our already existing community.
Eddie: It’s a weird thing online because you can’t see the faces of people, so I think a lot of people don’t feel like they have to say anything. It’s a completely different way of having to advertise and put yourself out there, which is something we wanted to learn how to do anyway, but I just don’t think we were expecting to have to do it so quickly and in such a big way. I’ve noticed this with music as well, as I have friends that have released music, it feels like everyone should have loads of free time, especially in the early lockdown days; and it felt like people should be checking out stuff their friends were doing but I think people have really retreated into like what they know, and it feels like people aren’t really looking for anything new.
On your website I noticed you’re very passionate about including your personal interests into your work, so what inspires you and can you tell us more about it…
Eddie: As a company, we really love cartoons. I produce music too, so that’s in the podcast, we also like building little worlds too. When I was a kid, you know how you play make-believe games? I always used to do that, and wanted to go into fantasy worlds, because the real world can be underwhelming sometimes. I think with the podcast we’ve just made our own world. It’s been a really nice and a cathartic experience, for me at least. The only other thing along the same vein is that we really wanted to have LGBT+ representation in the podcast. That was something on our minds when we were making that. That said, I wouldn’t say that the podcast is aimed at kids but it’s kid-friendly too.
What do you personally think the future of the industry holds, and do you think that more people will adapt to that digital world?
Eddie: I like to think I’m good at predicting the future, but it’s hard to know. In my experience, there have been two camps of people in the theatre scene that I’ve noticed. The have been people who have used lockdown as an opportunity to learn new skills that are adjacent to the industries, like how we’ve learned how to do podcasts. While I think other people have been really quite upset and disillusioned by it, and felt like there isn’t a way to keep going. I guess for us, we never actually got our foot out of the door in the way that we wanted to, so it was just a case of we have to do this because we have to try.
Lu: It wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of the future popularity in the industry is more multimedia. There will also be a lot of people who try and keep it as solely live because that’s what they like. I think we’re very lucky because we had already discussed that we wanted to become multimedia, but it was much more of a long-term aim for us. Originally, we wanted to just focus on live theatre, and slowly bring in multimedia aspects and branch out online in different formats. We were lucky we’d already set that up in our minds because we were able to make that quick transition, but I feel like some people who their focus is just live theatre have been stranded a bit.
Yeah, I agree. Leading on from that, how do you think people can keep supporting the Arts and people like yourselves?
Eddie: Firstly engagement. I know everyone says this, but it’s so true, it doesn’t cost anything to share your friends’ work, to follow them on social media platforms, and take an active engagement. I think people will give you a ‘like’ on Facebook or share one post, but that’s as far as it goes. People don’t always fully engage, but we have got this really small and lovely community we’ve found online that we love talking to. It feels like we’re all part of this little clump of people who really enjoy this world that we’re making, which is really flattering and lovely for us but it’s also really fun!
The other thing is that you can give us some money! Lots of artists, including ourselves, have a Patreon so there are ways to support people financially if you happen to have the money, but I know we’re in this Pandemic so a lot of people don’t.
Lastly, just sort of tell us why you love what you do? Why people should get involved with you your company and what you’d like to say to potential audiences really.
Lu: One of the reasons I’d say is similar to what Eddie said earlier, we’ve made our own world. We’ve created just this magical place that’s really inclusive and safe for a lot of people. It’s nice to be able to share things that we really care about with other people. We built it up with a lot of heart, so it’s really nice when people interact with that and share it because it feels a bit less like we make art to put in front of people and that we make something that people can be involved in and they are a part of the world rather than just watching it. We’re there to talk to people about it, rather than it is this untouchable thing. We involve everyone in what we do!
Eddie: It’s a fun community, and we are here to have fun! We usually say welcome to the hotel, we hope you enjoy your stay – and I think that’s so true. We just want to feel like all the work that we do but people can come and enjoy this world we’ve built for a while and stay for as long as they want. I think we’ve built something that’s quite naive on purpose. There’s escapism, and then if that’s all they want then that’s fine, but they want to stay and see what else we may do, or see the other shows that we do. We’re always going to have a place for them in our little community. I think that’s what’s most important to us.