‘A very clever piece of work’: Royal Exchange Theatre to open interactive project in ‘world’s biggest room’

The Great Hall of the Royal Exchange Theatre is set to be brought alive by a new set of artistic commissions designed to respond to the historic space.

The Biggest Room in the World, part of the Royal Exchange’s wider You, The Audience project, launches with the interactive audio-visual installation WEAVE:ECHO on Friday, and will be resident in the Great Hall until 6 August.

A collaboration between the musician Jason Singh and the software architect Cassiel, WEAVE:ECHO is the first in a series of artworks planned for The Biggest Room in the World which visitors will be encouraged to interact with to animate the historic architecture of the Great Hall.

WEAVE:ECHO aims to celebrate the acoustics of the Great Hall with a series of vocal loops played at various times of the day that reacts to the online voices of people in Manchester or further afield.  

Through an interface designed by Cassiel, anyone sending pre-assigned hashtags to the Royal Exchange’s Twitter feed will be able to transform the pitch and arrangement of sounds in real-time to create a unique experience.

“Think of it as throwing a pebble into a pond,” Singh told MM.

“Each tweet will create ripples through the texture of the soundscape, as the software architecture responds to individual characters in each tweet.”

Singh and Cassiel will be officially launching WEAVE:ECHO by performing a live set at the theatre’s free Friday night entertainment event SFX at 5.30pm today.

“Because of the natural reverb of the space, the architecture of the room and the way the theatre structure is placed in the Hall, the sound will move through and around the theatre structure meaning that the spatial experience will be different at any point in the hall,” Amanda Dalton, the Royal Exchange’s Director of Engagement, said.

“I’m thrilled that we’re working with Jason to launch the project.

WEAVE:ECHO is a very clever piece of work which will delight and surprise anyone who comes across it.”

In addition to WEAVE:ECHO, there is plenty more that visitors to the Royal Exchange can expect to see in the Great Hall during the Biggest Room in the World programme.

“There’s SFX, there’s weekend activities for families and children, public tours and, of course, as our backstage area is the Great Hall, visitors can often drop in for a coffee and find themselves watching and hearing rehearsals taking place,” Dalton said.

“Our plans are to continue the Biggest Room In The World programme with further artist commissions in the future.

“We don’t yet know exactly what this will mean – but we’re planning further artist responses to the Hall that animate the space and create a free, creatively interesting experience for visitors.”

The Royal Exchange’s wider You, The Audience project is an audience consultation programme running until autumn this year.

The Royal Exchange then plans to continue the programme in a different form, ensuring that the theatre’s audiences remain at the heart of the theatre’s activities.

You, The Audience has been based around the question of ‘what is theatre for and what do you want a theatre to be?’ – and Dalton praised the varied public response so far.

“There’s been fantastic audience responses to these questions and over 1,000 audience members have so far taken part in the You, The Audience consultation,” she said.

“We’re just at the stage of asking audiences to vote for their top 10 statements from a long-list of audience ideas.

“From these statements we will create our Audience Manifesto which will be published at the start of our 40th anniversary year this coming September.”

The Audience Manifesto long-list is being displayed and voted on as part of Show & Tell, a four day exhibition running in the theatre’s Studio this weekend alongside WEAVE:ECHO.

The exhibition includes an intimate sound installation by artists Eloise Whitmore and Tony Churnside, built from the theatre stories of audience members, and work from visual artists Oliver East and Johnny Woodhams.

Dalton was keen to emphasise that the Audience Manifesto will not only help to improve and guide the Royal Exchange’s future activities, but those of other theatres too, and encouraged everyone to come to Show and Tell to see what has been proposed so far.

“We will be announcing alongside (the Audience Manifesto) our pledges and plans in response to what our audiences are saying they want theatre to be, and we’ll be sharing this widely across the theatre industry,” Dalton said.

“This isn’t just about the Royal Exchange.

“We hope and believe that this giant conversation is helping us to learn things that are relevant across the theatre industry.”

Image courtesy of Google Maps, with thanks

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