24 May Theatre Company Out of London Brings Self Storage Stories to Life
By Alex Hassel, Storage.com
For many people, self storage is a safe place to store belongings of emotional or nostalgic value while going through a difficult life transition. Dante or Die, a theatre company out of London that specializes in site-sensitive productions, is bringing these stories to life with its newest production, Handle With Care.
Site-sensitive performances give an unrivaled type of experience. Rather than building and performing on sets that resemble a certain scene, site-sensitive productions take place at actual locations. That’s why the company is currently performing Handle With Care at a number of self storage facilities in the U.K., giving audiences a sense of what the self storage world is really like.
Terry O’Donovan is Co-Artistic Director for the company and produces and performs in all of its shows as well. He says Dante or Die chooses this method because it brings a higher level of connection to audiences. Past venues have included parks, hotels, department stores, museums, and even a ski lift.
“We were excited about the sensory nature of the performance—audiences being up close to performers, to objects, being able to touch and smell,” O’Donovan says. “For us, it added such visceral elements to the work. Asking the audience to move around with you immediately changes their relationship to the show—they’re in it rather than separate. That’s one of the driving forces behind the work we create.”
He continues, “You can feel the breath of the performers; they can look you in the eye. Or, as with Handle With Care or our last show, I Do, they look through you as if you’re not there. It’s quite a voyeuristic experience. Some audience members respond by saying things like ‘I didn’t feel like I should be watching’ or ‘I really felt like a fly on the wall.’”
The theatre company started thinking about self storage after Daphna Attias, Dante or Die’s other Co-Director, was unloading costumes and props into a storage unit at a facility after a show. She started chatting with a manager about the type of clientele who uses self storage.
“He said that a lot of people use them after they’ve broken up from their partner and need somewhere to put the stuff, and a lot of the time they don’t come back for it,” O’Donovan explains. “That sparked an idea in Daphna’s head. Objects mean something to someone who is willing to pay someone to keep them, and then they lose their value or they are too painful to keep, so they abandon them. It was a perfect metaphor for the value of our ‘stuff.’”
The team got together with playwright Chloë Moss and developed a story about a woman named Zoe. We see the story of her life as told through her visits to a self storage facility.
“We see snapshots of her life at different moments. Her brother, who she’s very close with, going off traveling. You witness the significance of a bracelet that a young boyfriend gives her to baby clothes and toys taking over her life,” says O’Donovan. “We’ve plotted the life of a variety of objects that gain meaning and importance for her, and you see them replicated as the years go by.”
O’Donovan says he won’t spoil the ending, but it all comes back to the importance of ‘stuff.’ “We live in a world where we can get whatever we want by swiping on our phones. What happens to it all? And what’s really important?”
The tour for Handle With Care started at the beginning of May 2016. O’Donovan says feedback has been overwhelmingly positive with people calling it “intimate, emotional, immersive, and thought-provoking.”
“People have also been surprised by the space. These places are quite clinical—cold and identical. We’ve been putting a beating heart inside them to remind people that behind many doors are people’s lives. That seems to be really coming out,” he says.
The show is touring through June and playing in different Ready Steady Store, Lok’nStore, and Urban Locker Self Storage locations. Initially finding venues brought challenges like corporate approval. However, when O’Donovan did get to meet with company heads, he got to talk to them about the perks of hosting the show.
“I explained the concept and the potential benefits: PR exposure in a really different channel, connecting with local people and getting them to visit your store, and a connection and advertising with the local theatre,” O’Donovan says. “One of the brilliant things about being on tour to all of these different places is that they’ve all been amazingly positive and are already talking about more shows in the future. And they’ve had press exposure on BBC Radio and through social media and articles coming out in The Guardian, etc.”
When the tour is finished, Dante or Die will have put on 118 performances of Handle With Care. The company is already planning the tour for its next show in the fall, but in the meantime, it’s enjoying the self storage culture it’s discovered with Handle With Care.
“The staff that we’ve met at each building have totally made the experience for us. They have all been so accommodating, welcoming, and helpful to make the show work in their venue. That’s made it so amazing. In fact, it was similar when we created and performed I Do in hotels. I think it’s something a bit different for them, so it’s quite fun to see a bunch of creatives running around. We’ve loved this aspect of working with new people,” O’Donovan says.
Photos by Ludovic DesCognets.