Industrial Theatre

Everybody wants it but nobody knows what it is. I get these emails asking me to quote for ‘the industrial theatre’. Some boss’s secretary will phone me to find out how much ‘an industrial theatre’ will cost. And then somebody will throw me a boomerang question like ‘please quote me for an industrial theatre team building session’.

So, if anyone is (embarrassedly) looking for some industrial theatre, or someone is studying it (it’s quite a popular project topic too) and still doesn’t know what it is; I hope google will point you here. Industrial Theatre; What is it? Who does it? How? Where? When?

There are two different types of Industrial theatre. The one kind is where a piece of live theatre is pre-made, usually with a pretty general message like AIDS awareness in the workplace, or sexual harassment, or corruption. This pre-made, ‘generic’ show then gets sold on to many different companies who want to send that particular message to their employees. The other kind is where a company has a particular message to deliver to a particular group of people and the live performance is specially created for that client. Here, through consultation, a concept is arrived at, a script is written and approved, then actors are cast and rehearsed, and costumes, sets and props are made and bought, the production is performed for the client and then for the employees. Sometimes there will be a once-off performance, sometimes there will be a road show with many performances and sometimes there will be multiple performances in and around a factory or company site. Improvision, my company, is mainly involved with this second type of Industrial theatre; which is created on commission. An audience can be anyone, from factory workers to top management, the message; anything from dealing with racism to productivity.

Industrial theatre can be performed in front of a huge seated audience, with all the technicals, like lights, sound, and AV effects. It can be performed for a small audience in a stair well, in a boardroom, on a boat, on a gas refinery plant. It can be funny, serious, clever, simple, long, short and in any language. Some projects are very long term, where characters are developed and then reappear the following year to an audience who already knows them. Others are short, sharp messages that happen once.

Corporate theatre is Industrial theatre on the high end of the scale where a live show is used to launch a new product, like cars, or as entertainment at really high end functions. These shows often make use of celebrities, have huge budgets and are very spectacular.

The main difference when making Industrial theatre as opposed to traditional theatre is the audience. Industrial theatre is tailor made to the needs of a guaranteed and targeted audience and it is designed to be informative, instructional and message driven.

Industrial theatre can also be exciting and edgy. We have pretended to be real people for crisis simulations, we have been “the winds of change” that interrupted a seminar on change management, we have improvised sensitive scenes on touchy subjects like racism, we have been policemen on a shebeen raid.