In Conversation: Stephanie Singer

Fri 23 October 2020
Image credit Sara Marinangeli

We chat to Stephanie Singer, founder of BitterSuite and director of the creative team behind HELD - a new multi-sensory experience of new music specifically designed to take you on a journey within your own home, physically and imaginatively.  

When faced with the stark realities of delivering live theatre during the Covid-19 pandemic, the BitterSuite team reimagined ways to bring immersive performance to audiences - at home. They came up with HELD, taking audiences on a journey of the imagination.

Interesting, right? Find out more...

Can you tell us a little about BitterSuite’s work and The Lab?

We make immersive sensory experiences for music. Our concerts are designed to deepen the way audiences listen to music. Our large scale concerts involve up to 40 audience members and 40 sensory guides. Every audience member is blindfolded and paired with a sensory guide who carefully leads them through a highly choreographed sensory experience. We work with all the senses, but touch is the foundation of our work. 

Our world is intimate and we create sensory pieces that respond and pay attention to each individual audience member – just as they are. During Covid times, we created HELD - a multi-sensory experience in a box, delivered to your door. Combining audio experience, smell, taste and illustrations the box guides audiences to transform their homes into an experience ready space.

BitterSuite live performance - archive

Since 2014, BitterSuite have conceived and delivered experiences that have been programmed and toured internationally featuring at The Royal Opera House, The Roundhouse, Royal Academy of Arts, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Arnolfini, Wilderness Festival, Vault Festival, Arcola Theatre, Nesta’s FutureFest, TedX Hackney, Rich Mix and more. We lead award winning participation programmes with Museum of London, Sense UK and The Science Gallery. 

Our team comprises of professionals in the senses including experts in perfume, food, touch, lighting, music, neurodiverse ways of sensing, gastroenterology, cross modality, sensory processing disorders, proprioception and more.

Our work naturally lends itself to participation, consultation and more and we put our collaborations and left-field ideas through the LAB. This is our space to work on mass participation as well as deliver deep engagement programmes that are centred around the sensory experience of the world.

Illustration by Maria Medem

What can audiences expect from HELD and their Journey Box?

HELD is a journey sensory concert for your home. You can expect to receive a journey box to your home containing blindfolds, hot chocolates, sensory items and illustrations for the whole family. This box gives you access to a piece of music with a voice that guides you to imagine, and listen. 

The whole experience is a transporting imaginative experience for you wherever you are. It is quite simple, it ignites your imagination, takes you away from the normal routine of life and suspends you within a new reality for a 40 minutes.

How have audiences so far responded to the project?

Reaction has been really positive, we are excited to discover that it generally makes people feel more relaxed than when they started. And that there is something extremely creative about putting a blindfold on in your home and letting music take you somewhere new.

How has the HELD project progressed from the beginning of the performance commission, to the multi-sensory concert in a box? Has the impact of Covid-19 affected the project and performance in any way?

When this commission came in May 2018, we were making a bioreactive suit that responded to the atmosphere. We wanted to communicate this idea that we are the planet. The planet is us. But it increasingly became more about more about staying connected. About dealing with the inherent disconnected nature of all of us from each other, from ourselves.  

Then Covid-19 happened... And we responded. We didn't want to create a live experience - and we didn't want to wait. We wanted to reach audiences with a new and inspiring experience that was all about connecting. Connecting with self, the world in and around us. That is where HELD came from.

BitterSuite worked with youth testers to develop the project – why was this phase important and how did the young participants help to shape the final product?

We met bi-weekly, and the youth testers (aged 6-12 years) gave us vital insight into the ideas, creative suggestions and sensory favourites. They guided me to understand appropriate and inspiring language choices, offered a creative and left-field approach to making music, received two prototype boxes in the post and gave us very, very honest feedback on the flavours, designs and music. 

They were essential collaborators.

Lots of people contributed to the performance and interactive element – how did you find the creative team and how did their roles impact the project?

I crafted a very careful creative flow where every collaborator fed work and inspiration into each other. It was quite a challenge managing 12 people to create different elements of HELD but ultimately each person has there own expertise and knowledge base.

What are your hopes for the future of HELD?  

We are currently preparing to go into production of 1500 boxes for two. We will be releasing these in January and then be hosting the experiences through 2021.

Will audiences have any more opportunities to experience this unique, interactive performance?

Yes! please sign up on our website to be the first to hear.

HELD - BitterSuite's show in a box, delivered to your door. On sale now. Find out more

HELD is commissioned by MAC, GulbenkianRich MixConcordia University and Future Arts Centres and is delivered with the generous support from Arts Council England. Delivered with additional venue partners Wiltshire Creative and Artfelt at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.