Theatre lovers in Northern Ireland will be treated to a new era in theatre thanks to innovative and forward thinking company Cahoots NI.

Following the closure of theatres across the UK, Ireland and abroad as a result of the Covid-19 global pandemic, creators at Cahoots NI knew the only way to survive was to bring the magic of their shows to life online.

However, for a theatre company who specialise in magical shows that excite young audiences, translating their unique style online wasn’t going to be easy.

Artistic Director, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney, said pivoting their offering and being creative with their thinking was more important than ever before.

He added that adapting quickly to the new market was vital to maintain survival of the 19 year old organisation.

“When the pandemic hit we were in the middle of a few different projects. Penguins, our co production with Birmingham Rep, was mid-run in America and still had six weeks left to go but we made the decision in the second week of March that we would have to bring the full company home.

“We were also in the middle of development of new work and were about to start a tour in Northern Ireland of production Secrets of Space to local primary schools, which didn’t happen.

“Like the rest of the arts sector we were forced to close up shop, in terms of our revenue, we have lost in excess of £420,000 this year, which is a serious amount of money, and our business plan, whilst at the start of March was being applauded as being something unique and different within the arts sector has gone from being what an incredibly productive and forward-thinking model to ‘Oh my goodness, where does that fit in now?’.”

But rather than let the pandemic get the better of him Paul was determined not only to keep the magic of Cahoots NI alive but to ensure he created a business model that could help the organisation survive and thrive.

He explained: “Obviously there was that initial month of just firefighting projects that were no longer happening, dealing with venues, cleaning up a tour that got cancelled halfway through and cancelling a tour that was about to start. It took us about a month, maybe six weeks to really sort the logistics of that through.

“It was after this that I started to think less like a producer and more as an artist. I remember thinking ‘I’m looking at this too much from a business perspective’. I needed to go back and think as an artist.

“The amazing thing about artists is their adaptability – so often artists create their best work when they are out of their comfort zones and sometimes when the chips are down, actually that’s when nuggets of gold start appearing.

“It was really clear that we needed to be involved in projects during lockdown – we needed the creative output to continue because that’s our business model.”

As a result Paul and his team have created a new show which will see families be able to interact online with actors who will be situated in full theatrical settings.

“The University of Wonder and Imagination will be a full theatrical production, that will see six  families enter different themed rooms and interact with actors,” said Paul, adding: “This isn’t performed at home in front of a computer screen, we’ve constructed a socially distanced theatre set, full of all the tricks, wonder and illusions.”

The University of Wonder and Imagination opening dates will be revealed soon but already the company have confirmation that it will show across Ireland and Northern Ireland and they’ve had interest globally from their international agent.

For Paul it’s important for people to understand whilst it’s an experimental production it will have all the professionalism and creative input of any Cahoots NI show.

“It’s somewhere in between a journey through Hogwarts and the Crystal Maze,” he said “It’s quest led. It’s magical. It’s full of theatrical adventure and it’s live.”

Working online, the challenge, and I think we’ve cracked it, is to still have that element of surprise and wonder that makes theatre special and memorable.

Another project that Cahoots NI has been developing is a book.

“One of our business models was to take a popular children’s book, turn it into a stage adaptation and produce that as a show.

“We have a huge production we’d planned for next year, it’s a show called ‘The Vanishing Elephant”, which doesn’t come from a book. It came from an idea that I had a few years back and that show was actually planned to start in January 2021 including a run on Broadway at the New Victory Theater from May 2021.

“We realised we had a brilliant story but it never came from a children’s book.”

Working with the original writer Charles Way and costume designer Sabine Dargent as the illustrator, the book is in its final stages.

And, as Cahoots is developing new ways to entertain and enthral young people, Paul said keeping the arts sector alive is more important than ever before.

He said: “The arts are there to respond, offering alternative ways to look at the world”.

“My job is to respond to what’s happening in society and to place people from society into uncomfortable, comfortable, interesting, remarkable, fascinating, different worlds so that they can compare their world to that.”

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