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Interview: Artist David Shearing on New Beginning with the guardians of tomorrow's world


How far can art impact our behaviour towards the climate crisis? Can being reminded of the beauty of nature inspire action to help us hold onto it all? Using new technologies to create immersive experiences, multi-award winning artist David Shearing hopes to make us understand the natural world anew. Environmental sustainability is a priority in his work that aims to inspire both connection and change.


Shearing has a track record of creating beautiful experiences inspired by the wonder of nature. In 2022, he made The Rising Sun, a light responsive immersive installation that was church-like in its formation. Created in collaboration with Romford locals, the gold-tinged space bathed spectators in haze and sound, offering a dream-like space for contemplation. In 2016, his Weather Cafe altered the atmosphere of a room in Leeds in response to the weather outside. 


Imagining a world far into our future, Shearing’s new work dives under the forest floor. In collaboration with Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, New Beginning encourages us to question our impact on the world around us. Made with the voices of local young people, the artwork involves projections, a unique soundscape and immersion in natural materials.


Ahead of the project, Shearing explains the drive behind his design and direction of this work, his favourite green spaces in London, and how he is ensuring that his art is as environmentally friendly as possible. 


Run Riot: Introduce me to New Beginning. Where did you start?


David Shearing: New Beginning is a collaborative endeavour involving Variable Matter, co-producer Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch with Royal Central School of Speech and Drama’s new Performance Lab. Our shared vision is to create theatre that not only celebrates our natural environment but also pushes the boundaries of audience experience and new technologies. The project compels us to envision our world 1000 years from now, a prospect that can be unsettling for many. However, New Beginning offers a source of hope—a chance to renew ourselves and reclaim what we have left behind, as eloquently put by the writer Zakiya McKenzie.


Central to our project is the exploration of how mid-scale theatre might embrace design-led performance, a form often underrepresented on the main stage in the U.K. We wanted to look at a different production model, developing the piece through laboratory processes and workshops with young people. 


New Beginning introduces a distinct form of theatre, merging multi-screen video projections showcasing digital generative art by Lab-meta with a stunning sound composition by James Bulley, enveloping the audience through an array of 41 speakers, all while they remain seated. We wanted this to be a new start in producing our work in collaboration.


Run Riot: What was it like working with 100 young people to make this piece? How did their voices inform the project?


David Shearing: We set out to work with 100 young people aged 11-18, but we have now engaged with a remarkable 206 young participants, collaborating through workshops with Little Ilford School and Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch Youth Theatre. Their ideas were shared with our writer, who then crafted an initial script draft. This draft was subsequently taken back to the young contributors, enabling them to evolve textual concepts into physical expressions—manifested as movement sequences, still imagery, and spoken word. Notably, 20 of these young individuals lent their voices to the performance. 


A dynamic exchange has flourished between the young participants and the creative process, where their insights influenced the script's development, and conversely, the writing and design influenced their responses and ideas.


Run Riot: Your previous work has also grappled with our attitudes towards the natural world in beautiful, tangible ways. How far do you feel art genuinely has the power to influence our actions or views towards the climate crisis?


David Shearing: Art possesses the capacity to prompt contemplation of our actions and surroundings. It offers fresh perspectives, potentially altering our perceptions. New Beginning transports the audience beneath the surface to unveil the enchantment of the forest floor, an example of how art can captivate us to see the unseen parts of our world. 


While instigating action on climate crisis is complex, fostering compassion can generate understanding not just amongst ourselves but also with our more-than-human world.


Run Riot: What is a change you have made to address your impact on the natural world?


David Shearing: As a designer, I frequently make decisions on construction, material sourcing, and repurposing. In my previous project, The Rising Sun, a large wooden sculpture showcased in Romford Market in 2022, was repurposed for other cultural activities after its use. Similarly, in New Beginning, we prioritise reusability by reusing large sheet materials and employing sustainable wood resources. 


I've embraced the Theatre Green Book, which has helped me understand and measure the impact of my practice. The journey towards improvement of our impact on the world is an ongoing process.


Run Riot: When you walk into the final version of an immersive space you have designed, how can you tell if you’ve achieved your vision? Is it a look or a feeling?


David Shearing: The sensation of invitation and care consistently resonate with me. The meticulous crafting of every detail and the audience's sense of individual encounter within the environment are paramount. Audiences discern these nuances, significantly impacting their engagement. While immersive performance can lean toward hedonism, my focus centres on creating a space that fosters connectivity and reflection. It’s certainly a multisensory and emotional feeling.


Run Riot: Why should people venture to Hornchurch to experience this project?


David Shearing: Havering is one of London's greenest boroughs. The area offers some amazing nature walks, notably at the Thames Chase Trust near Hornchurch station—making it an ideal day trip. On September 2nd, we're hosting a Forest Day at the theatre to celebrate our presence within a 40-square mile community forest, a distinctive facet of the area. New Beginning is a truly unique poetic encounter, I’d say make a journey of it!


Run Riot: Where is your favourite place to sit and appreciate nature, a place that makes you want to hold onto it all?


David Shearing: Personally, those pockets of green amid urban expanses, serving as respites from the concrete, hold profound significance for me. London boasts numerous such spaces. In recent years, I've cherished walks in Epping Forest— getting lost sometimes is an important life lesson, and finding your way through forest is a physical reminder of that. As I walk in Epping Forest I am reminded of the deep time of our natural world, but also the human stories that mesh with these spaces.


Run Riot: What’s a new beginning that you have experienced recently?


David Shearing: The birth of my niece, Raeya, last year marked a new chapter in our family's story. For me it served as a poignant reminder that the cycle of life persists. It's a sentiment that underscores the importance of collaborating with the inspiring young people in this production.


New Beginning

30 Aug - 2 Sep 2023

Queen's Theatre Hornchurch 

Billet Lane

Hornchurch RM11 1QT 


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