“It was great to work with audiences who had little experience of immersive theatre or AR and approached both with enthusiasm. It was fascinating for Tom and I to watch how children of different ages fell into different roles in the story.”Elliott Hall, Senior Research Software Engineer at King’s Digital Lab
11 November 2021
Digital Ghost Hunt at Leigh Spinners Mill
A family immersive adventure developed by King's Digital Lab and KIT Theatre
Tom Bowtell of KIT Theatre and Elliott Hall of Kings Digital Lab worked in collaboration with ambassadors of Leigh Spinners Mill to create a new Digital Ghost Hunt for family audiences (9+) inspired by real historical events.
The show was the project's first independent commission and part of the Manchester Royal Exchange's Local Exchange programme and the Den festival, the culmination of the Exchange's three year residency programme in Leigh. The production was additionally supported by King’s Culture and Sussex University.
Creating Digital Stories rooted in history
The Digital Ghost Hunt creates brand-new stories around the history and memories of the buildings the team are working in. The first production at Battersea Arts Centre used its history as the former Battersea Town Hall, while the show at York Theatre Royal was based on the ghost stories told about the theatre. At the Garden Museum, which is housed in a 16th century deconsecrated church, the show ended at the actual grave of the story’s ghost.
Spinners Mill has many stories to tell of the people who have worked there since it opened in 1912 (including mysterious supernatural events). For this production, the team were inspired by an accident from more than a hundred years ago, when the mill's great steam engine exploded.
Reflecting the region through co-creation
The production in Leigh also tells a story about co-creation. Local ambassadors were consulted on local history and have been involved with refining the ghost story. During performance week, one of the ambassadors shadowed Elliott’s work setting up the Augmented Reality (AR) elements of the show, and two of the ambassadors and a member of the Mill's board were recruited into the show’s cast. The team also cast the junior agent parts from the local area, to support early career practitioners and, more importantly, reflect the region it was set in.
The show’s audience was drawn almost exclusively from Leigh and the surrounding area.
In the coming year the project is planning to do more work with early career practitioners in immersive theatre, as part of the King’s Digital Lab's project to collaborate and support the Digital Creativity ecosystem.