‘Black Peter’ is a retelling of the Bavarian tale of the Krampus. Set in a woodland clearing beneath the shadow of a dead tree, two people explore a secretive and painful shared past, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Hey guys thanks for talking to TNC, are you all set for Brighton Fringe?
James Tanton (Director): Thank you for letting us speak to you guys, yeah we are all ready to go and really excited to get underway!
Christopher Schaunig (Writer & Producer): Our pleasure. Yes, we can't wait to get down to Brighton Fringe and get things rolling!
What does it mean for you to be able to bring your Black Peter to Brighton?
James: It’s fantastic to be able to get the play out there. Ever since Chris told me about the play I was really excited about it and it has been amazing to be a part of the creative process. So being able to bring the play to such an exciting a vibrant place really adds to the excitement of it all.
Chris: It means a lot, as it will be our first time bringing a show to the Brighton Fringe and what makes it even more special is that it's the first time that James and I have collaborated on a project like this. So yes, it's a very exciting time for us.
Can you tell me about Black Peter, how did this come about?
James: The play is a new interpretation of the Krampusnacht Festival celebrated in Austria and Germany. It touches on all sorts of different themes such as loss, war, pagan beliefs and mental health and it really packs a punch. It has been written by Christopher Schaunig who is an absolutely fantastic writer and long-standing colleague of mine. We were always talking about doing something and getting a new play out there, so it’s great that we have now got the chance to do that!
Chris: I first had an idea about five years ago. Originally Black Peter was a fifteen-minute one person show that was extremely abstract in nature. Luckily I write everything down, so upon finding my original notes I picked up the story and it developed from there and It’s turned out very different to the original concept.
What was the inspiration behind this show?
James: The inspiration primarily came from Chris’s upbringing in Austria and the Krampusnacht Festival celebrated every year. I remember him telling me how he was terrified as a child by this huge monster that turned up at his house to ensure he had been a good boy each year! Much scarier than an elf on the shelf!!!
Chris: The inspiration came from a combination of my Austrian heritage, my love of horror and suspense and some of my own memories of moving from a large British city to a very rural Austrian village. The history and the folklore attached to the country, witches, strange traditions and more importantly the Krampus demon. I was also inspired by stories of my Grandad who fought in WWII as part of the German Wehrmacht, during which time he was held by Soviet forces as a prisoner of war. So, you could say the show has an element of verbatim theatre as well as being a folklore tale about monsters.
What have been the biggest challenges bringing this production to life?
James: The biggest challenge has probably been creating the monster, thankfully our costume designer Kirsty Wise is an absolute genius and has managed to come up with so many amazing ideas. We have been really lucky to have her!
Chris: For me, it has been the amount of research involved. The play is set ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall so everything that happened around that time has been a huge catalyst for how the characters live and behave in the midst of that fallout.
"A rehearsal room run like a dictatorship can only ever produce something okay in my opinion..."
Once your show is running do you find it hard to keep from tweaking it?
James: Sometimes! It’s great to have such a fabulous team of actors who have come to the table with some incredible ideas and thoughts and we are always finding cool new ways of doing different sections. That’s the beauty of live performance.
Chris: Yes! One of the most difficult things I find as a writer is not editing the script once the show has gone live! What I am looking forward to seeing is how the show will develop in front of an audience, we have a very talented cast so I am sure the show will evolve organically as the run goes on.
Have you always had a passion for theatre?
James: I always had an interest, but it was never something that I wanted to pursue a career in, but I had two amazing drama teachers who ignited a passion, in particular for live performance, and it kind of grew from there.
Chris: No, not always. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I discovered a passion for theatre. I remember reading some of Phillip Ridley’s work and being completely enamoured with his fantastical dystopian characters juxtaposed with the stark genuineness of an east London council estate. The blurry line of reality combined with the truthfulness of live theatre is something I find very interesting.
In theatre how important is the collaborative process for you when you're creating a show?
James: I think it’s so important. A rehearsal room run like a dictatorship can only ever produce something okay in my opinion, I don’t think you ever arrive at a play that is amazing or extraordinary unless it is in some way collaborative; many minds are better than one!
Chris: No two people are going to look at something in the exact same way. I have found it helpful to share and develop my work with others throughout the writing process whether that be during a table read, during auditions and in rehearsals. Everyone involved in the production has had some input in the development of the show which is fantastic as it would not be in the place it is now without those ideas and decisions.
What was the first show you saw that inspired you to want to get into theatre?
James: Bouncers at Hull Truck Theatre! No set and four lads mucking about, I sat there as a young lad thinking, “this is brilliant!”
Chris: I think it must have been when I saw Edward Bonds' ‘Saved’ while I was at university. It wasn’t the show itself (which was great) that inspired me but more how the show had divided the audience. I can remember during the interval there were men weeping over what they had just witnessed on stage and another group of people who were absolutely slating the show. What was interesting to me was the one thing the show had raised was the need for debate.
"If you have an idea and you want to make it happen then do it, try and find a way of making it work and if you can’t then speak to others..."
How much has your approach to theatre changed since you started out?
James: Massively, in so many different ways, but the biggest is realising that your greatest asset is the people around you and that a collaborative process is the best way to achieve a great show.
Chris: It’s developed so much. Pretty much, everyone, I have worked with and every project that I have worked on has taught me something new.
What has been the best piece of advice you've been given?
James: It’s called a play, so play!
Chris: Have fun and don’t compromise! Enjoy every moment of what you are creating because if you are having fun then it will show in your work and don’t settle for less than what you are happy with.
Do you have any advice you would offer a fellow theatre maker?
James: Same as above, (It’s called a play, so play!) if you don’t enjoy it, neither will an audience!
Chris: Just go for it. If you have an idea and you want to make it happen then do it, try and find a way of making it work and if you can’t then speak to others, work with them and learn from the process.
What 3 words best describe your show?
James: Deep, Dark, Thrilling
Chris: Gritty, claustrophobic, compelling.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your show?
James: A thought-provoking experience dealing with real issues with the added addition of a mythical pagan monster, what’s not to like!
Chris: I think that everyone will take something different away with them and that they leave with a few questions about what they have just experienced.