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  • Writer's pictureBhuvanesh Tekavade

Understanding Punchdrunk

Punchdrunk was founded in 2000 by Felix Barrett. Together with a major group of employees, the company has pioneered a form of theater that rejects the passive obedience of traditional theater attendance. Audiences wear Venetian-style masks that cover most of their faces and cover their mouths. You are free to roam the works performed in obsolete or abandoned buildings. The storyline of the play is dismantled and often rearranged and condensed in multiple scenes that are played simultaneously in different parts of the building. With gorgeous stage sets, spectacular visual scenes, soothing lighting, and movie soundtracks, the space comes alive. Viewers need to decide where to go, which character to follow, and which room to find. They choose the show they are watching, come back many times, and experience the production from different perspectives.

Perhaps it has succeeded in pioneering a very unconventional format that is particularly appealing to new theater audiences, with an exponential rise in the popularity of experimental theater formats and the explosion of work in unusual settings.

Getting Punched

The company is called Punch Drunk just because it wants their audience to feel it. Punch sickness is a term often used to describe the condition of a boxer who has experienced a fierce battle, and the company feels that all senses are being attacked by storytelling and it's impact on viewers. The company hopes that this experience will reverberate long after the performance event and be processed through many layers of memory and sensory associations.

In the words of Peter Higgin, an article in British Library,

"There are numerous ways to describe work that takes place in non-traditional setting: site-specific, site-responsive, promenade, radical promenade, immersive. Punchdrunk defines its style of work foremost as site-sympathetic, as works are always created in response to the architecture, layout and atmosphere of the space – whether it’s an empty warehouse, an old hotel or ten acres of ancient woodland."

The company is constantly looking for new genres and formats. His most famous work is a magnificent work performed in a large abandoned land, but his practice goes beyond that, a game that influences everyday reality and uses the world as a background. New technologies, works regularly. the company’s enrichment work transforms smaller and live spaces in schools, community settings or cultural spaces.

What does the audience mean?

For Punchdrunk, the audience is often the starting point for production. In most cases, the company is in the audience's position because it requires the audience to experience how the work works, make decisions, and find their actions, rather than seeing the work from their seats. The process is very important in the work. It presents a full range of dramatic, narrative, and practical challenges to be solved that are fundamentally different from the considerations faced in traditional settings where the audience is essentially fixed.

A Masked Show -

Audiences are ghosts wandering around the room and are rarely noticed by performers. They are masked to ensure anonymity, prevent speaking, and encourage individual approaches to personal reaction and exploration. In general, they are free to move around in the room, choosing what to see and which characters and elements of the story to follow. The work is often a dream to the viewer and can feel like a camera for the movie in production.

The audience looks like a performer and is free to interact. They play themselves, but they are the key to successful production (and often the most important factor)-for example, you can give them a mission and the show ends when it's done. The scenario in which the viewer finds himself begins and ends in reality, with a wonderful journey in between. It's believable, and the audience may wonder if it really was a reality. Program notices, advertisements, and other promotional materials do not refer to these works as shows or theaters.

The work is very physical and carefully choreographed. The troupe consists mainly of modern dancers, and the storytelling is conveyed through choreography. Punchdrunk spares no words and words to deliver the narrative through choreography. Words that are intended to set a mood rather than convey a specific meaning often come very naturally. It is not always important for the audience to hear or follow a particular word.

The performers need to be as realistic as possible, and even if they are finely crafted, they can improvise naturally as if they were in the real world. In constant interaction with the cast, viewers often reveal key points in the plot or trigger story development. This style is most effective when the audience is interested enough to start shaping the story of the work. This form is especially important for the strengthening work that the company does in schools and communities. Performers need to be devoted and centered to supply those shows, frequently negotiating physically and verbally with audiences whilst last in man or woman and using ahead a narrative.

The company often draws on classic texts for large mask work, and tends to combine references to a number of literary works and/or films, enhancing these with evocative period settings


Every element of Stagecraft is equally important to Punchdrunk from radical movie shots to intricate details. Acting, design, sound, lighting, costumes, and space are important parts of the work. Again, the story of the audience and the roles that accompany it have always been at the heart of the decisions of directors, designers and actors.

Sound: Soundtracks often add punctuation to the entire experience, creating the feeling of being in a movie. They create excitement and atmosphere. It also provides performers with key markers to help them place themselves on the performance sheet. The sound consists of a mix of released tracks and a newly constructed atmospheric sound. Sound styles are determined by the aesthetics of the story and the world and can vary widely. The company uses not only classic orchestra masterpieces, but also heavy drum'n'bass pieces.


The company is known for its low-light works. In fact, the original works were illuminated by candlelight, but many were still without obvious health and safety concerns. However, light is still used sparingly, encouraging spectators to walk slowly, step carefully, and explore the space completely. The company's lighting style is inspired by the work of actor, director and stage designer Edward Gordon Craig (1872–1966). Edward Gordon Craig was one of the first to realize that light could create a choreographic mood, rather than just creating a representative state.

Lighting and sound are inseparable, and the sequences are synchronized to enhance the desired atmosphere or complement the performance sequence.

Set & Props:

Attention to detail and "touch real" (actors use real materials rather than typical props and stagecraft) are two central beliefs of the company's approach to this area of ​​stagecraft. Attention is paid when planning the entire layout to the aesthetics and details that apply to all works. Rooms are often designed with cinematic or realistic levels of detail, taking into account each element associated with the character and the overall story. Audiences often touch and explore props such as documents and letters packed in drawers. Therefore, all objects displayed in the show must have a genuine look and feel. Smell plays a major role in design, as many aromas are used to evoke a true sense of place and context.


The costumes are scrutinized as the audience is close to the performers. Therefore, clothing, set designs and props must be genuine and properly commemorate the period. Characters can change many outfits during production and often need to be changed in front of the audience.

This article aims to provide introductory insights into the company's previous processes and procedures. This is by no means exhaustive and you can take a closer look at all the elements briefly described here.

The company's technology and processes are constantly changing and evolving. At the heart of Punchdrunk's work is the desire to innovate, reinvent, utilize and find new forms of storytelling. The important thing is that his work creates unexpected and unexpected works and goes against expectations. Looking at company practices, it makes sense to think that new elements such as theater, technology and sensation are imminent.


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© 2022 by Bhuvanesh Tekavade | +44 7902 414 089

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