NIGHTWATCHERS at the Tower of London

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In our pursuit of new audiences through our learning programmes, we have extended our offer further. Recognising that immersive experiences are currently hugely popular as audiences seek ever more innovative and intriguing events to enjoy, we decided to experiment with new technology to offer another way for audiences to engage creatively with our sites.

So the latest of our after hours events was born. Aimed at a thrill-seeking (16+) audience, NIGHTWATCHERS is an edgy and provocative, hour-long night-time experience at the Tower of London, which ran for seven nights from 29 October. It plays around with the concept of watchers and the watched, and is set in a shadowy world of state surveillance, drawing from both modern society and the paranoia-fuelled Elizabethan spy network.

For this project we worked in what is a new way for us – and one that has proved to be hugely rewarding. Using a small pot of R&D money, we commissioned two brilliant creative agencies (both experienced in creating immersive worlds through technology) to each come up with a prototype experience, or ‘scratch’. This method, which is more commonly used in theatre, doesn’t mean handing over creative control completely. We worked hands on with the agencies – as well as facilitating discussions between them and our expert curatorial and operational teams – to devise something fresh yet firmly grounded in Tower history and logistical possibility

Both agencies came up with fascinating, yet very different prototypes, which we tested on staff and critical friends. We really liked both ‘scratches’, yet in the end decided to go with Anagram, an award-winning digital theatre company to create the full experience. They were inspired by the Tower’s key role in the country’s first state surveillance system under Elizabeth I, and created an immersive audio track to connect us to the story.

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Three months later, we launched NIGHTWATCHERS, and tickets sold out within a matter of weeks. Audiences were plunged into a world of Elizabethan spies, yet they needed to navigate this treacherous world using texts and phones calls, slipping between past and present and asking questions about surveillance today, treading the fine line between privacy and security.

Overall, this has been great way for us to develop new and innovative work with relatively low risk and expense.  We were presented with two different creative responses with enough content to be able to explore and evaluate them thoroughly before committing to the full experience. We found it energising to see something ‘live’ so early on in the process, and we were better able to anticipate challenges we were likely to face later on. This definitely won’t be the last time we work from ‘scratch’!

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