Swamp Motel: An interview with Ollie Jones and Clem Garritty
Swamp Motel is an exceptional creative studio that produces immersive experiences. Wanting to create something new despite the limitations of lockdown, they have created Plymouth Point: an interactive, cross-platform whodunnit that allows participants to put on their detective hat by cracking email passwords, investigating missing people and uncovering an evil plot involving witches and ancient artefacts.
Swamp Motel founders Ollie Jones and Clem Garritty – creative associates of Punchdrunk, founders of Kill the Beast and members of Curious Directive and FellSwoop – have graced us with an exclusive interview.
Hi, thank you for your time. What is Swamp Motel about?
Ollie Jones: Swamp Motel is an award-winning creative studio founded by theatre-makers. We’re dedicated to making thrilling experiences – for audiences, brands, or otherwise – by drawing on our theatrical know-how.
How and when did the idea for Swamp Motel come about?
Clem Garritty: We have been working together for over a decade. We met studying Drama at the University of Warwick; we were two of the five founding members of Kill The Beast and both worked as Creative Associates at Punchdrunk. Oh, we’re also very good friends.
We realised more and more brands were trying to create live events that rivalled the immersive experiences we’d been making in the theatre world and decided to form Swamp Motel as a place where brands and agencies could come to when they need a fresh approach to live events.
What is the general idea behind Plymouth Point?
OJ: As a company that delivers live events, lockdown put a firm stop to all of that work for the foreseeable future. We suddenly had a lot of free time on our hands and after panicking for a week or so we decided that we should put our only resource (time) into something that could be achieved, would challenge us and would provide people with some lockdown entertainment – something other than your weekly Zoom quiz. We love working in “immersive” settings so we challenged ourselves to create one using only the internet and an absorbing story.
Do you have any upcoming projects planned, either related to or separate from Plymouth Point?
OJ: We’re excited about starting work on a semi-lockdown-friendly experience which will be something totally different to Plymouth Point. We like to keep our cards close to our chest, but we can say this one takes you away from your laptop and out into the real (or not so real) world. We’re also quite excited about building out the world of Plymouth Point and exploring other concurrent narratives; these might tie into what we launch next. So… maybe keep your eyes peeled for PP chapter two.
What is involved when creating a project such as Plymouth Point?
CG: We were inspired by things like Rear Window, Catfish and Don’t F*ck With The Cats. Right now people are stuck inside and they’re stuck online, but before this, they were at peak independence – so we wanted to exercise people’s agency again and give them something they had to fully, actively engage with. We knew we wanted to start with the relatively standard starting point of “girl goes missing” and then slowly introduce the weird…
OJ: And unlike a quiz, if you don’t know the answer, you’re allowed to work it out!
CG: We filmed with different actors in different locations via Zoom (hopefully you don’t notice that these were sometimes filmed hundreds of miles apart and it appears as though they’re actually in the same house).
Directing over Zoom wasn’t hugely dissimilar to doing it in the flesh – thankfully we have an amazing little black book of great, very up-for-it performers who threw themselves at the challenge – the strangest part for them was probably acting as camera operators as well as performers. But they nailed it.
How did you first start working in theatre?
OJ: We studied Theatre and Performance Studies at University together and after graduating we spent a lot of time working in Italian restaurants and selling popcorn on the street. Then we co-founded the comedy theatre company Kill the Beast with some other like-minded weirdos. We soon became Associate Artists at The Lowry Theatre in Manchester, avid attendees of the Edinburgh Fringe and then Creative Associates at Punchdrunk.
Was the need to create an interactive experience online driven by Covid-19, or did you get the idea at an earlier point?
OJ: We normally spend the majority of our time working on branded experiences, but we did have a few independent projects we wanted to make before Covid-19 hit. Of course, the introduction of lockdown pushed our thinking into a purely online experience. We’re looking forward to returning to them when we can. But also, this has been a fun exercise in making us realise how rich the pre-show experience for one of our live experiences could be. Imagine if Plymouth Point was just the invitation to the real story.
Do you think the virus and the lockdown will have a lasting impact on the way we engage with theatre either related to Plymouth Point or more generally?
OJ: Providing the industry survives it looks like there will be big impacts on audience capacity and therefore ticket sales and therefore the overall livelihood of the theatre world – which isn’t exactly flush with cash at the best of times. Digital is definitely one way of getting around these issues, but it’s not really the same thing. The appetite to go to the theatre will still be there. Everyone’s going to have to pitch in to make sure that it’s still available, though.
Plymouth Point is very focused on telling an exciting, interactive thriller that builds as the players uncover more clues. Do you think there is potential for other types of stories told in this format?
OJ: Definitely, and providing audiences are still up for engaging with each other online once we can go outside again, we’ll try and build another one. We’re big fans of horror, so a scary experience would be a really fun challenge to bring into people’s homes.
CG: We’re also big comedy fans – so who knows, some sort of online-dating romcom? God that sounds awful.
Do you think the virus will have a lasting impact on the way we perceive and engage with theatre in general?
CG: Depending on social distancing restrictions it’s certainly going to be a strange new world. If we’re able to return to theatres as we did before then I think the appetite for live stories will drive people back towards those old habits. If not, who knows? It may be easier for immersive theatre to adhere to distancing regulations and it’ll be interesting to see what weird and wonderful ways our peers start creating experiences for groups that must stay 2m apart.
Thank you so much for your time!
Photo: Alexander Purcell
Plymouth Point is currently accepting bookings until 7th June. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Plymouth Point’s website. For further information about Swamp Motel click here.
Read our review of Plymouth Point here.
Watch the trailer for Plymouth Point here: