Once upon a time, fringe theatre was alternative in both form and content.
Radical collectives brought together by one form of counter-cultural ideology or another tried to change the world with non-hierarchical structures which they attempted to implement both in the rehearsal room and the office, if they had one. The rise of free-market economics and allure of public funding forced such companies to professionalise in a way that may have allowed them to join the party, but which arguably neutered the whole notion of alternative and fringe theatre.
The contradictions inherent in the system interested theatre-maker Jo Ronan when she worked for various theatre companies in the 1990s, when, despite a seemingly radical agenda in terms of productions, the accepted hierarchies and pecking orders remained in place. Several years on, the ideas of what it means to make truly collaborative theatre are explored in Leave Your Shoes At The Door, a work which aims to challenge old-fashioned hierarchies in a number of ways.
"When I started my PhD," Ronan explains, "the bee in my bonnet was how the idea of collaboration in theatre is now pervasive. There was a time when some companies' work was all about being political, but the question that needs to be asked is how can you politicise the making of the work, so that the process of making theatre becomes synonymous with the end product? So let's forget about context. Let's try and make the work genuinely collaboratively, so the audiences see how and why we do it, and what pedagogies are required to make that shift - but do it in an entertaining fashion."
The roots of Leave Your Shoes At The Door date back to 2010, when Ronan first began to look into collaborative practice in a way that took it beyond the academic to something that looked more outwards than some research projects. Ronan subsequently gathered around her a group of theatre artists interested in exploring such an approach. As BloodWater Theatre, the group presented Whose Story Is It Anyway?, a work in progress seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.
While the desire to work outwith the normal theatre infrastructure continued, there were also more pragmatic concerns. People in the group needed to earn money, while some of the company moved away from Glasgow. It is for such reasons that it has taken more than two years for Ronan and BloodWater to move things on to the second stage that Leave Your Shoes At The Door effectively forms.
"It's been time consuming," says Ronan, "but we wanted to try to work differently from the models that exist, so we've made it in our own time and on our own terms, but hopefully in a way that interests the audience."
The conceit of Leave Your Shoes At The Door finds Ronan and the performers from BloodWater playing a fictional theatre company who, like BloodWater, reconvene after some time apart to continue an exploratory way of working. While the show's mix of filmed and live action sounds self-referential, Ronan and co are actually proposing something that's little short of a revolutionary way of working. This includes the ticketing of the show, with the company asking the audience to pay what they can, from zero upwards.
"What we are trying to do is to make a piece of work that we all have a stake in," Ronan explains, "and we hope that what we have come up with will interest an audience enough to make them think and feel about the relationship between process and product. Are audiences interested in the process of making a show, or is the end result enough?"
Where all this leads to in the long term remains to be seen. This is something again which will be decided collaboratively.
"Beyond this we have to ask our focus groups and our audience whether there is a point in pursuing all this as a company," Ronan says.
"That's a very difficult question to be answered, but the more important thing is to ask the people in BloodWater what they want to do. Do BloodWater want to stay together and continue working in this way, or have we taken things as far as we can go?"
Leave Your Shoes At The Door, CCA, Glasgow, today, 3pm and 7.30pm.