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DT:TV Case Studies

White The App – Catherine Wheels and Hippotrix Case Study

In 2010 Catherine Wheels Theatre Company premièred a new show, called White, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  Here’s a 60 second trailer of the show:

White is for children aged 2-4 and was one of the hits of that fringe festival.  It has gone on to tour the world and now, four years later, it is still touring and, at the time of writing, it has been performed over 650 times.

The audience response to the show was very strong.  It was clear they loved the show and we started  to receive requests from parents and carers asking for a video of the performance. We wanted to respond to that desire to extend the experience. We didn’t have the budget to produce a film, and even if we did, we weren’t convinced that a film would be the answer.

So that led us to the question: “how do we extend the experience of a theatre show for very young audiences?” and we thought that an app could be the answer.  We made this video at the start of the process:

ICC presentation video from Hippotrix on Vimeo.

We were lucky that we didn’t have to look far for a developer. We had worked with Jonathan Charles and Simone Bloomfield from Hippotrix in a different capacity (as film-makers) on several theatre projects.

They had just set up the development company and launched their first app, Hippo Seasons, which was also aimed at young children. They were the obvious choice. It felt like an evolution in our creative partnership rather than the tricky business of trying to develop a brand new relationship on a brand new project. It was about trust from the outset.

The process started with the creator of the show, Andy Manley, in a room with Jonathan and Simone of Hippotrix. We decided very quickly that we didn’t want to go down the route of trying to tell the story – we kept talking about creating the ‘world’ of White, rather than the ‘story’ of White. Jonathan and Simone turned the ideas from those initial meetings into a wireframe.

It was at this point that we made the biggest decision in the creative process: the characters in the play, Cotton and Wrinkle, would not appear in the app. In effect, the child would take on their collective role. As theatre makers, this was a difficult decision, but we had to remember that we were not making a theatrical experience.

In the next stage, we presented to the wireframe to the rest of the creative team – we could finally visualise it.  Hippotrix were lucky enough to have a PhD student placement with them over this period, Ben Fletcher Watson, and he made a video about this stage of the process:

One of the greatest challenges in making the app was maintaining the feel of the original production. Jonathan and Simone worked very closely with the White‘s designer, Shona Reppe. They painstakingly photographed all the individual elements of the show’s set to capture her original design intention. It was a time consuming process, but has given the app the same tactile ‘homespun’ feel that makes the show so charming. Here is a short slideshow of Jonathan, Simone and Ben capturing the assets:

It was at his stage in the process that the Make It Happen project officially ended.  The project was to research and develop the ideas for White The App and to create the assets, but not actually take it into production.  We had built into the project a stage to fund raise for the production of the app. It turned out to be a crucial stage. We knew we had the potential to create something really special, if only we could find the funds to do it.  We tried a few routes, and with some invaluable advice from Ashley Smith-Hammond from the Ambition team, Hippotrix were successful in securing financing from Creative Scotland’s Innovation Fund. The finance not only enabled Hippotrix to produce White: The App, but has also allowed them to go on to work with other theatre companies to make theatre-inspired apps.

The result is an app that genuinely reflects the world we created with the theatre production. We’re very proud that it actually feels like White, the show. It was worrying that we would perhaps lose the charm and texture of the performance in the process of digitising that world, but early downloads have been good and the response has been even better. The real measure of the success is how engaged children have been with the app, so we made this video to illustrate how successful the project has been:

White: The App Trailer from Hippotrix on Vimeo.

The app is available now for download on the iTunes store.