SHUNT started in 1998 when a group of 10 artists decided to form a company and share the rent on a railway arch in the east end of London. SHUNT was both this company of artists, and a place to go to. Our venues always played a completely vital role in our work.
There were two key strands to the work that began in Bethnal Green: SHUNT SHOWS - which took over the whole space and were collaboratively created by the company - and SHUNT CABARETS - curated nights that involved work made by individual members of the collective, and guest artists. In either case, these were always thought of as events, and the company built the whole experience. The social space - the bar - was a crucial part of the event. The artists always held the keys to the space.
Our mission statement was: TO EXPLORE THE LIVE EVENT.
The first SHUNT SHOW - THE BALLAD OF BOBBY FRANCOIS (2000) - was based on the true story of a plane crash in the Andes, where a team of rugby players ended up eating each other to survive. We experimented with plunging the audience into the heart of the experience (interaction with a live stewardess, a plane that collapsed around them, an extreme audio plane crash in pitch dark). The show won multiple awards for its innovation with form. We followed this with THE TENNIS SHOW (2000), and then DANCE BEAR DANCE (2002-3), that won further awards, drew crowds to the obscure location at the end of a dirty alleyway, and transformed the British Theatre scene with its radical use of space and audience. It was now referred to as ‘immersive’.
Dance Bear Dance - The greatest fringe show on earth.
It was, in the best way possible, totally mind-blowing. I’ve never seen anything like it.
This success led to exponential growth and in 2003, SHUNT moved from Bethnal Green to London Bridge where we opened THE SHUNT VAULTS - 70,000 square foot of the oldest railway arches in the city. Here, we produced TROPICANA (2004-5) as part of Nicholas Hytner’s inaugural season at the National Theatre. It was the institution’s first ever off-site production. Three months later, this was followed by AMATO SALTONE, STARRING KITTENS AND WADE (2005-6), also with the National.
After this show, we didn’t want to plough straight into another large production, and so we started to experiment with a new format project - a development of the SHUNT CABARET, but this time on a much larger scale. THE SHUNT LOUNGE would be open 4 nights a week all year long, and house installations, music, art and performance created and curated by shunt artists. Founders and associates produced multiple works during the four years it was open, and we curated and commissioned over a thousand artists. THE SHUNT VAULTS were open to the public almost continuously from 2004 (the opening of TROPICANA) until 2010 (the closing of the LOUNGE) and were visited by around 700,000 people.
Alongside the Lounge, in 2008 we began work on another company show, for which we procured a second London Bridge venue, SHUNT BERMONDSEY STREET. Here we built a two storey victorian ‘machine’ with glass floors and billowing steam to house MONEY (2008-10). Core artists were involved in both projects, and would pop round the corner after shows to present their own work late night at the vaults.
In 2010, Network Rail gave sudden eviction to all companies in the London Bridge railway arches. So at this point, we closed our venues - this became the first time in its 12 year history that shunt did not have a running venue.
After this point, many collaborations and projects from THE SHUNT LOUNGE continued to develop, although outside the context of a shunt space. Notable collaborations here are - NIGELANDLOUISE, DARKFIELD, BERLIN NEVADA, WIRETAPPER - as well as the continued solo work of shunt individual artists (see ARTISTS). In 2012, the SHUNT collective came together to produce another company show - THE ARCHITECTS - at The Biscuit Factory in Bermondey, and in 2014, we built a space from scratch on an empty concrete coaling jetty in Greenwich for a short-form immersive experience - THE BOY WHO CLIMBED OUT OF HIS FACE.
There are no plans for another SHUNT space and the SHUNT COLLECTIVE are pursuing projects in a variety of found and built locations.
They continue as individuals to pursue the original objective: to explore the live event.
This may be a binaural sonic experience in total darkness (Darkfield - David Rosenberg & Glen Neath), an epic curated event (Party skills at the end of the World - Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari), hyper-visual immersive theatre (Kingdom Come - Gemma Brockis) or the simplicity of a woman and a chair and the audience and nothing else in a room anywhere (I want love - Hannah Ringham). And many more continuous projects on small and epic scale. The work of shunt designers - Lizzie Clachan (scenography) and Ben and Max Ringham (sound) - can be seen from the National Theatre to Broadway.