Exploring the Intersection of Theatre and Innovation with Lucy Hammond from Pilot Theatre

From her upbringing in Stratford-upon-Avon to her pivotal role at Pilot Theatre in York, alumna Lucy Hammond, discusses her journey, experiences, and the productions shaping modern theatre. Join Alumni Voices for an insightful exploration of creativity, technology, and social impact.

“I grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon so the theatre has always been a big part of my life! I was in the National Youth Theatre as a teenager and I always knew that I wanted to work in theatre, film or television. 

Late nights and early mornings at Willow, seminars in King’s Manor, indie disco at Duchess, the entire Country House module with once a week field trips and of course the friends I made during my three years. The Norman Rea Gallery, the brick wall on the walk to campus that said ‘Ah Good the Sea’ and starting Autumn terms in such a beautiful city. 

I studied History of Art and I feel it was the perfect start for my career now. Exploring history, identity, literature, architecture and more through the lens of visual culture gave me the confidence to feel I understood the context of the projects I was working on and fed my love for art, film and architecture. Doing lots of analysis in seminars and presentations also helped, as I use these skills for pitch meetings and conferences now. 

Following my degree I started interning for talent agencies and TV production companies, eventually getting a job as an agent’s assistant at the newly founded 42 Management & Production. I moved to York and started working at Pilot Theatre. 

Pilot’s mission is to create projects that ‘seek to create a cultural space where young adults can encounter, express, and interrogate big ideas that are relevant to our lives right now.’ Our Artistic Director, Esther Richardson, and Executive Producer, Mandy Smith, work to find stories, writers and creative teams to realise our touring productions. It is part of the process to read a lot of fiction and material that appeals to both young people, teachers and has a relevance to the experience of young people today. We then work with writers, designers and other creatives to realise these stories for the stage. Pilot has also long been a pioneer in embracing new technologies for storytelling, my work at the company involves finding new stories, partners and ideas to bring to life in exciting ways with immersive technology. I then pitch these ideas to funders and artistically manage the project throughout the process of production. Immersive technology is so new and we are excited about developing this form of storytelling for our audiences. We were recently nominated for Digital Innovation at the UK Theatre Awards 2023 which was a really rewarding achievement. 

“Pilot’s work encourages audiences to ‘think harder and feel more’.”

Co-creation and consultation with young people is at the heart of all our work at Pilot Theatre, from school workshops to engaging with youth groups both locally in York and nationally we look to provide opportunities to engage with theatre and the arts for young people of all backgrounds and especially those whose circumstances may mean they have never been to the theatre before. We engage with several foundations and funders to support our work with young people and run a Christmas campaign called ‘Just the Ticket’ to help fund the cost of tickets for young people to see our shows.  

Our last production is an adaptation of David Almond’s novel ‘A Song for Ella Grey’. It’s a beautiful retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set against the backdrop of the North East coast. The show explores big themes including grief, growing up and moving from adolescence into adulthood.

The company of A Song for Ella Grey singing one of the songs from the show.

My next project is called ‘A Guide to Now for those in the Future’ and will be a series of installations using film, sound and sculptures showcasing interviews and videos made with young people on the themes of what it means to be a young person in the 2020s and what the life of young people might look like in years to come.  

Pilot are a national company and as such aim to reflect the diversity of voices and stories of those living in the UK. It’s central to the creative process of our work, as a company for young people we need to make sure they can see themselves and their lives on stage. We also run projects outside of theatre buildings such as our Cinema Club for Sanctuary Seekers and our LGBTQIA+ Mindfulness and Wellbeing group. 

Pilot have always been pioneers when it comes to including technology on stage but as part of my role at the company we are developing work that is delivered to the audience purely through new technologies such as virtual reality (VR). It’s exciting to explore how theatrical techniques and stories can be adapted for these new formats as well as developing stand alone work for young people using immersive techniques. We have a new project in VR in development that explores the world of documentary for instance. Also as a touring company, it’s exciting to explore how these technologies can help us tour our stories internationally, as has been the case with both our VR projects ‘Traitor’ and ‘Monoliths’. 

During the pandemic whilst live theatre in buildings was unable to happen many companies worked to explore new and creative ways to still tell stories and make art. At Pilot we created a series of outdoor performances called ‘Northern Girls’ supporting the freelance community by commissioning a series of monologues. In our immersive work we created a game called ‘The Archive’ that explored the lives of two teenagers and their relationship to their mental health. It ended up being an incredibly busy time with lots of amazing collaboration.  

XR Stories (a collaboration between the University of York and creative industries) have been funders for three of the projects where I’ve been Creative Producer & Director. These have spanned from using VR with a live performer for a whistleblowing story to a screen based game exploring happiness and my most recent virtual reality project ‘Monoliths’ which explores three landscapes in the north of England through the eyes of three women. ‘Monoliths’ has now toured internationally to Germany, Australia, Hungary, France and the USA.

I have two major professional highlights. My very first project as a director called ‘Traitor VR’ was selected for the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2019. At the time it felt like a dream and kind of still does! The second is more recent when the whole Pilot team were working on a community engagement project in Redcar called ‘Under a Redcar Sky’, over August bank holiday weekend we made over 250 pet rocks with children from the town and it was pure joy sharing their creativity and artistic brilliance.

The VR project Traitor that went to Tribeca Film Festival in 2019

Being a BAFTA Connect member is a three year membership that supports professionals developing their careers in Film, TV and Games. It enables me to connect with other professionals whilst learning from a network of incredible BAFTA members through events, panels and meet ups.  

We hope audiences come away having experienced a brilliant story and the space to reflect on the themes and issues shown on stage. In Pilot’s mission it says that our work encourages audiences to ‘think harder and feel more’. We also hope that they’ve had an impactful artistic experience and are inspired to see more theatre, VR or engage with art. 

Touring has huge rewards in enabling us to reach audiences on a national and international scale. It also means that we can be a small and versatile team based in an amazing city like York but see our work have a huge impact. In 2022/2023 our productions were seen by over 50,000 people. 

For aspiring theatre professionals, I’d say to stay curious about storytelling, whether it’s theatre, film, television, art or literature. See as much as you can. Try and become confident in talking about why you like a piece or project. 

Look for projects aimed at young people or emerging artists from companies you admire, follow them on social media and don’t be afraid to apply!”

‘A Guide to Now for those in the Future’ will be in York in Summer 2024 and ‘Monoliths’ continues to tour nationally to cinemas and libraries as part of the Storyfutures showcase. Pilot Theatre always have more projects coming up as well as opportunities for artists and young people to take part in their work. You can follow them on social media to find out more @pilot_theatre.  Listen to Lucy on the XR Stories podcast.

XR Stories has launched a new residency programme for researchers and creative businesses to work on projects using extended reality technologies in a space outside their usual environment. Successful applicants will become residents in the XR Stories immersive technology lab in The Guildhall, for up to five days focused research and development time, with support from the XR Stories team. Applications close on Friday 24 May.

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