By Kat Joyce
We've been holding monthly 'TF Tea' zoom drop-ins for our broader family of creatives to touch base and keep in touch with us. This has been a useful space to share funding opportunities and to offer advice and support.
By Kat Joyce
We've been holding monthly 'TF Tea' zoom drop-ins for our broader family of creatives to touch base and keep in touch with us. This has been a useful space to share funding opportunities and to offer advice and support.
We are keenly aware that freelancers are feeling the pinch, with a summer full of cancelled projects and little income. There has been anger at some of the opportunities that have presented themselves, which have offered small commissions and fees but required an investment of time to pitch and apply. We've contributed to the Freelance Task Force and have been kept abreast of the developing conversations in that important forum.
As this short term limbo stretches on and on, we look to the future with increasing uncertainty about what the world will look like. We are on about the fifth version of our annual budget and about the tenth version of our planned programme. With the future shrouded in mist, we decided it felt like an urgent time to do some R and D. What kind of work will fit into the new landscape we find ourselves in? How can we, as an NPO with relative financial stability at this time, play a useful part in the way our industry is evolving and adapting at this time?
We decided that we'd reapportion some R and D budget to try making work in a new way – one that gave the largest amount of possible agency to the artists while still retaining some sort of connecting structure to cross-fertilise ideas. As we watch ingrained power structures around us being (rightly) challenged and in some cases dismantled, it felt like the right time also to interrogate our own creative power structures, and to try something different.
Although Tangled Feet work on a fairly democratic and collaborative way in the rehearsal room (certainly compared to much 'traditional' theatre) it is nearly always the case that we (the two TF Co-Artistic Directors) bring a creative team together for a show with a set of ideas and the boundaries of the investigation pretty clearly drawn, and our rehearsals and creative process are, ultimately, director-led. We wanted to see what happens when we 'devolve' creative responsibility at the outset of the project to individual artists. What new working practices might emerge? What new synergies created? What will we learn about how creative ideas can be nurtured and grown?
It's a big experiment and we might not get it right, but in the spirit of absolute transparency, this is the structure we've created (developed initially through discussion by the TF core team in our weekly team meetings):
we invited a diverse cohort of artists who've worked on Tangled Feet projects over the last few years to take part in the project. We made sure that the cohort of artists includes people of different disciplines, experience levels and backgrounds. Everyone working on the project will have worked with at least a handful of other creatives on the project. Some have worked on dozens of TF projects over a decade or more.
We offered them all a fee equivalent to six days at our normal flat rate for creative projects (£120/day)
We offered them a broad creative jumping-off point: (the catalyst, the straw that breaks the camel's back and instigates a change).
We convened everyone on a Zoom call, explained the plan and thrashed out some of the details together.
We invited them to think about working collaboratively or solo, to explore new ways of working, and to work in a way that felt fruitful and healthy at this difficult time.
We've planned an online sharing of scratch ideas for late September (with no prescription about what they should present or how, or in what form).
We've set everyone up on Slack so that they can cross fertilise their ideas and reach out for collaborators.
We've offered our support both technically and creatively over the next couple of months in whatever way the artists find useful.
Now everyone has started working, and it's phenomenally exciting to start to see things emerge. Some of our artists knew exactly what they wanted to pursue and how, and some are taking their time to evolve a response to the theme. Some of the artists have long and successful histories of self-driven practice, and some are normally collaborators and are experiencing something very new. Our artists are spread across the South-East, but also in Somerset, Liverpool, Weston Super Mare, in France, in Seville, and in a canal boat that's never in the same place for long.
We hope that the seeds we sow now will come to fruition over the next 5 years – in new relationships evolving, new ideas blossoming and opening up avenues of further creative investigation. But equally, if the commission keeps an artist feeling like an artist for a couple of months at this point in time, that's also a win as far as we are concerned.
Watch this space for more.
An open letter to theatre and performance makers
This is a letter to self-employed and freelance theatre and performance makers in the UK. To the actors, playwrights, directors, choreographers, stage managers, designers, stage crews and set-builders to name just a few.
Alternative ways to view or hear the letter:
LARGE PRINT Version
We really miss being with you during this period of lockdown. Making theatre and performance is a collaborative endeavour, so we are particularly affected by having to be apart from one another right now. We’re not able to come together, in the same space, to share the experience of a live performance. We’re not able to practise and enjoy our artform in its most basic form.
It’s now looking increasingly likely that won’t be possible for months to come, and we recognise that many freelancers face real uncertainty about if and how they will be able to continue to work in theatre. 70% of people who work in theatre and performance in the UK are freelance or self-employed, and it’s for this workforce, in all its diversity and complexity, that the impact of the current situation is most acute.
During these past weeks we have had conversations with many of you to understand your needs and the ways you have been affected. We are writing to express our support for you, and to lay out some practical steps we are taking to improve the situation based on these conversations.
As well as exploring ways of producing work with freelancers during lockdown, and using this time to develop new projects with freelancers for the future, we are also are working together to coordinate our response to the government, to articulate clearly what we can offer and what we need.
Most urgently, we are calling for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to be extended in line with furloughing, for all self-employed workers, and in the specific case of theatre and performance workers, until theatres are able to safely reopen. We also want to see criteria removed from the scheme which are stopping legitimate and much-needed claims.
Some of you are already involved in these conversations. We welcome your voices and need to hear from more of you in the conversations to come. Your unique networks, skillsets, perspectives, and ideas are vital to the entire sector, and we need to work with you in our response to this crisis.
Each of the organisations who’ve signed this letter are committed to reaching out to their family of self-employed and freelance theatre makers; listening to how this is affecting your work and lives, and to your needs and ideas for the future.
More than that, we want to facilitate the establishment of a national task force of self-employed theatre and performance makers. The purpose of the task force is to strengthen the influence of the self-employed theatre and performance community. It would create ongoing points of connection between freelancers and organisations, and amplify the voice of the self-employed in the conversations to come. To help establish the task force, each of the organisations signing this letter will support a freelancer to join the group, ensuring they are paid for their time.
We want to offer a message of hope and solidarity. Our well-practised ability to work together, to form connections, and build relationships will help us through this. One day, hopefully soon, we will all be able to meet together, as people have done for centuries, in a shared space, for a shared experience. In the meantime, we remain committed to working for you and with you towards a sustainable future for theatre and performance.
Access All Areas
Action For Children's Arts
Actors Touring Company
The Almeida Theatre
Barbican Theatre Plymouth
Battersea Arts Centre
Belarus Free Theatre
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Bristol Old Vic
The Bush Theatre
Chichester Festival Theatre
Chinese Arts Now
Company of Others
Curatin Call Online
Eden Court Highlands
English Touring Theatre
Frozen Light Theatre
Half of Cornwall
In Good Company
Jermyn Street Theatre
Little Angel Theatre
National Dance Company Wales
The National Theatre
National Theatre of Scotland
National Theatre Wales
National Youth Theatre of Great Britain
The New Wolsey Theatre
One Dance UK
Ramps on the Moon
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Rose Theatre Kingston
Royal & Derngate
The Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Shakespeare Company
Stephen Joseph Theatre
Studio Wayne McGregor
Taking Flight Theatre
Talawa Theatre Company
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Theatre Royal Stratford East
Wales Millennium Centre
Premiering on our YouTube channel at 11am on Monday 8th June is the full length show Butterflies and Week 8 of The Mindfulness Project at Home.
Butterflies is the show which inspired The Mindfulness Project. Three friends embark on a big adventure, facing lots of obstacles which they overcome together.
Watch it here:
Butterflies is a co-production with Half Moon Young Peoples Theatre.
More info here
Watch Week 8 of The Mindfulness Project at Home. It is Butterfly week. Where will your Butterfly take you?
Also, brand new this week is our Butterflies Resource pack
The learning resource is a work book which can be enjoyed whilst watching the show or just stand alone as a Mindful activity to work through in your own time.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see the Mindfulness Project at Home sessions here
By Rachel Rookwood
Working on the original mindfulness project was incredibly special for me, being able to go into schools and share my love of yoga and mindfulness is such a great privilege. Combining it with the amazing Tangled Feet show “Butterflies” gave us a unique story to tell and a special way to communicate with the children.
Unfortunately it is undeniable, we are facing a mental health crisis, with evidence it is becoming increasingly more prevalent in our young people with a reported 1 in 10 children suffering with a mental health disorder. Introducing them to yoga and mindfulness at a young age can give them the tools to work through this in a healthy and supported way. This is the crux of the mindfulness project.
When the pandemic arrived and changed our way of life, we knew that the very children we are trying to reach through the mindfulness project would be the ones most affected by the lockdown. With schools being closed we decided to take the project online and provide this amazing resource for free through the Tangled Feet YouTube channel. The Mindfulness at Home Project was born.
The online episodes follow the same pattern as the original schools project with a new episode launching each week over a ten week period. Taking the key elements of the butterflies show we follow the journey of three friends. Together we travel on boats, scale mountains and explore caves carefully guiding the children’s imaginations to explore their emotions. Each episode introduces them to two new yoga postures, a new mindfulness tip as well as different ways to express what they are feeling.
We hope this can start conversations with the people around them, as well as giving useful, memorable tools to help them deal with these explored emotions. We finish the episodes with mini meditations, inviting them to create their own little safe spaces of blankets, cushions and teddies. With all that is going on, everyone needs the opportunity to take some time out to rest their minds and restore.
To watch The Mindfulness Project at Home, head over to Tangled Feet's YouTube channel:
As a response to the current situation we all find ourselves in, last week Tangled Feet launched our Mindfulness Project at Home. The company's ethos and core values become ever more important during these times and we feel that, as a company, we should encourage a culture of nurture, support and creative flexibility to work around the challenges that we face together as a society.
The project will deliver 10 online classes for primary school aged children (4-11) to engage with as part of their home learning. We have also released mini activities that you can find on our social platforms. We are hoping these classes can be a tool to help parents as they try to juggle the challenges of home schooling, your own work and home life, and as a parent of a 9 and 5 year old I know myself how difficult this is!
The programme is a development of Tangled Feet’s Mindfulness Project, launched in 2019 in schools and colleges across Luton. We work with children at key transition years who have been identified by their school as finding the move to a new year group particularly difficult or that they are experiencing anxiety or low self-esteem
Funded by Luton Borough Council’s Art Fund, the pilot project ran for 8 months and is now in its second year and its adaptation to online is part of our Arts Council funded activity. Every time the we run the project we evaluate the impact it has had on our participants. The progress we have seen has been truly heart warming and the results have been extraordinary.
83% reported that they now find it easier to make friends
67% recorded a decrease in a feeling of anxiety about things and that feeling stopping them from joining in
83% reported an improvement in their ability to tell other people how they’re feeling
100% felt less anxious and were therefore able to concentrate more fully
“You have showed such attentiveness to group and individuals, working inclusively, although sensitively to the needs of some if they were keen to ‘watch’ initially rather than joining in. The Safeguarding Officer and Wellbeing TA who watched too fed back that the range of activities were excellent and they picked up some tips too, particularly the language you were using during your story activity. Warmth and encouragement but freedom to withdraw/retreat if needed – we loved it!”
Fiona Byrne, Deputy Headteacher, Stopsley Primary School, Luton
We hope that The Mindfulness Project At Home will help children to explore and understand any feelings of anxiety that they may be experiencing during these times of Covid 19. Each week, myself and Rachel Rookwood, a specialised children’s yoga and mindfulness teacher and the founder of Adventure Yoga, will lead a session that uses storytelling, mindfulness exercises, yoga practice and drama to encourage children to investigate their creativity and develop strategies for coping with anxious thoughts. You can view the first session below and before this session make sure you have made a Paper Boat. It takes a couple of minutes. Find out how here:
The programme is designed to create time to uncover and express their thoughts and feelings. It provides opportunities for children to take time to understand that all our minds get a bit stuck sometimes and that everyone, children and adults alike, are finding these current times strange. We hope that children will learn techniques to manage stress and will develop their confidence and communication skills.
Warm wishes to you and your families,
Participation Director, Tangled Feet
For more information go to our Mindfulness page
On March 8th Tangled Feet Co-Directors Kat and Nathan flew to Iceland to take up a two week residency at the University of the Arts Reykjavik. At that stage, 1 month a go, there were 100 cases of Coronavirus in the UK, a rumour spreading that Italy would lock the northern region and a real sense of not knowing what we would return to.
There was a heightened tension at the airport – our first experience of gloved and distanced customer service teams, quiet security screening and much hand washing.
We flew on a beautifully clear day, and as the icy vistas came into view from the aeroplane window for the first time we felt a huge sense of awe. The idea of polar icecaps (and their melting) is often very abstract, but this whole landscape of ice stretching in every direction suddenly made the world feel both smaller and more epic
On arrival in Iceland it seemed they were one step ahead of the curve with extensive signage and alcohol wash across the airport and city and on our first day at the University an introduction to a new no handshaking policy and the first experience of the elbow shake.
We walked to the campus along the coast of Reykjavik in the snow and reflected on how much it felt like an outpost; a vibrant hub of civilisation clinging to the edge of a huge wilderness.
1) Ensemble physicality and group identity
2) Object manipulation and design-led improvisation
3) Autobiographical storytelling
4) Space and audience dynamics
On the Friday of Week 1 we would reflect on what parts of the workshop had inspired the students and their practice and spend Week 2 making, shaping and creating a performance to be shared on the final day.
Quite early in the first week we had to agree a Coronavirus sensitive method of working. The University had (quite rightly) given all students permission to stay home if they felt the slightest bit unwell, as well as leave early if necessary. We agreed with the group to have no physical contact unless everyone agreed (which they didn’t) and we also decided to let the growing pandemic also inspire our creativity.
Over the first few days we made some really interesting work that demonstrated the students strong physical, improvisational and storytelling skills. We were massively inspired by the boldness, humour and commitment of the students (and the wonderful facilities we had to work in together).
There was some fascinating material in the creation of physical work without connecting physically. Pushing the boundaries of how close people could work without touching (there was no social distancing then) as well as experimenting with people connecting from distance that gave us a glimpse of a physically divided world to come.
We started a visual diary on the wall mapping the ideas and questions we thought would help create a piece:
1) Exercises, games and tasks to try
2) Things to investigate further
3) Questions of the work or ourselves
4) Themes we’d like to investigate
5) Things we are inspired by
As well as questions:
-How can a creative process work for different types of learning styles and people?
-How can these games become more performative?
-Why can’t we let everybody speak?
-Can I just dance?
-Will there be this much physical work each day?
-Will Coronavirus effect this Residency?
The final question was most telling. As we reached Wednesday the whispers began that the University would close and distance learning take over. The effect on the energy of the work was intriguing as what was once something powering towards a performance felt like the air slowly disappearing from a room.
On the Friday morning it was confirmed that that day would be the last day and the residency would find some other way to continue digitally the next week. We hastily created a final physical sharing asking the students to choose the last four days of work-shopping as a starting point and muse on the fact that this could be the last ever piece of theatre before the world changed forever.
The sharing was a collection of scenes thread together: a strange museum of silver emergency blankets, personal storytelling surrounding moments when people had felt most alive, movement that brought to mind contagion and pandemic, a duet of hazard suited dancers lying on the stairs and a space-woman puppet discovering a new landscape
At the start of Week 2 – after our early flights home had been hastily arranged - we sent this provocation:
“To complete our residency together we offer you the provocation: How can we collaborate creatively whilst isolated from one another? This is an urgent question, which the creative industries across the world are trying to answer, so it seems right that we focus our attention here. We can be international pioneers...
We could test the idea that our work can still ‘speak’ to each other even though we making individually, as we have connected creatively as a group through our preparatory work last week, through the listening, sharing, improvising and making that we did together. To this end, our proposal is that, inspired by the work we made together last week, we each individually create a 1 minute video/performance which we share by Friday.”
By Friday we had received 20 videos and they were an intriguing mix of solitary moments of reflection, creation and chaos.
The work included:
#1 - Immediate responses to Coronavirus life and the new focus on our hands and isolated thoughts
#2 - The snowy landscapes common in Iceland (but other worldly to us in the UK) mixed with acts of creativity and reflection
#3 - Very personal reflections on life inspired by the autobiographical workshop the previous week:
#4 - Acts of neighbourhood solidarity and entertainment (from a co-habiting isolators)
#5 - And perhaps post Pandemic strangeness…
What is the next creative phase for this little archive of material from a strange time? Each of our Icelandic collaborators will have their own answer, and perhaps from these experiments, some threads will grow into future ideas...
Since the point when our residency should have concluded (the 20th March, which was the day the schools in England closed) it feels like the world has undergone another monumental shift. From the first frantic negotiation of what separating ourselves and going into social isolation would feel like, we are now having to come to terms with it as a long-term reality. A few weeks later, we've settled into a new routine, the reality of this is beginning to bed in, and we are faced with a challenge of how to sustain ourselves in our own lonely little outposts? How do we sustain our relationships, our creativity, our industry, our connections to each other?
Tangled Feet's creative process is founded on physical connection. We are experts in bringing people together in the same room and forging a group identity, in quickly creating a sense of trust which enables discovery to happen. We did these things in our first few days in Iceland and created the beginnings of a beautiful and fruitful creative laboratory.
But we are unequipped travellers in this new world where so many of our skills are stripped away from us. How do you unfold that relationship of creative trust with a new collaborator when all you have is a Zoom meeting screen and a dodgy wifi connection? So much of what we 'bring to a room' is lost once we are just a face in the video-call sea of faces. How can we vulnerable enough to create together when we are reduced to a (brave) face on a screen? How do you take care of others when you can't give them a hug, read their body language or place a reassuring hand on their knee?
The world of gigs and festivals and clubs and shows is shut, and the elation of a physical experience shared and the connection that it brings has suddenly disappeared. And as the casualties of COVID-19 mount up around us in our spheres, the savageness at this isolation becomes ever more profound. Us humans need to be close to each other. Touch, closeness, physical connection and togetherness is a fundamental part of how we come to terms with things, at the best of times and the worst of times.
Some Creatives right now will be driven to create. And others will be feeling completely stymied and unable to produce anything. Either is natural and right. Whatever our response, we should at least all feel alleviated of the pressure to make great art, right now.
It feels like we are sending smoke signals to each other, to let each other know that we are still here, for a time when we can come back together.
Kat and Nathan
By Sara Templeman
It is hard to believe we were only in Canterbury and Stockton last month making Half Life with our wonderful ensembles. A lot has happened since then and as we face uncertain and challenging times, we wanted to share a special blog dedicated to the very happy time we had making this show. We have ideas for how we can remain connected and keep in touch with all our participants and crew in our lives after Half Life too, so do read on. . .
Half Life was made over a long period of research and development with the founding members of Tangled Feet. We got so nostalgic and reflective as we looked back over 20 years of making theatre and friendship. We then shared our findings and widened the exploration with different participants of all ages at three different theatres who each co-commissioned the show. The whole process has left us all feeling a bit of a shift, both as a company and as individuals. Making a show using autobiographical material with an intergenerational cast and learning about other people's life experiences has definitely unlocked some valuable lessons; and a little bit of magic. We learnt a little bit more about us as human beings and how we are connected in so many ways regardless of age or where we are from. Something we might have already known but maybe don’t get the chance to explore very often, especially with the generational divide in society. It was a really beautiful thing to uncover given these unsettling times across the globe.
Here’s some of the best bits from the journey. . .
In March 2018 nearly all of Tangled Feet’s founding performers were reunited in the rehearsal room after a decade apart. As we ended up explaining in the prologue, “We’ve all been very busy doing other things” . . .making families, working in other professions, creating theatre elsewhere, travelling the world whilst balancing all the stuff life throws at you. We were questioning: how have we changed? What’s stayed the same? Where do we see ourselves now and in another 20 years or another 20 years after that?! What were we like when we were 10 and when we met when we were around 20? We looked back over old photos, diaries, show notes, reliving the days of forming a company at university and then navigating our way through life together and apart. There was a lot of talking, interviewing each other, improvising, playing, tea and coffee drinking, biscuit eating, laughter, tears and even some disagreements. We are like a family after all.
We began the search for participants for our London performances at The Albany in Deptford in Spring 2019. Half Life would be part of their ‘Festival of Creative Ageing’ and we got to meet lots of the community groups who play a huge part at The Albany. Through workshops and over tea, we found our people, a selection of incredible individuals from all over the world who had found themselves in Deptford or nearby at this time. The oldest was 82 years old, the youngest was just 9! We had a wonderful group of young people who came along to a group workshop audition and one of them even recruited her Nan to be in the show. During rehearsals we realised one of the 10 year old’s mum went to school with Kat, our co-artistic director! We got proof after seeing a primary school photo of them together from 30 years ago, when they were just 9 years old. It is a small world!
Over a series of weeks we pieced the show together, making material both as a core team and as a whole ensemble, sometimes with 20 performers navigating their way around the rehearsal space. The set design was a multi coloured playground beautifully designed in rich autumnal colours, great for us big kids and the actual kids to play on and find some fun physical moments. We learnt about people’s capabilities at different ages and made sure we were mindful of looking after each other. The family was expanding!
"I enjoyed how complicit we all became. It felt more than a group of participants but a family and I'm forever grateful for the experience; especially the stories and wisdom told by the 80s"
Participant | The Albany
Making a new show comes with a lot of anxieties and this one in particular, sharing such personal content was daunting. However once we had it in front of an audience, as is always the case, the show really came alive. We really looked after each other in the performances and talking to our audiences after each show was so eye opening. People laughed, cried and the unlikeliest of people identified with the unlikeliest of moments. You never know what goes on inside a person’s mind or what they might have gone through and might identify with given their own experiences.
“A wonderfully entertaining and poignant show - Very courageous. Bravo”
Audience member | The Albany
After a short break over the winter months, the show began its journey at ARC Stockton and then The Gulbenkian in Canterbury. Over a matter of weeks, we sourced participants, the core team were up and down the country workshopping and getting to know our new ensembles; a logistical and creative puzzle which we pieced together bit by bit.
We’ve had a unique relationship with this venue that’s spanned a decade, from bringing ‘Home’ there in 2010 to numerous productions in-between. The participants here were from all over, but living locally in Stockton or nearby in Teesside. They included a Finnish student who had lived in numerous countries in his 21 years, a social media star with tens of thousands of followers, local youth and theatre group members and even a holistic healer from Germany who helped with injuries that occured during the show. Our nearly 40 year old bodies aren’t quite what they used to be! From our first day altogether as an ensemble there was a family feel again.
A few of us indulged in the local delicacy that is the Parmo! So delish. You must try it if you’re ever in Stockton. We have to shout out to Borge, a local restaurant that is home to the World’s Best Parmo. It’s won awards. We went numerous times in our production week after 12 hour days in the theatre! We do love our food. Anyway, I digress.
There were a lot of special moments at each theatre. Time spent chatting in the dressing room, after the performances in the bar, during the tech (when you were meant to be quiet!) These were some of my favourite moments, really getting to know the individuals properly as people. At ARC one moment that stuck out was the impromptu singing altogether straight after coming offstage in that darkened backstage corridor - the little moments of magic that made this a really special show.
One week after saying a teary farewell to the ARC family it was time to move onwards to piecing the show together in Canterbury at our final theatre, The Gulbenkian. We’ve a rich history of touring work here (just like at ARC) so we were excited to be back and this time making it a local affair. The lovely participants at ARC had written short notes to the future participants at The Gulbenkian offering words of advice and well wishes.
"Be brave, try new things and have fun" | "Be true to yourself" | "Keep smiling"
They were gratefully received by our new and final ensemble including a student from University of Kent who had ended up their as part of a refugee program, we had a retired couple both who had worked in education and were patrons of the theatre, an international student from Greece (who managed to throw a little bit of Greek language into the show) as well as a retired London bus driver turned artist who now resided in Margate and not to forget, my Birthday twin! The shows were so well received and we enjoyed meeting and nattering with the audience afterwards, seeing which bits resonated and why. It was the sort of show you can really talk to your audience about in the bar afterwards, I personally had a lot of very frank, honest and open chats. People really opened up and shared their own experiences from seeing us share ours. That felt really special.
“How privileged I feel to have been on stage with your talented company. Thank you all for making us feel so welcome and involved in the process. It was so lovely to be part of an inter-generational project instead of being segregated by age as we so often are”
Participant | The Gulbenkian
At all three theatres a unique ensemble was created in a relatively short space of time. The results were very different at each theatre given the range of people we worked with, but also there were so many similarities and moments of synchronicity. There was a lot of joy felt by everyone and it was such a privilege to hear how people were impacted by being part of the show. Sifting through our audience feedback forms after each performance was so valuable and affirming too. All the generations mixing together was a beautiful thing to encounter. We feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and widen our pool of amazing associates and performers across the country. We are also so relieved that we got to finish the whole project before the current Covid-19 pandemic, but are cherishing all the memories from this show in these isolated times and hope everyone is safe and well. Our response to Covid-19 can be viewed on our website
With this strange time in mind we are offering a Half Life Penpal Challenge. If you participated in Half Life in any capacity, and you would like to stay in touch with your on-stage family with letters and/or drawings to cheer up your fellow castmates while we are all in lockdown, get in touch. We at TF will receive, photocopy and forward all letters on to spread the joy.
If you think that is a good idea and you would like to take part then please email us your name and address at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how to get involved.
All of us at Tangled Feet feel so honoured that so many of you got stuck in and gave so much of yourselves to the shows at each theatre, so a HUGE THANK YOU to EVERYONE! I could talk about the whole experience forever but this blog must end so I shall sign off with this. . . Words from The final scene at The Albany in Deptford, October 2019 written by Pauline, (aged nearly 80) in all her wisdom:
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Like everyone working in the arts, charity and educational sectors we are coming to terms with the short term and long term effects that coronavirus is bringing about.
We are in a fortunate position to be an Arts Council NPO and have been hugely reassured by their support at this time. Before we were an NPO we were in the same boat as many of our friends and colleagues – freelancers and a project funded group surviving from month to month – so we know the fragility of that existence.
The values in our Mission Statement (see end of this document) are even more important in this time of great uncertainty and anxiety, and we will be finding new ways of championing these values.
We will do everything we can to support our colleagues and communities and share our resources and expertise. We will also be an advocate and friend for you - so if you want to share your worries or have a chat get in touch.
What can we offer right now?
Advice, support and a shoulder to lean on
- Please get in touch should you want to talk, share ideas, ask questions or use our expertise and experience at this time. Within our core team we have performing, directing, finance, contracting, social media, dramatherapy and participatory arts expertise and we’d be happy to chat at any time.
If you’d like to read any of our funding bids, Business Plan or Policies get in touch.
We've put together an emergency policy to cover increased flexible- and family-friendly working practices and additional sick pay cover which will be necessary at this time. We've shared it with PIPA and are happy to share with others.
We have a LWB van that is insured for any driver over 25 with a clean license, and a storage/workshop/making space in Mile End (London). Could you make use of these over coming weeks and months?
We are working on getting our Mindfulness Programme for primary & secondary school ages online and sharing digital tools for anyone to practice Mindfulness in what will be an anxious period.
We have put in place measures to make sure that the young people we support through dramatherapy continue to be supported even when schools are shut. We are looking at what other resources our dramatherapy team could provide to support the mental health of young people at this time of intense pressure.
Access to our shows
We will put all of our shows we have full recordings of online and specifically try and get our shows for younger audiences circulated to those stuck at home.
We will be sharing our Resource Pack for Need A Little Help (designed for Primary Schools) for people to access at home.
You can download that here
We are keen to hear from any artists and young people in Luton who need some support at this time and would like to chat about their challenges or concerns. We are looking at what bespoke support we can offer in Luton, and have connected with the other major arts and culture organisations in the town to join up our efforts effectively.
Support for older people
We know that older people may not be as well connected online and will be some of the worst affected by social isolation. We are urgently looking at ways to stay connected with older audiences and friends. As a starting point we will be calling all of the people we met making Half Life and offering them an friendly ear on the end of the phone if they would like a chat at any time.
We are restructuring our creative plan for the year in light of new circumstances, and looking at what creative projects we can bring forward or advance as R and D in the immediate term in order to provide much-needed work for freelancers.
We hope we can help support and create a better future once this period is over and a future with a greater sense of shared power, collective responsibility and kindness.
Love, Tangled Feet
Our Mission Statement:
We believe that art has the power to transform lives.
We believe art succeeds most effectively when people are put before profit.
We believe art must be available and accessible to all.
We believe that collaborative creativity can achieve things that a single artist working alone cannot.
We believe in shared decision making, in equal creative stake, in fair and equal pay.
We believe in young people’s potential to change the world and their right to be seen as a significant part of that world
We believe that sharing stories and narratives in public spaces builds our empathetic connection with each other and brings us closer together.
We want to entertain, to challenge and to delight; to create lasting memories and to inspire other artistic journeys.
We are a dedicated ensemble and believe in long-term rehearsal and performance history. The company formed in 2003 as a group of like-minded artists and friends with a shared vision, and commitment to a collaborative, physical working methodology.
2020 has lot's in store for Tangled Feet.
First up it is Half Life which continues it's journey to ARC Stockton & The Gulbenkian Theatre, who co-commissioned the production along with The Albany in Deptford. We will be working with participants aged from 9 up to 90 in each theatre to bring our intergenerational show to life with local talent. Our founder performers have been reunited to develop the show which recalls 20 years of making theatre together and friendship. It also offers us a chance to examine the big questions about life with help from our cast of all ages.
More info and 2020 tour dates here
The Mindfulness Project is at Luton Sixth Form College this term and is open for bookings nationwide. It's been experienced by over 100 school pupils at 5 different schools across Luton in its first year.
We also have The Mindfulness Project for business. Around 60+ employees from Barclays, South Eastern Railway & TAG (Talent Artistic Group) have taken part already!
Contact Emily on email@example.com for more information!
What a year, collaborating with so many wonderful creatives on so many different projects and productions. Here is a look back at everything in 2019:
Factory Reset September 2019. Photo by Greta Zabulyte
Need A Little Help toured for its 5th year running to the South East.
That Parking Show hit the road for the second time touring nationally across the UK from Stockton all the way down to Bournemouth.
R&D began on Rave New World, a new outdoor production for 2020/21.
Development began for a new show about Looked After Children with Rowan Tree Dramatherapy.
The Mindfulness Project, a collaboration with Adventure Yoga launched into schools & businesses across Luton.
We mentored 4 young companies.
Our annual Sibs Project took place for the 6th time.
The Children & Young People Now Awards nominated us for a Young Carers award for our 'Helping Hands' learning research pack made in collaboration with West Sussex County Council.
Half Life was developed over the whole year and premiered at The Albany in Deptford
In Luton we made Factory Reset, a huge outdoor production working with local and national collaborators to mark the re-opening of the Hat Factory Arts Centre where we now have our very own office!
We enjoyed countless collaborations with our good friends at Next Generation Youth Theatre, cementing a brilliant partnership in our official base of Luton.
Need A Little Help | That Parking Show | NGYT rehearsal for Factory Reset | Original cast of Half Life
Rachel would demonstrate a series of yoga poses that we would then encourage, and support, the participants to shape.
It was impressive how quickly the young people picked up and remembered the different poses- even if they didn't always remember the name. What was really sweet, was witnessing them help each-other when making the poses together.
By Hannah Kelly
When I was asked to be an Intern for Tangled Feet’s Mindfulness Programme, I jumped at the opportunity. Through working with Next Generation Youth Theatre, I have seen how art can transform young people’s lives as their self-worth builds.
Anxiety is something I recognise in many children I have worked with in the past. A report from the Children’s Commissioner in 2017 found that there is an ‘epidemic of anxiety’ in young people. I believe the Mindfulness Programme came along at the right time.
KS1 children from Stopsley Primary School took part in the retelling of Tangled Feet’s brilliant show, ‘Butterflies’ over a period of 10 weeks. Led by Emily Eversden, we explored the butterflies you get in your tummy when faced with something scary or worrying. Alongside this, Rachel Rookwood introduced yoga techniques into the sessions. A sense of calm would often fall across the room (they could be very loud!) as they practised their yoga poses and focused on their breathing.
The children became braver as each session passed; it was touching to see their confidence grow over such a short amount of time. They began to openly share their feelings with the group. A few children were very shy in the beginning but by the end, they were all putting their hands up and getting involved.
My favourite week (and the messiest) was when the children each made a Storm Jar. They were told that whenever they felt a little wobbly and in need of some calm, they could shake the jar and watch the glitter fall. It warmed my heart when a little girl came in a few weeks later and said she kept it next to her bed.
The support they had for one another was undeniable and it became stronger each week. Whether it was helping someone up a rocky mountain they created, a hold of the hand or simply listening to one another, it was lovely to see. I felt proud and emotional in equal measure in the last session.
It had such a positive impact on the children, one that I hope they will carry with them. A focus on mindfulness in schools is something every young person deserves access to. It’s an opportunity for young people to connect with their emotions and become more empathetic towards others. In a world that seems more than a little scary at times, kindness and understanding will go a long way.
A massive thank you to Tangled Feet for this unforgettable experience. Tangled Feet are so full of heart and care and made me feel completely comfortable in my role as an Intern. I'm so excited to see what’s next for the programme!
By Rachel Rookwood
I was thrilled to be asked to take part in Tangled Feet’s pilot mindfulness project for KS1 children. Yoga for children and being able to offer it in schools is a passion of mine. I believe that we are facing a mental health crisis across all age groups and demographics. Anxiety and other mental health issues are becoming more and more prevalent in our young people with 1 in 10 children suffering with a mental health disorder.
Tangled Feet have an amazing show called “Butterflies”, and with the project leader Emily Eversden we set to work on creating a 10 week project telling its story. With the addition of yoga poses and mindfulness exercises we wanted to create a fun and interactive project that would develop concentration and improve behaviour as well as giving us the opportunity to talk about anxiety and how to deal with it. Fourteen handpicked children were excused from normal lessons at Stopsley Primary to take part with us and our pilot scheme was off.
Focusing on a different part of the journey each week we travelled on boats, walked up mountains, explored caves and meadows making new friends and facing our fears along the way. Highlights included making glitter jars to mimic starry nights and flying butterflies around the room.
The progress we saw each week was heart-warming, with the children always excited to see us and opening up more each week telling us about their worries and how they were going to face them as well as seeing improvements in their behaviour and concentration.
Every class ended with a mini meditation, letting them snuggle up with blankets and eye pillows for maximum relaxation. This was always my favourite part of class – watching them relax, take a break and let their little minds settle. It was also where the difference was really seen with the children settling quicker and more calmly each week.
The feedback from the children and teachers has shown that the progress was taken out of the project and into the classroom which is everything we wanted for this project! I can’t wait for our second run.
By Sara Templeman
Life expectancy in the UK is 80 years old. Most of Tangled Feet’s core ensemble and founding members will be turning 40 soon. It’s made us think about what life is like as you approach your expected halfway mark. Also what was it like half a life ago, and half that time again? What will it be like in another 40 years?
In this intergenerational show we ask different age groups these life questions. What’s your world like? What do you care about? What’s important? What do you look forward to? What will life be like in 10, 20, 40 years time?!
Lyn Gardner's column in the Stage last week (We Will Face A Crisis If Early Career Artists Aren't Supported) posed some urgent questions about how we support early career artists. Are we - as a company, and an industry, doing enough?
Many would say (are saying) that we are already facing a deep crisis in terms of our industry's ability to encourage and retain talent from a range of backgrounds. As young people without the benefit of privilege discover they can't make it work, we collectively undergo a kind of cultural apartheid. The range of voices telling stories narrows to a thin, white, male, middle class trickle.
It took Tangled Feet 16 years to achieve the stability of regular funding, and for a large part of the first decade the ensemble was sustained on friendship, loyalty, creative curiosity and a huge number of second jobs rather than actual tangible resources. It wasn't easy at times, but we've always been passionately committed to the methodology and the politics of ensemble working, despite it being often at odds with a theatre industry that isn't set up to nurture work made collaboratively and often over long periods of time.
We created our ensemble mentoring scheme four years ago to address what we saw as a yawning chasm in terms of support for this type of theatre-maker. Although we don't have a building and aren't (often) in the position to give companies money or development time (those vital things that Lyn rightly identifies), our ensemble mentoring scheme aims help emerging companies develop the skills they are going to need to negotiate the difficult early years and to make the most of opportunities that do present themselves. As one of our mentored companies summarised this year "it gives us something we didn't realise we needed, but we really do: time to think about the company, and not just the work".
As an ensemble, you've probably discovered a fantastic creative alchemy together – but how do you negotiate roles when it comes to the immense legwork of getting a show out there? Who does the administration and the finance when (probably) none of you have the training (or necessarily the inclination) to do those things? How do you put together a tour, write a budget, structure a funding application, construct a marketing strategy, pitch to a venue? And how do you develop the resilience, as a group, to stick with it when times are tough?
In our experience, a lot of it is learned through trial and error, making mistakes. A lot of talented ensembles hit a wall or run out steam trying to negotiate a landscape that, as Lyn Gardner identified, isn't particularly receptive to creative ideas that don't develop through script form, and is hugely resistant to the perceived 'risk' of new talent.
Our scheme runs for a year, and over four weekends we bring companies together to learn from our mistakes and from each other. As well as workshop sessions with experienced professionals to develop all of those producing skills that we are supposed to develop somehow via osmosis (fundraising, financial management, pitching, tour planning, marketing etc) we offer each company a dedicated mentor for the year who they can call on for advice or guidance in whatever form they need.
We've found that it's really valuable for companies to have this sounding board – someone they can ring at 9pm on a Thursday night for some urgent advice about negotiating with a venue, who'll help them make difficult judgement calls about when to stand their ground about something and when it's best to work a compromise.
We also help them find a route through the madness of Grantium. The majority of the 13 companies who've now undertaken the scheme have put in their first Arts Council bid with our support. All of those bids have (touch wood) been successful so far. And Tangled Feet continue to cheer from afar as our previous mentees go from strength to strength – in the last few weeks Ditto Theatre and High Rise have been shortlisted for the New Diorama/Underbelly Untapped Award and Ivo Theatre have landed a commission as part of the Albany's Rebels season.
Last weekend marked the end of our fourth year of running the scheme – the last workshop day is always an emotional one as we look back over where we've come together, the distance we've travelled and the friendships we've formed. The mentored companies always provide huge inspiration for Tangled Feet, and we've sought out opportunities to work with these artists where possible with paid opportunities, and to maintain the relationships. Our hope is that over time we help to develop a network of ensembles who share information and offer support, guidance and inspiration to each other as we find a foothold in the industry.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE? Tangled Feet's Ten Point Manifesto for supporting emerging artists
How can NPO-funded buildings and companies help ensembles?
Marketing: Too often we hear the line that it's too hard to sell tickets for new/emerging work. But in our experience, with a collaborative, imaginative approach and a company willing to put in some legwork, really sizeable audiences can be found. Theatres need to stop using the lazy defence that putting a show in a brochure should be enough to magically sell tickets and commit properly to audience development. Emerging companies are often full of ideas and happy to expend energy trying new things. This could be a learning opportunity for both sides.
Paid internships: If Tangled Feet can commit to putting a properly paid internship on every single production, then so can major buildings and companies. Target these internships towards those without privilege.
Take stock: what can you spare or share? Once we are funded and resourced, we often have more than we need or can use at any one time. What's that portable lighting rig doing between shows? Is there a bit of extra space in your store? A spare desk in your office? Could you loan out your van at cost? Find someone who will benefit from your very kind in-kind contribution.
How can Emerging Ensembles help themselves?
Stop subsidising the sector with unpaid labour. At least keep track of unpaid hours and their equivalent value so you can demonstrate what the actual costs are. As soon as you are able, build the cost of producing and administrating into your show budgets to sustain yourselves between projects.
Build in self-care: You can't keep going if you're not looking after yourselves and each other. Emotional well-being is vital: take time to check in, address issues and prevent burn out.
Find a fair way to share the load: If one person is doing all the legwork unacknowledged, resentment is going to set in and then it's game over. Keep communication open and clear about who can do what; this will likely evolve over time as people's capacity changes.
Ask for what you need: don't be shy, people will often say yes.
Remember to have fun: Allow yourselves time to play stupid games, make each other laugh, hang out as mates. It's the fuel that will keep you burning long-term.
Tangled Feet's mentorship scheme has been supported for the last four years by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. We're taking a short hiatus while we secure funding for the next round, but hope to begin the next year this autumn.
We can't wait to get stuck in to 2019 but first here's a few Tangled Feet 2018 highlights:
We toured 5different shows to 29places across the UK including Luton, Dagenham, Grimsby, Bath, Salisbury, Coventry and Sheffield.
On the horizon for 2019
That Parking Show returns for a 2019 tour. If you'd like to book this hilarious, acrobatic and absurdist mix of parking row meets full blown war (with cling film!) please get in contact with firstname.lastname@example.org
Need a Little Help goes back on the road and into schools across the UK. If you are interested in booking this uplifting show inspired by the experience of young carers please get in contact with our new Director of Participation Emily Eversden at email@example.com
For more details of this project or to refer a young person contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Here's a reminder of the blog Nathan and Emily wrote about how TF are trying to tackle the epidemic of anxiety in young people.
On Wednesday 12 December, Tangled Feet are offering a FREE workshop for Bedfordshire based Drama teachers.
As part of the Arts Council’s #thankstoyou programme Tanged Feet are saying a big THANK YOU to teachers in Bedfordshire and offering some free professional development, theatre training and fun times as we share how Tangled Feet work.
If you work as a Drama teacher in a Bedfordshire secondary school and are a National Lottery player you can gain access to the working style of Tangled Feet theatre company in a 90 minute workshop. Tangled Feet are one of hundreds of participating National Lottery funded organisations across the UK saying ‘thanks’ to people who have raised money for good causes by buying a lottery ticket.
The idea is simple: On Wednesday 12 December at 4 - 5.30pm, come along to Cardinal Newman Catholic School to join colleagues in a workshop led by Nathan Curry, Co-Director and Emily Eversden, Participation Director of Tangled Feet.
Tangled Feet is a theatre ensemble and a charity. We create original, visually stunning, transformative performances, sometimes inside theatres but often in other public spaces. We create atmospheres and experiences for the audience which are thrilling, surprising and memorable, which always feel 'live' and in the moment, where the unique reality of this audience, in this moment, right here is acknowledged and celebrated.
For more information, please email Emily Eversden, Participation Director, Tangled Feet at email@example.com
The National Lottery
National Lottery players raise, on average, £30 million each week for projects all over the country. In total £38 billion has been raised for Good Causes since The National Lottery began in 1994 and more than 535,000 individual grants have been made across the UK, the majority (70 per cent) of which are for £10,000 or less, helping small projects make a big difference in their community!
Arts Council England
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people's lives. We support a range of activities across the country - from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.
www.artscouncil.org.uk @ace_national #NationalLottery
Terms and Conditions
-One National Lottery Ticket free entry to workshop for one participant
-All National Lottery games qualify for free entry workshop (including both National Lottery Draw- based games and National Lottery Scratch Cards). Proof of puchase can be either a hardcopy ticket or a digital ticket
-The offer is valid from Wed Dec 12th 4pm-5.30pm at Cardinal Newman School, Luton
-Tangled Feet has the right to refuse entry in the unlikely event of the venue reaching capacity as well as other circumstances outside of its control
-The promoter is Tangled Feet
-In the event of queires on the day the manager's decision is final
A report from the Children’s Commissioner at the end of last year found that there is an ‘epidemic of anxiety’ in young people. The number of children seeing psychiatrists has risen by a third, with the highest increase – 31% in a year – seen in those aged 9 and under. It’s a shocking rise. (Thanks to Flossie Waite from Children’s Theatre Reviews for digging out the statistic).
It was this sort of news that prompted us to make Butterflies, a Co-Production with Half Moon, that used anxiety in children as a starting point for a show for 3-8 year olds. We first started making the show in 2017 and did some test performances at Half Moon. This year we have developed the show and it’s touring until Nov 24th. Alongside the tour we have launched a Mindfulness programme to run in four schools in 2019.
The performance of Butterflies depicts a journey of three characters as they encounter various anxieties. We developed ideas for the types of anxiety they would feel through research, development rehearsals and some workshop sessions with a group of young people who refuse to go to school due to extreme anxiety (part of our Dramatherapy programme in Croydon). We focused on anxieties that are often deep rooted in our hearts and minds (separation anxiety, the dark, loud noises, heights) alongside ones that are learnt or developed as we socialise and grow up (anxiety over failure, public perceptions of us, not knowing what might happen next).
For children all of these anxieties are keenly felt. Anyone attempting to get a young baby to sleep in their own room or be ok at the morning drop off knows how strong the anxiety over separation is felt (by both parties). We all have these and are often born with inbuilt triggers to make us worry in order to survive. Even the very young have ‘butterflies’ We recently did a workshop for under 5’s who were seeing Butterflies the following week to discuss the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’ or the fear over not knowing what will happen next and these are feelings that are strongly experienced at that age.
As we grow up and start to socialise and go to school the anxieties grow and become more complex. The worry over changing year groups or a whole new school, getting things wrong in class or in life and the perception of you by your peers and elders. There is an anxiety to trip you up everywhere.
In Butterflies and our Mindfulness programme we highlight that a small dose of anxiety is vital to help us get through the day unscathed (not run into a road, jump off a wall, to be ready for an exam) – it’s when the anxiety starts to take control – when it slips into the driving seat of our lives- that’s when its debilitating and can make you ill. With the show and workshop programme we want to look at how we can live with or ride with small levels of anxiety and when there is a surge then friendships, creativity, talking and practical exercises can help.
Our school years require so many skills, in particular how we adapt, how we cope with change. Imagine in your adult working life having to change your boss, your work setting and your aims and targets every 12 months. Now apply this to when you were 5. Transition is difficult and for some children it can feel impossible. Through our discussions with teachers across all key stages and our own experiences in schools it had become clear that there are two particular years were the transition for students was a bigger jump. Year 1; where students move from the free flow play model of reception to more structured learning, and at the other end of the spectrum year 12; where the move from GCSE to A Level requires a more independent learning model. Teachers have reported that at these transition points symptoms of anxiety were more prevalent and mental health, particularly at year 12, started to suffer in some students. A report released today from Action for Children finds that 1 in 3 teenagers are suffering from anxiety. This is something that absolutely needs addressing nationally and it seems that this is becoming more apparent to Ofsted.
“Good mental health is the foundation to young people achieving their aspirations. There have been changes to the Ofsted common inspection framework, and these are centered on emotional wellbeing.” Innovating Minds. To be outstanding schools must enable students to be able to “make informed choices about healthy eating, fitness and their emotional and mental wellbeing”.
Tangled Feet’s mindfulness project is being funded by the Luton Arts Fund supported by Luton Borough Council & Luton Culture. It is aiming to create a safe space where students can explore their feelings physically and verbally, work with them, talk about them and also learn specialist tools that they can utilise when they feel that panic building. We are working with a mindfulness teacher to create a programme of bespoke sessions for each of the 4 schools involved in the pilot project. The objective is to give students the ability to take more control of their emotional wellbeing, achievement and happiness in school and beyond.
When Butterflies opened at Half Moon theatre earlier this year it was reviewed by Flossie Waite at Children’s Theatre Reviews. She was extremely candid in her review and noted that her anxiety had been felt since childhood, continued today and the experience of watching Butterflies when younger could have been transformative:
“There’s so much to be anxious about as a young person now, from social media to the general instability that we’re all currently living through, but levels of anxiety seem to be rising alongside levels of awareness. As someone who has had anxiety for as long as I can remember – certainly from the age of the young audience sat around me, captivated by the show – seeing Butterflies 20 years ago would have been a truly transformative experience, though watching it now is powerful enough. Ultimately, however, this show is for everyone – from those who only occasionally feel a flutter in their tummy to people like me whose belly is basically a butterfly tent – speaking compassionately to those who suffer, and showing ways to be supportive for those who don’t.” (Flossie Waite https://childrenstheatrereviews.com/2018/09/23/butterflies/)
Although it was sad to read about Flossie’s battle with anxiety it affirmed the shows importance to start conversations in school, in friendship groups and in families. Our mindfulness programme will follow up that conversation with creative activities, discussions and mindfulness exercises.
If some of those children who are statistics of the Children’s Commissioner report or Action for Children Survey find themselves within the Mindfulness Programme in 2019 we hope we leave them with tools to help them in the future. We aim to expand the programme after the pilot year.
Nathan Curry (Co-Director) & Emily Eversden (Participation Director)
Butterflies tours until Nov 24th /productions/31-butterflies
The Mindfulness Programme runs in four Luton schools from Jan-May 2019 and was funded by Luton Council, Luton Culture, Arts Council England, University of Bedfordshire and Capital Regional 7
READ ALL ABOUT IT...
As we get ready for two productions opening next week and next month we've been featured in some press articles that unpick how we've made the work.
Boots on the Ground opens on August 26th/27th and was featured in Salisbury Journal
In Septmber Butterflies and Need A Little Help go on UK tours and we've been chatting to Children's Theatre Review about how and why we make work for young people
Tangled Feet have just returned from 9 days in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria where we co-created a new piece of site-specific theatre with 5 local schools (150 young people) and the local community. It was a gruelling, fairly stressful and completely uplifting experience.
Since returning home I’ve been thinking about what it means to make work in and alongside a community and how powerful the effect can be when that community has less opportunity to access artistic experiences than others. I’ve also been thinking of where love fits into community theatre.
We set out to make a show that was created by the young performers (and one of their teachers) and whilst responding to and inspired by local realities, we hoped it would stretch everyone in terms of style and content.
The story was developed using the local Loki Stone (a carving of the Norse God of Chaos found nearby) as a starting point. The show started with the discovery of a large box, dug up from underneath the school playing field (local farmer Monty provided the large hole.) By opening the box the spirit of Loki was released and mayhem ensued. We imagined a world where Loki was messing with the elements; water, earth, wind and heat and turning the weather on its head (not hard to imagine recently). What followed was a site responsive, indoors and outdoors promenade performance with live music as we attempted to tame the weather and get Loki back under control.
Reflecting on the experience I wanted to share some thoughts:
1) “Heroes don’t always wear capes”
The arts are held up, celebrated and shared by key individuals in local communities and they are the ones that are sustaining creativity in young people. Tangled Feet were merely visitors to this community and the ambition, free labour and tenacity of Kate Lynch and Vicki Betram who run Kirkby Stephen Community Arts was the reason it happened. They were and are completely professional but did most of this gig unpaid – I wonder if funders, the local community and artists know their extraordinary value.
It seems completely simple to a devising ensemble and probably to many theatre makers reading this but the simple act of giving up creative power and putting the authorship of the art into the hands local young people leads to some astounding results. Yes the dramaturgy may be patchy, the work under rehearsed and design only filtered through a few days of creative thinking but the outcomes on this project were of a different value (that word again). The students and community feel creatively powerful. One student will now start their own drama club in a local school with no drama provision, the school ‘jam’ band is keen to revive, the local amateur dramatic group has new younger performers, the drama teacher had intense CPD, the school witnessed problematic Year 7 boys become men, students from 5 schools bonded through creative thinking. But most importantly the students saw themselves as the artists - they made the creative decisions- they made the art, they were not pawns in the art. Einstein said something like “If you teach a child merely knowledge they will create what they know. If you teach them creativity, they will create things no one has ever thought of.” I feel like this is something we all need reminding of.
3) Work rurally
I loved being in Cumbria. The community and landscape are things of beauty but the rural communities have huge challenges accessing cultural experiences. Tangled Feet have recently worked in the most rural parts of Somerset and Cumbria. I have been struck during those experiences of how isolated young people can be from the arts unless they have a parent ‘to take them’. There is very basic (if any) public transport, a handful of venues if you can get to them and a circuit of under resourced rural touring shows or theatre in education shows that schools can hardly afford. What are we all doing about this or are we just going to continue to have larger playhouses and events and expect people to pitch up to us? I have often suggested that all regular funded arts organisations should make one piece of free to access outdoor art every year, I’ll now add to that list they should all work rurally (at their own expense) or in areas with little public transport infrastructure.
4) Work site specifically/outdoors in schools
Whilst the weather it not always going to be as kind as it has been this summer, going outside (especially with young people) to make art changes the rules with incredible results. Everything becomes more democratic, limitless and the dynamic between collaborators is re-imagined. The walls of a building where art may be hung, the rows of chairs facing a stage and narratives set in rooms are all blown out of the water and replaced by a canvas that has no rules. It also changes how the audience move and talk with each other – the space becomes less formal and less intimidating.
5) The Silo
The experience also highlights the power of gatekeepers and the dangerous attitude of putting creative thinking into a silo of ‘the arty fartys’. We faced some suspicion about why we had come, some key people needed more convincing than others and because the event didn’t include winning anything the value we offered (confidence, team work, creative thinking, friendship, leadership, artistic skill, catering, marketing, lighting, health & safety, negotiation, development ideas.. I could go on…) wasn’t immediately obvious. There was lots of ‘we don’t do that’, ‘it’s not for me’ and I am sure there were some people who tried their best to ignore our presence. I have to ask myself why is that? Their fear? Our attitudes? Our work? Perhaps it’s all tied up in the poisonous thought that theatre is only for a few and you either can or can’t do it. Everyone can be creative and everyone is welcome but its up to both sides to break down barriers.
Love was very present in Kirkby Stephen and the surrounding communities. You could tell the young people really cared for each other and the way the families engaged with the project and their neighbours was a thing of beauty. When I was on one of my site visits in the snow (remember that?) back in March local people took in stranded motorists and gave them a bed and food. On this summer visit I noticed the Police Station is only open two afternoons a week. In this part of the world the community is the emergency service. Never have I worked on a project where every request was met with a cheery ‘I’ve know someone who can do that” and the next day they appeared ready to offer their services. They took responsibility for each other, for the success of the project and for their visitor’s happiness. How often do you take responsibility for your community (however you define it)?
We feel like we started a beautiful new relationship with Kirkby Stephen and the surrounding area and we can’t wait to go back. I’ll leave you with the thoughts of a parent below. Nathan
“What an amazing experience for the audience but more importantly for the students. Such immersive experiences are vital for a small rural school where geography and funds limit access to mainstream art and culture. It may sound unlikely that eight days can make such a difference to children’s lives but such a unique experience which takes them out of their comfort zone and plunges them into a different world alongside other students they may not have socialised with or thought they had anything in common with can be truly transformative.“
Photos by Ben Holmes