Apr. 1st 2020

Life After Half Life

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.

 

The Albany

 

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.

 

Arc Stockton

 

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. 

 

 

The Gulbenkian

 

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  contact@tangledfeet.com 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:

 

There are many challenges in life.

Things will happen to us without warning

If we knew what was coming could we do anything differently?

Maybe, maybe not.

The wheel goes round.

The waves come for us. Sometimes, rough seas carry us and we are helpless.

What are we going to do, sit and cry?

No.

Look after yourself.

Eat properly.

Love properly.

Forgive properly.

Learn to let go of anger.

Meditate.

Take each day as it comes. Make the time count.

Laugh, and say, WOW!

 

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  • The most accessible and original theatre company working in the UK today”

    The most accessible and original theatre company working in the UK today”

    The Stage
  • Tangled Feet offer a glimpse of magic”

    Tangled Feet offer a glimpse of magic”

    Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
  • For Tangled Feet, theatre is a contact sport”

    For Tangled Feet, theatre is a contact sport”

    The Stage
  • Tangled Feet, the masters of physical theatre”

    Tangled Feet, the masters of physical theatre”

    The Independent
  • They are defining the future of theatre”

    They are defining the future of theatre”

    The Edinburgh Guide
  • An astounding spectacle..a uniformly excellent ensemble…stunning”

    An astounding spectacle..a uniformly excellent ensemble…stunning”

    www.fringereview.com