Check here for latest news from the company as well as rehearsal room updates, articles from the creative teams and what we are up to next.
Check here for latest news from the company as well as rehearsal room updates, articles from the creative teams and what we are up to next.
by Abbi Dawson
As we come to the end of the Kicking & Screaming tour it’s a good time to look back and see how much the show has grown since we first took it out in April last year when it was just a little wee baby trying to find it’s feet.
As my role as Stage Manager at the end of every show I clean up the set and all the mess of the toys, yoghurt and Shreddies that have been thrown around, and I cannot help but think of myself as a mother picking up after a long day with her kids. I’ve seen K&S develop from one tour to the next, and the characters thrive. It has certainly been a fun filled journey, with plenty of laughs along the way.
A show day from start to finish can take me through a whole range of emotions; such as joy, rage, love, sadness, optimism, fear and surprise. A roller-coaster ride that I believe could mirror a day in the life of a parent, and I am sure our two directors would agree with this.
The final scene of K&S perfectly describes how I feel about the show (spoiler alert for who has not watched it yet). Watching each washing line come out of the washing machine, starting from baby clothes that grow in size up until young adults, and knowing it’s time for them to leave the nest and fly. The 8thNovember in Reading is our final show, I will feel like a very sad parent who has seen my baby grow up and leave. However, in the hopes that they would come back and visit, I also hope this will not be the last time we get to re-visit K&S and I’m extremely excited and hopeful for it’s future.
We’ve had lots of fun and adventures along the way, below is a picture from our 27mile bike ride to Stonehenge with some of the Tangled Feet family on K&S!
By Al Orange
Kicking and Screaming is quite a big show to get into a space in one day. We have lighting, live sound, a set with lots of bits that need putting together and projection, and as technical manager, I often don’t get to see that much of the places we are visiting as my days are filled with wiring and programming and sound checking, and I sometimes spend far more of my time with my equipment than I do with the other members of the cast.
But there is one moment that I enjoy more than any other on this tour, something that helps to wash away all the tiredness and stress of managing the show, and that is the simple pleasure of cuddling babies, and talking to parents. We have been doing a series of baby-friendly shows in most of our venues, and it is an extraordinary moment in time. Quite apart from providing a much needed opportunity for new parents to be included in the arts, they provide such a wonderful atmosphere and shared social space.
Parents take a lot longer to leave an auditorium than other theatre goers. Babies need changing, they need feeding, they need the chance to crawl around on the play mats after having sat still for over an hour. And this is where I have my special moment. I have had so many wonderful conversations with parents, who have really shown their appreciation for how we have created a space of them and their children. It is extremely heartening to know that we are doing something that is so precious to people, that we are addressing an access need that has been ignored for too long in so many areas of society.
And then there’s the cuddles. I have met some very special tiny people, and remembering them brings a smile to my face. There was the little girl who was fascinated by my pink hair, and stopped crying every time she saw me. There was a beautiful little boy who just had the softest head in the world. There were two lovely little twin boys who just kept wanting to hug each other. And all of them seem to love the music and the lighting just as much as their parents are enjoying the play. I’m extremely proud of the special shared experience we have managed to create, and Kicking and Screaming is one of those shows that will always have a place in my heart.
For the purposes of illustration here is me cuddling Tangled Feet stunt baby, Claude.
by Hannah Gittos
I'm about to get ready and head to the Hackney Showroom for our 2 day run in London. Very exited and nervous to be doing the show to a home crowd!
Having previously toured this show last year I thought I had an idea of the experience I was about to embark on. Yet, like most things in life, nothing ever turns out the way you imagine!
I've found this a difficult show to be involved with at times. I'm a single 36 year old woman with no children. Delving into the complexities of parenthood and the intricacies of the relationships that surround it has been fascinating, difficult and sometimes heart wrenching.
I wonder if I'll ever experience being a mother?
As I stand as Ronnie and watch the children's clothes come out in the final scene of the show the reality of never having children sometimes flashes before my eyes. I can't quite articulate at the moment how I feel about that.
When the five of us are behind stage in the pre-show waiting to begin there is a very distinctive energy amongst us all. I can best describe it as like being suspended at the top of a roller coaster before it plunges into the unknown. Sara and Ciaran need to talk, Royce and I can't speak and Laura floats somewhere in-between.
The audiences have been so diverse from captivated babies, teenagers, uni students, parents, grandparents, carers, friends who all seem to have been touched in some way by the story lines. It's really wonderful be part of something that can do that. It reminds me of why we do what we do.
After our first night at Hackney, I travel home with one of my best mates who came to see the show. She's an extraordinary women. She made the brave and selfless decision to foster her nephew when she was 6 months pregnant with her daughter. To say that she's experienced the raw reality of what parenting can be really is an understatement.
As we walk from the train she says to me;
"This is why I love the theatre. I felt a bit shit before I came out. I had a headache and really wasn't in the mood. Seeing that show has jolted me into a completely different head space. It's so important".
As the tour comes to an end, I'm realising how important and wonderful this tour has been for so many reasons. It has completed a personal and professional journey for me that started 3 years ago with the R and D for our previous show PUSH. I'm so very proud of everyone involved and thank Tangled Feet from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity.
By Emily Eversden
As you climb up the scaffold ladder and haul yourself and your luggage to the top of our structure for the third time in a six hour show, you don't know what response you'll get from this set of onlookers. They look up at you, another new arrival, and watch you for your next move. Spat out of the multicoloured, beautiful design by Alex Rinsler and Mike De Buts, sometimes we don't know what our next move is. I look around trying to make eye contact with someone, many avoid this but one lady holds my gaze and gives me a little half wave. "That's nice" I think.
Spat out of the multicoloured, beautiful design by Alex Rinsler and Mike De Buts, sometimes we don't know what our next move is. I look around trying to make eye contact with someone, many avoid this but one lady holds my gaze and gives me a little half wave. "That's nice" I think.
Once I've made the descent down the knotted rope (doesn't get any less scarier even after 50+ descents by the way) and had a little explore, I find that lady again and set up camp in front of her. Whatever I do in those next 5 minutes has an effect on her because she's started to cry. This happened to me on the second day of our Brighton shows with a man, a Dad watching the show with his daughters. I knew from a little, sad shake of his head that he had created a story for my character and he understood some of what we were trying to show and suggest.
6am: alarm wakes me from second night in a row of recent-events-inspired nightmares about trying desperately to go back on a calamitous and irreversible decision. I bounce out of bed and immediately crick my neck, which does not bode well for all the physical activity I'll be subjecting my body to this afternoon.
7:20am: train from Lewes to Victoria. Having spent the past two days studiously avoiding social media for fear of being drawn down a black hole of despair, I trawl social media. And am drawn down a black hole of despair.
8:30am: tube across London. I play backgammon against a dumb AI. And lose.
8:55am: train from Euston to Watford. First caffeine of the day.
9:15am: day is considerably brightened by the sight of my director Nathan on the platform of Watford Junction in shorts and a T-shirt - willing the weather to stay fine for our outdoor performances, and shining with the splendour of spring.
10am: warm-ups in our ample changing room at Watford library. A thick cloud of political upheaval hangs over an otherwise happy reunion: we have not seen each other since we performed the show at Brighton Festival a few weeks back. And it's all all right really: we're going to put things one tiny percentage point right by giving the world some pertinent street theatre to mull upon.
10:30am: we remind ourselves of the 'Watford version' - we'd always known we'd be two people down today, and had hid a plan up our sleeve. We refind it, and each other - complicity rekindled.
11:15am: to the Structure, for rope climbing practice. I am the first one allowed down the rope, and take this picture of Watford High Street from the top. It's five metres down. Which is a long way when there's no net, no grass, no spotters, no harness, no belief in a benevolent omnipotent supernatural deity. I do sometimes get dizzy at height, but I have always felt totally at ease with the Structure. (By the way, we do have our own name for the Structure, but I won't share it here, for fear of attracting the wrong sort of googletraffic)
11:30am: stumble-throughs of the three scenes: Washing Line, Lifejackets, and Quoops.
Midday: to the library, to get into costume and splatter multicoloured cornflower on our faces (now that I see it written, I'm not actually sure it actually is actually cornflower but no matter)
12:30: show 1 begins. I am again the first to appear at the top of the Structure - an honour believe me. As I emerge, a commotion is ensuing below: there is an almighty flurry of deckchairs, as the seating for the performance is distributed and rearranged. You may think this would have happened before the performance began, but we do things a little differently at Tangled Feet.
12:35: I begin my descent down the rope. I'm not quite being as ooh-risky-risky-might-fall-y as I was in Brighton, mainly because of my neck. At the bottom, I tentatively approach the bedeckchaired spectators and show them my X-ray collection. Three others as cornflowered as me emerge and descend. We do not know each other.
1:10pm: scene 1, Washing Line. It doesn't quite go as planned: the washing line itself is new, and the coat hanger doesn't glide quite as smoothly along it as it did on the last one. I'm playing the Father for the first time, and remember most of my new cues.
1:30pm short break while the other tag team do their descents into Lifejackets. I eat my Caesar salad, which I've just remembered I never gave Leon the money for.
2:15pm: my second descent and roam. I count coins and brush my teeth. Or my character does. I've just realised he doesn't have a name.
2:30pm: scene 3: Quoops. Goes pretty well, I think.
2:45pm: we dance our Finale, for the first of two times today. This is my absolute favourite part of the show, and there are moments in here that rank among my fave choreographies from all twelve-ish Tangled Feet shows I've been part of.
3:03pm: everyone gets a little break, and my team gets a longer break while the others begin show 2 with Washing Line. Conversation drifts inevitably towards the calamities in the headlines. I make a point of staying relatively tight-lipped, though I feel the wrath, and of chilling the fork out.
3:45pm: my fourth emergence, straight into Lifejackets. This is the least abstruse of the three scenes - the imagery and implications are crystal clear. I'd wager that, what with the upheavals occurring closer to home, many people have shelved their concerns for the suffering of those dying daily on life rafts in the Mediterranean. We serve up a needed and unsentimentalised reminder.
5:25pm: I pimp my services to the other tag team, who are down a body for Quoops.
5:45pm: the final Finale. It goes very well, except that I collide with a fellow actor twice - the same actor, and entirely my fault both times. At the end, we get that kind of round of applause that's just a little bit louder and sincerer than you were expecting, and it gives you the warm glow of having made something of an impact on people's day.
6pm: the show is over. Wet wipes are daubed on multicoloured foreheads and cheeks. Sweaty costumes are dumped in a bag for the wonderful stage management team to worry about. Bruises are compared. (I mention my neck but if it ain't a bruise you ain't got nothin' to show.)
7pm: we go for dinner. I have a somewhat underwhelming burger, and the talk is 90% EU. It is too early to ask how Tangled Feet will react.
8:35pm: I leave Imagine Watford festival behind for another year as my train departs the Junction to take me - via the Victoria line - back to Lewes and home.
11:13pm: the welcomed embrace of a loving - and three months pregnant - wife. What world for our children - born and unborn? The outlook may have darkened of late, but I'm perversely cheered by the knowledge that states always have been - and always will be - rotten to the core. We can but hope that the freedom of expression we enjoyed today - to make progressive, socially-conscious, government-subsidised art that is completely free for its audience to consume - survives for our children to create and enjoy.
By Tunji Falana
When creating an outdoor show of any kind be it conventional theatre or physical theatre or a show on a loop for 8hrs that involves climbing down a 7m high structure, you always plan for a wet weather version. That is a version that should in case its drizzling, we do x y and z take it easy etc. Well the version for when its really bucketing it is just no show. This is what we were greeted with for our first show of Emerge/ncy at Brighton on the 28th May 2016, a bank holiday weekend. I know its silly but often I equate bank holiday to sunny day, but the weather/nature doesn't care what I think. So the show was delayed for 3hrs on the first day.
We began the show, it’s great, the audience is with us but with caution as the grass is wet from heavy rain and no one really wants to stand let alone sit in puddles. As performers we braved our condition through slips and slides, I myself had a big fall/slide, but used it in the action as I was struggling to stay on a boat.
After my slip and fall, I couldn't help but wonder if that was a real boat. Then I started to think about those who have/had risked it all for a better life, perhaps did fall off a boat at some point and struggled to climb back on board. Some I presume made it back on and others didn't. I no longer felt sorry for myself but rather glad that we are able to give a minuscule representation or idea of what it would be like to flee ones home and go through such horrid condition in order to have a chance and a safer life.
All in all we ended on a high, with the wind doing its part to make its presence know via props and costumes. All the performers did extra ordinarily well, our Directors needless to say are always brilliant. I’d like to give a big shout out to our crew especially Luke Gledsdale, Abbi Dawson and Jenny Kassner, for taking care of us, setting resetting, figuring and execution solutions to problems. From rehearsals to performance, without an amazing crew like them, we would be unable to tell our story right.
We aren’t done yet; next stop Woolwich 2nd July. Come one come all.
Emerge/ncy premiered at Brighton Festival late last month. The first of three performances across the South East this Summer. It was a brilliant location for our first ‘outing.’ I LOVE BRIGHTON!!
After rehearsing on the structure indoors it felt so different suddenly having the structure outside, laid bare for the public in the middle of a popular park with the elements at force. It seemed smaller to look at, but still felt enormous to climb up it, nerve wracking to stand on the narrow platform at the top of it and then bracing yourself for the epic climb off it down that rope! Even more than in rehearsal now being faced with wind blowing making the whole structure move and the materials flap around as you climbed up and stood high upon it taking in the 360 degree surroundings!
Sadly the rain won on the morning of our first performance day so we didn’t get to start the performance until the early afternoon. We were then extremely lucky with sunshine for the whole of the rest of the weekend.
Anyway enough of the weather forecast!
We had a lot to contend with in our performances – seagulls and children were particularly present and we had to be careful, aware and open with our interactions once we were off the structure. This is something you can’t rehearse or experience until the live day as you have no idea how people will react or if they will interact at all!
There were a few instances of gaining a gaggle of children following us around the park asking silly questions – an honest response but it was a common feeling amongst the group that we wanted to try and fit into the surroundings and not stand out and as this really highlighted our presence it made me personally feel a but vulnerable.
So I had to ignore the children! It felt a bit mean and feels a bit mean to type that but I think it was necessary to try and find more interesting moments with other audience members.
A few interactions stand out for me. I had a moment with a large map and a lovely Spanish man and his daughter came over and tried to help me navigate my way around the map. He totally went along with the game (The map was actually of Snowdonia not Brighton) and he showed me a spot to get to on the map and spoke Spanish the whole time! It didn’t matter I didn’t understand him as we found a way to communicate regardless of the language barrier. It was a really interesting moment for me. I love that our shows can be understood purely on physical interaction and no script/dialogue.
I actually got a cuddle from an audience member during ‘The Happening’ which works as a finale moment of the show. We are physically asking the audience if we are accepted and in getting an actual hug, it really moved me and made me feel just that - Accepted!
The final moment for me that really resonated was during the finale again. We offer a series of movements asking for acceptance and during that we gained nods and smiles and a real sense of togetherness with the audience and it moved me to tears. It was a remarkable reaction as a performer as I feel like for the first time I truly connected with the message of the piece and had a unique response within myself! It was a surprise that I would be so connected as we hadn’t had much chance to play around with audience or indeed character. We didn’t even have character names and I hadn’t really finalised any specific traits or personality for my character as I made the decision to ‘demonstarte’ rather then ‘act’ as such. Then being live on the day, feeding from the audience made it all very clear and simple and gave me a unique feeling as a performer that I haven’t really felt before in any show I’ve ever done.
By Gemma Creasey
I first became involved with Emergency in the initial creation when it was known as Funnel. As suggested by the working title, this was to be a piece that would have a powerful visual impact in the space it occupied. Along with it’s visual presence, are the emotional journeys of the people arriving to the environment during the piece. Who are these invaders? Where have they come from? and why are they here?
The word 'refugee' is thrown around in the media and often brings up images of poverty and desperation. This means that all are put under the same label allowing us to ignore the fact that these are individuals with personal stories and journeys. During this project I realise how lucky I am because these situations do not discriminate. Anyone can be put in a state of emergency and be forced to leave their home and everything they know. Once you are safe how do you seek refuge in a foreign land and integrate within a new community? It could happen to any of us.
By Sara Templeman
As we near the end of rehearsals for Emerge/ncy I have come to realise that this show for me is massively about personal challenge and pushing myself out of my comfort zone.
It's been incredibly daunting hoiking myself over the edge of a very high structure with the only way off it supporting my whole body weight down a rope.
As a non aerial performer and a bit of a wobbly person at height this has been a massive challenge.
With the encouragement support and patience of an amazing cast and crew we are all finding our own way and at our own pace.
First off it was all about learning rope technique taught to us by the wonderful Gemma and Jess who make climbing and descending down a rope look easy. It is not! These seriously strong women make it look effortless but it is all about mega effort. It's based in a foot lock from silks technique which enables you to feel secure to climb up and down a rope.
After a few days coming down the rope in a harness and getting used to the height and technique today (Thursday) was a massive moment as I free climbed down the rope (albeit with knots in tied in to help but I still did it!!)
It was a proper buzz, my hands were shaking a lot afterwards but felt an enormous sense of achievement. Also watching the other performers in the team all manage it as well was so lovely to watch. There was a real sense of achievement and unity.
We are still to decide whether to have a straight rope which I'm yet to free climb down (I need a harness currently for this) or use the knotted rope. Either way I'm feeling happy that in either instance I can actually do it. It's Such a relief!
I'm definitely in a good and positive place about this aspect of the show now having put aside my fear and anxiety and trusting myself that I can do it. It means I now have more head space and focus to look forward to the other aspects of the piece so finding details of character and cementing the movement we do off the structure over the last few days of rehearsal.
Can't wait for the finished piece to be ready for our premiere at Brighton Festival weekend after next :)
We are in a slightly strange position going into the first(and last!) full week of rehearsals for Emerge/ncy as we on day one we had the complete set built in the rehearsal room, we did a full costume fitting with all costumes ready made and we used most of the music that will feature in the final show. Where is the devising I hear you cry!?
It’s been quite a long journey to get to rehearsals. The aim for Emerge/ncy was to do something a bit different. This has resulted in having to decide certain things much earlier in the process than we may be used to.
Firstly we are mixing theatre with visual art. We wanted to create a sculptural addition to the landscape that could sit somewhere for a number of days. Reflecting themes of climate change, global inequality and the refugee crisis has resulted in us wanting to create something that was longer than 20 minutes, that was landscape changing and that could not be neatly packed away. This has given us a large piece of set design that bursts through the festival landscape and stands 7m tall. Something at that scale needs a lot of planning to make sure it stays up!
Secondly we are working with a large cast and a durational style of performance which means we have had to limit our rehearsal time. In many ways you would think that performing for 7 hours straight and with a cast of 9 you would need many weeks rehearsal space (we wish) however getting everyone in a large enough rehearsal space for set and creative team is expensive. Added to this is the fact that if you want to make 9 original costumes to rehearse in (important for physical work) you need to make them before all the performers are in the final rehearsal.
So decisions start early. In some ways it is massively daunting to have everything pre-planned and slightly unwieldy. The first time we saw everything together (Set, costumes, music, performance) a lot of decisions had already been made and were set. However it some ways its also really reassuring and exciting to have so many tools at our disposal and ready to put into action – not just imagine!
Nathan Curry - Co-Artistic Director of Emerge/ncy
Touring Need A Little Help has been a wonderfully fun journey- both literally and figuratively. We’ve wizzed (or crawled in traffic) up and down the country in our not-so-subtle bright orange van filled with cast, crew and set that has to be so tightly packed I reckon we could win the Tetris world championships.
The reception in all the cities has been great, and during the playtime at the end of the show I’ve been privileged enough to overhear some lovely comments from both children and parents. The kids were comfortable and playful in the space, so much so that it became a problem getting them to leave before we had to reset for the next performance!
ASM on Need A Little Help Tour 2016
What do you get when you have an orange van - driven by an Orange, a bag of pink feathers, some aching muscles and some sweaty costumes? Need a Little Help on tour of course.
Although the glamour of touring life soon wears off there are many a high points - like the charming stuck-in-the-80's b&b in Darlington, the van banter (not Sophie though, she is a cheater and even though she is in the back I can see her and her wikipedia searching phone), tea club pre bed - invite only - and all the lovely staff and tech teams at each venue... and of course the show! Well it's a joy - we may be tired and travel worn and forgetting if we've already done this bit or not today but the audiences - well the kids mainly - have been incredible. Every show is different, the children engaged and excited to help and each show there are new exclamations, revelations and inspiring comments from the little people. It's a privilege to be invited into their world for a while and their, and the adults feedback, has been so touching and makes me see even more the importance of this piece.
Tangled Feet were approached to bring an enchanted forest to life at the iGB Awards at Electric Brixton organised by iGaming.
The brief was to totally immerse guests into another world based on their chosen theme of Enchanted Forest. We created pop up moments of wonder with recognisable but dishevelled fairy tale characters appearing all over the venue disorientated and lost in the woods, being chased by blood thirsty wolves all amongst the crowd.
Our performers appeared out a Narnia wardrobe which we built into the structure of the building and found themselves in the weird and wonderful forest land. There, guests mingled with stilts walkers disguised as foliage, dancers with glitter balloons popping above their heads, they witnessed silks artists as flying nymphs, a moving forest of bodies and other worldy characters like our snake charmer, Missy Fatale.
Need A Little Help is about looking after other people. It’s about a father and daughter who are a great team and spend a lot of time together. One day the father becomes incapacitated (in the show he gets his arm stuck inside a long metallic tube) and the daughter has to start to help him out, do more work around the house and care for him. The tube can represent many things but in some way there is a change in their relationship and things can’t be the same again.
The piece is inspired by the experience of young carers. These stories are often hidden behind doors and walls and happen inside people’s homes but have a huge impact on young people’s lives. We wanted to shine a light on the world of young carers. Over the last two years we have been working with a group of young carers in South London, facilitating drama workshops with them. The show is inspired by their stories.
Having spent some time with young carers we were taken with how adult they had to behave yet they were still in children’s bodies. They showed huge capacity for care and nurture. We wanted to try and find a way to share this theatrically but with a uplifting, fun and touching story, We also knew we were making a show for under 8’s so therefore it had to be appropriate and accessible for them. We initially did some research and development on what the style of the piece would be and then built from there.
The audience gets involved in the show. We wanted to offer them the chance to understand and feel what its like to be a carer and to physically care for someone else. The show is completed by the involvement of the audience. It’s about taking care of each other.
Need A Little Help tours from March 3rd - May 14th see here for details.
This November, Kat and Nathan were invited by ISAN's new Director, Angus McKechnie, to contribute to the Independent Street Arts Network conference. In a session about why artists make the the work they make, Kat and Nathan spoke about “Putting the Politics Back In To Outdoor Work”. There was a very vibrant and full Q and A after our presentation, and we felt like there's a big appetite for explicitly talking about and addressing politics in outdoor work.
The full text is below.
"We have been asked us to speak about our work and why it often starts from a political point of view, how we negotiate this when creating work and how we work with our partners when the subject matter is ‘more risky’.
We want to start with telling you what the company stands for.
•that art has the power to transform lives
•in shared decision making, in equal creative stake, in fair and equal pay
•that sharing stories and narratives in public spaces builds our empathetic connection with each other and brings us closer together
•in young people’s potential to change the world and their right to be seen as a significant part of it
These are the fundamental principles, which have been put together by a group of people. They were discussed as a team and developed over time. We hope that both how the work is made and how it meets its audience and partners affirms these principles.
We’re an ensemble theatre company and believe in collaborative creation. Every artist has an input into the production (and often participants too). The work comes from a range of voices – we want space too for the audience’s thoughts and voices in our work.
We attempt to be democratic in the process of making the work and we believe our performances are not finished until the audience’s presence and minds complete them.
We have been working together for over 10 years and now number somewhere between 15-20 artists. The long term working relationships of our ensemble enable us to be bold, take risks, and to learn together as well as take on subjects of increasing complexity and scale.
We make work about the stories, tensions and concerns that we feel in the world around us and which feel too urgent not to be told. Sometimes these are national or global concerns, like the intertwined pressures of global inequality and climate change, or the huge problem of youth unemployment. And sometimes they are about how human lives intersect with large economic forces at work: How do we value the work of carers? What’s the human story of urban regeneration? Does anyone actually understand the global financial crisis? Our projects inform each other and due to the nature of ensemble we have a shared history of making this work together.
Each performance is different but contains some distinctive choices that reveal our belief system and how it exists within our productions, and that's what we're going to talk about.
Each performance we’ve made has been a learning experience.
We make decisions about the relationship with the audience, the framing of the themes and the performance style as we develop the show.
The form of the work is often driven by the theme but there are some characteristics we think we return to.
The whole process is a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle in the dark- trying to find the shape of the production.
We aim to tackle political themes without lecturing – imaginatively, finding new insights – we need to be taking ourselves on a journey where we don’t know the answers to the questions we are asking, otherwise we’ll bore the audience.
Probably because we are a devising company and start with our own experiences, we are less interested in fantasy and tend to focus on recognisable characters and stories, which we then find ways of elevating above the level of the pedestrian. We enjoy the audience recognising themselves or people that they know in the work.
Often, like with All That Is Solid Melts into Air (a show about urban regeneration) we’ve made our shows while embedded within a community or participatory process. In this case we worked alongside Thomas Tallis School, on the edge of the Ferrier Estate in South East London, where both the school and the estate were being regenerated. Many of people on the estate (and who were connected to the school) were trying to grip onto the present whilst being asked to imagine an uncertain future. By embedding the process of making the work alongside real life events, the work becomes more relevant, purposeful and is inspired by reality.
We want to entertain too and by adding spectacle to our politics we aim to create work where the everyday becomes larger than life and the ordinary becomes extraordinary. By using aerial techniques where the body is at risk we encourage the audience to feel the tension and stakes of the situation. Watching a couple dangle themselves upside down whist trying to get a crying baby to sleep tells the story of an uncertain future in a very extra-ordinary way.
We attempt to ask big questions with our work but make them palatable and accessible to an audience.
Inflation was an attempt for us to understand what happened when the government bailed out the banks and protected the structures and frameworks in banking with a resultant policy of austerity. It’s a huge and complicated issue to unpick – particularly in a mostly physical piece of theatre, on a bouncy castle.
By starting from the point of our own ignorance and failure to comprehend, and by using clowning, visual humour and buffon we negotiated quite bamboozling and complicated information by presenting naïve characters.
It is a technique often employed by playwrights to impart complicated information to audiences - they add a naïve character who has the ability to ask 'stupid' questions.
With Inflation it also allowed us expose the ridiculous situation the country found itself in and the tragic and comedic nature of made up money. It also made it fun which was really important when creating work about banks that didn’t scare away its audience.
But political work also needs to have large ambition and not just be a side-show. When Bradley Hemmings asked us to make a finale sized performance a few years ago we knew it was a chance to be political at scale.
We had noted previously that there was a prevalence of work at scale that had fantastical narratives – stories of myth, of fable or work based around magical themes. We had found a lot of this work joyous and crowds loved it but, for us, those narratives were not able to articulate what we wanted to say.
We knew we needed a piece of work to entertain a crowd of thousands – it needed to be spectacular and uplifting but also include the recognisable stories and characters, ask big questions and create empathetic feeling in our audience that are, as we have suggested, are hallmarks of our work.
Having worked with a large number of young people over many years we knew the pressures and stress they were under within a world of austerity – we knew their opportunities of work were going to be different to our opportunities and we felt like how we supported them was everyone’s responsibility. Therefore One Million became the story of the growing number of young people who are unemployed.
It was important to put our money where our mouths were and build a performance that was inspired by and included young people’s stories. We worked with a number of partner organisations to creatively work with 140 young people and bring their input to our theme.
We held these workshops throughout the making process so what happened in the rehearsal room could inspire the work with young people and the work with young people could inspire the show. We were cooking all elements of the show at the same time. This was logistically challenging but gave the piece an authenticity, which was vital. 90 of these young people performed in the show, and it felt like they were the engine which was powering the whole performance.
We also worked hard to create ten paid internships for unemployed young people throughout the creative and technical teams. We made it a priority to create opportunities and to offer genuine development and career progression to young people. Several of those initial internships have evolved into fully paid roles with the company since.
One Million was partly about making the invisible visible – bringing the struggle of young people to centre stage.
With Push, we did the same with new mothers, exploring just how challenging parenting a baby in public can be when you are inevitably failing to live up to expectations.
Five women with buggies emerge from the audience to take the stage, and over 20 minutes celebrate triumphs and disasters. Despite being covered in projectile vomit by the end of the show, our characters find a solidarity in a collective and public admission of failure, and discover a joy that comes from acute vulnerability.
This creative interest in the act of caring, and the role of carers in our society led to us developing a season of three indoor shows this year around how we value care.
With 'Care', which was the final part of this season, we took some of the techniques we've developed outdoors back inside, completely reconfiguring Watford Palace Theatre auditorium.
We felt an urgent need to respond to the changes we were seeing in the NHS with the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. Like ‘Inflation’, this was a hugely complicated stimulus. Most people, even those working within the NHS, are not able to understand the changes happening to it.
It's possibly even harder to understand when you are dangling upside-down from the ceiling, but we set ourselves the challenge of trying to interrogate and dramatise the impact of this legislation in a way that makes it possible to comprehend on a human level.
The piece attempted to depict an NHS that is becoming fragmented and tearing at the seams. Like the sick body of our central character, as it becomes weaker it becomes more susceptible to the private sector's attempts to subcontract services. We used some of the skills we had been using in our outdoor work - aerial performance, visual story telling and immersive atmosphere, casting the audience as patients in a system which is being broken apart.
As the characters were stretched to breaking point, suspended in the air and being pulled in various different directions, the audience were surrounded by the action.
The audience being within the space made it possible for them to feel the threat and not necessarily be told about it.
We want to make performances with space for questions not full of answers – Care didn’t offer any solutions or alternatives but allowed questions to be raised and gave us an opportunity to plant some big questions in audience minds about where the NHS may be headed and what that may feel like.
It’s not always easy creating political work when it’s devised. No one knows the outcome – not us, not the funder, not the presenting partner. People get nervous they can’t read a script or can’t see exactly of how it may look.
There was some nervousness about Inflation – particularly in areas where there was a Conservative run council. Some of the commissioners were worried about how the scene of David Cameron wielding a pair of scissors on the bouncy castle would impact on their council relationships.
When we made One Million, we had to reassure the Royal Borough of Greenwich that we weren't going to re-ignite the riots which had badly affected Woolwich town centre.
Care, also elicited some concern from the theatre about imagery of vultures surrounding the healthcare services. In a way these tensions help us know what the work is challenging and what buttons it is pressing.
Getting our work made relies on a small number of trusting relationships with people willing to make a leap with us. It's not easy to create an economy of scale with lots of booking fees to balance the making costs of the shows.
The work may stay politically relevant for a shorter time than work on more universal themes. Given the long making period that our work sometimes requires, this makes it challenging financially. I think we are all finding it harder to find secure investment in these straightened times.
Despite this we've set ourselves on a road of creatively exploring some of our global problems. Through 2016 and 17 we've got two projects bubbling away which address the intertwined concerns of climate change and global inequality. The first, Emergency, looks at the resultant mass migration and how we as communities respond to it. And the second, a collaboration with artist Alex Chinneck, will use giant twisted pylons to explore how we overcome our destructive and dependent relationship with energy.
Funding is under pressure, artists are under pressure, society is under pressure.
While it's getting harder, it's surely also never been more important
- to be bringing people together in public spaces,
- to be creatively investigating the enormous challenges of our times.
- to feel part of a group, to move and be moved together,
and to collectively renew hope and imagination in dark and difficult days.