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Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Beth Shouler

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Beth Shouler is Nottingham Playhouse’s recently appointed Artist Development Co-ordinator and she’ll be heading up Ampilfy, the Playhouse’s new programme of work which reimagines the resources and opportunities being made available to local theatre-makers.

We checked in with Beth to ask about what she and the Playhouse have in the pipeline, to find out how her background as a maker will influence what she plans to do in her new post, and to reflect on the collapse of Nottingham’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

You can find out more about Nottingham Playhouse’s Amplify here.


Gareth: Congratulations on being appointed as Artist Development Co-Ordinator at Nottingham Playhouse, where you’ll be leading Amplify, the venue’s new artist development scheme! Can you tell us a bit more about the scheme and the ways in which local artists can get involved?

Beth: Thank you! It’s a really exciting time at Nottingham Playhouse as we begin a fresh chapter under the new artistic leadership of Adam Penford. Our region is full of talented artists and we want to help them flourish.

The scheme is in its early days but there are various things in the diary. There are Plug Ins which are opportunities to meet Adam Penford (Artistic Director) and Fiona Buffini (Associate Director) before a show. There are scratch nights to try out new work, ideas submission windows (there’s one currently open at the moment) where you can submit a script or proposal for a show, and surgeries around the business side of things. There are all sorts of plans on the horizon and it’s important to us that what we offer is genuinely helpful and not tokenistic. So the programme will evolve as we go along and find out what is needed to invest in local producers, designers, directors, theatre-makers, performers and writers.

To join, have a look at the information of our website which tells you what to do if you’re an individual artist or a company. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll also get access to discounted tickets and 25% off food and drink in the Playhouse Bar and Kitchen. Basically, all I need is a current CV and a brief letter telling me about yourself.

I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring in to Amplify to run a workshop?

Beth: If I had an unlimited budget, there are various artists I’d love to bring here, partly in recognition of the broad range of artists in the region. Sally Cookson would be high on my list as a director and deviser, someone whose career is extraordinary and who came up through the regions. I’d love Kully Thiarai to do some training on visionary leadership and making things happen – she’s so inspiring. When I did the Royal Court Writers Course, Chloe Lamford came to talk about her role and completely shifted the way I think about design. I think it’s important that we engage with people who haven’t just been shaped artistically by London and who have a passion and understanding of regional theatre-making ecology.

Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Beth: I remember watching A Clockwork Orange by Northern Stage at Derby Playhouse in the late nineties when I was in sixth form. I’d never seen any physical theatre or something with such a strong aesthetic, so that was a defining moment when I knew I wanted to work in theatre professionally. It was visceral and got under my skin and made me feel things. Probably the first moment I felt politically engaged. I remember not sleeping afterwards as my brain pondered so many big questions about the world.

De La Guarda at the Roundhouse changed the way I thought about narrative and the audience experience. Who knew that being drenched with water in January would be such a thrilling, nonsensical and ultimately amazing experience? The sense of theatre being a party the audience was invited to has stayed with me. I love the way that theatre brings a cross-section of people together in a shared memory. I get frustrated when the experience is elitist or requires insider knowledge or is just dull. Dullness will be the death of theatre.

Boy by Leo Butler is one of my favourite plays of all time. I’ve worked with a lot of young people over the years and this is one of the most sophisticated and subtle expressions of youth. Throughout my career, I’ve moved increasingly towards working with writers and developing voices and I’ve always had a real passion for ensemble plays with large casts. This exemplifies all that is good about writing in theatre. Sacha Wares’ production at the Almeida was stunning. I suppose this also illustrates my passion for stories about young people that don’t just perpetuate lazy stereotypes.

Gareth: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing independent artists and companies at the moment — both in the Midlands, and in general? How would you like to see the sector develop over the next ten years?

Beth: Theatre is expensive to make and the legacy of austerity is that everyone — from organisations to audiences — is strapped for cash. The other real problem is how the arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice. We need to find ways to get rid of invisible barriers and not let privilege be the deciding factor in who gets to make theatre.

The arts are being side-lined out of the national curriculum, so increasingly young people have no access to theatre unless their family values it. This is a real challenge if we don’t want theatres to be perpetually dominated by one type of voice.

We’re going to have to get creative about building interesting partnerships and opportunities that think outside traditional structures. The growth of digital technology offers new ways to engage and interact with audiences and potentially offers new ways of working that we’ve not thought of before.

As the world increasingly becomes less personal, with fewer opportunities for people to come together in a space to tell stories, there is something incredibly profound about the theatre experience that no other art form quite replicates. That USP is something we can really promote. I grew up in a family where hospitality was a key component of our values and, as people are increasingly hungry for human connection in actual time and space, theatre can grow community in a new way where hospitality and relationships are key, rather than something that is transactional. It’s about the experience.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. What challenges do venues in particular face in offering support to local artists?

Beth: There are general challenges we all face such as limited funding and a risk-averse climate. Specifically at the Playhouse we have a 90-seater studio and then a 750-seater main house so finding opportunities for artists who are ready to make work for a space that is bigger than a studio but aren’t quite ready for a 750-seater is something I’m aware of. Sometimes the decisions a venue makes can seem baffling to those outside, so trying to make processes and decisions that affect freelancers clear and manage expectations are priorities for me. The other side is I get to advocate for freelancers in our building and to other organisations which is great.

Gareth: A lot of your work to date has been around developing new writing. Which writers should we look out for who you think are currently producing the most interesting new writing, and what is it about their work that excites you?

Beth: Mufaro Mukabika and Jane Upton are two local writers whose work is incredible. Both just won major awards and I am so proud as I’ve known them since they were starting out and watching the way they’ve developed their process has been fascinating. Their stories make me feel things. I respond to some writers quite cerebrally but their work always punches me in the gut. I’m looking forward to reading more scripts and championing new talent from this region. I’m bored of UK culture being defined by the North / South divide. There’s a distinctive Midlands voice to be heard.

Gareth: You grew up in Nottingham and have been visiting the Playhouse since you were a child. Tell us about the most memorable experience you’ve had there.

Beth: The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’. My first assistant directing job was on A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and I specifically remember this feeling of butterflies and excitement the day we started tech and I was sat in the empty auditorium as it all came together, feeling like I belonged.

Gareth: Brexit has meant that Nottingham’s bid to be the 2023 European Capital of Culture has been stopped in its tracks. What would being Capital of Culture have meant for Nottingham — and what would it have meant to you, personally?

Beth: Oh, it’s just frustrating and sad. It would have been an amazing opportunity for Nottingham. There’s so much potential in this city. It’s vibrant and exciting and full of creatives plotting and doing amazing things.

The first piece of theatre I ever saw was the Panto when I was two. We went every year and I desperately wanted to be one of the dancers. I was so jealous of those being ‘on the inside’.

Gareth: Throughout your career, you’ve worked a lot with youth groups and children, as well as with professional artists. Are there any ways in which your work with one group has influenced your work with the other group, and vice versa?

Beth: In a practical way, it started out as a way for me to make theatre and climb the ladder in a city where very few directing opportunities existed. I found out very quickly that I really love working with young people. There’s a fearlessness in the creative process I find inspiring. They assume you know what you’re doing and embrace risk with real enthusiasm – I’ve flooded rehearsal rooms, created food fights on stage, worked in the dark, set up all sorts of mess and chaos and they’ve brilliantly just gone with it. They’ve shaped me as much as I’ve shaped them.

Increasingly, there are a number of artists like myself who make professional work with young people and are blurring the boundaries of what can be made. This has allowed me to work on a much bigger scale earlier in my career and create a different kind of experience for the audience. I remember watching the first performance of Girls Like That by Evan Placey down at Theatre Royal Plymouth and the energy of the 20 in the cast was something else. It made the hairs on your neck stand up. They had 5 performances to get across this story that really mattered to them and they went for it. However, there are limitations in terms of content, rehearsal time and ability when working with younger actors.

Working with professional actors allows you to find real depth in the performance and you can really riff off the other creative expertise in the room in a totally different way – it isn’t all on you to hold it together. I also get to be a director and not have to do at least 3 other roles in the room alongside. And usually you don’t have to ask people to give the flirting a rest mid-rehearsal! Professional actors don’t leave learning their lines to the last minute either. I worked on one really physical show and one of the actors turned up on Day One with their lines basically learnt so we had real freedom to find the physical shape of that show and that was a real treat. You have the luxury of time to explore the possibilities of the play and to push everything. Actors come back in each day having worked on things at home so you’re constantly moving forward and striving for brilliance. You also get to stay in the world of the play for an extended period of time which changes your relationship with it and gives it focus.

It’s important for me to work on both. One encourages me to be risky and playful, the other pushes me for artistic excellence and depth.

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are performance students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you.

Beth: Don’t wait for permission. Make things happen as best you can with the limited resources around you. Take initiative (especially if you are a woman, as often we apologise for our existence). Buildings want to know you are a leader and can be trusted. I am part of collectives in Plymouth and Nottingham where we began to do interesting things and the buildings came on board to support us because we showed we were bold, resourceful and competent with what we had.

Don’t bitch about anyone – this industry is tiny, your paths will cross. Don’t be entitled but at the same time don’t be afraid to ask for help: artists are really generous towards each other.

I wish women were less self-deprecating. I get far more men emailing me about their work or things they need. Women are too scared of getting it wrong or making some sort of faux pas. Take unnecessary apologies and the word ‘just’ out of your emails.

Do something each week that is nothing to do with theatre – the bubble is not always helpful.

Sorry that was more than one!

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Beth Shouler appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Maison Foo

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Image: Maison Foo’s Memoirs Of A Biscuit Tin

Maison Foo is a madhouse of mischievous theatre-making, led by co-Artistic Directors Bethany Sheldon and Kathryn Lowe, who draw on puppetry, clowning and physical theatre to create work which is surreal, soulful, satirical and sentimental.

We caught up with Bethany to find out more about the Derby theatre scene, balancing parenting with producing, and a heads-up on A Thing Mislaid which they’ll be touring in Autumn 2018.

You can find out more about Maison Foo here:

Website: www.maisonfoo.co.uk
Twitter: www.twitter.com/maisonfoo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/maisonfoo/


Phil: How would you describe your work for somebody experiencing it for the first time?

Bethany: Visual Theatre… a bit clowny, a bit puppety/objecty… often absurd with a social conscience… usually mischievous with a penchant for tickling audiences’ imaginations.

Phil: You spoke on our Organisational Development panel at the East Meets West Symposium last year, and a phrase you used really stuck with us: “Theatre can be the break that makes a difference”. Can you tell us a bit about this idea and how important it is to you as both a maker and audience member?

Bethany: That is a quote from a nurse at Derby Hospital, who stopped for a theatrical brew outside the hospital entrance at Tea Bar, our street theatre pop up cafe. She said the unexpected encounter “was the break that made a difference and she would go back to work now refreshed”. It is this kind of reaction that drives a lot of our participatory and street theatre work.

Through this work, we often look at how we can make people feel more valued, feel like they matter, gift them a moment of comic surreal escapism. It’s such rewarding work when you, as an artist, can actually help someone’s wellbeing – refresh someone, lift their spirits and make their day through a totally unexpected creative encounter.

Through our work, we often look at how we can make people feel more valued, feel like they matter, gift them a moment of comic surreal escapism.

I think this ‘making people feel they matter’ is a thread throughout all our work on some level. Even when audiences engage with us in more traditional settings like studio theatre spaces, we hope they are able to escape with us into another world, to take a break to disconnect from day-to-day life, and reconnect with what it is to be human. We hope that from that break, people leave refreshed or with a slightly different perspective on the world.

Phil: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Bethany: Hmmm… lots of things have an impact on me as a theatre maker, and more often than not it’s not theatre! It could be a documentary, or music, or a piece of art, or the philosophy behind an artist’s work that inspires me. For example, Dali and Surrealism — not necessarily the paintings, but the creative movement and thinking behind Surrealism. The absurdity of placing objects in a totally different place to where you would normally see them and what that does to the audience has definitely had an impact on me.

I’d say us Foos are like magpies; we take a pinch of this from one influence and blend it with a scoop of that from another. If I had to pick one major moment in my life, it would be seeing DV8’s Strange Fish as an A-Level Dance student way back when. That has to go down as a moment when my thinking about what theatre could be really opened up. Such a major impact and I only ever saw it on DVD (well probably video tape actually! Shhhh!)

There was one particular moment in that piece that caught the attention of my inner magpie: the character ‘Nigel’ was weaving in and out of the two female performers. He was trying to talk to them whilst they tried to ignore him and get away. His dialogue was mumbled, jumbled and nonsensical, but the emotional feeling and clarity of the unsaid was so clear and resonant. BOOM! At that moment, my world changed and I’ve been obsessed with creating physical moments that speak beyond words ever since.

I think if I had to pick a third thing, I’d probably say Charleroi Danse’s Kiss and Cry which has been a recent influence. It’s a piece of object puppetry that manipulates miniature worlds that are filmed using a live camera. That sparked such excitement in me and has led to our own live camera language that we’re developing for the new show, A Thing Mislaid.

Phil: You both have children (affectionately known as The Foolets). Has becoming parents had any unexpected influences on your work, both in terms of its creative content and the logistics of running a company and touring?

Bethany: The Foolets have highly influenced how we make work and how we run a creative process. We now work in a different rhythm. We tend to rehearse three days a week over a longer period, and some days we have to finish at 5! #shockhorror! We used to rehearse and work six days a week and stay until silly o’clock if anyone would let us.

It’s interesting thinking about the discussions happening at the moment around mental health in the sector. Again and again, you hear how people are always pushing themselves beyond their limits for not a lot of money, scared of slowing down, missing out, needing to make work a priority every second of every day.

The Foolets have taught us to let go of that fear — that it is totally okay to find your own rhythm and go at your own pace. It may take us a lot longer to make work now, but we are healthier for it, and the creative process seems a lot richer too. Working three days a week on a show allows us to maintain a work/life balance. It gives us space to breathe and gain a greater sense of clarity from one week to the next. And guess what? Nobody in the industry has shut the door on us for doing so. Partners and venues are still just as supportive.

So theatre-makers without children: if you need to give yourself permission to slow down a bit and go at your own pace, maybe it’s time to get a Flour Baby!

Image: Maison Foo’s A Thing Mislaid

Phil: Your website sections are very neatly divided up into the different rooms of a house. Would you ever consider making theatre that was performed inside your audience members’ homes? Or would you ever welcome audiences into your own homes?

Bethany: I already have when training with the London School of Puppetry! I hosted an evening of living room theatre with three other puppeteers. It was great! Us Foos love performing in different spaces. One of my favourite alternative space performances we’ve created was time travel clubbing in QUAD’s lifts!

It’s interesting thinking about the discussions happening at the moment around mental health in the sector. Again and again, you hear how people are always pushing themselves beyond their limits for not a lot of money, scared of slowing down, missing out, needing to make work a priority every second of every day.

Phil: A few years ago, you became one of the very first Associate Companies with In Good Company, the East Midlands artist development scheme. In what ways did that support benefit you most?

Bethany: Wow! I don’t know where to start…

I could talk about all the amazing support we got like cash, rehearsal space, and mentoring, but that’s all outlined on their website. I could talk about how wonderful Ruby Glaskin and Emily Coleman (IGC Producers) are. Or how grateful I am to Sarah Brigham for having the vision of IGC as an Artist support scheme and making it happen, with bells on, in our region! Or Natalie Ibu for charging in with creative gusto when setting the whole scheme up…

But I think I’m going to focus on the long-term relationships it has helped us build with other artists. Before In Good Company, artists in the East Midlands were a lot more disconnected. IGC has brought us together. And the artists that were in our ‘year group’ (LaPelle’s Factory, Spiltmilk Dance, Nonsuch Theatre and Zealous Theatre) are all now genuine theatre-making friends. The type of friends that really support each other, the type you can pick up the phone and ask silly questions to, the type that are always really excited to bump into each other.

IGC led to Maison Foo being an Associate Company at Derby Theatre, who ultimately supported us getting back on the theatre horse post-maternity leave. This helped us to learn how to juggle our real babies with our theatre baby!

Phil: What more do you think can be done to support independent artists across the Midlands?

Bethany: There is so much brilliant stuff already going on to support independent artists in the region, especially early career artists, which is blooming amazing. The difference in the region from when we began is phenomenal. It’s still tough out there though, whatever stage you are at.

So as a company in its tenth year of survival (we are now apparently ‘mid-career’ #yowsers!), it feels right to think about what companies like us are currently up against…

There is so much brilliant stuff already going on to support independent artists in the region, especially early career artists, which is blooming amazing. The difference in the region from when we began is phenomenal.

So they are probably in their 30’s, maybe have a family or are wanting to start one, or maybe looking for a bit more stability. They are at a point where they can’t ask people to work for free and can no longer work for free themselves either, as they no longer live with their parents.

They have perhaps achieved a lot of their initial early career goals, and are maybe having or have recently had the “who are we/where are we heading” wobble!

They probably find maintaining the stamina and drive to keep the creative fire ignited very hard when they’re exhausted from the long-term struggle of making it work financially.

It’s at this point that walking away to find a ‘proper job’ (as parents call them) is often the way people go.

So my ponder is… What more can be done to support these Midlands mid-career artists so they can continue for another ten, twenty, thirty years? As a sector we are in danger of losing their experience and their knowledge.

If it’s financial stability they need and that’s something venues can’t offer, what could our regional venues to do help and support these artists move towards a more sustainable future? If match funding is needed, for example: rather than a ‘sorry we haven’t got any money to commission with’ from venues as a conversation ender, how can this be turned into a conversation starter? Could venues and companies work together to find a way of leveraging the match fund from another source through the venue, that then becomes the match for the company? Or are there ways in which venues and companies can work together to achieve collective goals like developing and delivering an outreach programme together?

I think if it weren’t for Derby Theatre, we would have been one of those companies to hang up their boots at the ‘mid-career’ door. Don’t get me wrong: we are still having our wobbles and we are currently in the midst of a massive organisational restructure post-maternity, but we don’t feel alone. We feel we have a friend to wobble with and a friend saying ‘it’s okay to wobble, we are here, our door is open and we are working it through with you’. Because of that, we actually feel excited about the future. I think the more that venues can be that friend and have a more bespoke and honest relationship with artists, then the better we will all be.

So artists: let’s not be afraid to talk about it! We have a responsibility to ask for what we need. And venues: let’s continue the conversation beyond ‘sorry we want to, but we can’t’ and think creatively around our relationships and how we can work together to sustain the future of theatre making in the region.

Phil: You first came to national attention with your highly acclaimed sell-out show Memoirs Of A Biscuit Tin at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. How important do you think it is for artists to take their work to Edinburgh?

Bethany: Oh Edinburgh! Edinburgh, you insane, cruel, sexy, addictive thing!

I think it’s not the be-all and end-all but it’s not called the best showcase in the world for nothing. We’ve been twice and both times, we have benefited. The second time nearly killed us though and we will think hard before returning!

If anyone ever asks me advice about Edinburgh, my first question back is always ‘why?’ followed by a load of other questions like…

‘why do you want to go?’
‘why do think this is the right time for you to go?’
‘why is this show the right show to take?’
‘what do you want to achieve by going?’

There are hundreds and hundreds of shows at the festival, so the clearer you can be about what you want to get out of it, the more likely it is you will get something out of it, and not be lost in that epic sea of shows.

We didn’t rush into going. The year before we took Biscuit Tin to Edinburgh, we went up for a few days to research. We went and met with Edinburgh venue programmers, watched companies similar to us and then we made sure that the show was one we felt was good and was ready to put out there for critics and industry to come and see. It also gave us a year to raise the thousands of pounds we needed to invest (no, it’s not cheap!) and ask advice from those who had been there and done that.

Our advice would be — get a brilliant team behind you — invest in a good press officer (worth their weight in gold) — and a brilliant technician who can work quickly to make your show still look great under Edinburgh restrictions and with a five-minute get in!

Phil: Tell us a bit about A Thing Mislaid, the brand new show you are developing.

Bethany: A Thing Mislaid is a show about two lost clowns, who meet somewhere on the way to nowhere; and a thing mislaid, a thing without a flock, a thing on a journey to find home.

Oh Edinburgh! Edinburgh, you insane, cruel, sexy, addictive thing!

The show blends puppetry, objects and live camera with clowning and humour to tell its tale, travelling through miniature worlds and surreal realities.

The piece started life back in 2015 under the title The Granddad Project, when Kate and I looked further into a curious commonality we both shared — our migratory heritage. This set the seed for a new piece of work that built on our exploration of migration, journey and home, asking the question: where do we belong?

Excitingly, A Thing Mislaid has been commissioned by China Plate, Warwick Arts Centre, mac birmingham and In Good Company, and we shared work-in-progress performances last year at the First Bite and Bite Size festivals. We plan to tour the show throughout the Midlands in Autumn 2018.

You can see some pics and our teaser trailer here.

Alongside the show we are also developing a Refugee Friend Scheme, working with Derby Theatre, Derby Refugee Advice Centre, Attenborough Arts Centre, Journeys Festival and Talking Birds. The scheme will help break down barriers that refugees and those currently seeking asylum face through a program of creative participatory events.

Phil: What was the last thing you mislaid, and did it ever turn up again?

Bethany: A travel cot! Seriously, I can’t find it anywhere and it’s not exactly a small item either!

Image: Maison Foo’s A Thing Mislaid

Phil: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating a new show?

Bethany: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration!

We spend time finding the right people to be lost with! You can’t devise without jumping into the unknown — a lot! You need people around you willing to jump off that cliff with you daily. People that are playful, generous, big-hearted and willing to give, try lots of ideas, and not get precious about discarding the ones that don’t work. And we are not just talking performers! We work that way with our designer, musician/composer, producer… Everyone.

Phil: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Bethany: Enjoy failing! It’s one of our mottos that we magpied from Improbable! To us, it means being open and honest and saying I don’t know what I’m doing but that’s okay. I may fail, but if I enjoy the process and let go of the fear of failure, then that is when the exciting stuff happens — when you put yourself out there, when you take risks. You can’t make things without trying things. I’d say about only 20% of ideas actually make it into a show.

Enjoy failing! It’s one of our mottos that we magpied from Improbable!

And don’t just enjoy failing at the theatre making bit. Enjoy failing at all the other stuff too — the marketing, the producing, the general management, the accounts, the van driving… When you do something for the first time, you don’t really know how to do it until you’ve done it. Learn from doing.

So try to let go of the fear and jump in! Don’t be afraid to ask people lots of questions as they were blagging it just like you only a few years previously. I suspect they still are, they are just a bit further down the road of blag!

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Maison Foo appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching to Talk About… Hannah Barker

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Hannah Barker is the Belgrade Theatre’s brilliant new Creative Producer, as well as being the co-Artistic Director of theatre company Analogue. We caught up with her to find out more about what lies in store for audiences and artists in Coventry, not least since the recent exciting result of a certain City of Culture bid…!


Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Hannah: Complicite’s Mnemonic, Robert Lepage’s The Far Side of the Moon and 887, and Yael Farber’s Nirbaya.

All of these shows (and theatre-makers generally) have challenged what I thought theatre was capable of and the power and impact it can have. Each is a call to arms, demanding of their audience something active, and challenging the most seasoned theatre-goer to think differently about the world and how we talk about it. They have all been integral at pioneering new approaches to form, style and content on stage, refusing to be lazy. A good concept, much like a beautiful digital design, isn’t enough: everything must come together to best serve the story and get the audience as close to that story as possible. I encountered each of these shows at different points in my career and each of them left me breathless and wanting to make better work.

I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Gareth: Now that Coventry (and the world!) is your oyster, tell us about your vision for your work at the Belgrade and the impact you’d like to make.

Hannah: Ha! Not sure about that, but OK yeah… I think a big part of why I applied for this role was because I shared a similar vision to the Belgrade in that I believe that arts have the power to change people’s lives but only if it is available to everyone. I hope to contribute to and support the ongoing work of the team to grow diversity in theatre – not just in Coventry but across the world! I want to challenge audiences to think differently about what community and young companies can create by encouraging excellent, exciting work that leaves people breathless. Armed with different experiences and a background of making work independently, I hope I can bring new perspectives that continue to challenge the way we work, offer new creative approaches and explore exciting emerging and emerged theatre-makers from across the region and beyond.

Images: Production images from Analogue.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you bring to the Belgrade?

Hannah: Yael Farber or Robert Lepage. Imagine how exciting it would be for Belgrade participants and Midlands emerging theatre makers to work with and amongst these artists!

Gareth: Coventry has recently been crowned as UK City of Culture 2021. What are you allowed to tell us about how the Belgrade fits into the city’s grand plan?

Hannah: Watch this space (as I am!) but I very much hope it has a lot to do with community, diversity, the ‘Youthquake’ phenomenon, powerful and imaginative arts!

Gareth: Back in the 1960s, the Belgrade was a pioneer of the Theatre in Education (TiE) movement. Can you tell us a bit about how the Belgrade continues to engage young people today?

Hannah: Oooh, how long do you have?! The Belgrade offers a huge range of engagement opportunities, with free sessions to young people (and 50+ groups with our pioneering Arts Gym programme!) from all walks of life both at the Belgrade and out in the community, and we hope to work with brilliant partners including Positive Youth Foundation to reach more. We have drama sessions for everyone including specific groups celebrating minority voices like Black or Asian Youth Theatre, and a programmes for at-risk young people or hard to reach communities.

In the short time I have been at the Belgrade, I’m beginning to see how important these groups are for young people. For some it might be about becoming the next Adrian Lester or Maxine Peake, but for many it is the opportunity to explore who they are, experiment creatively, grow confidence and develop a broader understanding of the world. For some it is a lifeline. We want to find more ways to engage young people across the city, and offer opportunities to be part of a creative team and make brilliant work, so where possible we work with excellent local and national artists to create something spectacular. By being part of an ensemble, working professionally and creatively to make something – often from scratch – these participants gain so much, and they can begin to think positively about their futures.

All our groups are currently involved in a huge site-specific project – a theatre takeover in the old Coventry Evening Telegraph building coming in July 2018. Come and see them all do brilliant things!

(It’s also worth saying that TiE continues to wield its influence, there’s a reason why it became a movement!)

Image: Early TiE work from the Belgrade Theatre archive. Photo credit: Tony Baker.

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Hannah: As someone who comes from being a theatre-maker, I understand the need to break down barriers. As an independent artist, I would often find myself perpetuating the idea of barriers (usually when working independently felt particularly vulnerable), referring to venues as ‘them’. When, however, I started working more closely with venues, I began to realise just how many hurdles they face too… financially, operationally, in terms of capacity. It’s great that East Meets West is challenging these barriers.

For me, it comes down to how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Now is not the time to put up barriers (we’ve done enough of that with Brexit!) so I am in favour of working with the entire region where we can. Graeae’s amazing Write To Play scheme in 2017, supporting deaf and disabled writers across the Midlands, shows just how successful it can be to work that way! For me, it comes down to community, and how somewhere like the Belgrade can genuinely represent, reflect and cater to the community it serves, across its audiences, participants and artists alike.

Image: Analogue’s Living Film Set.

Gareth: Between them, Coventry University and the University of Warwick have produced some outstanding theatre makers – but when they graduate, many of them leave the region to create work elsewhere. [We wrote an article about this here]. What do you think can be done to help the region hang on to all this talent that’s being nurtured here?

Hannah: More, more, more opportunities! The Springboard scheme run at the Belgrade is a good example of how we can offer opportunities to graduating companies and emerging artists, but we can only do so many of those at a time (if we want it to have depth and impact). However, I am really interested in how we can develop new talent development platforms for those in the early part of their career (whether those are graduates or those opting for alternative approaches to learning)… I cut my teeth doing scratch shows, work-in-progress showings, work shadowing, placements etc. Some of these are offered at the Belgrade, but a big part of my role – and that of the new Tamasha Sustained Producer Placement, Lian Wilkinson – is about growing those opportunities. In particular, we are looking at talks and platforms, scratch nights, producer and production manager development schemes, hopefully finding partners to join us on this journey!

If theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay.

I think too, if theatre-makers – both emerging and emerged – feel they are where the magic is, they will stay. City of Culture 2021 will play a big part in that, as will touring fantastic work made in the building around the UK. Also, all of us who go and sow our creative oats nationally and internationally have a part to play in being an ambassador for the city and the Midlands generally so that it becomes a place where people want to go/be when they are starting out on their creative journey.

Gareth: As well as being Creative Producer at the Belgrade, you’re also Co-Artistic Director of Analogue, which creates theatre inspired by real stories and contemporary ethical questions. Which real stories and ethical questions do you think theatre (your own and other people’s) should be paying attention to right now?

Hannah: You don’t need to look very far to see real stories and ethical dilemmas happening right now. So many injustices, inventions, discoveries, and movements happening every day all over the world in response to local and global events. The art is finding the way into it: the little story of one person, place, act or thing that let’s an audience in, gives them a chance to understand the human behind the strapline, and leaves them thinking, laughing, brimming with energy and a sense of activism.

[Theatre] is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

There are always the big statements: How do we reconcile our living in the world with our impact on it? (Environmentally, socially, economically, morally.) How do you challenge power if you happen to come from the wrong side of it? What does it take for us to stop repeating our devastating mistakes? But theatre’s challenge – through evolving form, liveness, challenging old and pioneering new approaches, collaboration, knocking down the fourth wall and building it back up again – is about how we can find creative, imaginative, personal ways to reach people where newspapers, documentaries and even social media can’t.

Gareth: Inspired by your 2011 show, 2401 Objects, if you had to choose just three objects to preserve as a record of your career so far, what would they be?

Hannah: A published copy of 2401 Objects. A card from a young company I mentored. A Coventry 2021 Back the Bid badge.

Gareth: Since this is our January newsletter, we’ve got to ask: what’s your new year’s resolution?

Hannah: To lessen my impact on the environment and to laugh as much as I can.


Visit the Belrade Theatre’s website here, and Analogue’s website here. Find out more about Coventry City of Culture 2021 here.

The post We’re Itching to Talk About… Hannah Barker appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant things our theatre-making friends are doing across the region and further afield.

mac birmingham has very recently welcomed a new addition to its Arts Team — the wonderful Jo Carr, who joins mac as Performances Programmer. Jo is no stranger to Birmingham’s arts scene — she’s a familiar face through her work with Untied Artists and as a producer, tour booker and project manager for companies across the region.

We checked in with Jo (sadly, not over a plate of mac’s cheese on toast, still officially the best in the city) to ask her about her new role and what exciting things lie ahead.


Gareth: Tell us about three pieces of theatre which have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.

Jo: That’s a tough one and there are far more than three that have made a big impression, but I’ll go with…

The Street Of Crocodiles by Theatre de Complicite (as they were called then) at The National Theatre. I went with my Uncle Graham who was Head of Drama at Fern Hill Secondary School and his sixth form drama students. I think I was about 14 and it was all very exciting. We got a coach to London and I fell in love with the Southbank Centre and that whole brutalist concrete cathedral to the Arts. And then I saw this show where people were climbing up walls of books and dancing with chairs. And there didn’t seem to be a beginning, a middle, and end. And then I learnt that this whole production was based on a series of short stories! What? How does that work? I thought this was a play!

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture.

This was the first time I got a glimpse that theatre didn’t have to be people just speaking to one another in a suburban living room and walking around furniture. Or doing Shakespeare! Performers could dance, or they could communicate pages of text just by using movement, or they could invent their own vocabulary, or speak foreign languages with no translations or apologies. It completely blew my mind. This would have been about 1986 so we hadn’t got to the point yet where we couldn’t leave the house without falling over another “Physical Theatre Ensemble”. It felt like proper exotic stuff that belonged in Belgium or Czechoslovakia, not right there in front of little ol’ me!

Second is A Woman In Waiting, written and performed by Thembi Mtshali Jones, and directed by Yael Farber. This was an engrossing and beautifully performed one-woman show by a Zulu woman about her childhood and upbringing in South Africa. It explored Thembi’s need to understand her mother’s decision to leave her in the care of an auntie, whilst her mother went to work as a wet-nurse for a white woman in another town – just so that she could earn enough to feed and school her own children.

I was project managing this show in Edinburgh in 2000 and it was really the first time I got to know a performer from another continent. Thembi was so generous with her personal experiences both on and off stage. At the end of each show, members of the audience would be waiting to hug her and to tell her how sorry they were for the devastating impact the actions of the Apartheid authorities had had on her life. We would all just stand around crying and smiling and nodding at each other – before having to do the 15-minute get-out!

Finally, Intimate History by Jake Oldershaw. I can’t not mention this piece of theatre because it was the first time Jake (now my partner) and I worked together collaboratively, and it was also my first experience of one-to-one theatre where a show is designed just for one audience member at a time. This piece did that so sensitively. It was just gorgeous! Jake and Craig Stephens wrote six individual pieces of music theatre inspired by Theodore Zeldin’s book An Intimate History of Humanity. Each mini-show was accompanied by original music from the brilliant Derek Nisbet on grand piano, and placed the solo audience member at the very heart of the story. Themes ranged from love, travel, loneliness and anxiety, and they all featured Jake’s incredible singing.

We did a run at Battersea Arts Centre during a festival there and the audiences loved it and kept coming back and choosing another one of the six shows that were on offer. It went to the British Council Showcase and caused much emotional kerfuffle between both male and female delegates from various corners of the world!

Image: Jake Oldershaw in Untied Artist’s Intimate History.

Gareth: What is your favourite memory of mac?

Jo: I have two…

Firstly, coming here on the very last day before it closed for the refurbishment in 2008. The building was full of people, the sun was shining, Talking Birds were performing The Whale outside, and I had only recently moved to Birmingham from London. I felt very much a part of a friendly, vibrant arts community here.

Secondly, coming back here as a mum with a small child and feeling that it was a safe, bright, welcoming place that would not judge me in my snot-smeared, baggy jumper, baggy-eyed state. There was always something on at the flicks, or in a theatre, foyer or gallery that we could be part of, have a conversation about, and be saved from the many black holes of a 15 hour day trying to educate/entertain/feed a child!

[I plan on] championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Gareth: What are some of the elements of your vision for the performing arts programme at mac birmingham over the next three years, and how would you like to use the different performance spaces available?

Jo: OK, well…

Early years and children’s work. Developing and diversifying the offer we have and making certain that families in the region think of mac first when they are looking for a theatre or arts experience for the young people in their care.

Championing regional theatre makers, musicians and artists who are creating high quality work that has something to say and has considered its audience as part of its process.

Funking up the music programme a little. And I don’t just mean by booking funk bands – I mean broadening the offer and possibly working with other music promoters in Birmingham to do that carefully.

Looking at how we can use the park and outdoor spaces more creatively in our programme.

Thinking more about how older audiences are reflected and catered for in the work that we present and collaborate on.

Trying to work out how we can offer longer runs or regular slots to some companies where the work has that potential.

And finally, to try really hard not to eat the cheese on toast here more than once every two months!

Gareth: Through our work with East Meets West, we’re interested in reducing barriers between theatre-makers and venues within the entire Midlands region. How important is it for you to support and showcase regionally produced work?

Jo: It’s really important, which is why it’s part of my plans here. We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology. The East Meets West Symposium was a great idea by the way – you must do it again!

Gareth: What advice would you give somebody who wanted you to programme their work at mac?

Jo: OK… Don’t ring me up with a 15 minute spiel about your last / current piece of work that I can’t actually go and see anywhere. Do introduce yourself and your work in a short email and follow that up with a well considered email that shows that you know something about the venue, spaces, programme, and audiences here at mac. Include a one-page summary of the company / show, including who the creatives are, what they do, what they’ve already done and what your ethos is, and tell me a bit about what you’re trying to achieve with this one piece of work that you have to get on somehow. Send me images, short promos or films of the piece, and send me dates of where I can see the show or the work that you have on now. Also send me details of when you want to tour it. Don’t be vague, be bold!

We want to be flag-wavers for the excellence in, and development of, our local arts ecology.

Gareth: If money were no object, which artist or company would you like to bring to mac?

Jo: Oooh, it wouldn’t be just one…

Kate Bush, Nick Cave, David Byrne, Robert Lepage. Nina – Josette Bushell Mingo’s exploration of Nina Simone’s career and how it impacted on her own life. A premiere of a new Mike Leigh play. The Specials. Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre.

I would get James Brown’s best backing band of all time back together and book them with a different vocalist each night. For a week!

I’d also commission a new piece of work for children and programme it here for a month and then send it on a national tour. Lastly I’d have a Birmingham version of Meltdown curated by and featuring a host of brilliant Midlands artists and performers spilling out into the park and our outdoor theatre.

Gareth: As well as being a Programmer, you’ve also worked as a Producer (mainly for the wonderful Untied Artists.) How do you think your independent producing experience will influence your venue programming work?

Jo: Prior to being an independent producer and one half of Untied Artists, I was Creative Producer for an NPO company for 6 years, and before that was a tour booker / project manager for UK Arts International working with children’s theatre, performance artists, dancers, mid-scale theatre and everything else in between. So I suppose I could say I have a very broad understanding of what it takes to try and exist and develop and get booked as an artist or company – and it’s bloody hard! I also like to think I have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t for a venue, and why. And finally I’d like to think I can say, “No thank you, that’s not for us” in a way that’s clear but not too brutal.

Gareth: Who has had the biggest influence on your career to date, and why?

Jo: All the artists I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with.

Gareth: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the independent performing arts sector at the moment, and how do you think we can overcome it?

Jo: Hmmm… Where does one start?

Funding and a lack of understanding of how a little money can go a really long way.

TV – there’s soooo much of it.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential.

And possibly most importantly the fact that we’ve been drip-fed a dangerously right-wing notion of what is normal and what is “good” and “bad” for us as a society by the media and the government for so long.

I question the validity of work that is either too derivative or too self referential; work that doesn’t have a story, engaging enough performances or a driving narrative at its heart; work that isn’t simply breath-taking enough in its own right to leave us astounded and / or delighted. Having said that I also like a good laugh. Honest!

Image: Pin And Needles’ production of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas.

Gareth: Amid the wealth of Christmas shows that Birmingham has to offer, mac is establishing itself as the venue in the city that caters for early years audiences and their families. Tell us about what we can look forward to at mac this Christmas.

Jo: From 30th November until 30th December, we present our main house show: Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas. Merry Bloomin’ Christmas! – in his own words.

Father Christmas is a Pins and Needles and Lyric Hammersmith co-production that is beautifully performed by an ensemble made up of an actor, puppeteer and musician. The design is exquisite and very true to the original book, and the narrative is accompanied by a live Foley soundtrack — which in itself is great fun to watch.

Tickets for the show are selling fast so hurry up and get yours quick! Oh, and we’re also doing pyjama galas where you can come in your pjs for the 6 o’clock shows, have milk and cookies while you watch it, and then head home all ready to be tucked up for a cosy night’s sleep. Brilliant! [For more information about Father Christmas, visit mac’s website]

Besides those two corkers we also have Barbara Nice’s Christmas Cracker, an absolute must for one of the best nights out during the festive season — even the most humbuggy amongst you will enjoy it. It usually involves messy mince pie eating races, dancing in the aisles with strangers, a mass competition between two halves of the audience, and the best/worst raffle prizes known to humanity.

For a musical treat you can enjoy The Albion Band’s annual Christmas Show — fine folk indeed! And in the cinema we will have the much-anticipated arrival (in my house at least) of everybody’s favourite old brown bear… Paddington 2.

Gareth: We passionately believe that mac’s cheese on toast should be officially recognised as the best in the city. Are you as much of a fan as we are? Or is there something else on the menu you are most drawn to?

Jo: Please refer to my aforementioned comment relating to this culinary dilemma.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Jo Carr appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… Paul O’Donnell & We’ve Got Each Other

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

This month, we chatted to Paul O’Donnell, the theatre-maker and producer who’s a man on a mission to fly the flag for his beloved Coventry. We caught up with him during the initial tour of his latest project, We’ve Got Each Other, to talk about solo shows, Jon Bon Jovi and some grand plans for the UK City of Culture.

You can find out more about Paul’s own work here, and upcoming tour dates for We’ve Got Each Other here.


Gareth: How would you describe We’ve Got Each Other for anyone hearing about it for the first time?

Paul: We’ve Got Each Other is a full scale, no expenses spared, Bon Jovi musical… that is almost entirely imagined by the audience.

With the modern jukebox musical traditionally comes a multi-talented cast, a live band (or orchestra if you are lucky), opulent sets and decadent costumes, extravagant dance routines, dramatic key changes and the odd hydraulic lift or two. We’ve Got Each Other has none of these things (they cost a lot of money that independent solo artist Paul O’Donnell doesn’t have), but I still try to create this all singing, all dancing spectacle drawing upon the powers of your imagination to fill the voids.

People have described it before as an ‘austerity’ musical. That link wasn’t really intentional but I guess it does sum it up in a way.

Despite all its flaws, and its empty presentation, you still should leave We’ve Got Each Other with the sense that you ‘have’ experienced a full Bon Jovi musical show. And that is the magic of the show; you still fall in love with our principal characters Tommy and Gina, you are still blown away by the spectacle of it all, and if nothing else you certainly leave with a catchy song stuck firmly in your head. It creates the whole musical experience… on pretty much nothing.

People have described it before as an ‘austerity’ musical. That link wasn’t really intentional but I guess it does sum it up in a way.

Gareth: What is your favourite Bon Jovi lyric, and why?

Paul: “Now he’s holdin’ in what he used to make it talk, so tough, it’s tough.”

I went for this line from Livin on a Prayer (of course), because… well… it doesn’t even make sense does it? And that’s what I absolutely love about it.

You get completely swept up in the magic of this classic hit that it no longer matters that Jon isn’t even speaking English anymore. It doesn’t matter because you’re too focused on belting out whatever you’ve guessed those lyrics were at the very top of your voices.

In the same way I think We’ve Got Each Other has a similar effect. It is equally as nonsensical, and empty, and flawed, but somehow it completely doesn’t matter because you’re too busy sweeping yourself up in the magic of the full ‘musical theatre’ experience.

Paul O'Donnell

Gareth: We’ve Got Each Other was partly developed through China Plate’s First Bite and Bite Size process. How do you think that process has helped, influenced and shaped the piece?

Paul: First Bite and Bite Size were incredibly important towards the development of this piece, and also my career as an artist over the past year, particularly the guidance and advice that China Plate have offered.

I think it’s important to say here that First Bite is what I’d describe as a *meaningful* Scratch event. I sometimes get frustrated when venues or organisations offer ‘artist opportunities’ in the form of scratch nights, which essentially translates into “we offer you a spot to perform in”. That to me has a use, but is in no way meaningful or really useful in ensuring a future for the work beyond that event. First Bite goes beyond this; among other things it offers documentation in the form of photographs (to use as marketing materials), introduces you to a number of new venues (for me, Leicester’s Attenborough Arts Centre which is where I performed), and brought a collective of programmers and potential partners to see the work (many of whom have helped shape this tour). These are all things that support a future for this show beyond just that ‘scratch night’. First Bite also offered three of the eighteen First Bite artists a commission and support leading towards Bite Size Festival…

The project certainly wouldn’t be what it is today without this support from China Plate.

I just happened to be one of the artists to be given a Bite Size Festival commission, and this has meant that China Plate has supported me in a number of ways: financially offering a commission; producer-ly advice in that whenever I faced problems I could talk it through with folk who are a lot more experienced than I; and also with their range of contacts, helping to structure the tour and build a strong team around the show. For a start they put me in touch with Nick Walker for dramaturgical support (who I already knew but in other capacities) and lighting designer Arnim Friess, who have formed the team for this project and have enhanced the quality of what I have presented. They’ve helped me do what I’ve been doing for some time… but a lot better.

The project certainly wouldn’t be what it is today without this support from China Plate… at a guess, right now I’d probably still be scrambling for funding to support the show.

Gareth: Beyond these initial tour dates for We’ve Got Each Other, what are your plans for the show?

Paul: This is the initial tour of the show, which I hope will lead into further touring. At BE Festival this year I won the Early Ideas Award for the show, voted for by the audience, which means I get to return to perform a fuller extract of the show at 2018’s BE Festival. I am looking forward to that, and hoping I can create some international interest in my work. At BE Festival this year I was surprised to find that international audiences also really responded to the show (I think because of the Spanish references throughout it). It was a surprise to find that the musical theatre experience I’ve come to know and love is also highly recognisable across Europe.

Beyond that, I am also in conversation with Battersea Arts Centre who saw the show at Bite-Size festival and are really keen to bring the show back in Autumn 2018. I am also looking into other venues to see what future I can create for it.

I am also planning to make my first venture up to Edinburgh with the show in 2018. A scary new world, but people have said “it will do really well in Edinburgh”. I guess lets find out if that’s true or not.

I hope the show continues to tour, I really look forward to performing it. It’s a difficult show (one man on stage throughout with a lot of text to remember) but is packed with fun and energy and what feels like a real community with the audience throughout.

Gareth: Much of the work you have created so far in your career has been for you as a solo performer. Can you tell us a bit about how your work develops from initial idea to presentation? Does most of that work happen alone, or do you bring in collaborators?

Paul: Mainly… from my bedroom desk… or, The Paul O’Donnell studio (AKA: the kitchen).

I tend to start with a concept, for We’ve Got Each Other, as an example, it was the aim to create a ‘beautiful’ performance with no performers, or anything to look at, in it. I was interested in that conflict. Somehow, along the way, it transformed into an imaginary Bon Jovi musical… even I’m unsure as to exactly how. But that’s where it all began.

The audience are my final, and perhaps most crucial, collaborators. The show is made for them after-all.

A lot of the time I work alone, and often in my own head, thinking it through in the shower, on the bus, sipping a coffee or when I really should be sleeping.

However I always like to talk the work through with collaborators. I always value a dramaturgical role assisting my work. In this process it has been Nick Walker who has been incredibly useful in developing We’ve Got Each Other. In talking through stupid ideas to work out why they’re not so stupid, or talking through what might bridge the gap between this scene and that scene and so on, or helping me to cut out 45 minutes to meet festival time limits. All that has been really useful to me.

I’ve also valued the expertise of Arnim Friess (Lighting Designer) who has certainly filled a void that I simply wouldn’t have been able to fill myself. His experience in this area, especially the practicalities of touring the show (from small venues like Camden Peoples Theatre, to huge venues like Contact Theatre’s main stage) is invaluable. I really would have no clue how to make a success of this lighting-wise without Arnim’s collaboration.

Finally, every time I perform the show I learn more about how it works and what doesn’t work from the audience, and edit after every show I do. The audience are my final, and perhaps most crucial, collaborators. The show is made for them after-all.

Gareth: I remember seeing an early version of One Thing On His Mime at a Pilot Nights event a few years ago. I was struck then by how your work encourages the audience to actively engage their own imaginations to help tell the story. The same is true in We’ve Got Each Other. How conscious of this are you when making a new piece?

Paul: I refer back to your speech at the beginning of The East Meets West Symposium when you said that we should aim to put ‘audiences on top’ [you can read that speech here]. I am, and have been, very conscious of this for some time, but hearing you say it out loud refreshed it in my mind.

In We’ve Got Each Other more than any of my other shows the audience play as much, if not more, of a key role in the performance as myself.

In my shows it is not just a case of asking the audience to indulge me for an hour, but to engage their imaginations and invest themselves in the show as a ‘collaborator’ of sorts, alongside me. They not only imagine much of my work (encouraging them to be incredibly creative within the show) but also willingly block out, and accept, my shows for all their flaws, because they really invest themselves in making the show ‘a success’. They made part of it happen after all.

In We’ve Got Each Other more than any of my other shows the audience play as much, if not more, of a key role in the performance as myself. My relationship with them, and their relationship to the show, requires them to invest in it fully and believe in it, otherwise it will honestly ‘fall on its arse’.

Without you, the audience, the show would (quite literally) be nothing. And if that isn’t putting ‘audiences on top’ then I guess I don’t know what is!

“We’ve got each other, and that’s a lot for love”

Gareth: Which three artists have had the biggest influence on your work to date?

Paul: I feel like in response to this question I should reel off some really prestigious and important artists like Marina Abramovic, Robert Wilson and Pina Bausch.

But inspiration surprises you, and in actual fact, as much as the above do influence my work in their own special ways, they don’t influence it half as much as:

RuPaul’s Drag Race: The costumes, the spectacle, the sassy performance style. The moments in which the acts get the audience/judges going wild.

Musical Theatre shows: Musical Theatre, despite all its flaws (I’m aware of them), does successfully manage to get across ‘important messages’ in an incredibly accessible, entertaining and heart thumping way. I love the way it creates that goose-bumpy effect via high notes and overacted passion, and that underneath it all it has a message to carry with you. Of course I don’t have the budgets to do this in the same way, but I like to explore ways in which I might be able to create these effects on my own scale. Often, as touched upon before, calling upon the audiences imaginations.

Crap shows: I love working out why a show absolutely doesn’t work for me, and why I should never, ever, do ‘that thing’ in my show. I think that’s really, really important. As much as it’s important to see really damn good work, it’s great to see some really awful stuff too and I find I get inspired by trying to do the opposite of that bad thing.

I feel that inspiration always surprises me and I can never really understand when it might creep up on me.

These are just three examples that spring to mind, but I feel that inspiration always surprises me and I can never really understand when it might creep up on me. I think my work feels ‘new’ to audiences because it often blends contemporary and radical techniques, inspired by Marina and co, with incredibly accessible and spectacular pleasantries, inspired by RuPaul and co., and somehow I make that work.

Gareth: You’re the Co-Founder and Producer of Shoot, a festival that provides a platform for the best of Coventry and Warwickshire’s up and coming talent. How did Shoot come about?

Paul: Shoot Festival started because there wasn’t anything like it in Coventry. At the time, I had just finished university and returned to Coventry to find that I was quite often travelling up to Manchester, or down to London to showcase my work. I guess in a way I was frustrated that I didn’t have a chance to show my work in my own city, to my own people, as was my partner in crime Jen Davis.

Together, with a great amount of support from Tessa Walker (Associate Director at The Birmingham Rep) and Chris and Julia (Theatre Absolute), we decided to stop just moaning about it, and do something about it. So initially it was intended to be a night for local artists to platform, and network, and perform. But we foolishly kept on applying for funding and finding support, and in our first year we somehow managed to get Coventry City Council and Arts Council England behind it, so immediately and quite violently, the festival grew for us, and still continues to.

We are the starting point for artists in Coventry and Warwickshire, and through our connections we can open doors for early career artists to a number of opportunities across the city and beyond.

It has been incredibly embraced by the community around Coventry and continues to grow with an amazing amount of support in kind from Theatre Absolute, Belgrade Theatre, Tin Music and Arts, and Birmingham Rep to name but a few. We support up and coming artists (I would proudly call us ‘emerging artists’, believing if you’re not still ‘emerging’ you’re probably not testing yourself enough… but understand that this is a contentious term) in any way we are able to, understanding their problems by having experienced many of them ourselves.

We really believe we are the starting point for artists in Coventry and Warwickshire, and that through our connections we can open doors for early career artists to a number of opportunities across the city and beyond.

Paul O'Donnell

Gareth: As the Producer of Shoot, how important do you think it is for Theatre Makers to make opportunities available for other Theatre Makers?

Paul: Well, we’ve seen an amazing success rate in the artists that have come through Shoot Festival. We have supported many artists in applications to Arts Council England which have been successful, a number of our artists have gone on to earn places on Birmingham Rep’s Foundry scheme, and many have picked up commissions and opportunities from the arts community across Coventry.

Traum by Theatre Absolute was a show that happened because Chris and Julia, of Theatre Absolute, saw a performance that merged Bboying with storytelling at Shoot Festival 2016. On top of this, a show which we commissioned this year, Beat by Ben Morley, is programmed into a run at a venue in London this month.

Right now there are also two shows which have been commissioned by Birmingham Rep that might not have happened had Shoot Festival not brokered that initial introduction: Sorry by Susie Sillett and Baby Daddy by Elinor Coleman (which won our Artist Development Award in 2016). The Death Show (which won our Artist Development Award in 2017) is also programmed into the Rep in 2018. We are a little key (constantly scrambling for funding) that hopes to open up opportunities for our fellow theatre makers in the city.

We think one of the most important things about us being Theatre Makers supporting other Theatre Makers is the fact that we understand some of the problems they face because we have faced them too, and therefore can think practically about how we might sort those out. Producers or venues, who have never themselves ‘made theatre’ might not be able to understand these as well as we (the Theatre Makers) could. From something simple like the importance of offering a small fee for ‘scratch’ work, through to supporting them meaningfully through the tech time and lead up to ensure that they have all the information they need to make the best possible work. I think that’s where Theatre Makers creating events for Theatre Makers is important – we have been through ‘that’ process, so understand the complexities of showcasing our own work first hand. An hour long tech time might suit most groups, but also might be a manic mad rush for this particular show. At Shoot Festival we try and support artists as best we can for their particular needs. Theatre Makers are aware that one size rarely fits all. That’s why it’s important we keep making things happen for one another, as only we can identify the problems we are facing in order to solve them. (“We’ve got each other… and that’s a lot for love”).

If we don’t support each other and lead each other towards opportunity, who the heck will?

Shoot Festival is one step in solving what used to be a lack in Coventry… now we alone have 37 acts under our umbrella, and many more artists who have applied, and I am sure many more who will apply in the future. The community around Coventry is paying attention to the artists that come through us and offering them opportunities too. If we don’t support each other and lead each other towards opportunity, who the heck will?

Gareth: You’re a big advocate for Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. What impact do you think having a successful bid could have on the independent theatre-making ecology within Coventry?

Paul: Coventry already has a strong independent theatre-making ecology, with companies such as Theatre Absolute and Talking Birds placing themselves in the city. It also has some great venues for supporting the sector, Belgrade Theatre, Warwick Arts Centre, The Shop Front Theatre, Ego etc. It still certainly has gaps to fill, of course.

I cannot fathom what opportunity winning UK City of Culture in 2021 might mean… I get emotional at least twice a week about the prospect of it all, but I know it will only mean good things. And really, not just for Coventry, but for the whole region. It opens opportunities to people who are all across the West Midlands and beyond, we (Coventry) certainly can’t do this all on our own (it’s bloody huge) and will need input from creatives across the whole region. What I think is amazing is that suddenly artists from outside of Coventry might invest their time in little old Cov and realise that it’s a place where really amazing culture can happen (I’ve seen some pretty incredible work here). Which is why I would of course heavily encourage you to back the bid. [You can find out more about Coventry’s bid here and on Twitter.]

I cannot fathom what opportunity winning UK City of Culture in 2021 might mean… I get emotional at least twice a week about the prospect of it all.

Already, through the bidding process, I myself have been encouraged to think more ambitiously about the work I create both as a producer or artist. It’s very easy to get complacent as an artist and be comfortable in just getting by. What the bidding process has done for me, and you can feel it in the other organisations in the city, is it has asked ‘what more can you be doing?’, ‘How can you achieve that?’ and ‘How is that sustainable?’. It has certainly upped my ambition, and that’s only with bidding. Imagine what might happen if we actually win!

And really, that comes not just from the bid, but also from Coventry City Council’s 10 Year Cultural Strategy that has set bold aims as to what we as a city want to do culturally over the next ten years. I am sure that, whether we win City of Culture or not (I really hope we do though), I have no doubt that the ecology of Coventry in 2018 onwards is going to be incredibly different to what it is right now. For you, the only advice I can offer is… be a part of it!

Gareth: If money were no object, what amazing and ambitious project would you create for Coventry in 2021?

Paul: I’ve been thinking of a project for a while that feels a million miles away. It’s called Symphony. It would be me on stage telling you my anti-climactic completely non-eventful life story… but… backed up by a full live orchestra. A sort of concerto in which my life story is the final/main instrument. It’s not as self indulgent as it sounds, as hopefully it’s a story that speaks about a human want to feel important that we can all relate to. A piece that celebrates the ordinary, and mundane, and dull, and somehow makes it all rather incredible… with the help of a full orchestra.

I’m not sure if this is created ‘for Coventry’ per se, or just an idea in my head that I keep thinking about when I should really be thinking about the performance I’m doing right now. Somehow though it would celebrate what it means to grow up and live as a Coventrian whilst merging a one man performance with a thirty-five piece orchestra.

A man can dream right?

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Paul: Learn how to produce. Many people think ‘to be a star I must have a producer who does all the work for me’ (I certainly thought that). I would argue that a producer might be great, but it is equally as important to understand how one produces before thinking getting yourself a producer is necessarily the answer. There’s no real training for producing. It’s very much learnt on the job as you go, out of necessity. But understanding the nature of the beast you’re working in is incredibly important.

You can’t be creative without knowing the limitations of your creativity, practically.

For example: You can’t really create work sustainably without knowing what funders or programmers are looking for and building those relationships with venues and partners yourself. You can’t be ambitious without knowing the logistics of such ambition. You can’t be creative without knowing the limitations of your creativity, practically. As dull and paperwork-y and budget-y and logistic-y as producing may be, the only creatives I know who are still going and are successful, are those who understand what it means to make their own work happen and manage it as it is happening.

Don’t be afraid of it; just keep winging it till you work it out. I am.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… Paul O’Donnell & We’ve Got Each Other appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… BAM (Babies’ Academy of Music)

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.
Image: Sam Frankie Fox (left) and Ricardo Rocha (right) during at BAM concert at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. Photo: Sam Slater. All permissions granted to use images by parents and guardians.

BAM! is the name — and the sound — of what happens when the wild and wonderful voice of Wales collides beautifully with a Portuguese music-playing pioneer and his array of international instruments.

We checked in with Sam Frankie Fox to find out more about her and and Ricardo Rocha’s interactive concerts for the under-4s (and their families).

For more information about BAM, visit: www.facebook.com/babiesacademyofmusic


Gareth: Why did you decide to set up BAM: Babies’ Academy of Music?

Sam: Back in 2011, Ricardo and I performed in a childrens’ festival called Pinhal das Artes, in a pine wood forest in Leiria Portugal. Audiences regularly describe it as ‘the Woodstock for kids’. The work there was of the highest standard, not patronising at all and the atmosphere throughout the festival was magic. We learnt that in these types of settings, families really know how to party!

Ricardo has also performed as guest soloist for another project by the same organisation called Concertos para bebés (concerts for kids). These are world-class 30-45 minute shows for babes in arms, all set in the round where children are free to roam and interact with the musicians and their instruments. Short bites of well-known classical pieces are performed by a 6-piece band and mixed with the original contributions of the guest soloist.

These two shows / experiences were instrumental in inspiring us to build a show specifically aimed at babies /Early Years’ audiences, where we could draw on our range of skills and interests in music and theatre.

Gareth: What is your earliest memory of music?

Sam: Bashing about on the family piano trying to play all of the notes at once using arms, elbows and toes!

Gareth: Throughout your careers, you’ve both made a vast range of work with all sorts of different people. Describe some of the people or companies who have had the biggest impact on each of you and on the work you make.

Sam: Well, we have both worked for a number of different companies both as founding members and as freelancers. Along the way there have been way too many influential people and organisations to name here, but we really must mention Teatro do Montemuro where we met and who furnished us with the opportunity to perform music and theatre pieces between both our home countries of UK and Portugal.

Projects and companies that are dear to us personally are theatre company KILN based in Birmingham (of which Sam is a founding member and Co-artistic director) and Porto music duo Lufa-Lufa and storytelling collective Cegarrega (Ricardo being one of the lead artists in both).

Gareth: Your work with BAM is very different to some of the previous work you are known for. How has that previous work influenced the way you approach working with babies?

Sam: I would say that I’m mostly known for being a small person who makes a lot of noise! Whether in theatre shows or in bands, telling stories through sound and voice is definitely my thing and this has been most notable in Music-Theatre productions The Furies and Lady GoGo Goch (by KILN). Technically you could call what I do ‘extended voice’ or ‘whole voice’ work, but really it’s just about using the voice as an instrument to thrill and surprise. So I’ve approached BAM work like I would any other project and tried to find meaningful and exciting ways to use voice and sound to create a distinctive atmosphere. I’ve found that in fact I can be even more experimental and expressive with my voice in BAM shows. Of course the babies are in preverbal stages of communication themselves so sound play with babbling and extreme range of sound (high peep sounds, low gravelly qualities of voice) aren’t weird or uncomfortable. It’s all just play and expression. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are some lovely soothing lullabies in our repertoire and lots of standard song-shape numbers, but we approach it all with a healthy experimental spirit.

I would say that I’m mostly known for being a small person who makes a lot of noise!

Gareth: In what ways has working with babies, and their parents and guardians, surprised you?

Sam: We recently did a performance in the Family Tent at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, programmed to play two slots at 11am-ish and 2pm-ish. We anticipated they might be fairly sedate affairs, with families snuggling up for some musical fun pre and post lunch. This assumption couldn’t have been further from the truth…we experienced a stage invasion, chanting, and towards the end of the second show a little boy was getting so into it that he stripped naked and danced around head-banging to Ricardo’s Portuguese accordion songs. It was all very rock and roll!

Gareth: Tell us about your favourite and your most challenging gig with BAM.

Sam: We’re just getting started to be honest, so only have a handful of gigs under our belt. We do have an outdoor gig in Mac Birmingham’s arena theatre early next month, so we’re looking forward to the challenges and delights of performing in the fresh air. *please don’t rain, please don’t rain, please don’t rain*

Gareth: A question about Ricardo’s musical heritage. We were at a wedding recently in which your band Kiriki Club were playing. The song which got the crowd most excited was a Portuguese number. How much do you explore music from international cultures with BAM, and why do you think it is so important for children to hear this from such a young age?

Sam: Yes so Ricardo and I also perform in a Birmingham-based band called Kiriki Club (Ricardo on guitar and myself on vocals and harp). Like in all our work, we relish in the performing of songs in different languages and from different cultures. We also like to get people up dancing, so that’s our general rule with that project is to get people moving and feeling the song in their bones. If the drive of the song has this affect, and people are happily having a boogie, the other job is to find ways to convey meaning through musical and physical gesture. So the audience feels like they “get” the song without literally understanding the lyrics. With BAM, we make a point of performing in multiple languages as well as made up languages. We feel quite strongly that there’s too much emphasis on language in a lot of songs and music for early years, and in our experience find that children tend to respond better to pulse, rhythm, melody, timbre etc when there isn’t the distraction of the English language dominating every song. It’s also a real treat, in a mixed city like Birmingham (youngest city in the UK dontcha know?) to see the flickers of recognition in the childrens’ and parents’ faces when we perform a song in their mother tongue or a familiar language.

We feel strongly that there’s too much emphasis on language in a lot of songs and music for early years.

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are performance students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Sam: Go out and make the work you want to make. Even if you have to rehearse in your own front room and perform it on the street, in a park or online. And all the while try to stay connected to who your audience is / might be. Don’t listen to too much feedback and let your work be diluted either. Obviously if you’re hearing the same things over and over about your work then it’s worth listening to / addressing, but mostly take risks and make the art that feels most expressive and honest.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… BAM (Babies’ Academy of Music) appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… The Secret To CV (Postcode) Success

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a new series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.
Image: Noctium’s The Country Doctor | www.noctiumtheatre.com

As Coventry puts the finishing touches to its UK City of Culture 2021 bid, we hope they’ve made special mention of a brilliant movement that is stirring across the city. We noticed it during our recent recruitment process for an Administrative Intern, and then again during the call out for our mentoring scheme. Finally, the publication of Shoot Festival’s 2017 programme confirmed it: Coventry is a hotbed of activity for new and exciting theatre companies.

The roots of this emerging generation of artists can regularly be traced back to the two university institutions close by. The University of Warwick, nestled on a sprawling campus on the outskirts of Coventry, has a long history of producing graduate companies who go onto create innovative, ensemble-led work. Among many others, Curious Directive, Barrel Organ, Dumbshow, Fat Git (sadly no longer), FellSwoop, (and of course our very own Zoe Roberts’ Kill the Beast) all emerged out of contacts and collaborations which began at Warwick, and each has gone on to build national (and sometimes international) profiles. And that’s just the companies. Lots of independent artists also follow suit.

So what is it about Warwick that helps it produce such a wealth of successful alumni? Do they have a magic formula? Perhaps there’s something in the water. Whether they’re doing Theatre and Performance Studies degrees, or whether they’re teaming up with colleagues from other departments through one of the university’s many theatre societies, every drama-minded student’s central hub is Warwick Arts Centre. Here, students are exposed to a year-round programme of world-class theatre that is rarely seen at other regional arts centres, let alone on a university campus. Inspired by all this, the students can also use the arts centre’s facilities to showcase their own work by performing in regular dedicated slots within the theatre’s programme.

Since 2014, the University of Warwick and Warwick Arts Centre have collaborated to produce the annual Emerge Festival and Laboratory as an opportunity to celebrate the work of its alumni as well as to inspire their current cohort of students. Emerge features graduate theatre companies and alumni practitioners who collaborate over four days of workshops, experiments and performances.

In recent years, Coventry University has also started to flex its muscles in terms of its calibre of theatre graduates. In its city centre location, and without the bright beacon of the arts centre or plentiful green spaces, it may look less impressive than its edge-of-town neighbour, but it has big ambitions and it’d be unwise to underestimate the impact it is having on the sector.

A major influence on the students at Coventry has been the regular working relationship with Kiln Ensemble. For several years Kiln wrought havoc on the theatre department by creating ambitious, anarchic and irreverent devised work with the students which ripped up the rulebook about what theatre could and should be, and immersed the students in a whole new world of possibilities. Kiln would tempt, coax or shove students out of their comfort zones and the results, if at times chaotic, were always thrilling, alive and dangerous. Leading the pack of recent Cov Uni graduate companies is Noctium, whose early work explores innovative approaches to storytelling, sound and object manipulation.

To celebrate such brilliant work being made in and around the city, Shoot Festival will be showcasing the best of Coventry and Warwickshire’s emerging theatre companies. Supported by the Belgrade Theatre and Theatre Absolute’s Shop Front Theatre, this year’s festival includes a whole range of performances, industry talks and workshops. The 2017 programme includes appearances by Clown Funeral, Bootleg Puppets, and Hot Mess among many others.

So it’s an exciting time for Coventry, but that shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a shame that none of those accomplished Warwick graduate companies have chosen to stay on to make Coventry or the Midlands their permanent base. Shoot Festival is taking big steps to ensure that young companies feel they have a home, opportunities and a voice within the city. The trick now is for Coventry to continue its support year round so it doesn’t lose this wealth of talent to other cities. Talking Birds and Theatre Absolute are just two examples of how companies can thrive and have a big impact on the city if they can find the means to stick around long enough. Now more than ever, Coventry needs to find ways of retaining its talent and to harness these homegrown assets to support its wider cultural ambitions.

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… The Secret To CV (Postcode) Success appeared first on Little Earthquake.

Little Earthquake: Francesca Millican-Slater – Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a new series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Francesca Millian-Slater
Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night

The days may be lengthening but we’re still battling through long hours of darkness… And thankfully, when sleep eludes you, there’s always a soothing voice over the airwaves to get you through the night. Ahead of a run at Birmingham REP, we caught up with Francesca to find out more about her new show which blends radio, theatre and storytelling, and to hear her thoughts on making work, the power of the past and her pick of cinema’s finest female DJs.

Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night runs at Birmingham REP between 9th -18th February 2017. Find out more and book tickets here.

Stories In The Basement, a series of teaser events for the production take place at Birmingham REP between 19th January – 9th February 2017. More details can be found here.

You can find out more about Francesca on here website.

Image taken by Graeme Braidwood.


Philip: How would you describe Stories to Tell in the Middle of the Night for anyone hearing about it for the first time?

Fran: It’s set up like live late night radio show that tells stories to follow the pattern of the night and the frustrations of not being able to get to sleep. The stories aren’t always about the night explicitly but small stories that are familiar, stolen, funny, and true. They reflect the frustrations and missed connections of the daylight hours that can sometimes keep us awake.

Philip: Throughout your career, you’ve made a vast range of work with all sorts of different people. Describe some of the people or companies who have had the biggest impact on you and the work you make.

Fran: There is always Pippa [Frith], who is my producer but also my best friend. I’ve known her since I was 3 and we grew up in Watford together. Without her to bounce ideas off, get feedback, fail in front of, push me and make those finances work, I don’t think I’d be in the position that I am in now.

It is often the brief interactions that have had a big impact on me, people I may only work with for an afternoon, that have a different practice to mine and have given up their time to encourage me to view my work in a different way: Ben Buretta (of Outbox Theatre), Elizabeth Freestone (Independent Director and former Artistic Director of Pentabus). In 2012 I first worked with The Jane Packman Company (now Dens & Signals), on The Wake which was instrumental in growing my practice as a writer/deviser and collaborative performer outside my own work. It encouraged me to think about working with musicians and music and the idea that a performance is an event to be hosted. 

There are large venues that have taken an interest and a gamble on my work. The New Vic in Stoke gave me free rein to make a show with the backing of the brilliant staff designer Lis Evans, and Associate Director of The Hoard, Gemma Fairlie. Moving on from only myself, Pippa and a technician rocking up at a venue to having a whole production team was quite a step and encourages me to think about future possibilities. And of course, there is Birmingham Rep who have been supporting me in various ways since I finished the first Foundry Programme in 2013. From programming The Forensics of a Flat and Gold to providing rehearsal space, dramaturgy support and commissioning Stories to Tell... With the weight of this venue and its team behind me my work has continued to grow and allowed me to take risks. Just a brief meeting with Tessa Walker (Associate Director at Birmingham Rep) can spark new ideas, while going to shows and seeing the alumni of the Foundry continuing to make challenging and original work encourages me to keep driving my work and challenging my process in different ways.

There is the support network of artists and practitioners that I have met through programs such as the Foundry or just by being in Birmingham. Those conversations that happen sporadically or late at night that make me think differently with people such as Stephanie Ridiings, Lou Platt, Jo Gleave, Sam Fox, and Rochi Rampal.

Speaking with those outside of the arts are some of the most vital conversations that I have. It is easy to remain in an arts bubble and I specifically seek out people that have different views and experiences to mine. These are the people that tell me if something doesn’t make sense, or that it is too naval gazing, or that they wouldn’t go and see it. They are the people that I meet in basements or in archive rooms, on the street when I am doing research, or in shops. Also… various ex’s come to mind.

In terms of artistic influence,  the people or companies whose work I always go back to, where I feel my roots are, whose work I once saw and though ‘Oh I want to do that… I could do that…’ are familiar favourites: Spalding Grey, Robin Deacon, Curious, Split Briches, Ursula Martinez, Forced Entertainment (in their less frenetic work – see The Travels).

Philip: You have also made and taken several productions out with rural touring schemes and their networks such as Arts Alive, and with rural agencies such as the Canal & River Trust. What has your experience of working in rural venues and locations been like?

Fran: Rural Touring is where I really learnt my craft. It is where audiences turn up because it is a social event and not necessarily to see your show, where you sit down and eat with your hosts and often stay a night in their house. The audiences are honest, welcoming and always full of questions and stories themselves. As a performer, alongside your technician, you adapt to spaces, technical set up, size of audience… every single venue, and every scheme is different. It takes the ego out of performing and you make the show work for them, which I think is important for any writer/performer to learn. It is about the audience. I’ve turned up to venues where the hall I was due to perform in hasn’t been built, or where the audience are wrapped in blankets because the heating makes too much noise, or where next week ‘they’ve got a proper show’ programmed. It means every show is different. It always works, no matter the show or the size of the audience. The Rural Touring schemes, such as Arts Alive, are doing such important work in supporting performance to be taken to places where otherwise people wouldn’t see it. To expand the notion that there is more to theatre than expensive tickets, the old cannon of plays, and well-known actors.

With Arts Alive I made a show (that turned into two!) that means I get to perform in the places where the people I have researched and who I talk about during the show have lived. Sometimes some of the audience know relatives of these characters.

The Canal & River Trust was particularly interesting to work with. I was Artist in Residence at The National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. The challenge there was to create a piece of work that encouraged new audiences into the museum itself while also engaging regular attendees or those that worked there. With a subject like Canals and Boats, there are a lot of experts so it is about finding creative ways of telling new stories to these people. In a similar vein to Rural Touring, I worked with what I had to create something for the audiences that is contemporary in form but also accessible.

Philip: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating a new show?

Fran: It usually starts with an idea, an object, or a story I hear, or have overheard or read about. Or someone has asked me to make something about a theme or idea. I go looking for stories, and oddities on the internet. There is a period where that ‘thing’ (whatever it is) sits in my head.  I write about it, usually in abstract ways. I research it and discover the larger themes around it – tangents that often reoccur. I buy books online that sit and looking at me, guilty. I may mention the idea to a few people (including Pippa). It is about this time that I start to name it, give it a title, even if it is still really just an idea. It is usually a very long title (with brackets). When it has a name it somehow becomes a real thing. Then I make a list: What do I want to do? What do I want people to get from it? What do I want people to feel from it? What might it look like? What is the biggest it could be? What is the smallest it could be?

I set myself some sort of deadline by applying to a scratch night or inviting a small audience to a showing at the end of a rehearsal period.

Then I start taking action by going to places (this could be archives, museums, exhibitions, pub or places that no longer exist). I talk to lots of people, asking questions, collecting answers, writing. I wake up with half ideas. I swim or walk and think. I write lots of small, medium and long pieces that don’t obviously connect.

I then make a structure chart: a list of things that I stick to the wall of my flat. This is where I pretend I am a detective. Or a serial killer. I take that writing and structure and I spend a week or two in a room somewhere (usually on my own) with the intention of doing things, and usually I do some more writing. I stand up and say the writing aloud and start editing it. Objects in the room that were not originally involved become crucial, accidentally. I throw away some visual ideas that I was obsessed by. I either decide that this show (insert title here) definitely does or does not need a power point. Or music. But it always needs music. Or sound. I play a lot with words and ideas and spend some time laughing at myself on my own in a room. Sometimes I video or audio record myself. I call Pippa and ask if I’ve done enough work and can go home. By then I have a rough structure (usually a strong start with uncertainty later) and I invite some people in, ask them what they think, and what they want more of, and what they want less of. I do some more writing.

Then there are timelines in place and we (me and Pippa) start talking to venues and designers and technicians. At some point I learn the words, but not always exactly how they are written on the page.

Philip: Your blog for Stories includes a brilliant phrase: “the fetishisation of nostalgia” — could you explain a bit more about what you mean by that, and how it feeds into your current and previous work? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

Fran: The world we live in is faced paced, hyper (in all senses), and for a lot of us it is largely digital. This leaves space for a want, a yearning for the ‘good old days’ of ink and paper, postcards, slower pace, more honest words. Or at least that is how it can appear. There are online video tutorials in how to make furniture look shabby-chic so that it looks vintage. We collect records to hang on walls but not to play under needles. A sepia tint or 70’s soft focus filter on Instagram can make the most uninspiring of dinners look delicious. Comfort is found in over-priced re-invented sweets and games from our childhood. It felt like a simpler time. Do I think it’s a good or bad thing? I bounce between scathing words and buying in. It forms questions that inform my work.

My previous work revolves around and is sold on this obsession with the past. Being in contact with documents that have been touched and written by people that lived 40, 50, 100 years ago is amazing. Just that bit of physical contact. Emails don’t carry skin cells and finger prints. These documents tell stories that cannot be Googled. And beneath the sepia tint of old style clothes and funny phrases are people dealing with friendships and family and poverty and death and change. They teach us about how we have got to where we’ve got, and about what we have and have not learnt. So… the fetishisation of nostalgia, the selling of it, is important for me to unpick.

With some of the tales in Stories To Tell… I’m looking at the friction between finding comfort in the recent past (when information was limited)  and the technology of today (that informs us constantly, and connects us whilst at the same time manipulates and isolates us).

Perhaps it is my age, and that I remember when mobile phones were new (mine carried AA batteries), and the subsequent rise of text messages, camera phones, and iPhones. I am trying to work out what other time in history shared a similar pace in the advancement of technology that we are currently living through. Perhaps the Industrial Revolution felt similar?

Philip: Where have all the stories for this new show come from?

Fran: They are stories that I have been writing for 10 or 12 years. They are little snippets of things that I started, things I wrote for the page or stories that were intended for other shows. They come from working in call centres, pubs, living in cities, over heard conversations, newspaper articles, anecdotes stolen from friends (Pork Pie Holer, thanks Martin Cox), frustrations with situations and sometimes extended versions of things that have happened to me.

Part of the process for this show was going through my old notebooks, re-discovering stories and expanding them. It was a little like having a conversation with my younger self. And some of them needed a lot of editing. Some needed re-writing completely because of how technology has changed. There was always a desire to put these stories that have some over-lapping themes somewhere together, but I wasn’t sure how they fitted in with my work.

Philip: The image of a lone woman DJ working through the night and talking to listeners who may or may not still be listening reminds me very much of The Fog Have you seen that film? What other sources inspired the show? Have you based your performance on any well-known radio presenters?

Fran: I am so glad that you picked up on The Fog! When I first started thinking about this idea I was looking at Blues Raconteurs, BB King, Howling Wolf – stories that are told in song and the talking in between. I was thinking about Iggy Pop and Ronnie Wood’s rambling radio shows… that idea of just talking into a mic. But I also wanted a feeling of uncertainty and aloneness, and then a friend of mine (one of those that isn’t part of the arts crowd!) told me to watch The Fog. It has this brilliant atmosphere, and the feel of the sea, of isolation. I was also looking at the film The Warriors, particularly the DJ who appears as just a voice and a lovely pair of lips sending warnings and music across the city. I listened to Jarvis Cocker who reads out excerpts of interviews or short stories as well as playing music and Cerys Mathews who reads out notes from her phone and things she has found out.

The writing of the stories themselves is influenced by Richard Brautigan (that was a tip from a Jarvis Cocker show), Italio Calvino, Raymond Carver, Angela Carter (always) Jeanette Winterson, John Cheever, and the adult short stories of Roald Dahl.

Philip: Another phrase on your website’s homepage really jumped out at me: “I never pretend that you are not there.” Why is it so important to you to have such a direct relationship with your audience?

Fran: Ahhh, this goes back to technology. We can be entertained digitally anywhere. We have it at our finger tips in films, games, the internet… and theatre is up against these cheaper and more accessible forms of entertainment. Theatre is unique in that it allows for a shared live experience with those people in that room at that particular moment. I believe we should acknowledge that we are in a room to tell a story/ stories, and that it is about an exchange in the live moment. That could be done in the smallest of ways. I always like a low level of house lights on the audience so I can see them and look into their eyes.

Interestingly, Stories To Tell… is the one show out of all my previous work where everything takes place somewhere slightly ‘other’. It acknowledges the audience and asks them to come with me into a place/space that is unknown. It doesn’t ask for a direct response as a lot of my other shows do, but it relies on them trusting me to take them into different places and to different people. There is some suspension of belief, without me asking them directly to do that (as I usually do). I guess this was a way to push a different way of performing on myself as the material is different to what I have worked with before.

Philip: You’ve been working with the lovely Iain Armstrong on this piece, who Little Earthquake audiences will remember as the celery-twisting doctor in our production of The Tell-Tale Heart. What has Iain’s contribution been to the show?

Fran: He has created a sound design which heightens the atmosphere of the show and assists in creating this dream-like quality. It also creates the different space/spaces I talked about above. With a simple set and simple words, the subtleties of Iain’s design make this show. His ideas both in sound and also in terms of structuring the piece were invaluable. He managed to translate some of my confused ideas about what I wanted (I’d usually try and do it with a karaoke track and power point) into something beautiful in its own right. He explored the themes of the show by manipulating Nocturnes (music to be performed at night) to create an ongoing repeated sound that signifies The Navigator (the DJ) and that takes you through the night. Every idea that I gave him he was able to find a way of looking at in a more subtle way. Every sound you hear has reference to the stories and the themes at large. And you should hear how he has turned KC and Jo Jo’s ‘All My Life’ into something distressingly beautiful (though he’s never really forgiven me for having to download that track).

Philip:  What keeps you awake at night? And what do you do to help you get back to sleep again?

Fran: Frustrations, worries, anxieties. Conversations that I had years ago and that don’t matter. Things I could do better. The world and how it could be better. Targets I set for myself. Other people I think could be awake. Things I wish I’d said. Things I did say. Birds. The buses outside. A 4am wine wake-up (from drinking earlier in the evening, not to get up and drink at 4am). Ideas. Snippets of shows.

I never look at my phone when I can’t sleep. Part of me enjoys the feeling that you might be the only one awake. I try counting back from 200. Or I get up and write in a book I have that is not for creative writing or ideas, but just for writing in, to get stuff out of my head and somewhere else. I tell myself stories – some old ones or new ones. Or I look for plot holes in TV shows (Empire, Death in Paradise, Jonathan Creek). Or I go through lines.

Philip: When you were little, what was your favourite bedtime story?

Fran: Pugwash (which my Dad told me he’d written and before it had the taint of innuendo attached to it). My Mum used to tell me stories about the Little Green Man and the Little Red Woman when she wasn’t reading me Feminist Fairy Tales. She also told me a story about the Seven Sisters who made the cliffs near Seaford. Oh and a book called Fred, about a cat who had died and then it turns out he was an international cat pop star. I realise that is a list of stories, not one.

Philip: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

Fran: Keep asking yourself ‘What do you want the audience to get from this?’, ‘ What do you want them to feel?’ Make your work adaptable to different places and numbers of people.

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Little Earthquake: Happy #Stanniversary to Stan’s Cafe

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a new series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

Our very good friends Stan’s Cafe (no accent on the e, and pronounced caff) are celebrating their 25th birthday this year, in what has been branded with the genius hashtag of #stanniversary.

Stan’s Cafe are long-time supporters of Little Earthquake, providing advice and moral support during difficult times, and celebrating our sucesses during the good times. We had the honour of being the first company to create a new show in their base at A. E. Harris (The Haunting), and they’ve continued to let us make weird and wonderful things there ever since. Our huge set for The Boy Who Became A Beetle now lives in a corner of their basement, and Philip gained invaluable knowledge about running a theatre company when he because their Admin Intern years ago. It isn’t an understatement to say that if it wasn’t for Stan’s Cafe, Little Earthquake would have ceased existing long ago, and we, along with a vast array of other independent theatre-makers and companies in the region, owe them a huge amount of gratitude.

From humble beginnings in a greasy spoon off London’s Brick Lane (which inspired their name) to their current headquarters in a Jewellery Quarter factory, they’ve travelled the globe and yet always proudly made Birmingham their home. Their work gleefully defies being pinned down or pigeonholed. It’s the sort of stuff that sounds like it belongs in a high concept Hollywood pitch.

They’ve unravelled statistics by scaling mountains of rice and unpicked financial crises using bouquets of paper tulips — they’ve mashed up slo-mo opera with death-by-bouncy castle — reimagined the start of the First World War with a domino rally and the Cuban Missile Crisis with primary school performers — not to mention taking on Japanese cinema, Renaissance self-help books and the Bible repackaged in a pop-up puppet show — and this is just what’s happened in the last few years!

As befits any legend commemorating a quarter of a century in showbiz, the team are having a good old knees-up for their nearest and dearest, which, like all great society occasions, is shrouded in mystery. But they are also sharing the love more widely through The Gift Sessions, in which Artistic Director James Yarker will lead free workshops for anyone who wants to have a little taster of their process. Two sessions have already been and gone, and it’s too late to book for the third – but you can still squeeze into the fourth session on 19th December. You can book a place here. Think of it as a birthday present and early Christmas present combined. Treat yourself!

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Little Earthquake: We’re Itching To Talk About… The Bone Ensemble

We’re Itching To Talk About… is a new series of blog posts in which we feature some of the brilliant work our theatre-making friends are creating within the region and further afield.

The Bone Ensemble
Where’s My Igloo Gone?

As Winter creeps ever closer, Birmingham’s very own The Bone Ensemble are putting the finishing touches to their brand new production Where’s My Igloo Gone? Ahead of its upcoming tour, including a run at mac in Birmingham and the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton, Gareth caught up with Co-Artistic Directors Jill Dowse and Adam Ledger to chat about the show, their creative process and the artists who have had a big influence on them.

The Bone Ensemble’s Where’s My Igloo Gone? tours throughout Winter 2016 and is a co-production with mac (23rd to 27th November) and the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton (6th to 8th December). For more information visit: www.theboneensemble.co.uk

 


 

Gareth: Throughout your careers, you’ve made a vast range of work with all sorts of different people. Describe some of the people or companies who have had the biggest impact on you and the work you make.

Jill: There are so many. My years at university have probably had the biggest impact. Drama students were actually timetabled to attend programmes of ‘alternative’ theatre happening in Exeter, and I lapped up everything from Footsbarn to Trestle to more curious, shifting, experimental, non-narrative performances. We had an amazing course, almost totally practical, and mostly devising-led, exploring a vast range of theatre and performance: Chau dance from Indonesia (tough on the legs!); Brecht; Grotowski; a bit of Lecoq; Artaud-inspired shenanigans; shamanism; and a module on Meyerhold which radically changed my view of myself in relation to my (‘imperfect’) body and how expressive it could be. I think this eclecticism, and the enjoyment of flexing different performing ‘muscles’ has remained with me. Working with Theatre Alibi was a benchmark of quality, detail and integrity in children’s ‘storytelling’ theatre and the power of TIE. Wrights & Sites’ Quay Thing project was a great adventure – an intense but also playful introduction to the dynamics of site-based work – and my taste for it hasn’t waned. We’ve since made work in car parks, Danish piazzas and caravans among other places, and have plans for more.

Adam: Another practitioner who has influenced the approach to site-based work is Mike Pearson, who has created many different types of work and also developed a sophisticated way to think about site. In terms of theatre, Katie Mitchell is a big influence for the rigour of her work, the focus on actors, but also the beauty of her images. We have enjoyed Complicite’s physicality and storytelling. Quite different from that is Odin Teatret, which has had an influence with regards to the communal aspects of theatre, the music and virtuosity of performers.

Gareth: One of The Bone Ensemble’s core values is a dedication to ongoing training and professional development for its Co-Directors and other collaborators. I love this! There is often an assumption that once an artist has gone through some sort of formal training, they’re set for life. Why is the idea of ongoing training important to you?

The Bone Ensemble: It’s a truism that training seems to stop after traditional drama school training. It’s really in smaller scale or ‘alternative’ work that you see more of an ongoing professional development, maybe because artists come from a more diverse background and are usually more able to pursue different forms of work. Jill didn’t train at a drama school and certainly in the 80’s and 90’s there was a culture of going to different workshops to follow whatever form your ‘passion’ took, or to discover different ways to approach performance, and those experiences inevitably found their way into the work that was made. Working with practitioners such as Monika Pagneux (Feldenkrais), Kristin Linklater (voice), Alexander Technique teachers and so on, also give you ways to think about the body/voice in daily life, as well as in performance.

It’s useful to think of ‘training’ as broader than performer training, and more to do with finding out how to do what you want to do. For example, we are finding out how best to do the participatory work by testing it out as we go along, and constantly thinking about things; Jill’s performance experiences with Yvon Bonenfant, Untied Artists and Frozen Light (who create work for audiences with profound and multiple learning difficulties) have also been a kind of training for this.

There is also a kind of intellectual training. For example, we have had to learn about climate change and a big realisation has been that we need to understand environmental issues within pressures of economics and capitalism, which we didn’t see before. Maybe this is a sort of imagination training!

It’s important, essentially, because it helps you do the things you want to do better, especially if you are breaking new ground. It can also add insight, confidence, creative energy and lead you up unexpected new paths.

Gareth: Where’s My Igloo Gone? tells a small personal story against a backdrop of the global issue of climate change. How did the idea come about?

The Bone Ensemble: There is a growing movement of performance – and all art forms actually – that responds to environmental issues. So often, we have found that work presents ‘doom and gloom’ scenarios or images – often very powerfully and done really well – but we need to move on from that. The issues can seem remote and already negative, so the thing is to make them personal. One of our advisers, Kris [de Meyer], really put things in those terms when we met him: that is, it’s not about ‘polar bears on bits of ice and already too late because the world is going to end’, it’s about choices we all make and how we can all do something. So empathy is important: through a character or situation, maybe we can connect audiences to something that matters to them personally.

Gareth: The production is part of a wider multi-stranded scheme of work called The Igloo Project. Tell us a little more about that.

The Bone Ensemble: It came about by chance really. We did a show in a caravan [Caravania!] and were interested in non-theatre venues and interactive performance. But we needed an audience of more than 6 people (the number who can fit into the caravan) as promoters find those kinds of limits really difficult. We just riffed on the idea of ‘show in a …’ and found ourselves exploring the idea of creating a big igloo, and did some later research and development on that. It only became clear later that the work should be about climate change – so we didn’t start with a theme, we started with the idea of ‘a show in an igloo’. We liked the idea of an igloo in summer, maybe taking it around the festival or outdoor arts circuit, but the practicalities became huge.

So we started in a different place; we turned our ideas and enthusiasm into a different show, using Sam [Fox] and the scientists we already had involved. And the vision of the igloo has re-emerged in a different way, as we have an installation at two of the venues (mac in Birmingham and the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton) now. It might be one day that the big outdoor igloo comes back and we can fit parts of the new show into that, and we are also thinking about two related and extraordinary looking figures called ‘The Ice People’, and work may happen on that next year.

Gareth: Jill, as a theatre practitioner, one of your main areas of expertise is the voice. And you’re collaborating with Sam Fox, another artist who pushes the boundaries of what the voice is capable of in performance. What role does voice play in the production?

The Bone Ensemble: We decided quite early on that we wouldn’t speak English in the show, really so that we could reach international audiences with our glorious igloo. So we speak a different, made-up language called ‘Iglooish’! When we got interested in Inuit culture (which is quite oral), we found out about ‘the competition song’, which is a sort of improvised game and we play with versions of that in the show. Some of the interest in interactivity led to early exploration of using digital aspects and electronics; we tried out making big LEDs light up according to certain sounds, and thought about decorating the igloo with those. But the vocal things are also participatory: we interact with each other (e.g. hocketing), explore call and response as performers, but also with the audience. When we do a scene which is a kind of protest with the audience, that explores ideas around people’s voices as a kind of empowerment and finding a collective voice. More broadly, there is lots of use of voice to create soundscapes, animals, the weather, and of course song – and we see some of the scenes as a kind of ‘number’, rather than a usual scene.

Gareth: You’re also collaborating with experts in climate change and social psychology – Professor David Hannah (University of Birmingham) and Dr. Kris de Meyer (King’s College, London). What surprises and discoveries have come up because of their input? Have they inspired you to reconsider any part of the story you’re going to tell?

The Bone Ensemble: Kris de Meyer is particularly interested in how people believe things or refuse to believe things; he’s also a filmmaker and has made a documentary about that. He has been informative about why people deal with – or deny – climate change and helped us understand this; again, this reinforces that we can’t just put out a big, scary, already-too-late message, as people just switch off: it’s just too much to engage with. Kris has also been in the rehearsal room, which he feels comfortable with as he has already collaborated with artists, although not theatre people. Kris has also suggested some subtle shifts; for example, it’s not that politicians won’t help, necessarily, it’s that they don’t always know what to do themselves. They are not necessarily ‘baddies’; they also don’t always feel they have enough information or strong enough mandate to act. So we’ve made our politician character more complex.

David (Hannah) is an adviser and also came into rehearsals and we speak to him quite a bit. He has scientific knowledge that underpins the show. But he also showed us a ‘home movie’ of being in the Arctic, where’s he’s been a lot. We were all fascinated. He said how quiet it is, that you’re aware of your breath and your footsteps, and he also demonstrated how to test the ice with a stick as you walk – you don’t want to fall into arctic water – so we use these things in the show.

Gareth: You’re making the piece accessible to Deaf and EAL (English as an Additional Language) audiences. What prompted that decision and what impact has it had on the form and content of the show?

The Bone Ensemble: These are both new things for us! The EAL aspect came from the international audiences idea and also allows us to explore how people are displaced, which happens in the show. We went to Greet Primary School, which has a high proportion of EAL learners, and tried out some things and found it worked. The Deaf aspect came from Neil Reading at the Arena, who encouraged us to think about this as that venue has been building Deaf audiences. So we learnt more about the Deaf community and also will be trying out the performance at Longwill School for the Deaf. Caroline Parker, a well known Deaf theatre artist, is also coming into rehearsals to help us check that we’re on the right track, and to give advice where necessary. We may include just a little bit of BSL (British Sign Language), but integrated into the physicality, as if the BSL is a gesture of the character or part of a choreography – essentially, part of the overall aesthetic.

Gareth: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way The Bone Ensemble goes about creating a show like Where’s My Igloo Gone?

The Bone Ensemble: Each show is different and the context of each show is different. This one has been a long, slow development. There has been quite a process of developing ideas, themes and hints of character. The early version wrestled with making an outdoor igloo, but then we had a research and development phase on the family version to start to create story, character and interactivity. Before the main rehearsals, we had another five days of music and storyboarding; we found ourselves referring to ‘classic’ story structures (we actually have three ‘acts’, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that!). We also thought about sound, song and some participatory structures.

Usually there are only three of us in the room, so the process is relatively fluid. We have found, though, that we have to attend to how we capture music and song improvisations, as they can occur quite suddenly, so getting the right way to record them has been useful.

We have a good idea of what the set will look like: the process is also one of design, of course. In the room, we will concentrate on making each ‘block’ of the action, thinking about the situation, characters, sound, physicality and interaction. Later, we think about making sure that certain things are threaded through properly.

Gareth: When I was young, I vividly remember being terrified by the notion of Acid Rain (remember that?). Although the problem hasn’t gone away, the terminology has changed. How did you approach the idea of climate change for young audience members without frightening them?

The Bone Ensemble: A lot of climate change work starts with the assumption that the audience knows what climate change is. Our kids don’t know what it is, or haven’t even heard the term, although are often environmentally aware. So we have to show them, and really the key there is that the central character, Oolik, starts off like them; she doesn’t know why her igloo is melting, and she sets out to find out why and, importantly, what she can do about it. We also want the audience to know that they are able to help and that (spoiler alert!), although her igloo does melt, they share the experience of collectively creating a new home for Oolik and her mother to live in.

Gareth: After seeing the show, what do you hope the young audience members will take away from it?

The Bone Ensemble: That there is a positive ending – and that you helped to make it so. Of course, as a theatre experience, we are always aiming for a high quality, aesthetically well-made piece of work, but we also hope they will be aware of and begin to think about some of the things that we can do to help our environment. It’s worth remembering we are also making the show for the childrens’ parents/carers, who will be as involved as the children. We need pressure from everyone to make change! We’re hoping for some activism!

Gareth: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?

The Bone Ensemble: Fun is important – in the broadest sense. If you’re really not having fun, think – what could make this fun? You do have to be dogged and tenacious, but, as well as your ideas, cultivate partners, especially venues, and things really can happen… (sorry, that’s more than one piece of advice!)

The post We’re Itching To Talk About… The Bone Ensemble appeared first on Little Earthquake.