We talk to Gilly Baskeyfield, Artistic Director of M6 Theatre Company, about ‘Tadpoles’

 Tadpoles is the latest production from M6 Theatre Company and is currently on a national tour. Featuring superheroes and a tadpole catching competition, it’s a new show for ages 5+ about rivalries, strengths and weaknesses. Artistic Director Gilly Baskeyfield tells us more…

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 17.16.11Where did you get your inspiration for show?

As part of our repertoire at M6, we have a number of single voice plays or monologues. Most of these were developed for teenage audiences to provoke meaningful and important conversations about issues young adults may be struggling to cope with. These short but powerful pieces of intimate theatre cover a range of topics, and in them, we meet a character who is in crisis and who needs to talk about their situation, and gain some advice (from the audience). These shows are always facilitated, so that the conversation that takes place between the character and the audience reveals there are always choices, even when we feel powerless and there is always someone, somewhere who can help us when we need it.

One of these monologues formed the basis of our piece Tadpoles. It was centred around sibling rivalry, had the same title and was written by Dennis Conlon – but was intended for an older audience.

We used it as a starting point for what has turned into our new show. There is very little resemblance as it turns out …. other than the tadpoles!

What was your process for creating the show? Is the creative process fairly similar for all your productions?

We always include children in our R&D (research and development). We workshop initial ideas with them, include them in the creative process alongside artists from all disciplines and show them scratch performances of our new shows at all stages of development. We create original work here at M6, and we need the children to help us answer some of our important questions:

Is our story relevant? Is it interesting? Does it help us understand more about ourselves, others and the world we share?

Initially, in our first round of building this show, the story had 2 brothers playing together and part of this was their game called ‘Captains’.

The children enjoyed this aspect so much, it felt like a really exciting direction for us to explore further – but we felt that the girls in the audience needed someone to relate to, so the sibling relationship changed into a brother and a sister. The end result, and many, many redrafts later is the show Tadpoles.

We work collaboratively here at M6 and alongside the children, we have a team of exceptional artists. The Tadpoles team have been amazing. The actors, designer, composer, movement director and lighting designer have all been generous, inspired and have believed in the show from the start.

COIN -Luke Walker as Captain Clever and Emily Spowage as Captain Conker -TADPOLES  - Photo by Lewis Wileman

Image by Lewis Wileman.

Tadpoles, like Whatever the Weather and One Little Word, is about a duo learning about the kindest way to interact with one another. Though your productions never feel moralistic or didactic, is it important to leave audiences with a takeaway message?

Thank you so much for saying that. I always like to imagine the conversations that happen after a show. Conversations between children, with their teachers, Parents and Grandparents. I like to think that our shows will provoke thoughtful conversations.

We always try to create shows that can touch hearts as well as challenge minds. How to communicate, how to share, how to be kind are things we carry on learning for the whole of our lives – not just when we are children.

M6 Theatre Company has been prioritising work for young people for 25 years, and is one of the leading companies creating productions for this audience. What do you think has set you apart and helped you to achieve this longevity?

A whole host of things:

Hard work, a dedicated and talented team, determination, the ability to  navigate changes with optimism, coupled with a genuine commitment to producing work of quality, and of course the fact that we work with a never ending stream of exceptionally talented people.

Dot Wood led M6 for over 30 years and there is no doubt that the fact M6 have been around for very close to 40 has a great deal to do with her leadership. She has enormous integrity and a beautiful mind and spirit. She cares passionately about the children we create work for and with. I had the privilege of working with her for around 15 years. Now she has finally retired, but remains a Patron of the company – she is always present. I find myself asking myself, ‘What would Dot say?’ all the time – and of course, if I don’t know what she would say, I can pick up the phone and ask!

Have you noticed any changes in what audiences like and respond to over the years?

Theatre audiences for family shows have a lot more choice now – that’s for sure! There are a lot of book adaptations on offer and I can completely understand why parents would choose a known title to spend their money on when making a choice on what to take their little ones to at the weekend.

At M6 we create original, specially crafted work for a target age range and Theatre for Young Audiences is an incredibly vibrant market, but I believe when we go to the theatre, we want to care about the characters, understand them – even if we don’t approve of them, we want to laugh, to cry, to believe and leave the auditorium needing to talk about what we have experienced.

Theatre is a fantastic medium for seeing stories unfold before us – and there are countless ways of telling a good story. So although some things change – some things never will.

DINNER TIME -Luke Walker as Captain Clever and Emily Spowage as Captain Conker  - TADPOLES - Photos by  Lewis Wileman

Image by Lewis Wileman.

What are your plans for 2016?

2016 will see us taking our brand new show ‘The Lost Story’ into Rochdale’s Primary Schools in the Summer. Our Storyteller will be reunited with a box of precious objects she packed away when she was a child. Each object will have a story of its own to tell – and we are hoping to assist schools support children who are facing the big change of moving into Key Stage 3.

In Autumn, we are re touring  our lovely Mavis Sparkle. “Everyone should meet Mavis” is one of our favourite audience comments after seeing the show. By revisiting her past with the children, Mavis is able to step forward into her uncertain future with confidence and excitement.

Mavis is a cleaner, an ‘ordinary’ person, with an extraordinary story to tell. Her Dad was a magician, and Mavis has a few trick of her own up her sleeve….but it was Mavis’ Mum who helped her see the real magic in the world by opening her little eyes to the wonder of the Universe.

Mavis is funny, she’s a bit quirky, she has a pet hedgehog, and a marvellous, magical, transforming cleaning trolley ( superbly designed by our very own Joss Matzen) – and a warm, free spirit. Please come along and meet her. I’ve got a feeling you’ll love her!

And finally, the question we ask everyone: why do you love theatre for young audiences?

Children make for a wonderful audience. They are generous but highly critical, and if they don’t like what they are watching, they’ll let you know. Children are kind – they like to see happiness and optimism in the world and I’m not a big fan of cynicism, so for me they are who I most enjoy creating theatre for.

We are based in Rochdale and will always remain committed to doing our very best to ensure our local children, who probably won’t be taken to the theatre at the weekend, can have the same chance to experience the shows we take on tour all over the country, and when we get the opportunity, to tour internationally. Every child should have the chance to experience theatre and at M6 we are very proud to play our part in making that happen.

I’d love to leave you a poem that we have up on the walls of the office:

The Hundred Languages

No way. The hundred is there.

The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.

A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marveling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.

The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.

They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.

They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

-Loris Malaguzzi (translated by Lella Gandini)
Founder of the Reggio Emilia Approach

It sort of answers your question better than I can.

Find M6 Theatre Company online and follow them on Twitter @M6Theatre





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