Tangled Feet’s visually and conceptually stunning show Need A Little Help – inspired by the experience of young carers – has stayed with me ever since I saw it at Half Moon Theatre in 2015. I was, therefore, gutted to miss their latest work for young people, Butterflies, when it opened to sell out shows last year. Luckily, Butterflies is heading back out on a national tour in September: I caught up with Tangled Feet’s Co-Artistic Director Nathan Curry to find out more…
Tell us about Butterflies – what can audiences expect?
An adventure! Butterflies is all about setting out on a journey into the unknown where, with friendship and bravery, you can take on all that life throws at you. The staging transforms in a magical way so at one point we are at sea, then dangling on a rope bridge, then lost in a forest, then climbing a mountain and more…. It is inspired by that magical yet realistic play (making landscapes through imaginations) that we see children enjoy all the time. It’s also (we hope) a thought-provoking story that discusses how we learn to accept the butterflies in our tummies as part of life, and how through friendship, play and understanding what’s happening inside us, we can live alongside our nerves and be happy.
Butterflies was created following your Dramatherapy work with young people who have suffered from anxiety. How did those experiences feed into the creative process?
It’s something we found great value in when making an older show, Need A Little Help (which I’ll return to later), as it helps us make sense of why we are making issue-based work for younger audiences – this being that it relates back to a reality we know. What was interesting with this process on Butterflies is that we worked with a group of young teenagers (12-14) who do not attend school due to anxiety and who weren’t our exact target audience. These ‘creative consultants’ helped us understand how their anxiety started, what the shape and feel of it is for them and what their coping mechanisms are. We spent our time with them discussing images, metaphors and poetry surrounding anxiety in a bid to help connect our creativity to their reality. They helped us find some key images in the show, some of the coping methods our characters use, and also the title
This isn’t the first time one of your participation programmes has inspired the narrative of a show – Need A Little Help was inspired by the experiences of young carers. How and why have you embarked on this model? What are some of the benefits and challenges of this type of work?
As I mentioned before it’s a model that makes sense to us. Before we made Need A Little Help not many members of Tangled Feet were parents (now the children outnumber the adults!) and we wanted to make work for young people that was about their lives and the challenges they may face. We immediately turned to the area where we meet most young people – our participation programme – and specifically those we meet through Dramatherapy and Targeted work. By the very nature of Dramatherapy it’s a closed door arena, an unseen piece of work where privacy is vital. By making work inspired by and in partnership with young people we meet we are shining a light on invisible stories and allowing our work to connect with the lives of young people in challenging contexts. The benefit for us is political – speaking truths and uncovering hidden problems – as well as personal, as we get a chance to work creatively with more young people in more ways.
Tangled Feet has such a breadth of projects – both venue and outdoor theatre, and many different strands of participatory programmes – that often seem to highlight political and social issues in a very visual way (a great example being Inflation, your show about Brexit and the international financial trading system performed on a bouncy castle). I’m really interested to know more about the company’s vision and ethos, and the motivation behind the work.
There is lot’s to say here but I’ll aim to be brief. We want to make work that is meaningful – both to the people who make it (or participate in it) and the people who watch it. In an attempt to find meaning we are often drawn to stories that relate to tensions in our lives or tensions we witness in people’s lives around us (both local and not so local communities). Once we have found something we can find meaning in we look at how we can present it in the most interesting way for that theme. It’s about finding the right form – this could be a participation project, our mentoring scheme, a large scale outdoor show or an audio piece. It could also be about where we present it – outdoors, rurally, in schools, in venues etc…the form is led by the theme. We don’t want our work to be polemic but offer some poetry, inspire the imagination and be open to interpretation and discussion so we often look for an image or visual metaphor that can start to unlock the issue, but leave it open for the audience to interpret in many ways. Finally, we want our work to be hopeful and fun so the chosen form/theme/style/metaphor needs some element of playfulness and/or joy!
What are you working on next?
We will also be presenting Boots on the Ground in Southwark in November (inspired by the centenary of the Armistice and investigating peace and soldiers lives post conflict in an audio promenade performance).
Further afield we will be touring That Parking Show (the story of anger, dispute and division told in an outdoor comedy show about a parking space disagreement) in summer 2019 as well as creating a larger scale outdoor show in 2020. We see 2019 as a year of development – we are working on ideas for a new show for younger audiences (including babies) and also a show with a mixed cast of adults and children.
Butterflies is a Tangled Feet and Half Moon Theatre co-production. It is recommended for ages 3-8. The show tours from September 21st 2018, for all the dates and further details click here