Interview: 20 Stories High & Theatre-Rites on Big Up!

The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective – politically-charged, puppet-filled gig theatre aimed at teenagers – was one of our favourite shows of 2016, so we were very excited to hear that 20 Stories High and Theatre-Rites were teaming up again, this time to create a hip hop show for children…

BIG UP Co-Directed and written by Sue Buckmaster & Keith Saha; Set and Costume Design by Verity Quinn; Lighting Design by Joe Hornsby; Sound Design by Jon Everett; Music by Hobbit, Dorcas Seb & Keith Saha; Puppets designed by Michael Fowkes; Theatre Rites and 20 Stories High; Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

Tell us about Big Up! 

Big Up! is a hip hop puppetry show for 3 – 6 year olds. It features champion Beatboxer Hobbit, singer/rapper Dorcas Sebuyange and puppeteers Iestyn Evans and Clarke Joseph-Edwards. It is about rules between grown-ups and children. It’s about the rules of play and how we play with rules The show starts with our Beatboxer arriving on stage to find nothing is ready for the gig. All there is, is a stage full of flight cases: no sets, no instruments, no puppets – and no rules.  As the rest of the performers arrive objects begin to come to life and as the show unfolds, they find everything is possible.

We started out creating the show by thinking about where little people and bigger people go to listen to live music together, to sing and have a dance – places like music festivals and baby discos. Then we explored objects that live in those spaces: microphones, cables, speakers, sound systems and the boxes and flight cases they all come in.  We soon discovered that this world was a wonderful playground and play continued to be the heart of our research and our rehearsals.  Adults and children playing together, having lots of fun, inventing games and inevitably working out the rules of play.  What became abundantly clear was that everyone, no matter how Big or Small, was eager to sing, dance, make shapes with foam and even try a little beatboxing. Big Up! celebrates the imaginative play and interactions between children and adults. It’s a show for little people who dream of being big, and big people who remember what it’s like to be little.

This is the second show Theatre-Rites and 20 Stories High have produced together. What did you learn from The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective that was useful for your collaboration on Big Up!?

From The Broke N Beat Collective we learnt how to incorporate puppetry into the hip hop form. We also learnt how to apply dramaturgy to gig theatre. 20 Stories High has always worked with words and Theatre-Rites rarely uses words, so for The Broke N Beat Collective we discovered how through lyrics we could find a way of applying words to visual theatre.

BIG UP Co-Directed and written by Sue Buckmaster & Keith Saha; Set and Costume Design by Verity Quinn; Lighting Design by Joe Hornsby; Sound Design by Jon Everett; Music by Hobbit, Dorcas Seb & Keith Saha; Puppets designed by Michael Fowkes; Theatre Rites and 20 Stories High; Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

Both were hip hop shows, but aimed at very different ages: The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective is recommended for over-13s, whereas Big Up! is aimed at 3-6 years. Did this change the creative process at all?

The Broke N Beat Collective was talking to 20 Stories High core audience of young people, introducing Theatre-Rites to a very different age group.  With Big Up! we wanted to switch it round by introducing 20 Stories High to Theatre-Rites’ core audience of children and the people that look after them. Theatre-Rites’ creative process has always been an adult one – our shows for children aren’t made any differently to how we would make shows for grown-ups , so when we collaborated on The Broke N Beat Collective we didn’t need to change how the show was created.  So for Big Up! the creative process is also the same – and the only thing we needed to do was to tone down the grime and have no explicit adult references.

Big Up! performances will be accompanied by residencies at each venue – what will that involve?

Part of what inspired this new collaboration were the The Broke N Beat Collective audiences – some of whom we knew were young parents or carers. We wanted to make a show that spoke to all young children and all parents, but were really excited to reach out to those very young parents and carers – a group who do not often have ready access to theatre. We worked with each venue to create and deliver a range of activities both at the venue and in local community settings, including creative workshops and play sessions for all ages. At Unity, Oldham, Blackpool and The Albany the residency also includes a MASH UP gig for people aged 13 and over, hosted by the Big Up! cast and featuring guest spots from local urban artists and an open-mic live jam. This idea was inspired by a regular joke during rehearsals – we’d often say, after devising a scene, “oh we’ll put THAT in the adult version”. So we thought why not try out those ideas by incorporating some of the sequences from Big Up! in MASH UP.

BIG UP Co-Directed and written by Sue Buckmaster & Keith Saha; Set and Costume Design by Verity Quinn; Lighting Design by Joe Hornsby; Sound Design by Jon Everett; Music by Hobbit, Dorcas Seb & Keith Saha; Puppets designed by Michael Fowkes; Theatre Rites and 20 Stories High; Credit and Copyright: Helen Murray

Why should audiences see Big Up!?  

It’s a perfect show for adults and children to enjoy together. It’s lively and engaging and the ideas it plays with will be universally recognised by everyone, whatever their age – from little ones, to people bringing up little ones, to everyone who remembers being a little one! The cast are incredibly talented and the music is excellent – for those who already love hip hop to newcomers, and the puppets are loveable! Moreover it’s an opportunity to see two companies who know their craft, who make work that is inclusive and who are experimenting with form and rules of theatre.  Most of all it will make you want to get up and move, to sing and dance.

Big Up! is touring the UK until 30th March, click here for further details. 

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