I’m excited to be working with Adam Blake, Katie Storer, Megan Davies and Wyldwood Arts to create Tales Through Time. This is a piece of expert storytelling, with elements of improvisation shaped directly by the audience and opportunities for large scale community participation. The show is going to be flexible to work in various settings – small scale theatres, nursing homes and street theatre festivals.
I worked with Mufti Games in 2018-19 to develop and realise this playful take on the sheep dog trial. The show sees Mufti Games fusing their trade mark public gaming with simple storytelling. With the project director taken ill, I was brought in to help the company streamline and develop their ideas.
A prize winning sheep recruits members of the public to be a flock, working together in a rapidly bonded chorus. A dog begs others to play fetch with her favourite toy, with relentless enthusiasm. A shepherd teaches a bunch of recruits to guide the dog, shepherd the sheep around a series of obstacles course, with ridiculous consequences.
The process had a series of exciting challenges. Firstly the company is committed to being as accessible as possible. One of the performers is Deaf and the show was designed to be inclusive to people with hearing impairment. When we’d worked out how to describe the rules of the games with gestures and attitude, we then added audio description on top, to ensure that blind people can enjoy the show, with language specifically tailored to them. As you can imagine, with a majority of hearing and sighted artists, making this work was a tricky puzzle but really rewarding.
One Kid and Their Dog is now touring across the UK and is proving really popular with family audiences.
Romantic Botanic is a series of bespoke guided tours delving into the secret love life of plants. The show mixes poetry and science, factual and fictional folklore, to create an engaging, profound and hilarious look into the world of plant realm and their relationship with us.
Creator and Writer: Barnaby Gibbons
Technical Direction: Roger Hartley
Devising Performers: Barnaby Gibbons, Roger Hartley, Paschale Straiton
“The Romantic Botanic experience was superb; an original, witty and very amusing show which engaged the audience and, importantly, got them thinking about the environment around them. As managers of a site with such ecological and archaeological importance, it really made us think and realise that we should be considering other alternative ways of promoting some of our key messages to a wider audience.” Stuart Clarke
Countryside & Conservation Manager Bournemouth Borough Council
The show was originally co-commissioned by Womadelaide Festival and Fremantle Festival, with site specific versions created for Hengistbury Headlines for Inside Out Festival and at Trentham Gardens for Appetite.
I’ve been making street theatre for 14 years, as likely to pop up beside Poundstretcher in Stockton as a herbacious border in Bracknell. I’m not a busker but mainly perform as part of festivals and community events, where the public can come and watch a series of programmed performances in their town centres for free.
Things have changed a bit in this time. The Arts Council has recognised outdoor performance as a valuable social tool – opening the enjoyment of art out to people who might not be regular art mongers; encouraging people from different backgrounds to share fun and inspiring experiences together; inviting people to view their shared public space in new and exciting ways; and to encourage active participation through carnival events and the like. Increased funding, especially in the lead up to London 2012 focused heavily on street arts and many regional and national theatre companies have started to get in on the act. Even the RSC has made the odd appearance at Latitude Festival.
However, the street arts sector faces a number of problems. Arts budget cut backs, especially at the local level, has resulted in the demise of many arts festivals, which has in turn had a massive impact on artists who depended on these events for their bread and butter. However, outdoor performers are specialists at adapting to circumstances – whether it’s the weather or the economic climate. Some are side-stepping into the world of museums and galleries which are looking to develop ways in which they engage with the public.
However, what’s perhaps more of a problem is the fact that the level of critical evaluation of this type of work has remained negligible throughout my career. Total Theatre Magazine does take an interest in the sector and Lynne Gardiner from the Guardian makes the odd appearance. But as you look out of the swing doors of the street arts saloon, they are solitary figures amongst the dust and tumbleweed. Not only does this mean that we, as artists suffer from a lack of feedback which could help us to develop more sophisticated work, but the situation also questions weather we are in fact taken seriously enough by the larger theatre making community, to warrant such attention.
Not all of us want to be accepted by ‘the establishment’. The street arts sector is extremely democratic in nature and includes a significant outsider element, who wish to remain firmly outside. And this is partly what makes it exciting. But some of us do wish to have a discourse. I am amongst those who are not embarrassed to be the bastard child of the theatre world, but do wish that mother would throw us a few more scraps.
Perhaps we should prod her a bit more vigorously?
I am proposing to set up a peer led review group for outdoor performance. Would anyone care to join me?