Nathan Curry is the Artistic Director of outdoor ensemble theatre company Tangled Feet and Associate Director of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. Here he shares his advice on taking theatre on to the streets, how to find your director’s voice and why it’s okay to take the corporate dollar…
There’s something about meeting an audience in a public space, and telling stories in public spaces: art should be on the street. Art is about life and people; we shouldn’t be controlling or commodifying it.
After going to Edinburgh for a couple of years I just got this feeling that we were only talking to people who were the same as us. Tangled Feet’s work is about the society we live in, but it seemed like we were only speaking to a small part of that society.
We were also limited, creatively, by our finances and whether a venue wanted to book us. So, with my co-director Kat, we decided to make an outdoor show that was completely unreliant on mains power and could happen anywhere – from a boat to a field to a high street. That show, Home, was free to access, in a public space, didn’t use the English language and was completely physical. We met some really interesting audiences: people shopping, going to the cinema or just going for a walk.
If someone goes to a public square and watches a beautiful piece of dance, then something of that performance remains in the space. It changes the shape of someone’s day; that’s all we’re trying to do.
Outdoor theatre needs a strong physical metaphor. Historically, it relied on design, puppetry and circus. But Tangled Feet aren’t really like that – we’re physical rather than acrobatic. For instance, our Tangled Feet Take to the Streets season has a strong design element. One of the sets looks like scaffolding that people start dancing on. Another is a greenhouse covered in mirrors that is a human-watching hide. Another, called Inflation, is the credit crunch on a bouncy castle. You need that kind of visual metaphor when you’re working outside and with very little text.
You can’t expect audiences to sit there and watch the whole show from beginning to end. Or be worried about getting a good review in the Guardian, or going to the pub after a show to have all your friends tell you how good you were. It’s about where you feel sustained and nourished as an artist.
We did a show two years ago in a shop in Elephant and Castle shopping centre. All the actors were shop assistants and as soon as a customer walked in, the show started. I don’t think anyone from the theatre community ever knew that it happened.
I don’t believe that every director can direct Shakespeare, outdoor theatre, dance, Chekhov and new writing. You have to tease out what you enjoy and exercise that, like a muscle.
I’m also the Associate Director of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival. I wanted to inject the outdoor theatre world with a bit of contemporary theatre practice. Word on the Street is bringing some of those people from the indoors, outdoors. Nabokov are doing three short plays on a basketball court in Greenwich, Inua Ellams is doing a piece of poetry on a housing estate and Les Enfants Terribles are doing a version of the Mad Hatters’ Tea Party on a massive outdoor table.
In Focus: Working with corporate clients
Working with corporate clients can be dangerous. We did a show for a kitchen company last year and had a really interesting time. We got paid really well for it but they had a certain expectation of what the show would be like and how the product would be placed.
Tangled Theatre gets their funding from a whole load of different sources. In a mixed economy of funding, I’m very happy to take corporate money.
The finance is completely different. If you want to get £10,000 from the Arts Council you have to do an awful lot of work to get that grant and convince a whole board of people. If you want to get £10,000 from a kitchen company you just pitch a good idea and convince one person.
But don’t be afraid to question those corporate people about the ethics of their company and anything you’re not comfortable with. You can still work with them; it’s just a case of having an honest conversation about how you can work together. Of course, there are things we would say no to. For instance, I don’t think we could do a show sponsored by Shell. But it’s your choice.
Word on the Street runs from 23 to 24 June and is part of the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival.
Fancy becoming a part of the Tangled Feet season? Tell them what you think of the shows through their interactive blog, Tangled Streets.
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