Niki McCretton is a theatre maker, performer and Artistic Director of Stuff And Nonsense Theatre Company. She also runs her own theatre – The Lyric Theatre, Bridport – and is a Puppet Place Associate Artist. She is an expert in working in early years settings and inspiring the creative energy of all ages. She has been theatre making for over 25 years (including award-winning National and International tours with Wormhole, Relative, Space 50, Muttnik, Hoof! and Horseplay).
In this interview we talk to Niki about her new production of The Gingerbread Man and about her work with early years children. She talks about her personal creative approach and about her own theatre The Lyric in Bridport.
Your company ‘Stuff And Nonsense’ are about to open a new production of ‘The Gingerbread Man’. Please tell us about how you came to choose this story and about your creative approach to putting together the production.
You have a particular expertise in working with early years. What is it about this age group that particularly inspires you?
I do. I work with an action learning organisation called 5x5x5=creativity. Through that practice I have learned to work with really young children and how to support them in their creative ideas. It is a process of finding their fascination and then designing provocations to send them on an immersive journey. What inspires me about them, is to become a collaborator with them and learn alongside them in an equal and honest way. They are, of course, brilliant creatives with bold ideas and few boundaries. I often notice when we are performing that they have a much stronger steer than the adults as to what is about to happen. Much better intuition and reading of the non-verbal. They are also challenging as they can see immediately if someone is being inauthentic. They also make me laugh a great deal! Find out more at https://5x5x5creativity.org.uk/
Stuff And Nonsense has its own particular style of children’s theatre. What is it about making theatre for a family audience that is most important to you?
My main thrust of the work, apart from the previous questions, is to create work that will connect people through a shared experience. I do not enjoy watching productions that are only for the children and that the adults are bored or disengaged with. I would say the most important thing for me is that the family are talking about the show afterwards together, sharing the bits they loved and talking about why things happened and how the characters feel. I really enjoy it that some adults come with a slightly tired energy, maybe they are looking forward to a sit down! And then afterwards they keep saying how much they enjoyed it and are surprised. I think it is important not to dumb down the work that as a theatre-maker, you want to make – rather check that it will resonate with each age group and keep editing and amending on tour as you learn. If the parents are bored, the work will never be spoken of again and the shared experience lost.
As well as having connections with other theatres, you have your own theatre base in Bridport. Can you talk a bit about your home at The Lyric.
The Lyric is an old theatre, built in 1742. Our patron is Chirs Chibnall (writer for Broadchurch and Dr Who) and his company ‘Imaginary Friends’ supports writers. We have two spaces: a 150 seat theatre with a stage and little proscenium, full of charm with flocked wallpaper; and a studio space upstairs where we can make puppets and props and hold workshops. We also have a veggie/vegan cafe called ‘Bearkat’ that serves food and coffee. We are community oriented and programme professional work as well as running a series of masterclasses. We also support artists to create work – this is the main reason for having the space. We are non-funded and, while the building is under my watch, I am determined to support as many creatives as possible. It is a tricky time in the arts right now and really important to give artists residency space and a place they can make a mess and feel at home.