As theatres have been locked down for months, theatre makers have been creating new show formats to reach audiences in new ways. Tessa Bide Productions have created an interactive audio adventure to empower children to be masters of their own destinies, to be inspired by literature and to change the stories they see unfolding around them. We caught up with Tessa to find out more about this audacious adventure!
How have you been over recent months? How have you adapted to working?
The million dollar question! The last few months have been a real rollercoaster, as I’m sure they have been for just about everyone. I have felt a mixture of feeling lucky that, as an independent artist with a small team behind me, I am small enough to do a complete U turn and totally change my plan and how I create work. I don’t have to make huge decisions that affect hundreds of people, but at the same time I have felt like a small island more than ever, and at times so very isolated and powerless!
My producing team (Alice Massey, my Co-Producer and Holly Bond, my Assistant Producer) and I have adapted to remote working, keeping in touch via shared working documents on Google Drive with lots of Whatsapp messages and video calls. At the start of lockdown, when all of our 35+ gigs for the year were being cancelled, we took stock and made a bit of a plan about how we could adapt to the situation. We came up with the idea of regular online content and the creation of an audio piece, so that’s what we did!
Can you tell us about The Anarchist’s Mobile Library which you have made for lockdown touring. What’s it about?
The Anarchist’s Mobile Library was originally a show that toured in a 1970s pop-up caravan called Sydney. I won the caravan in 2018 and made the show last year with support from Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Literature and Latitude Festival. It was about encouraging young people to engage with literature, write stories and change endings, but also to look around them at the ‘stories’ that are being played out in the world. We wanted to encourage them to change the endings of those stories too. Literature and activism for 7 year olds!
Obviously an intimate, interactive show is the Covid nightmare so we repurposed an ACE grant we received at the start of the year to subsidise our tour and created an audio version of the piece. Originally I wanted to create an adaptation of the show, but I didn’t want it to be another screen-based thing for families. How can you encourage families to step away from the screen and the sofa, and physically act out the adventures together, like they did in the original show?
We decided that an audio piece would work best and set about creating it. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure (but not in those words, thanks to the copyright) interactive story experience, where audiences are transported to 6 different story settings – a witch’s kitchen, space, through the magic wardrobe, and then an incredible immersive sound design by Chris Menes and narration from myself takes them on the adventures. They have to answer questions and make difficult, slightly moralistic decisions along the way…then deal with the consequences! We’re creating a D/deaf accessible version with the amazing David Ellington at the moment that will be released on the 21st Nov, thanks to a commission from The Library Presents.
We didn’t stop there with adapting the piece, however. We received a commission from the National Rural Touring Forum and Pound Arts in Corsham to trial a Covid-safe live version of the original piece too. So in October, we took the caravan to a small town called Calne and brought a load of story postcards with us, that said ‘Once upon a time in Calne…’ on them. Along with performers Peta Maurice and Charlotte Dubery, we performed an adapted version of the show outdoors, scooping up family bubbles from the park and bringing them towards the caravan (at a distance!) We played improvised story games with the audience’s suggestions, then encouraged them to write their own stories on the postcards. We then collected the 40+ postcards up and spent a day at Puppet Place collating them all into one mad mega story. Then illustrator Camille Aubry made them into a zine. So this gave us a completely different take on the project, plus a third version of the show that we hope to tour next year too.
How can people watch The Anarchist’s Mobile Library?
The audio adventure is touring venues and theatres at the moment and is available to play now until 31st December via ‘The Library Presents‘. You just need a device that can play sound and access the internet – so a smart phone, tablet or computer.
We hope that the live, covid-safe show will be touring from next Spring so we’ll put dates on our website soon for that.
Looking at the wider picture, what do you think artists like yourself need to support your work in these ongoing challenging times?
We need money! It’s great that a lot of the venues and large companies were bailed out with the government’s funds but I’d like to see more support for freelancers and small companies like ours. It’s also so important to have someone bigger than you ‘flying your flag’. I’ve found that so helpful recently with Pound Arts, Farnham Maltings and the NRTF backing us, and another commission from The Library Presents. So often, as a small company/independent artist, it can feel that we are doing really great stuff but no-one knows about it – like you’re just shouting into the wind. So it means such a lot when an organisation with proper infrastructure and a bit of clout can shine a light on you and just say “Hey, I see you and I think you’re doing great stuff”. Without that, and access to our audiences at the moment, it’s just very, very hard.
The Anarchist Mobile Library Audio Adventure has been touring venues and theatres, and is available to play now until 31st December via ‘The Library Presents‘, where families can engage with the interactive show online. Keep an eye on the website for more information and to sign up to the mailing list for details on the virtual tour as these are announced.