(image from Meadow by Old Saw)

Reflections of Associate Artists

As Greta Clough hands on the mantle of Little Angel Theatre Associate Artist to Shakera Ahad, both of them share some of their thoughts on puppetry, what drives them as artists and what being Associate Artist means to them.

Greta Clough, Associate Artist 2014/15:

2014 was a year of challenges: I produced my first national tour (coinciding with a difficult pregnancy), become a mother, studied for an MA, and took on the role of Associate Artist at Little Angel; a new year is in full swing now, and some challenges are coming to a close – including my time at Little Angel. If 2014 was a year of challenges, 2015 is a year of reflection. And my time here has left me plenty to reflect on.

The residency gave me support in the form of mentoring and a rehearsal space provided by the theatre to develop two new shows; one of which – Meadow – will be premiering this summer at three London venues – including Little Angel as part of the visiting season – before touring in 2016.

I also took part in several professional development courses with leading practitioners, including Rene Baker, Eric Bass and John Roberts, whose woodworking course has had an immediate impact on the design and creation of puppets for Meadow; many of which are to be carved from natural materials.

Perhaps the most significant investment towards my artistic development this year has been space and time. Space and time to let the mind wander. Something so simple, yet so difficult to come by in London.

There is so much pressure to create, and produce– to be successful not only as an artist but as a creative producer, a fundraiser, a marketing guru, an outreach expert.

It’s difficult to just step back sometimes and create for the sake of it. To take the pressure off, and admit that it’s not about rolling out another show to pay the bills, about finding the next big thing to adapt. Space to breathe.

Adam Bennett, Artistic Director when I began my residency, encouraged me to take that space. To enjoy creating without restriction or end gaining. Accepting his advice changed everything. I had planned on adapting a well-loved children’s poem this year, spend some time in the workshop picking Lyndie Wright’s brain, and booking a nice big tour. Instead I have embarked on a personal journey and created an original story and original puppets. This, my producer’s brain tells me, can be risky these days.

With the warmer weather I spend my days harvesting materials in the meadow with my 8 month old daughter, smelling the grass and explaining what surrounds us.

My nights are spent carving our spoils into representations – puppets – for Meadow. It is in these moonlit hours that I find time for reflection. When the baby is asleep, the admin caught up, and the burdens of the day eased from off my shoulders, I whittle. I whittle and I breathe. It’s taking a while. Probably longer than it should according to my production timeline. But the result is a piece of theatre that lives and breathes alongside me with simplicity and honesty that resonates with my quietest thoughts. Thoughts which aren’t always pretty or simple, but are all the more important in children’s theatre because of it.

I grew up in Southern Vermont and it was here that I learned to take art as a given. It was there; in my childhood and early formative years, that art was so commonplace that it needn’t be remarked upon. Art was earthy, and simple, and everyday. Art was cheap. Art was accessible without trying to reach any ‘new’ audiences, and art was…. Well… it just was. It existed.

Bread and Puppet were a short drive away, so was Sandglass Theatre. As a teenager I served coffee across the street from David Syrotiak’s National Marionette Theatre workshop and would often watch Caglayan Sevincer, now returned to his native Turkey, carve masterpieces from blocks of wood.

I don’t think the area I grew up in is particularly unique in this. And I have not come from a background of privilege. The arts are everywhere. But at that point in my life it was a particular habit to talk to people and discover what made them tick. That’s what happens when you spend a lot have time behind the coffee bar in a small town. It was not unusual to meet a dairy farmer who was also a poet or a painter; a mechanic who was also a photographer; a family lawyer who had acted alongside Uta Hagen in his youth and was fundraising to build an arts centre downtown; or a barista who wanted to become and actor and puppeteer. Me.

At least that’s how I remember it.

Memory is a funny thing. It has been present in all my recent work – whether a one woman show, a well-made play, Tomten, or my next production Meadow. At their core they are all about memory; what happens when we no longer remember our history, the meaning of memory if time is limitless, and the memory of the perfect summers day.

For children under 8 and their families, Meadow is about that perfect summer’s day and the grass’ memory of the animals and of the life it once sustained, in a post-human world. But, for me, it is an exploration of childhood memories of the grassy fields across the street from my house. It is about how we choose to colour and shade those memories. It is nostalgia, a longing to return to a simpler time: to return home. And it is an acknowledgement that the desire to return home is really the desire to be a child again.

Greta was the 2014-15 Associate Artist at Little Angel and the co-director of Old Saw.

Two new productions – Meadow and Duvet Day (for babies and toddlers) – premiere in London this year.

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Shakera Ahad, Associate Artist 2015-16

Shakera is a theatre maker born in Yorkshire. She has mixed English and Bangladeshi heritage and makes theatre that dances around intercultural story. She is currently on a world-wide trip through Europe, Asia and Australia, building her person and her practice. She is very excited to be returning to the UK in July to take up her Associate Artist role at Little Angel Theatre and wok on her new play – The Crescent Moon Bear. However there’s still lots more experiences to be had before then as she travels the world experiencing moments and collecting memories.

Since I was a little kid, playing with sticks from the garden in mini theatres made from leftover cardboard boxes (I grew up in a corner shop), I have known that I love to play with imagination, to make story, to invite a special person to share that story with me. Now I make theatre and it all makes a lot of sense. (What I didn’t know was that I was making decisions without all the information.) What I didn’t know was my love to animate objects was a ‘thing’. And that thing was called ‘Puppetry’. 

The theatre net was wide enough to catch me. Within that, the devising net scooped me up. And now I swing, monkey-like, between a small selection of branches that have become my home: directing, devising, movement, multilingual, intercultural, symbolic, personal, stage, not stage. But somehow I missed the puppetry branch. My fingers grazed a piece of wood that felt like home, then slipped away, not to return until now. I fell through the gap that so many kids like me still do now – that number is less, thanks to Little Angel. 

And it’s thanks to Little Angel – in particular Slavka Jovanovic and Adam Bennett – that I am now embarking upon what the more superstitious of us might deem my fate. Granted it’s not as a puppeteer in the purest of senses. I love directing, I love devising – all the branches that build my home…and finally puppetry will be my open door. I might have missed the net the first time but, now the game is different, Little Angel has invited me to play and I say “Yes!” 

I hope you will join us. We’re going to make a play. It’s a story about a person who goes on a journey. It’s a journey I’ve been on and would like you to come too. (A special invitation to a special person, to share a story.) Kids will love it, adults will “Get It”, and everyone will take something home.