(photo by Ruth Armstrong)
I love animals. It’s been a constant. They are amazing. Their diversity, their super powered senses and, yes, their cuteness.
I lept at the opportunity to create work for Imaginate’s Festival Family Fringe in April. The two-day event was being held in the beautiful National Museum of Scotland and I knew I wanted to create something that could live in the eye-popping Animal World gallery.
My desire to make a show about animals overrode my instinctual disinterest in making work for children. I like dark stuff right? Stuff too weird and sexy and bleak for kids, right?
Turns out making work for young people is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. You get an instant response. Seeing new connections getting made in impressionable brains. Sharing something I have a waterfall of enthusiasm for with people who are as equally enthusiastic about their own obsession – dinosaurs, cars, princesses, whatever.
(photo by Ruth Armstrong)
My job was made considerable easier by Georgie Mac who works with young people every day and is entirely on their level for all the right reasons. Together we discussed what we found
On an early recce to the gallery, we watched how families interacted with the space. With so much to see, its tempting to whisk through all the exhibits to make sure you don’t miss anything. We were interested in how we could get people to stop and look at the wonders of evolution that have honed a creature to being highly specialised. Look at that lion! Look at its paws! Look at its claws! Look at that one particular claw! Look at all the fibres that make it up! WOWEE!
We created the character of The Undiscovered Creature. A curious hotchpotch of all the animals we saw and taking influence from the lifelike but whimsical Beatrix Potter illustrations. I whipped together a costume using the contents of my wardrobe and the best £60 I ever spent on a handmade hat on Etsy. The Creature looked great. He drew gasps wherever he went. He was weird and still totally legit.
A friendly but nervous creature, he invited exploration and conversation. He was trying to trace his family tree in the Animal World Gallery and needed your help! Children (and weirdly, teenagers) were drawn to him like a magnet.
It was great watching young kids work through the logic of how a polar bear’s fur is different from a camel’s fuzzy coat just by talking to The Creature and really looking at the exhibits.
We initially thought the performance was just these interactions with children and families. Yet something more interesting was beginning to emerge. The mere presence of The Creature, fantastical and out of place, was a theatrical event that invited curiosity and creativity. The Creature’s intense focus and exploration of the exhibits made visitors to the gallery slink over to see what he found so interesting or murmur “what’s that? A goat, a dinosaur? I know, a goatasaur”. Just by thinking “that’s different” was enough to make people rejig their brains.
We had such fun and a great response that we signed up to present the work at the Belladrum Festival.
A new challenge, putting The Creature outside and in an environment far less structured than the carefully planned layouts and signage at the National Museum of Scotland.
We were committed to the using The Creature as a conduit to close examination of the environment but shifted our intention to finding help in building the creature a nest. Would mud, straw or twigs make the best house for a fuzzy friend.
Again, we found the presence of The Creature to be hugely successful in creating indirect impact. His journey from the campsite to the festival arena was a catwalk of startled, smiling, laughing observers. It was really great knowing that you’ve made one person’s day one degree more sunny.
Belladrum was a hoot. We got so many people to play in the mud.
From the success of Belladrum, we’re hoping to book a tour to more festivals next summer.