The egg theatre is hard at work to fund and produce a new piece of children’s theatre by Bath-based poet Toby Thompson, for touring the UK later this year. Toby grew up creatively in the egg (and worked there too), and is part of the family. Now’s he’s a highly respected performance poet who they think has a bright future in theatre. We caught up with him.
So, Toby, you’re a poet who’s hoping to spend a good part of 2018 performing and touring a piece of full-blown theatre for kids. How did that come about?
Search me! One day I was a poet wondering where it would all end, next day Kate Cross from the egg was offering to support me in writing a new piece of kids’ theatre. I’ve kind of learnt over time that if Kate says something in children’s theatre is a good idea you probably ought to listen! Plus as a performer I’ve grown up in the egg (it’s a second home) and I’ve worked front of house there for (probably too many!) years to help keep the wolf from the door so you can’t help but get moved by the wonder of how kids react to live performance. Couldn’t say no really.
What is the show about?
What I’d developed through my poetry over the years was a particular voice and style of delivery. It was suggested early on that it would be neat to apply this to the telling of a fairy tale. So not to necessarily tell a brand new story but to tell an old one in a new way. I found Herman Hesse’s ‘Faldum’ after reading dozens of them, and something about it just chimed with me. The core story is about how a magician grants a wish to everyone in a whole town, and how one man chooses to become a mountain. It’s touches on themes of wishing and wanting and permanence and impermanence, and I hope it speaks to that wistful side of children that hides behind the endless want, want, want.
The show’s an unusual mix of poetry and rhyme, story-telling and music. How come?
It’s just a combination of the things I do. A bit lazy really! Poetry obviously. My words are musical and I just love riffing on rhythm and rhyme. But you need breaks in 50 minutes of theatre so some bits work better as prose and story telling, and I like some interaction with the audience, so there’s a bit of that kind of musing and discussion with them. Plus I play some records and play some piano, just because why not really.
What attracted you to creating this particular show?
To be honest, I don’t think I set out to produce ‘this particular show’. It’s what came out of being guided by some great mentors and people as part of The Incubator’ program which the egg runs to develop new theatre works. And it’s not just mine. Lee Lyford (The director) and Anisha Fields (the designer) played a huge part in how it manifested itself in the end. I chucked in some stuff, and they helped me make sense of it. Without them it would have been a bit of a mash-up. Instead it’s something I’m already really proud of, and it’s not finished yet!
What were the biggest challenges?
Writing for children I guess. Learning to moderate the complexity of the language I use without dumbing down and patronising them.
I think I learnt that it’s not about never using a word they won’t understand. Every word they know they once heard for the first time. It goes in. Kids aren’t stupid. (Plus I’ve learnt from watching hundreds of shows at the egg: you’ve always got to keep the parents involved too!)
Also the multi-tasking! Standing up and telling poems is a breeze. Stand still in front of a microphone: that’s all you have to do! But theatre’s tough! Technology and props! You have to think about so many different things, all at once. It makes your head spin!
Poetry or theatre? Which has the greater pull?
Ummm, neither really. I hope I never have to choose! I love the collaborative aspect of theatre, that was the biggest difference for me, but then I also like disappearing into total solitude for weeks on end and just going into myself in search for words. And anyway I’m not especially of the mind that art forms need to be put in boxes of their own.
It must be great to have an organisation like the egg behind you on this?
Well I couldn’t have even thought about it without them. I wouldn’t know where to start. They’ve been fantastic on the creative support and mentoring and now they’re handling the business side of actually making it happen. They’ve got to get the funding together yet, and I know that’s tough in this day and age, but if anyone can do it I guess they can.
They’re starting with a crowdfunder. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
Oh I’d be so much happier if I didn’t ever have to ask people for money but it’s the sad reality of the arts in this country. On the other hand the nice thing is no one has to give very much, and it can still really make a difference, and people like to support things and be part of them. I never cease to be astounded by people’s generosity. The egg seem confident that with the level of interest we’ve already had (a scratch version of the show was performed to an audience of industry professionals in October) the Arts Council will support it as long as we can get a bit of a stash of matched funds together beforehand.
So you’d encourage people to donate?
Of course! Yes! Please help! Stick a bit in and come to the after-show! We’d love to see you there!
What else is on the cards for 2018?
Probably a bit too much! I have a Remembrance show I wrote in 2015 (the extended performance poem “A Day To Remember” which I’m hoping to tour some shows of before the Centenary (of the end of WW1) in November, plus I’ve been developing a new poetry show of my own which kind of borrows some elements of I Wish I Was A Mountain – it mixes up my poetry with some of the great bits of vinyl that have often accompanied or inspired their writing, (It’s called ‘For The Record’) and I’m hoping to get that to Edinburgh.
And if people want to know more?
Well that would be lovely! All the usual. My website’s at www.tobythompson.net
There’s videos and info about what I’m up to, and they can sign up for regular news.
They can see a clip of the show and info on the crowdfunding pitch at http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/iwiwam/?