First performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, Tiny T’s Storytelling & Theatre are bringing their brand-new musical show Spectacular! to Iris Theatre Festival this summer. Suitable for ages 3+ and accompanied by a rhyming picture book, the show is performed with high energy, life size puppets, creative props and catchy songs that will get everyone toe-tapping. We caught up with founder and writer, Tara Harris, to find out more about the show and what she’s been up to over the last year.
Tell us a bit about SPECTACULAR! What can families expect from the show?
It is such a special show and something I feel like every family needs right now with what we’ve been going through this past year – particularly those families that were juggling everything and had a really hard time with it all! The show is all about celebrating colour, art, talent, imagination and belief. There’s life – size puppetry; a Giant Caterpillar with a moustache, a scrappy-like Rabbit and a Bee who loves to sing opera! The show is fun, silly but most importantly will connect with every member of the family for different reasons. We are even getting the children to do their own art work throughout the show to showcase in the Magical Art Shop at the end of the story.
There’s also some really relatable and important morals that everyone will take home.
What do you most enjoy about making theatre for children?
For me, Children’s Theatre is just so special. As a performer, you are working triple as hard, but with that comes triple the adrenaline! It’s bringing magic to normal situations and letting yourself go and be a child all over again. I think we all need this sometimes when life gets a bit serious. Don’t forget as well – children are the most critical audience, but that is what drives me to try and create the best children’s theatre I can – because if they’re bored – you’ll soon know about it! Equally, though, if they are having a fantastic time, you’ll also know that too. It’s never the same with every audience; you have to constantly adapt to what that particular audience is loving and play on it more. The best feeling is performing to young audiences and hearing those huge bursts of laughter and seeing them shouting out and getting really involved as if they are really immersed into the story. In a short answer, though, my favourite thing is going back to my own childhood and remembering what I found exciting, and re-creating that in my own way. I basically get to think like a child which is my favourite way to escape myself!
You last presented the show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, back before anyone had even heard of Covid-19. I bet that feels like a long time ago now! How have the last 16 months been for you?
Gosh it feels so long ago when we adventured off to Edinburgh! At the same time though, I needed a little bit of space away from the show, to create the book, change a few things and really think about what will make the show even better than before. I think that’s important too.
Pandemic-wise, I was performing in ZOG with Freckle Productions and we all lost our job over night. It was so scary, after having regular income and a structure every day, but it gave me the real opportunity I needed to focus on my own work. I was performing free stories and craft workshops for children every single day in the first lockdown, with thousands of people watching all over the world. It was quite insane actually! But, it allowed me to see what families needed and empathise with that. We’ve grown our audience globally now because of that and I’ve connected with so many families that are loyal customers which is so special to me. I honestly feel like, if this hadn’t happened the last year, Spectacular wouldn’t be what it is now. I wouldn’t have created the book and I wouldn’t have been given this incredible opportunity with Iris Theatre. I’m more grateful than you can imagine.
There has been a lot of digital theatre created for families since the pandemic started. How do you think digital theatre will evolve now that we’re (hopefully) getting back to something resembling normality?
I think theatre has changed forever. People will look at theatre in a whole different light; whether that’s that they are more grateful to see live theatre and therefore support more local companies and smaller theatre companies, or whether that will be that they will be excited that theatre is now so accessible to everyone. I think it’s a really exciting time for theatre makers; to create work that will work digitally and still keep audiences engaged (particularly children), as well as then adapting it to perform it live. Also, I think more venues will be open to having more theatre during the summer months which is really exciting! Theatre Companies will be able to perform their shows in all sorts of places that aren’t your conventional ‘Theatre Spaces’ – and who wouldn’t want to perform a show in the woods or at the back of a café or library?!
During the pandemic I’ve been able to really experiment with digital work and created an almost Educational ‘TV Show’ type of thing with our Fairy Characters which are also popular. It’s really interesting to see where it will go next.
Interestingly, though, everyone I have spoken to has said there is nothing more special than watching a live performance. I agree.
Why do you think it’s important to get children and their families back into physical theatres after the last year?
I really do think that the atmosphere of live theatre is like nothing else. The reason I started Tiny T’s Theatre is to encourage families to connect with each other more instead of sitting in front of a screen and not talking. Family Theatre allows you to be a bit silly and shout out funny things, and I think for adults to connect with their children this is something so simple but so affective to bring everyone together. It’s so so important for children to see their ‘grown ups’ having fun, laughing and engaging with the actors on stage, because it sets a brilliant example. I also just think that as much as digital theatre is so clever with funky visual effects etc, there is nothing like seeing how an actor can transform what looks like a piece of junk, or a toy, into a moving, working, animated puppet and suddenly it’s a character. It encourages children to go home and do the same with their toys or things around the house.
Iris Theatre is an outdoor venue in the middle of Covent Garden. What are the challenges involved in putting on an outdoor show at a venue like this?
My main concern of course is the great British weather! Eek! When there are puppets involved, they are like your children, and I would just hate for any of them to be affected in the rain. But fear not – I am preparing them for any type of weather and there’s nothing a few umbrellas can’t do! (Luckily- umbrellas are part of our set as well which is very handy!)
Otherwise, it’s always a challenge with the outside noises, especially around London, to keep the audience (and especially young audiences) engaged. This is where we will need even more energy than being in an indoor theatre where the audience is fully focused on the stage and nothing else.
What do you think the challenges are going to be for family theatre over the next year?
It’s such a tricky time for everyone. You can understand that families have been let down with their tickets for shows so much over the past year that they will be nervous to book anything incase it’s cancelled. After all, it’s not just themselves adults are paying for and it can be really tough when they are spending their money on 3 children for example. I think the Theatre industry really need to come together more than ever, and we need as much support as we can possibly get to reassure families that we are doing everything we can to be able to perform in a safe space, where shows won’t get cancelled. Our industry has been so hard-hit and if we can get as much support as possible, it could be really amazing moving forward, where everyone is supporting local theatre or independent companies, just like the high street. We are a strong, resilient industry and we won’t stop fighting!
What’s next for you and Tiny T’s Storytelling & Theatre?
It’s a really exciting time as I said, with this opportunity to perform Spectacular in one of the most magical places in London – and in the heart of Theatre Land! I really want to get Spectacular out to as many families and locations as possible, so we will be looking to tour the show next year and run lots of workshops with children based on Belief and Imagination. These will be puppetry, craft and mental health based. I really want to get the message out to children now more than ever that nothing can stop you achieving your dreams in life. This show and the book is a prime example of that for me. There’s a huge message in the show about belief for every member of the family to take home- with a rhyme, “Believe in yourself and what you can do, pick up your paintbrushes to make your dreams come true!”. This can be adapted to whatever it is you want to do in life!
Further ahead than that, I am working on a prequel series to Spectacular- ‘The Adventures of Mrs Marigold’ ! Mrs Marigold is the the fun, adventurous Bee-Keeper character in Spectacular and has been very popular among our young audiences as she is like everybody’s gran that tells them stories and gets them up dancing. Once the stories are written, we will be creating them into theatre along with their books too. I have so many ideas for new stories and shows and this is just the start of it!
Spectacular! plays at Iris Theatre Festival in Covent Garden from 24 to 28 July 2021 with performances at 11am, 2.30pm and 4.30pm. Find out more and book tickets at https://iristheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows.
You can also find out more about Tiny T’s Storytelling and Theatre at www.tinytsparties.com.