I owe alot to Paper Balloon Theatre Company. In fact, I could probably say that I owe my whole career to it. After a chance introduction to Katie Boon, an itinerant Australian Theatre Maker with immense drive, ambition and talent, I became one of the founding members of what was to become Paper Balloon Theatre Company. They encouraged me to quit my real job after all...
The best thing about Paper Balloon is that they have always allowed me to be myself. The craziest, silliest, wackiest version of myself. As a result, for them I have written the strangest, silliest and most absurd songs of my career to date. 'The Wobbily Bird' 'The King of the Grumps' 'The Slapping Fish' 'You'll Never Make a Fisherman' and 'Moon Fishing.'
Paper Balloon have always encouraged me to be a huge, overgrown, hairy man child and not a day goes by where I don't feel the benefit of their influence in my writing. But don't let our silliness fool you... We take silly ridiculosity extremely seriously. We tackle difficult subjects for our younger audiences and feel a responsibility to treat them with the same respect we show each other.
We are currently crowdfunding for our latest show 'THE BOY AND THE MERMAID'. Last year, Alex Kanefsy (Artistic Director and fellow hairy man) was disturbed by the images of desperate people washing up on the shores of Europe. The story of people fleeing danger and ending up in strange lands is one that has repeated throughout human history countless times and no doubt will continue to be a part of human culture for as long as our race manages to survive.
Alex wanted to explore this timeless story and to tell it to young audiences in a way that would allow them to empathise with the difficulties facing those less fortunate than ourselves. Not only that but we wanted to make sure that our audience was entertained. As, those of you who have worked with young audiences before, they are the most brutal and honest critics you will ever have. If they don't like something, they won't sit politely and sip their red wine to pass the time, they will look directly at mummy or daddy and say very loudly 'This is booooorring." Particularly embarrassing if mummy or daddy is sitting next to you...
Fortunately, the child critic cuts both ways, and you will rarely find a group more willing to engage their imaginations if you do your job right. You can hear the gasps, laughter that borders on hysteria, cries of terror and enjoyment and the sobs of sadness.
For me it's so important that children are engaged with the ability to express these kinds of emotions in a safe place, the theatre is nothing if not a training ground for human emotion.
So... when Alex approached me with a story based on the humanitarian refugee crisis I didn't realise that was what it was about...
'The Boy and the Mermaid' was set in a timeless fishing village on the edge of the world. "Sweet!" I thought. "This is about mermaids and has crazy fishermen in it." I was hooked. My silliness went into overdrive. The story follows a boy in the village who has never been to sea. One day he hears a strange song which draws him into the water, he follows it til he finds someone caught in a net, in his attempts to help he is pulled into the water. he discovers that the person is not a person, but a mermaid. She is different to him. She is escaping the dreaded Kracken who is destroying her people. He takes her back to shore. The townsfolk are terrified of her and lock her up. More mermaids start appearing having run from their homes under the sea. When the Kracken finally rises up the villagers and the mermaids have to fight together to destroy it. Then when the beast is defeated (not killed) the villagers and the mermaids are left on the shore together to build a new life.
I finished reading it and I said to Alex, "Dude, this sounds like what's going on in Syria and Europe." He said to me "Well, yeah dude. That's what it's about."
The importance of stories is that the good ones can be set anywhere, in any time and in any situation with a whole range of different characters and they can speak to you about what is happening in the world right now at this moment. We communicate with stories every day, miniature ones play out in our heads from moment to moment, stories are so deeply ingrained in how we learn and how we live that most of us don't even recognise that we are storytellers. Constantly telling ourselves and others new stories in order to cope with the pressures of life.
We think that this is an important story to tell. We have been fortunate to receive funding from Arts Council England to have two weeks of development. We are now crowdfunding to do a final week of putting our theatrical languages together before heading into rehearsal...
We are excited to share this new show with you and with our young audiences. If you happen to know anyone who may be interested in helping us or just wanting to spread the word a bit further than our own small social shores, please do pass this on to them!
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