Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.

We Travel in Hope: LIMF 2022

After a wholly online edition in 2021, the London International Mime Festival 2022 is back ‘large and live’. Dorothy Max Prior talks to the Festival’s co-directors, Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan

It’s the week before Christmas, and there’s talk – once again – of possible lockdowns to slow the spread of Covid-19, perhaps pre- but more likely post-Christmas. There’s speculation, as new variant Omicron tears through the country, that theatres and other venues may once again be closed. Those putting on shows over the winter holiday season are biting their nails to the quick, hoping they can get through the run. Can we really still be in this situation after a calamitous 18 months of dashed hopes and lost revenue?

Meanwhile, the directors of the London International Mime Festival, Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, are sitting tight. LIMF 2022 opens on 12 January. After going online for the 2021 edition, the festival is back ‘large and live’ in 2022, featuring 14 productions, and putting British work centre-stage. At least, that’s the plan.

‘We travel in hope,’ says Helen when I speak to them (on Zoom, inevitably). Helen and Joseph are both quietly optimistic that things will work out, but take the philosophical stance that ‘what will be, will be’. 

So, just how did they go about programming a live festival in the current climate? This can’t have been easy in these uncertain times! 

Helen takes us back to the height of the first wave of the pandemic, in 2020:

‘When it become obvious we couldn’t plan a live festival for 2021 and had to go digital, we decided to commission work from a number of British artists for the 2022 edition,’ she says. ‘It was clear, back then, that things weren’t just suddenly going to ping back to normal and be fine for 2022…’ 

Even before the onset of the pandemic, planning anything international had become something of a nightmare due to Brexit and the subsequent difficulties with visas, tax, carnets…  Hindered not helped by what Helen refers to as ‘our retro-fit government’. 

‘So little was in place, just weeks before Brexit,’ she says, ‘nobody was thinking ahead, nobody seemed to value culture’.

Then with the pandemic on top came further difficulties with international travel – the high cost of freight, the rising cost of hotels and air travel, not to mention closed borders and constantly changing quarantine rules. Thus, Joseph and Helen took the sound forward-looking decision that for the 2022 edition, they would need to plan for a largely British festival.

‘So, all in all, we cut our cloth according to our means,’ says Helen.

‘We didn’t cut off our nose to spite our face!’ adds Joseph with his customary humour.

Gandini Juggling

They therefore, a year ahead or more, commissioned a number of British companies to make work. Companies like Gandini Juggling, who LIMF have supported steadily over the years, seeing them rise from small studios at BAC to the Royal Opera House and to Sadler’s Wells, who have co-commissioned the new work. Having toured the world with their homage to Pina Bausch, Smashed, the company now turn their attention to another giant of contemporary dance, Merce Cunningham. In LIFE A Love Letter to Merce Cunningham, Sean Gandini and company co-founder/director Kati Ylä-Hokkala have created an original piece of work firmly rooted in the Cunningham universe. The world premiere is on 12 January 2022 – the opening show for this year’s London International Mime Festival. 

Joseph describes Gandini Juggling as one of the ‘mature’ companies that LIMF are supporting, going on to note that another company edging up into that category is Barely Methodical Troupe, who are (like Gandini) a contemporary circus group who have been supported along their developmental path by LIMF. They bring a revival of KIN, to the Peacock Theatre for this year’s festival – a high octane whirl of acrobatic storytelling that playfully explores competitiveness and male-female dynamics.

Then, says Joe, there’s Theatre Re, who are another good-sized ensemble company whose work has been consistently programmed by LIMF. Their fourth show, Bluebelle, weaves together plots and characters from ancient folktales collected by Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault; together with interviews with parents and carers. Staged in Theatre Re’s striking corporeal mime style of lyrical, visual theatre, and accompanied by live music, Bluebelle reminds us that life is shaped by the stories we tell and leave behind.

The PappyShow . Photo Helen Murray

Another world premiere, and also an ensemble piece that like Bluebelle is presented at Shoreditch Town Hall, is The PappyShow’s What Do You See?, a multidisciplinary performance weaving together words, song, movement, visual design and audiovisual effects, and asking us all to consider the question: When you look at someone, what do you see?

‘Director Kane Husbands didn’t just want to just make a show about Black identity, he wanted to address and celebrate all identities,’ says Helen. So, What Do You See? is created, under Kane’s direction, by a team of 12 performers, and a creative team of 27 people, representing a spectrum of intersectional identities in Britain today, including people of many different ethnicities and ages, with differently-abled bodies of all shapes and sizes – and celebrates all of those identities.

‘They are in the rehearsal room at the moment,’ says Helen, ‘and you can feel  the explosion of energy and the freshness of the work’.

Joe adds: ’Two years ago at the Purcell Room we presented their previous show, BOYS. It started as the audience were coming in, and the good feeling and energy that they exuded got the audience going before they had even started. There is an excitement about their onstage presence that appeals not only to young people but also to (ahem) not-so-young people like myself. We are very proud to be bringing that work to audiences. What Do You See? is a piece of theatre that is at least as much about atmosphere as about its sound message…’

‘When we were asked a long time ago if we could see any positives from Brexit, the only one that we could both see was that it might be good for British work… assuming we do get to present the work,’ says Helen.

Opposable Thumb: Big Boys Don’t Cry

On a smaller scale, other British companies who have been commissioned for this year’s festival include Opposable Thumb, who follow up their fabulous Coulrophobia with another two-man show, Big Boys Don’t Cry, presented at Jacksons Lane. Using potato crisps, puppets, dead bodies and Action Men, company co-founders/performers Adam and Dik take us into the beating heart of the modern male and attempt to answer the burning question: what maketh a man? Nature or nurture? Mind or body? Cheese ‘n’ Onion or Prawn Cocktail?

Then, there’s Jean-Daniel Broussé (one half of the award-winning circus duet Nikki & JD). He has been commissioned to make a new solo work, (Le) Pain – an autobiographical piece about his family of origin that will be seen at The Place as part of LIMF 2022. JD’s story is that he was born to inherit the French bakery run by four generations of his family. Instead, he studied history and literature, then ‘ran away to join the circus’, training at London’s National Centre for Circus Arts. In this, his first solo show, JD ‘travels through a universe of bread-making, physical heroics and growing up queer in strait-laced provincial France’. His collaborator and director on this project is the renowned Ursula Martinez.

‘We have ovens,’ says Helen, ‘he’ll be baking bread onstage!’

Jean-Daniel Broussé: (Le) Pain

The London International Mime Festival has, over the many decades of its existence, presented work at many different venues – but a consistent partner over many years is the Barbican. With a desire to commission/present some international work in 2022, and to also present a major British theatre company on a decent-sized stage, conversations with the Barbican started.

‘The Barbican were willing to take the risk along with us,’ says Helen, speaking of the decision that they would co-present Compagnie 111’s: aSH, a piece created by Aurélien Bory for Shantala Shivalingappa that is the final part of Bory’s trilogy of large-scale solos for female dancers. In aSH, Shantala Shivalingappa pays homage to Shiva, God of creation and destruction, taking the audience on a journey linking ancestral culture and innovative technology.

Vanishing Point (Scotland’s foremost artist-led independent theatre company) will also be seen on the main stage of the Barbican with Interiors, which is inspired by Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1895 play, Interior. Director Matthew Lenton’s original, highly visual staging premiered in 2009 and has toured across Europe, Asia and South America. Interiors is about sounds, silence, the path of fate and the darkness outside the window.

Cie111 aSH by AurelienBory. Photo Aglae Bory.

Meanwhile, in the Barbican’s smaller space, The Pit, there will be two shows presented, one from the UK and one international work.

Thick & Tight return to London International Mime Festival at the Barbican with Short & Sweet, an amuse-bouche platter of nine new works designed to excite, provoke and satisfy. Created by company co-founders/co-directors Eleanor Perry and Daniel Hay-Gordon, this ‘thoroughly modern variety show’ mixes dance, drag, lip-syncing and satire, bringing a host of famous and infamous characters to life, from Sid Vicious to Twiggy, Grace Jones, Rasputin, and everyone’s favourite avant-garde duo, John Cage & Elaine Paige. Oh, and there are eight Edith Sitwells in the mix, too!

Also at The Pit: French company Stereoptik (Romain Bermond and Jean-Baptiste Maillet) are back with their latest handmade spectacle, Stellaire – a love story unfolding through space and time, set in a magic-lantern world. Using paper, chalk, charcoal, sand, silhouettes and projection, these virtuoso visual artists create wondrous cartoon-theatre that emerges before the audience’s eyes.


Another crucial element of this year’s Festival continues from 2021: the commissioning of a series of five short films. Last year’s commissions were for UK artists – including Andrew Dawson, whose film, Joseph points out, has gone on to be shown at short film festivals worldwide. This year, the emphasis is on overseas artists. As Joe says, ‘this time we thought, given the problems of bringing in work from overseas, we’d preserve the ‘international’ element of the Festival through film commissions. We went to people whose work we know and like and asked them to create a short film between 3-10 minutes long that isn’t driven by spoken text’. 

‘The artists have a completely free hand to do what they like,’ says Helen, ‘and as things stand, we are as much in the dark as you are!’

The commissioned artists include Dewey Dell (Italy), an offshoot of the legendary Castelluci company, whose work features choreography, music and drama inspired and nourished by images from art history and the animal kingdom; and Hiroaki Umeda (Japan), a Tokyo-based choreographer, photographer and video artist creating mesmerising visual environments for his visceral live performances. As someone who uses video in his work, commissioning him to make a short film seems like a good move!

Then, there’s Delgado Fuchs (Switzerland), who Helen and Joseph first encountered at the Avignon Festival where they presented what Helen describes as a ‘happening in an art gallery’. Their body-based work involves dance, performance, installation, photography, video, fashion and fine arts, and fits no conventional categories.

Gabriela Muñoz

Gabriela Muñoz from Mexico is a clown best known for her portrayal of a woman desperate for companionship and marriage in Perhaps, Perhaps, Quizas, seen at LIMF 2018. Her Instagram feed is full of the most wonderful visual images – photographs that have been recently gathered into a book – so it will be very interesting to see her switch from still to moving image. 

Finally, Patrick Sims (France/USA) is the founder and former creative director of Buchinger’s Boot Marionettes, then creating his current company Les Antliaclastes, who have been seen at LIMF numerous times; making anarchic and eclectic work which uses a unique blend of different puppetry techniques and styles, together with masks, automata and other machines, and original organic soundtracks. He has a fine eye for detail, so this will be one to look out for. ’Expect something like a cross between the Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer,’ says Helen, ‘although, of course, he may surprise us with something completely different!’

‘We need also to mention Abel & Gordon, our film collaboration with the Barbican,’ says Joseph. Long-time friends of the festival, Belgium-based comedy duo Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel present three of their early shorts. In Rosita (1997) the pair are a fortune teller and her assistant, working out of a dilapidated caravan; in Merci Cupidon (1994) attraction sparks between their two oddball singletons in a strange, out-of-the-way nightspot; and in Walking on the Wild Side (2004), an awkward misunderstanding occurs between a man and a cleaning-lady. Phenomenal physical performers, the duo is steeped in the grand French physical-comedy tradition of Jacques Tati and Pierre Étaix, who are also represented in the programme. 

Abel & Gordon: Merci Cupidon

There is also a further film element to the Festival with the showing of a programme of shorts by legendary puppeteer Heather Henson, and the presentation of a filmed piece called COLD, which Joseph says is ‘a gripping piece of work – really good film-making.’ 

Described as ‘a dark fairy tale about love, grief, madness and redemption’, COLD was created by acclaimed Lecoq-trained physical theatre-maker Claire Coaché, and her husband, the award-winning playwright and film-maker Lisle Turner. It is based on their own experiences of baby loss and first-person testimony from other grieving parents – giving a lie to the cliché that physical and visual theatre can’t deal with serious subjects, which Joe says is ‘a hoary old fallacy that we still live with, 40 years on’.

Both of the above will be screened online on from 12 January.

COLD. Photo Kie Cummings

Workshops have always been an important part of the Mime Festival’s programme, and this year is no exception. Last year, the workshop programme went wholly online – allowing for a worldwide engagement. This year, the online element is maintained, including the instantly sold-out offering by legendary American clown Avner the Eccentric, and from closer to home, a mask workshop by Vamos Theatre.

In person, there will be numerous offerings, including the always-popular Angela de Castro. Then, there is The Brides project by David Glass, which Helen describes as ‘ a development workshop. Participants don’t pay, but apply to be part of the group,’ adding that ‘David is all over the place building bridges, making connections. I admire his tenacity!’

So there we are – the London International Mime Festival 2022, ready to launch! 

‘More by judgement than luck we’ve put together a festival that has a balance of new names and established artists, says Joseph. ‘a mature programme with exciting new departures. And film is now an important part of the programme…’

‘We just hope for the artists’ sake it can go ahead and audiences will turn up,’ adds Helen. ‘We have all our Covid protocols in place – and we are ready to jump, whichever way.’

As I write this article (post-Christmas) comes the good news that there will be no further lockdowns, and theatres can stay open. The London International Mime Festival post on social media that it is All Systems Go for the live shows.

Let’s leave the last word to Joseph: ‘We are very excited and confident about what we think is a great programme for what is now the country’s longest running annual international theatre festival – I’m as delighted to be doing it now as I was when it started.’

Vanishing Point: Interiors. Photo Niall Walker

Featured image (top): Theatre Re: Bluebelle. Photo Chris Nash.

Visit for further information and bookings.

The five commissioned short films are hosted on  and the Festival’s YouTube channel and are free-to-view from 12 January 2022.

London International Mime Festival is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation. 


When your world spins, and seismic shifts occur that mean that nothing is ever going to be the same again, what do you do? Make a show about it! This is the story of the new Scarabeus Aerial Theatre project, Emerging.

‘I felt that suddenly my life had gone completely upside down – and not the upside down I know as an aerialist – upside down in a very different way.’

Daniela Essart is talking to me just before Trans Parent Day, which falls on the first Sunday of November – a day that originally marked and celebrated the large number of people who are both trans and parents, but which in recent years has also included the parents of trans gender young people. Daniela and her partner in life and work, Søren Nielsen, fall into that second category.

The couple are co-directors of Scarabeus Aerial Theatre: Daniela is artistic director and creator-director of the company’s shows; Søren Nielsen is executive and technical director.

In April 2019, their world – as Daniela puts it – turned upside down in a new and unfamiliar way when the person that they considered to be their daughter, Naissa, came out publicly as trans-male. 

Now, Daniela and Naissa are co-creating a new show, Emerging. It is a show about transitioning and transformation; about art as a healing mechanism; about knowledge, advocacy, and alliance with the genderqueer and trans community. 

Emerging will have a separate but linked documentary film touring with it. Show and film are in progress now, and will premiere at The Lowry in Salford in autumn 2022. Naissa has worked with his parents’ company before, but this is the first Scarabeus project for which Daniela and Naissa will carry an equal artistic responsibility for the content of the work – and there are sound and specific reasons for this: the show aims for complete honesty about the upheavals in their lives, to explore the topic in innovative ways, and to present Naissa’s and Daniela’s points of view with equal balance.

The story of how this project has come about is an extraordinary one, weaving together life and art in a complex and challenging way.

So let’s start at the beginning…

Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

‘Will you take me by the hand and guide me through the appearing and disappearing of you, because this is what I fear the most; to lose you, my child.’ – Daniela

‘It is painful.  It is beautiful.  It is important.’ – Naissa

‘We realised we were navigating an extremely complex journey,’ says Daniela, who had thought that ‘things had somehow been resolved’. By which she means that Naissa, who had always been a ‘tomboy’ (to use the common vernacular) as a child, had gone on to consider themselves to be non-binary as a teenager. And Daniela had thought that the old worries about feminine identity were somehow resolved in this decision to present as an androgynous person. But this wasn’t the case. Naissa was, at that time, in the middle of a dance foundation year at the Northern Contemporary School of Dance (now studying for a degree at the London Contemporary Dance school), but that most crucial of necessities for a dancer – to be at ease in one’s own body – was missing. A simple ‘how are you?’ question that Daniela put to Naissa whilst driving back from a Scarabeus project they were both working on became a dropped bombshell. Not OK. Not well at all. Not happy inside the body of a woman. Not able to relate to the image in the mirror…

Naissa subsequently took the decision to come out publicly as trans, to start taking hormones, and to have ‘top surgery’. Decisions Daniela found very hard to deal with.

‘I really could not understand why my child – who was brought up free to wear whatever she wanted and always looked androgynous in any case – why Naissa could not see that she-or-he could absolutely pass and didn’t need to do this further, invasive, and irreversible treatment at such a young age. This is someone who was brought up without drugs and medicines and other interventions to the body. I tried to negotiate a postponement. Everything seemed to happen so quickly. You are trying to buy time, to delay… Any argument I tried to put forward, I just encountered the determination that these things needed changing.’

From Naissa’s perspective, his decision was clear-cut and unavoidable, not open to negotiation.

‘For me, my transition isn’t about how I’m seen by other people,’ he says when we speak on Zoom a week or so after I meet with Daniela, ‘it’s to feel comfortable in my skin. My transition doesn’t feel anything to do with gender – it is about being in a body I want to live in – becoming myself, not becoming a man.’

So there we have it: two very different points of view. Two people – a parent and their adult child – who love each other, but find it difficult to work things out. What to do? 

Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D in Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photo Sky Neal

Our transitions together have been for different lengths, different paces. I feel ready for this, and I never want to hurt you. I love you so dearly, and I want you on my journey with me, where we can work together.’  – Naissa

What do I know about what it means to live in a body that doesn’t feel like home? Me, who has a body that has served me well all of my life! I have travelled through many internal and external landscapes, but this is completely new and unexplored for me; it feels mysterious and elliptical, shape-shifting and somehow dangerous.’  – Daniela

A good friend suggested that the two write to each other. As Daniela puts it ‘Everything is so emotional. It’s very difficult to listen without suggesting or answering back. Listening, really listening, is an incredible skill.Writing letters gives you the time to distil what you want to say to the other person. You say it in a less triggering, less reactive, way.’

So the person writing the letter can take the time to think about it, and the other person can take the time to read it and re-read and accept – or, at least, acknowledge – a differing point of view…

And Naissa says, ‘When I came out I was living in Leeds – then I came home for three months before starting my degree – it was difficult to be around something that was so hard for my mum, and whenever I saw her it would be quite painful and emotional. With letters, you can say what you want to say uninterrupted – similar to when you hold space for people so they can say what they want to say, and the other person can’t influence how you say something…’

And whilst Daniela and film-maker Sky Neal – a long-time Scarabeus collaborator – were talking about this letter-writing process, Sky, a mother herself, and someone who knows both Daniela and Naissa well – suggested they make a short documentary film that would give justice to both stories. 

‘I realised,’ says Daniela, ‘that if you do any kind of search on the internet you’ll find tons of material about different perspectives on gender, you’ll find a lot of Ted talks, or websites that talk about trans gender from the point of view of trans gender people and you may find a little bit about how as a parent you can support your trans child – what you don’t find is a place where there is an equal representation and a dialogue about how this journey makes you completely reconsider everything – your values, what you believe in life. There is neither an artistic representation nor an accurate documentary representation. And as a mother, I felt that my voice was completely unheard.’

Daniela Essart, Emerging R&D in Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photo Sky Neal

And so, for Daniela, the idea began to grow that this could be not only a documentary film but also a show – made and performed by Daniela and Naissa, working in collaboration with other artists, the pair using their very able skills as circus-theatre and dance artists to explore this volatile dynamic of growth, change and acceptance. Because, if you’re an artist, Daniela feels, why wouldn’t you use your art to explore one of the most complex things that had occurred in your life?

But what did Naissa think when that idea was first mooted?

 ‘I was very resistant at first,’ he says, ‘mostly because at this time our relationship was very – potent. Emotional, and sensitive. Charged. I wasn’t sure it’d work out, but we had a week’s work outdoors in the woods arranged with choreographer Becky…’

This being Becky Namgauds, a young choreographer who both Naissa and Daniela admire and were keen to work with. Sky was also involved in filming the footage that would later be used for the Emerging teaser

‘We started to work in Queens Woods in Highgate, near our home, during the 2020 lockdown,’ says Daniela. ‘Legally, we had to work outdoors because of the pandemic – so we saw it as a gift rather than a restriction. We decided to rig directly from trees. Naissa wanted to work with a bungee harness close to the floor and I wanted to work with an aerial cocoon. Becky also encouraged us to work on a floor-based contact dance duet’.

‘Becky is great,’ says Naissa, ‘Really good at helping pull out ideas without directing – facilitating the space and facilitating support and care – helping us creatively communicate…’ He also reflects on the vital role dance plays in his life, saying: ‘For me movement and dance are very much about communicating. I like dancing because it makes me feel I can communicate something I can’t verbalise, and hopefully people will feel that without the need to label it.’

From there, as things eased up in summer 2020, they went to Cornwall to work at greater length with Sky, who is based there.

‘We wanted to work with the metaphor of the elements,’ says Daniela. ‘We used the rocks and the water. I wrote a piece of text called Elemental. I felt very much that Naissa was a water creature – changing, morphing – and that I was a rock, but one that was crumbling…’

Naissa remembers it as a difficult but rewarding experience: ‘Sky filmed each of us reading from our letters, plus some movement on the beach. Daniela did some aerial work in the forest – and then there was the abseiling on the cliffs – a really beautiful moment.’

Ah yes, indeed a beautiful moment! One that will be incorporated into the show as film footage (because transporting a cliff-face round the country would pose a fair few difficulties!). I tell Naissa that Daniela and I have had an interesting conversation about how different people view this image, particularly in relation to the text that appears with it: ‘Travel slowly and safely.’ I see it as two people in a situation where risk has been carefully calculated, and safety precautions have been responsibly thought through. Other people see it as a moment of great danger – a point of no return, almost.

‘The only thing I could think about was that we were really on the edge,’ says Naissa, ‘and – this isn’t morbid at all, but there was something very freeing about the thought that if I were to fall, it’d be OK!’

Musing on the time spent in Queens Wood and Cornwall, Naissa says: ‘It was hard, but the more we did it the less hard it became, and I realised that the reason, probably, why it was so hard for me was because there were loads of things I didn’t feel able to communicate…’

Daniela and Naissa ‘on the edge’: Emerging R&D in Cornwall Summer 202. Photo Sky Neal

‘You my perfect child, who grew inside me, whilst I felt every movement, kick and turn of you. You who I love more than anyone else in the entire world. I look at you, exquisite human being, with the most beautiful face, the loveliest and most attractive of bodies, which enables you to do what you most love in the world – dance, move… Why should you need to change it, tamper with it?’  – Daniela 

‘My whole life has not worked up to this, this is not my final completing goal in life. This is a necessary step that I need to continue on my journey to have some grounding in my life. I am still Naissa as you have always known me, you are still Mamma to me. I just have to take these steps towards the changes in my body that will make me feel at home.’ – Naissa 

After some months of reflection, the project moved on with another research and development period in April 2021 – this time indoors at the National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA) in Hoxton, with the support of a modest Arts Council England grant.

There was just a week booked in the NCCA creation studio, but before that came a lot of preparation – Daniela as director of the project liaising with Naissa, choreographer Becky and numerous other collaborators, including  Scarabeus co-director Søren and rigger Graeme Clint, video designer Nina Dunn, and stage manager/photographer Henri T. Filmmaker Sky also came in for two half-days.

Daniela Essart, cocoon, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

‘We really looked at this one specific scene using the cocoon, with a text I wrote about giving birth to Naissa,’ says Daniela. This text had been enclosed with Daniela’s first letter to Naissa. There was also work on the bungee harness by Naissa, exploring broken dialogue, and the dynamic of love versus frustration. When I talk to Naissa, I muse on the image of the bungee as an umbilical cord – although it’s not something he particularly feels himself about the apparatus: ‘It never occurred to me, but I suppose that is how it could be seen, visually. I’m really interested in the bungee – I feel most in my element. It feels safe in the way that I know exactly how I’m expressing myself, how I’m moving. I feel in control, and in communication.’ 

Another key piece of equipment is a big suspended net, modified in various ways by video artist Nina, who projected abstract textures and concrete images of sea water, the sky, and sunflowers onto the white net and the two performers.

‘I think I was very worried that the net – which was Daniela’s idea – would be received as a typical image of entrapment and all of that kind of stuff,’ says Naissa, ‘But with the lights off, and projections on it, it looked like a surface not a net. Every step you take affects the other person – so it became a metaphor for relationships and communication, where if you take a big leap it’s going to throw the other person off, but if you tread carefully together you can go on the journey.’

Daniela sees it as ‘the web of life, a metaphor for how, in a relationship, you continuously affect each other. There is a ripple effect – you are continuously connected’. She tells me that she was inspired by the visual artist and sculptor Chiharu Shiota, who weaves enormous web-like installations that people can walk through; and her vision for the new show is for it to be an immersive piece, with audience placed around and underneath. She is working with rigger and maker Joe White on the creation of a web that can be rigged and toured relatively easily.

The two performers also explored the use of two suspended Cyr wheels, strung with webbing so that they looked like giant dreamcatchers – Scarabeus will also be commissioning the making of two large hoops for the show’s tour. 

Naissa Essart-Nielsen, bungee harness, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

So, the first stage of research and development is done, a premiere booked for autumn 2022, and the film-making is in progress. What happens next?

Daniela is keen to emphasise that the documentary film being made by Sky, and the live performance work, are being viewed as separate enterprises, each sourcing funding independently. The documentary will be around 15–20 minutes long, and could potentially be shown in the same venue as the show during the tour. But it will also have its own independent life.

The next stage of the creative process for Daniela is to work on scripting the piece. There are plans for her to work with a dramaturg on the creation of the show’s script – ideally someone from within the LGBTQ+ community who has experience with multi-discipline art-making that incorporates the use of text. As writer-director, Daniela is already musing on the staging and the relationship with audience: ‘I have some specific ideas about how I want it to start. The audience will come into an installation – a space created in a certain way.’

Because the physical dance and circus-theatre work in the show will be intense, Daniela feels that the text will almost certainly be pre-recorded and incorporated within the soundscape, which is going to be created by composer/musician Domenico Angarano, who is a music lecturer at London Contemporary Dance, and thus somebody that Naissa knows and has worked with. The score will be completed by summer 2022 so that it is ready (or as near as possible) for when the company return to the rehearsal studio. Daniela has a meeting planned with Nina Dunn to talk about the use of multiple projections in the space, and the two will work together on the creation of films and projections that use historic family photos and video. Discussions are in progress (led by Søren) about the rigging issues and the construction of the bespoke circus equipment. Then, there will be discussions with Becky on how to negotiate the next phase of physical performance work.  ‘So far we haven’t touched the things that are the most difficult and painful,’ says Daniela, ‘things which you can’t skive away from if you are making a piece that wants to make people understand the navigation of a complex journey’.

Naissa, though, feels that it is getting easier, and especially values the contact dance work initiated by Becky: ‘At the beginning of my coming out, we were both very resistant to each other and so I think the contact work can be seen as a way to trying to approach things with love – for my mum, there was resistance because she was worried about my health and safety, and I really didn’t see it that way until recently… So it became about trying to approach things with tenderness and love even if we disagree.’

Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, contact dance, Emerging R&D at NCCA, Spring 2021. Photo Henri T

As things stand, Naissa and Daniela are both going to perform in the show. Both talk to me about the need for physical and emotional safeguarding in the rehearsal/performance space – which they feel they have managed to achieve so far, with the support of the team. For Naissa, the fact that he was undergoing such drastic physical changes, on top of the emotional and psychological shifts that they were both making – added to the pressure. But he feels he was supported all along the way. ‘With each stage of work I was further along the road with adjusting to the hormones. The more it was settling in, the more I felt I was inhabiting my own skin not someone else’s. There are changes in the way I move, and how I am in the space. And everything has drastically changed since I’ve had chest surgery. Last time we worked together I was four months on hormones, and Becky noticed that my energy was very different, and I was much more happy. It is nice that other people can feel it too!’

Naissa now has the final year of his degree to get through before re-engaging with the making of Emerging – so is grateful for a bit of a gap before the next creation period. There is also another reason why these relatively large gaps between the practical work sessions are a blessing: ‘It’s nice to have such big chunks of time in between because, personally, it feels very heavy – even though it is a positive thing, it is emotional to go back in there, so it works for me that it is quite spaced out. Each time I go back in I have more perspective and more understanding and empathy for myself and for my mum.’

For Daniela, the process feels fresh and good as, for the most part, she is collaborating with people who are outside of the usual Scarabeus circle of artists – often people who are nearer to Naissa’s age than to hers, and in some cases, people from the LGBTQ+ community, which feels right.

‘I have deliberately chosen people who don’t know me and Naissa personally – mostly people who I haven’t worked with before. I needed that tabula rasa – to work with people with no pre-conceptions of who I am and what I create.’

For both, communication and advocacy is the main reason for it all. As Naissa puts it:

‘I don’t want to do it for myself, more for people who can’t – especially if it helps to shift perspectives for people who don’t know trans people, who don’t have trans children. If the art could be some form of activism or create some sort of impact, that’s all that I would want. I don’t really know what it’ll do for me – but I hope it’ll help other people and create empathy and love.’

In one of his letters, Naissa lists a number of words, capitalised. It feels a sound note to end on, as a summary of the process of creating Emerging:




Daniela Essart and Naissa Essart-Nielsen, Emerging R&D ain Cornwall, Summer 2020. Photos Sky Neal

Emerging is co-created by Daniela Essart (artistic director & performer) and Naissa Essart-Nielsen (collaborator & performer) for Scarabeus Aerial Theatre.

For more on the company, and updates on the progress of Emerging, see 

Emerging is due to premiere autumn 2022, and is commissioned by the Lowry and supported by Jacksons Lane

The Emerging film teaser was funded by Arts Council England and Paul Hamlyn Emergency Funds. Shot and directed by Sky Neal, with additional footage by Mark Morreau. See: 

The Emerging R&D in April 2021 at National Centre for Circus Arts was funded by Arts Council England.

Total Theatre Artists as Writers – 2021 Participants Announced


We are delighted to announce that thirteen artists have been selected to take part in the Total Theatre Artists as Writers scheme, which will run from November 2021 to March 2022.

The chosen participants will take part in a series of online workshops, and will then work in smaller groups, and receive one-to-one mentoring sessions. Participants will have their work published by Total Theatre Magazine at 

We will also be commissioning a number of new long-form articles from established artist-writers.

There will be three main strands of research that participants will pursue throughout the programme:

Reflecting on and writing about the artist’s own journey and current practice

Research into the work of other artists, companies, organisations, or artforms/strands of practice (contemporary or historic) that the artist has a particular interest in – with reference to the Total Theatre Archive and/or other archives or resources

Reflection on the diversification of the theatre/performance/outdoor arts/circus sectors, with sessions delivered by guest workshop leaders, and an encouragement to research and create articles written by or about artists of colour, LGBTQ+ artists, artists from working class & migrant communities, and on community responsive theatre- and art-making 

As always, our interest will be on the cultivation of the artist’s voice, with the emphasis on practice-based (rather than academic) research, reflection, and writing.

We have selected a diverse (in every sense of the word) group of people representing different artforms and modes of practice within the Total Theatre sector, with a good geographic spread across the UK; and we have included emerging, mid-career and established artists. We had a high number of overseas applicants, and allocated 25% (three places) accordingly.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and a number of key industry partners: Out There Arts, Without Walls, London International Mime Festival, Polari LGBTQ+ Literary Salon, and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. We thank all of our partners for your support.

A full list of participants in Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2021 follows, with short biogs for each artist.

Dorothy Max Prior

On behalf of the Total Theatre Magazine Editorial Team

Contact Max on:

Featured image (top): Naomi Silman. Photo Juliana Hilal

TT Artists as Writers 2021 – Participants List

Lorna Rees. Photo Jayne Jackson

Lorna Rees

Lorna Rees is an outdoor artist. She is artistic director of Gobbledegook Theatre, a multidisciplinary arts practice who make innovative, national and international touring work, usually inspired by Earth Sciences. Lorna is also an activist, with a long history of socially engaged practice making interventions under the title of ‘Disruption & Joy’.  

Twitter: @thegobbledegook

Instagram: @gobbledegooktheatre

Talita Moffatt

Talita is passionate about diversity, access and equality in their broadest sense and has earned her stripes in the arts industry as a dancer, teacher, project manager then producer. This year Talita has returned to the studio to lead and direct her original concept piece The Paradise Bar bringing together an all-black cast of Deaf and hearing performers to share aspirational stories through a fusion of dance, spoken word, BSL, music and film. 

Lane Paul Stewart

Lane’s theatre practice speaks strongly of his northern working class origins and the LGBTQIA+ community, challenging overused representations of these groups and championing the notion of the ‘other’ with material that advocates non-elitist theatre, critiques social inadequacy and is always hopeful for change. Lane completed his masters degree at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and presents work through his company, Facing North Theatre. 

Instagram: @lanepaulstewart & @facingnorththeatre

Facebook: @facingnorththeatre

Jamie Wood: I Am a Tree. Photo Ben Duffy

Jamie Wood

International Art Clown Jamie Wood is a performer, director and teacher renowned for creating striking and accessible theatre. His work reflects a training in fine art, theatre, clown and dance. Over the last ten years he has focused on touring his trilogy of critically acclaimed solo shows, Beating McEnroe, O No! and I am a Tree.

Twitter: @jamieofthewood

FK Alexander

FK Alexander is a Scottish performance artist who works with noise music to make action-based live art. The pieces  are often durational, site responsive or unrepeatable. This work frequently involves hammers, strobes, volume, sensation, destruction, and Judy Garland. FK has gratefully received various awards, and has toured extensively across the UK, Europe and America.

Twitter: @fkalexander

Instagram: @f.k.alexander @thewretchedpast

Naomi Silman 

Naomi Silman is a performer, clown, director and teacher with award-winning Brazilian theatre ensemble Lume Teatro. In 25 years of celebrating theatre as the art of the encounter, she has created and performed shows in a variety of languages including physical theatre, clowning, dance, street theatre and large-scale outdoor community-based interventions. Born in London, she trained with Philippe Gaulier and at the Lecoq school before moving to Brazil in 1997.

Instagram: @lumeteatro @naomisilman


Andrew Simpson

Andrew Simpson is a theatre maker, performer and clown based in Glasgow.

He makes original performance work solo and in collaboration with other artists, working outdoors and indoors. His practice is influenced by a diverse range of artists including Odin Teatret, Jackie Chan and Limmy.

Instagram: @adrenalismscot

Liza Cox

Liza Cox is a theatre maker, director and puppeteer. She is co-artistic director of Baubo, a new physical/street theatre company rooted in visual design and traditions of clown and bouffon. As a performer-maker, her process is rooted in materiality and play. She trained in Lecoq and is currently undertaking an MA in Performance Design at Leeds University.

Jonathan Irakiza 

Jonathan is the founder-director of Young Circus Performers company, which is based in Kigali, Rwanda in East Africa. He has worked for 15 years as an artist, circus performer, acrobat, and theatre performer; and as a circus and acrobatics trainer and ‘circus entrepreneur’. He organises holiday camps for vulnerable children, tours to refugee camps, is currently setting up the Rwanda Circus Arts Festival, and is founder of Rwanda’s artistic cycling project for vulnerable children.


Twitter: @rwacrobats

Instagram : @rwacrobats

Lily Norton

Moving and creating from a young age, Lily is an autistic dancer, writer and visual artist who works with both traditional and digital media. As an advocate for disability justice and a proud queer, non-binary disabled artist, Lily is passionate about inclusivity and developing creative integrated methods of increasing accessibility to dance and the arts.

Ruby Burgess

Ruby is a circus and physical theatre artist based in Bristol. She is a graduate of the Circomedia BA course where she specialised in static and swinging trapeze, and now teaches. She is interested in creative accessibility and making absurd comedy about socio-political subjects. She also runs a circus podcast which you can find at  

Instagram: @notmymonkeyspodcast

Eliezer Kasereka Mbakulirahi

Eliezer is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2014, he met German theatre director Claus Schrowange, who trained him in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. He worked for two years in the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo), learning how participatory theatre could contribute to peace in war-torn regions. In 2016 he co-founded The Rutshuru Amani Kwetu Theatre of the Oppressed group for peace, reconciliation, legality, and equality.

Rowan Prescott Hedley

Rowan Prescott Hedley is a poet, playwright, songwriter, and performer based in Dorset. They use mixed discipline performance with improvisation and audience participation to engage traditional audiences in non-traditional theatre and question their assumptions, biases, and perspectives. They feature queer, neurodivergent, and intersectional themes in their work.

Notes for Editors

More about Total Theatre Magazine

Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led critical writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and the work of their peers. For more than thirty years the magazine, first in print and now online, has played a crucial role in promoting and championing alternative theatre and performance practice in the UK. The Total Theatre Magazine website can be viewed at  The Total Theatre Magazine Print Archive is at 

Total Theatre Magazine also runs a number of other projects, including Total Theatre Talks, presented in collaboration with festivals and venues across the UK; Total Theatre Training & The Writing’s On the Streets, offering one-off or short-course writing workshops; and Total Theatre Artists as Writers, a three-month+ scheme mentoring artists who wish to write about their own and other’s work.

Total Theatre Magazine first ran the Total Theatre Artists as Writers training and CPD programme as part of our Total Theatre Print Archive project in 2019. For that incarnation of the programme, participants reflected on their own practice in relation to artists’ work explored through the archive: See  This went so well that TTM ran the programme again in 2020 (completely online this time). The third iteration runs November 2021 to March 2022. Articles generated from the programme will be posted on the main website: 

More about our partners

Out There Arts 

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September with one of the largest programmes of circus in the UK, as well as producing other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies.

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council. 

For more information on Out There Festival 17–19 September 2021, see  

Without Walls

Without Walls is a consortium of over 35 festivals and arts organisations that brings fantastic outdoor arts to people in towns and cities across the UK. Since its formation in 2007, Without Walls has developed and toured over 200 new shows by UK companies and supported the Research and Development of over 75 projects. Without Walls commissions have toured widely both in the UK and internationally across 22 countries.

Without Walls is managed by XTRAX, an independent management and production company based in Manchester with over 20 years’ experience in Outdoor Arts: 

Without Walls is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.  |  | @WWconsortium

London International Mime Festival 

The London International Mime Festival (LIMF) is an annual theatre event in London. Its directors are Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, winners of the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence.

It was established in 1977 by Joseph Seelig and Nola Rae and it is the longest running event of its kind in the world – a month-long showcase for ground-breaking visual/physical theatre, new circus, object theatre and live art. 

LIMF returns in 2022 with a full programme of shows at venues across the capital from Wednesday 12 January – Sunday 6 February.  In addition to these performances, LIMF will run live and online workshops, after-show discussions with artists, and a new series of short films created by international artists. 


Polari is an award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon. It was founded by author Paul Burston in 2007, and began in a bar in Soho. Since 2009, Polari have been based at London’s Southbank Centre. They also tour regularly, funded by Arts Council England.

The recent Polari Prize Tenth Anniversary Tour showcased writers long- and short-listed for the Polari Prize book awards for emerging and established LGBTQ+ literary talent, as well as winners from the Prize’s ten year history, dating back to 2011.

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

Rose Bruford College, based in Sidcup, south-east London, is a drama school offering degree programmes in acting, directing, and other theatre arts. The college teaching, learning and training ethos is based on artistry, collaboration, community, discovery, diversity, employability, independence, and professionalism. Students and staff work in collaboration across a number of campuses to make and produce over 75 shows a year.

The College mission is to achieve social and cultural impact by delivering the highest quality vocational training and education. Their teaching covers a wide, innovative spectrum of subjects and delivers proactive graduates who are creative, empowered and employable.

Bouncing Back

The Outdoor Arts sector is back with a bang! Dorothy Max Prior goes to Great Yarmouth for the Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts 2021

People out and about – lots of them, in the park, at the town centre market place, and along the seafront. Families, and gaggles of teenagers, and couples young and old (and all things in between). A mash-up of English, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic in the air, reflecting the make-up of the local population. Happy people, strolling, chatting, eating ice creams, watching shows of all sorts. Static and walkabout street theatre shows. Shows set on big circus rigs, circle shows, and fire shows. Shows in shop windows… There’s acrobatics, juggling, physical comedy, dance, live music, DJs. Installations and augmented reality. Art and craft workshops. Pop-up coffee shops and food stalls. It’s all here, and now. It feels so – normal. 

It’s been a while. Yes, stuff has happened over the past 18 months (and not just over Zoom). Yes, the outdoor arts sector has been more resilient to the impact of Covid than venue-based theatre. And yes – as Outdoor Arts UK chair Angus MacKechnie said in a session for the Bounce Back professional programme – the sector has expanded rapidly as venues realised that taking work outdoors was an option. But this is a key moment: the first big, brash, full-on outdoor arts festival post-pandemic.

Which leaves us with a few questions to reflect on. Where is the outdoor arts sector now, after the devastation of the 2020 and 2021 summer seasons? How has the pandemic impacted established street theatre and outdoor artists and companies? How are they recovering and reinstating themselves? And what of those newcomers, eagerly signing up to the outdoor arts scene?

There was plenty of evidence of bouncing back in style after the ‘shitstorm’ (Angus again!) of the past 18 months. Diehards of the outdoor arts scene presenting work at Out There 2021 included Whalley Range All Stars, Dizzy O’Dare, Hocus Pocus Theatre, Bureau of Silly Ideas, The Flying Buttresses, Jon Hicks, Plunge Boom, and Circo Rum Ba Ba.

Whalley Range All Stars: Glock & Beretta. Photo courtesy of the artists

In fact, Whalley Range All Stars (Edward Taylor and Sue Auty) managed not one but two premieres. In Godzillatown, shifted from the cancelled Stockton International Riverside Festival to Out There, audience members are invited to collect and fold a Godzilla mask (with help on hand for those who struggle with card and tape) and then to enter the ‘town’, negotiating a 10 metre by 10 metre maze of cartoonish buildings, whilst trying to avoid collision with fellow Godzillas. One of the delights of the piece is seeing people exiting in their Godzilla masks, wandering off towards the seafront or into the park, which creates a lovely additional performative feature to the piece. I did feel, whilst in the maze, that the town was a little small, and perhaps could be expanded. But then I realised that it was the perfect size for the small children who’d come in behind me, who for once in their lives could feel big and strong. And pragmatically, if the street maze had been bigger (and time in it therefore longer) the long queue of eager Godzillas waiting their turn would have been even longer!

Their other show, Glock & Beretta, How? Why? What? is an absolute delight. Supported by Out There Arts (so this one was always intended to premiere in Yarmouth), it’s a witty piece of Kamishibai theatre – literally ‘paper drama’ as Edward tells us at the start, although pointing out that in this case, the images are printed on PVC rather than paper. Deprived of live gigs, Edward Taylor spent his lockdown drawing and painting for three different projects: two books and this show, which uses a grand total of 65 A3-sized drawings. The effect is of a graphic novel brought to life. It’s delightfully low-tech – just Sue pulling the images in and out of the simple frame-stage wooden box construction that she has built, whilst Edward tells us a tale of ‘destructive children, dogged journalists, military intervention, and nuns’. The images of deserted streets and shopping centres are an eery evocation of locked-down cities – although in this case, people aren’t isolating in their homes, they are stuck in a traffic jam that runs the length of the land. Edward is a good storyteller, taking the audience into his confidence, and Sue is a lovely foil, the two sharing moments of gentle humour. Although this show is a new direction for them, being something that can be played indoors or out rather than specifically a ‘street arts’ show, their experience in making work for the outdoors is apparent in the delivery of the piece and the easy-going relationship with audience.

Dizzy O’Dare: Falconry Dismay. Photo David Street

The same is true of Dizzy O’Dare, whose Falconry Dismay is a far larger and noisier affair, yet shares that same sense of confidence and control, a strong relationship with audience always evident. There’s a great set-up, with our safari-suited host Kevin Tickle revving up the crowd, priming us for a real-life display of majestic birds of prey, whetting our appetite for the encounters we are about to have with these wondrous creatures. And yes, here they are! Malvolio the theatrical vulture, who unfortunately tries to mate with a man in a blue Adidas shirt, mistaking the blue for the plumage of a lady vulture, then foolishly feasting on poisoned food; Princess the owl, who scuttles on to the tune of ‘I’m Every Woman’, and is on the look out for worms (a cue for the audience to waggle their fingers, causing many a small child to squeal excitedly); and – the jewel in the crown – Boo Boo the peregrine falcon, fresh from Dollywood in Texas, with her killer talons and a flight speed of 250mph, making her ‘the fastest creature on earth’. Or in the air, I suppose. I very much enjoy these little educational facts that we are fed, in amongst the fabulous clowning, physical comedy and audience interaction from the four-person team. Great bird costumes too!

Circo Rum Ba Ba: The Box. Photo Pete Morgan

I also much enjoyed Circo Rum Ba Ba’s Box, which features – yes, you’ve guessed – a mysterious box sat on the decking outside festival HQ Drill House. Demonstrating a lovely relationship between music and physical performance, the box comes to life to the sounds of gypsy jazz, swing and tango, as errant limbs and eyes on stalks pop out. As things build, we meet a wonderful succession of strange creatures: beaky birds and big-mouthed fish, people with lobster claws, and headless worms with oogly-googly eyes. All of these fabulous beasts break free from their box and run into the audience, tickling teens and chasing toddlers. The box is also used nicely as a performance podium for the acrobalance, contortion and hand-balancing work from this two-woman team. Clever puppetry and object manipulation, a lovely score, and a great display of circus skills all delivered with more than a dash of humour – this is a show that sparkles with charm and competence.

Over in the park, other circus-skills shows include Italian/Argentinian Duo Musawa’s V.O.G.O.T. an elegant and fluid duet merging circus (acrobalance, hand-to-hand) and dance, which I caught a section of as I passed through the park (and this, of course, is often how it is at street arts festivals – things you’d like to catch are missed, or seen in part, in passing); and the excellent Strong Enough, exploring circus strong lady Charmaine’s personal journey from fat schoolgirl who comes last in the sports day races to successful circus base and demonstrator of feats of strength, all this paired nicely with recorded verbatim stories of strength and resilience. If I Can’t See You, by Living Room Circus, featured a good-size rig on which was suspended a sofa, the site for a witty aerial exploration of isolation and connection, via the power of pop. 


Said Mouhssine: Routine. Photo Katherine Mager

In the town centre market place, a large dance stage and a few near-by pitches are used for a new strand to the festival called Extremities – a kind of festival within the festival, focusing on high-energy dance and acrobatics with a strong street vibe and African/global culture influence. This strand of work is supported by Out There partners Freshly Greated. Artists appearing include Morocco’s Said Mouhssine with a show called Routine; and Joseph Toonga with Born to Protest, a new hip hop dance work. I enjoy Born to Protest with its vibrant and energetic choreography for an ensemble of five, four men and one woman. It explores cliches around representation of Black men and women, and I find myself musing on my own inherent racist responses to the sound of loud shouting from Black people, which white people have been culturally programmed to view as aggressive. It is a dance piece set on a stage, rather than an outdoor arts piece per se – there is most definitely a ‘fourth wall’, and I would have preferred to see it set at audience level rather than on high. But there’s room for all sorts in a festival like Out There. Said Mouhssine’s Routine is performed ground-level, on three sides, with a chalked-on back wall that is used very nicely. Mixing Chinese Pole, acrobatics, and physical action/interaction with the space, it is augmented by an excellent soundtrack by Arash Sarkechik, blending music from a variety of cultures with sampled sounds and spoken text in French, English and Arabic. Although it doesn’t feature any audience interaction, the connection with audience feels solid throughout the show, which is an exploration of boredom, tedium, and insomnia, perhaps inspired by the boundaries imposed on young people’s lives by the pandemic. The various props and objects – a mattress-sofa, cushions, clothing, and the pole itself – are engaged with carefully and employing strong dramaturgical logic in a push-and-pull between inertia and energy. A beautiful and inspiring piece of work – Said has a lovely stage presence as well as being a gifted physical performer.

Tall Tales: Square Two. Photo Katherine Mager

All the above are static shows – circle shows, or with a back wall, or on a dance stage. There are also a number of promenade and/or site-responsive works in this year’s festival.

Ghosted, created by Eastenders writer James McDermott and director Marcus Romer for Yarmouth’s St George’s Theatre, follows six Norfolk teenagers as they investigate the disappearance of a schoolfriend whose clothes are found on the beach. The writer’s stated objective is to make a piece of live theatre inspired by TV soaps and Netflix series. (But why, I wonder?) Rather oddly, Ghosted is just part one of what is intended to be an ongoing series. So we don’t get to discover what has happened to the disappeared teen, which is frustrating. The writing is good enough, the acting is feisty, and the journey along the prom – taking us from the overload of neon arcades and noisy bars on one side of the pier to the deserted dunes and shelters on the other – is enjoyable (although it was a little odd to be walked down to a deserted part of the beach then left there). But this is clearly a piece made by people who don’t make outdoor work. The site is used in the most minimal way, and there is little or no physical action in the space – it’s all mostly talking heads. The decision to mic up the actors and put the audience in headphones creates an odd dissonance between audience and actors, as we are more often than not stood in a line staring forward at a framed scene, almost as if viewing a film on-screen – although I do enjoy the between-scenes soundtrack. The only scene that really owns its site features two gay male characters (one of whom is in denial, despite proposing marriage to his boyfriend) that happens outside a seafront bar, drinkers and dog-walkers providing a backdrop, with the sound of The Doors’ ‘Riders on the Storm’ booming out. So, Ghosted  has some nice bits but I left confused – wondering why they didn’t just make a film or TV series if that’s where their ambition lies.

Compare and contrast with Square Two by Dutch company Tall Tales. Also a promenade work. Also placing the audience in headphones. But my goodness, these people know what they are doing and why! We gather in a yard, and are asked to sit on numbered stools, set in a horseshoe. After a small technical hitch (which the performer – company co-founder Harm van der Laan – deals with calmly, with grace and humour), it starts. Sitting facing us he juggles, and talks as he does, explaining the basic principles of juggling, calling out the moves: 411 – 411 – 31 – 31 – 411. This, he notes, could be an algorithm, a password or perhaps a code. He hopefully asks if anybody in the audience is a coder, but sadly none of us are! The piece is based on the mathematical artwork of Dutch visual artist Don Satijn, and explores how codes can be the basis of movement and juggling. As someone who has always enjoyed experiencing the relationship between patterns, sequences and sets in choreography, I’m delighted when we’re invited to stand up in numerical order and follow the leader on to the next site, where we are instructed to find a circle with our number on it (I’m 13 – auspicious!). Here, in the beautifully wild Dissenters Graveyard, a lone juggler is working quietly alongside a metal sculpture, one of the artworks that inspired the piece, the stone walls and ancient trees of the graveyard her backdrop. On the other side of this strange little secret garden, three jugglers now work together. Just outside, whilst our attention is diverted by following along in the right order and finding a circle to stand on, one of the three performers has climbed on top of a building and is throwing higher and higher into the sky, the voice in our ears ruminating on chaos theory, Newtonian physics, and perpetual motion. We are led out into a maze of back alleys and courtyards, each stop offering us perfectly choreographed solos, duets or trios. At one point, we are split (via instructions arriving in our headphones) into three sets to experience three lovely solo scenes – in one, Harm van der Laan is continuing his investigation of numerical sequencing and coding, inviting audience members to change the juggling patterns by swapping over numbered blocks set on a small table. The two men perform a wonderfully gentle and moving contact dance/juggling number. The woman is seen sitting on a chair at the end of an alley, on the cusp of the high street, passers-by looking on curiously. We are instructed to ‘follow our guide’ creeping ever-forward toward her in an odd game of Grandmother’s Footsteps. The soundtrack on our headphones gives us a mix of music and philosophical musings: ‘you have to know the rules to break the rules’ resonates. The ending is a lovely coup de theatre, as we turn a corner to find our three jugglers working away behind glass in a shop window. Beautifully choreographed, elegantly performed, with a great soundtrack and a fabulous use of site. That’s the way to do it!

The Insect Circus/Mark Copeland: The Equidae Retirement Home for Pantomime Horses. Photo Martin Thompson

Also making use of a shop window – in this case the sadly now-closed Palmers department store – and equally fabulous in a completely different way is Insect Circus supremo Mark Copeland’s latest venture: The Equidae Retirement Home for Pantomime Horses. Behind glass, microphone in hand, we see Mark in his latest character guise – Edgar ‘Gar’ Feral, a Country & Western fan, part-time cowboy and would-be care home boss; dressed splendidly in sky-blue fringed shirt and trews, with (of course) cowboy boots and a natty hat. Gar introduces us to Carol the career carer, another fabulous character, played by Sarah Munro. Her costume is equally meticulous – gingham shirt, PVC tabard and white Mary-Jane shoes, plus a blonde bob and a packet of fags for her tea break. Carol fetches Old Paint, the home’s first resident – and the tomfoolery begins. As Gar sells us the charms of the care home, Carol and Old Paint line-dance to the Johnny Cash classic ‘I Walk the Line’; and Carol coaches Old Paint in his gymkhana skills (the poor old dear does struggle a little here). I’m so busy watching all this fabulous horsey nonsense that it’s only as I walk away at the end of the show that some of Gar’s lines hit home: apparently, the pantomime sea-horses will be on the top floor so they get a sea view; and the basement will be given over to the pantomime pit-ponies, who’ll get a reduced rent in return for time on the treadmill generating electricity for the home. In true Insect Circus tradition, attention to detail is everything: the shop window is set up as a sitting room papered in pink horsey wallpaper, with horse portraits on the wall and a shelf unit filled with ultra-kitsch plastic and china pony ornaments. Cheery posters advertising the retirement home’s rates are given pride of place. Old Paint himself is gorgeous – a lovely design, and beautifully inhabited and animated by Persephone Pearl (rear end) and Freya Watson (front). Oh, what a splendid idea. And oh, how joyfully realised.

Pistacatros: Orchesta de Malabares. Photo David Street

Then, there are the ’big draw’ shows. 

Puppets With Guts’ The Lips features a chorus of delightfully deviant divas whose mouths have broken free from their bodies, allowing them to lip-synch and jive to an exhilarating mix of much-loved pop tunes, with a bit of a slant towards hen party karaoke classics: ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Kiss’… You get the picture. The lyrics roll by above us so we can sing along. The big gang of girls on a night out who are sitting behind me particularly like Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies’, and the two Spice Girl numbers. There’s a few blasts of pyrotechnics – showers and fountains and red smoke erupting out from the ‘lips’ every so often – but it’s mostly all about the tunes. Yes, it’s a one-trick pony, but it works and it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser – I end up seeing it twice in St George’s Park after dark, and both times it’s very well received. It was also presented in a promenade version during the day, and was featured as part of the Friday night Cobholm Island Beach Party, which saw Out There Festival take itself off to a part of the Yarmouth community less likely to come into town for arts activities. 

Community engagement is a key feature of the festival, and the Great Yarmouth version of The Lips includes a lovely troupe of young dancers from Afro Lusa and Broadway Bellas – two local community dance groups – who join in stage-front for the early part of the show, then morph into the crowd, still dancing, as proud parents cheer them on.

Galician company Pistacatro’s Orquesta De Malabares – another of the big crowd-pleaser shows – takes it all a stage further, re-devising and co-creating their show wherever they present it. A core-company of six jugglers perform in front of, and interact with, an amateur orchestra from the host region – in this case, Norwich City Concert Band, who give us a cheery mix of light classical and pop tunes (from ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ to ‘Delilah’). The work by the core team of jugglers is excellent. We get clever solo and ensemble club and ball routines; and lots of lovely physical theatre games, including a feisty Musical Chairs, and various takes on those classic vaudevillian upstaging skits we know from the likes of Abbott and Costello or Morecambe and Wise, each juggler in turn trying their best to steal the limelight (a way of showcasing everyone’s talents). There’s some brilliant clowning as mock fights break out between the jugglers, and between jugglers and orchestra. The core company performers are always generous in their interactions with the local musicians, and everyone works together to give us a hearty blend of physical comedy, music, and skilful juggling. The crowd laps it all up, giving the company a standing ovation at the end of the show.

Paka’s fire sculptures aren’t officially in the programme – it’s more that he is going to be featured in Out There’s coming Fire on the Water festival later in the autumn, and is giving the people of Yarmouth a taster. As metallic saxophones and tubas puff and bellow smoke and fire, there are excited roars and squeals from the crowd. It’s interesting to note how many of the young adult male population are here – the very demographic Out There were trying to entice into the festival with the high-energy acrobatics of the Extremities programme. Fire, that is clearly what young men like and want! 

My time at Out There finishes on a massive high (literally) with UNITY by Gorilla Circus, reflected on here – a really interesting blend of powerful political theatre and extraordinarily skilled aerial circus.

Just three days, but what an action packed three days! A full-on outdoor arts programme. A fabulous professionals day, Bounce Back, which sees an Artists’ Marketplace, and not one but two Total Theatre Magazine events: a Total Theatre Talks addressing Artists at the Crossroads post-pandemic, and a Total Theatre Training session called Script, Score, Storyboard, reflecting on writing outdoor arts, circus and site-responsive shows. And perhaps best of all, a chance to be with people. To meet and greet; to share food and gossip; to see shows together and talk about them afterwards over a drink. 

It’s what we’ve all needed for so long –  it’s so, so good to be bouncing back!

Gorilla Circus: UNITY at Out There Festival 2021. Photo David Street

Featured image (top): Puppets With Guts: The Lips on the streets of Great Yarmouth for Out There Festival 2021. Photo by David Street

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September, as well as other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies. 

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council.

Out There Festival took place across Great Yarmouth 17–19 September 2021. 


Fire on the Water takes place 21 October–6 November 2021. It is funded by The Norfolk Strategic Fund (NCC), Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Interreg Experience, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Out There Arts. For further details, see   

The Whole Earth and Nothing But the Earth

Just what do we mean by environmental art? Dorothy Max Prior reflects on work seen at Symondsbury Estate on the second weekend of Inside Out Dorset, a biennial outdoor arts festival commissioning and presenting performance and installation work that engages meaningfully with the landscape in which it is sited

Environmental art-making is on the up. In the light of the deepening climate crisis, and other looming ecological concerns, more and more artists and theatre-makers have taken to the stage or gallery to express their concerns in plays or performance pieces or installations – and, we presume, to attempt to change the way people live. 

But for some of us, the fact that these shows take place within a theatre/performance culture that encourages the constant carting of large amounts of kit across the country in trucks, then using ecologically unsound buildings to show the work for very short runs before heading off to the next town, rather defeats the message. Especially as so often costumes and set are made from scratch and ditched at the end of the show’s run.

For many artists with an interest in true environmentalism, decisions were made (even before Covid forced their hand) to step off of that treadmill, and instead make work that was not ‘about’ environmentalism, but was truly environmentally conscious in its approach: sited outdoors in the landscape or a found site, responding to that site in the devising process and using very little in the way of ‘set’, instead making use of the natural environment as the staging. 

Inside Out, presented in Dorset biennially by Activate Performing Arts, has been promoting such an approach for many years. In this edition, there was a particular emphasis on work that engages with the land, and support for artists working in environmentally sound ways, with three special commissions from Red Herring Productions, Lorna Rees, and Dave, The Shouting Mute.

Red Herring Productions: The Whistlers. Photo Tony Gill

Red Herring are led by Paschale Straiton – who reflected most eloquently in an article here on Total Theatre Magazine on the notion of hyperlocality, a recent buzzword that can mean many things, but surely one of them is a focus on working close to home, exploring and making artistic use of the local environment. 

Their latest work, Whistlers, is an absolute delight. A clever theatrical wheeze is set up at the start. We meet at an information tent on the edge of the woods, and learn all about The Whistler Conservation Society, who are apparently here in Symondsbury following the sighting of a couple of ‘Whistlers’ – a little-known human tribe who live in close, symbiotic relationship with songbirds and communicate by whistling. We are then joined by a khaki-clad jolly-hockey-sticks anthropologist called Lynne Passerine, who tells us that she is director of the Whistler Conservation Society. She issues us with headsets and marches us off to a campfire in the woods, where we hear her enthusiastic stories of trips to the Georgian Caucasus and other far-flung places in a quest to find Whistlers. Imagine, then, her joy at spotting a female Whistler in these very woods! We are invited to follow her deeper into the woods, on an expedition to hear, and perhaps if we are very lucky, see a real live Whistler. And so off we trek… 

We stumble up and down steep red-earth paths, trip over roots, and crouch Ninja-style when a distinct and unusual bird whistle is heard. We pass trees decorated with interesting symbols and markings – some look South American, others reference European folk art. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that we do, eventually, make Whistler contact – and are subsequently brought into a number of lovely, and often very funny, Whistler rituals. Water and twigs, wooden bowls filled with feathers, and a delightful pair of leafy wings are all employed. I particularly enjoy the small child next to me resolutely chewing on a twig-worm a Whistler has given him, despite his mother’s concerns about him eating dirt and twigs….  All three (female) performers are excellent, the folkloric costumes lovely, and the use of the natural environment for props, with the landscape and the lovely tree installations as the ‘set’, is perfect. The soundtrack of bird and human whistles is great – the aural build as we come closer to the Whistlers’ hang-out works particularly well. I do wonder about the use of the headsets, which give a disconnect with the environment – but end up realising that this is probably so that the real birds aren’t overly disturbed by bird recordings and human whistlings!

Lorna Rees: Geophonic. ‘Chalk’s lament for a billion micro-organisms’.Photo DM Prior

Animal, vegetable, mineral? When we think of our relationship with the ‘natural world’ often it is animal or plant life that comes first to mind. But for performer, musician and sound artist Lorna Rees, creator of Geophonic, it’s the mineral world that has caught her attention…

Geophonic is a site-responsive performance piece and sound walk, encouraging audiences to listen to the geological processes of the Earth. ‘We’re interested in the physical narratives of rock, sci-fi and geology on a human scale. It is a work hugely bound up in notions of custodianship of the natural world’ says the artist on her website.

At the start of what turns out to be a pretty long walk along country lanes, we are issued with ​lovely hand-spun aluminium ‘geophones’ (available in purple, copper or blue) that are rather like a child’s take on a traffic cone, and encouraged to listen to sounds natural or human-made at different points on the journey, these moments indicated wordlessly by our guide, Adam Coshan. He introduces the walk with a note on the three types of rock: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. That didn’t really sink in at the time, so for your elucidation (and mine), here’s Wiki: ‘Igneous rocks are formed from melted rock deep inside the Earth; sedimentary rocks are formed from layers of sand, silt, dead plants, and animal skeletons; metamorphic rocks formed from other rocks that are changed by heat and pressure underground.’

So, off we march, encountering tableaux and performance vignettes along the way, these enacted by a ‘rock group’ (ha!) –  a troupe of five performers (including Lorna herself) who don magnificent whole-head masks to become, say, ‘Coal’ or ‘Quartz’ or ‘Chalk’. Some of the pieces are silent ensemble movement pieces, some are solo acapella (‘Chalk’s lament for a billion micro-organisms’), some are whole-group music songs (one a fabulous local folk tune augmented by field recordings). In one of my favourite moments, Lorna/Coal stands still, silent and alone in the centre of a a field as we walk by. The five performers use bicycles to get from one location to another. I enjoy the performers’ ritual removing of rock masks and donning of bike helmets – and there are also some lovely moments en route as we and the cyclists are passed by other road users: at one point a horse-riding lesson goes by, and at another a blushing farmer drives a tractor through a guard-of-honour of audience members lining the track.

A small quibble: our guide had asked us at the beginning to stay together in one group, but he walks rather too quickly – so the eldest and youngest in the group (including me!) end up straggling behind, meaning we often experience the tail end of the tableaux or performance pieces sited in the fields to the side of the paths. I suspect because it’s such a long route, and there’s a constant need to get to the next location. 

Another vital element – working alongside the visual pictures, live music and physical actions – are pre-recorded soundscapes incorporating, literally, the sounds of the earth: Icelandic volcano eruptions, lava flow in Hawaii, sounds from local coves and rivers in Dorset, sounds from coal faces in Wales and Kent. These are sometimes in a pure state, sometimes worked into a sound art piece (by Laura Reid and/or other contributors). The sound recordings are presented nicely, emanating from coloured metal boxes containing Minirig speakers which are sat in fields or by the roadside – but again, I feel hurried, and don’t get enough time to take in the sound art work. 

Another favourite moment is the fabulous ‘Hutton’s Unconformity Scottish Reel with Intruding Quartz’ which sees four of our fab five jigging around in folksy set-dance harmony whilst Quartz (played by China Blue Fish) vogues, catwalks and poses like crazy. So along the way, we’ve morphed rather marvellously from slightly po-faced ‘art’ (tongue-in-cheek, I do believe) to full-on silliness. There is a joyous ending as we are all brought into the dance with The Temptations’ ‘Standing on Shakey Ground’ – a reminder that ‘even rocks don’t last forever’.

Luke Jerram: Gaia. Photo Sue Lancashire

From humans and birds to rocks to – the whole world! Gaia in her entirety! Having previously brought us The Museum of the Moon, artist Luke Jerram has subsequently turned his attention to the earth. Measuring seven metres in diameter, and featuring 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the earth’s surface, Gaia is indeed an awesome piece of work – particularly as seen in the extraordinary setting of Park Copse, part of the Symondsbury Estate. It can be experienced daytime or evening. I opt for evening, and join a group that goes on an adventurous post-supper trek by torchlight past farmland and into the wilds of the woods, rough and steep tracks winding up to the top of a hill, then curving down into the secret location. There is a gasp-worthy moment as we see the sculpture gradually emerge from behind the dense forestation, finally finding ourselves in a circular glade surrounded by enormous trees, Gaia suspended in the middle of it all, inviting us to view our world from a different perspective. I can see that everyone around me is similarly in a daze as we look and listen. The soundscape, by composer Dan Jones (founding member of Sound and Fury Theatre Company) weaves together words from astronauts viewing the earth from space, with other found sounds and composed ambient music – the soundscape and sculpture together exploring what has been called ‘The Overview Effect’ which highlights ‘a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment’. We could say that in this case it is more of an ‘underview’ rather than ‘overview’ effect, as we walk below the sculpture then all around it, but viewing Gaia in such a stunning location is indeed an awe and wonder moment – a perfect match of artistic concept and location. 

Dave, The Shouting Mute: Partnering with Earth. Photo Mike Petitdemange

Meanwhile, back at base camp – the gardens just outside Symondsbury Estate’s lovely cafe and shop – Partnering with Earth, by Dave Young (aka Dave, The Shouting Mute), asks: ‘If the earth could speak, what would it say?’. Gaia is now personified as a pregnant woman, an Alice wandering through an upcycled Wonderland accompanied by a quizzical Queen of Hearts and a Mad Hatter cum bumbling Prime Minister. Two sets of dining tables and chairs, beautifully reworked by designer Sophie Fretwell, offer us a place to listen or join in on the reflections on politics and the ecology. One table, focusing more on the problems, is painted black and features bin-bag upholstery and a heap of toy cars. The other table, focusing on solutions, is painted green and decorated with flowers. Here, we are invited to take up chalk and contribute our thoughts on what we are going to do for the world. There is live dialogue, but also a pre-recorded soundscape (by Jonathan Leitch) which incorporates Dave’s interviews with local farmers, scientists and activists about their relationship with the landscape in Dorset, and their views on climate change. This merged with poetic text written by Dave. Costume designs – like the set/installation, all made from recycled materials – were created by the Arts University Bournemouth’s project Costumes for Change.

I enjoy the piece, with some reservations. I love the visual elements – costumes and installations – and the sound work, but balk a little at the rather polemical nature of the piece – the exhortations to recycle and use cars less feels a little like preaching to the converted (although, naturally for an event in a countryside setting, the car park is full – so perhaps not? It’s going to take a lot to get this audience to abandon their cars, I fear!) I also find myself musing as I watch and listen that there are some – including the more hardcore elements of the Extinction Rebellion cohort, now working under the Beyond Politics or Burning Pink banners – who feel that putting the emphasis on individual responsibility is pointless when actually it is a handful of companies worldwide who are causing most of the polluting…. But I park that thought for another day!

Across the way, in a grass bowl to the front of the house, another piece takes an ecological stance – this time, it’s a word-free dance work, Rodadoras, by Becky Namgauds. Set to a score of Neapolitan folk music, and performed on a bed of soil by three women dancers, Rodadoras explores ecofeminism. I miss the first half of this 24-minute piece, so I don’t know how it starts, but at the point at which I come in, I witness an intense choreography in the José Limón /Doris Humphreys style: lots of reaching, bending, slamming into the ground; playing with weight, and exploring the rhythms of falling and recovering balance. The three women toss back long manes of hair, and roll ecstatically in the earth. The message here is a purely physical and visceral one: the female body free from the restrictions of the male gaze, and the constraints of polite  society, just being herself – wild and free. Another view of Gaia, perhaps?

Becky Namgauds: Rodadoras. Photo Mike Petitdemange

Featured image (top): Lorna Rees: Geophonic. Photo Mike Petitdemange.

Dorothy Max Prior attended the Inside Out Festival Symondsbury Estate programme on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th September 2021.

Biennial outdoor arts festival Inside Out Dorset, postponed from 2020, ran 17–26 September 2021, celebrating the county’s natural landscape and sense of place, transforming it with art and performance in both rural and coastal locations, including: Poole, Christchurch, Weymouth, the Moors Valley Country Park and Forest, and the Symondsbury Estate. All events were free to attend. 

Inside Out Dorset is funded by Arts Council England and presented by Activate Performing Arts. Activate exists to promote, support and produce performing arts projects in its communities. For over 30 years it has brought world-class events to unexpected places, such as town centres, village squares, beaches and hilltops.