As it celebrates its 21st anniversary, theatre company Tutti Frutti brings the classic tale Rapunzel to York. Here, director Wendy Harris talks about making magical theatre for the under-sevens
Rapunzel’s a much-loved, age-old story which recently enjoyed the Disney treatment. What’s your new take on the story?
Our production moves away from anything in Tangled, the Disney film, although we are aware lots of children will have this as their reference point. We have the challenge of making a small scale touring production that has a tower that goes up into the clouds and with a character who has hair that grows as long as the tower is tall!
So of course we have to find creative theatrical solutions to this – it has been a lot of fun achieving that. Our story has some of the key elements of the original Rapunzel story but is much simpler.
Are the under-sevens a discerning audience?
Young children make a fantastic audience, as they are so ready to be engaged with and to have their imaginations opened. They can also get bored quickly and if what they see in front of them fails to engage them they can easily switch off. So making work that is accessible and relevant with the right vocabulary and relevant imagery that children can identify with is very important.
At tfp we spend time with our actors exploring what it means to be aged three to seven so they gain insight to the audience for whom they are making work. We also try our ideas out in schools, so again the actors are reminded who we are aiming to reach. As we specialise in reaching this age group it is vital that we listen to the responses we get from our audience and, if we need to, make adjustments as we go along.
You’ve directed plays aimed at teenagers and older audiences. What’s different about directing a show for younger children?
The same principals of good theatre making apply to making work for younger or older children. At tfp we strive for excellent production values and we work with great artists and actors. The differences are to do with making sure the younger children can recognise and relate to what they see and that the subject is relevant and interesting for them. We also have to be aware for some it may be their first visit to the theatre so how we welcome the children into our space is important.
The noise level is also important and we have to be aware not alarm them or frighten them but ease them into the story until they feel happy to be with us. The scale of the set and positioning of design into the space in relation to small children is also key and we strive to keep this experience as intimate as we can in the space so it is not too distant or overwhelming.
Tutti Frutti celebrates its 21st birthday this year. How did it get started, and what’s the secret of your success?
Tutti Frutti was first called Axis dance with founders from the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. It was soon led by Niladri who developed the company and pioneered theatre work for the very young at a time when not much theatre was made for three year olds. He led the company for 14 years with a simple, physical story telling style telling traditional stories in new ways.
During the time the company also took up residence at the Lawrence Batley Theatre where it made several middle scale Christmas shows. Seven years ago Wendy Harris took over as artistic director and the company further developed. Sticking to principals of creating new visually based theatre for children but enhancing the production values and developing the range of artists and partners with whom we work.
I believe the longevity of the company is due to the high quality and original creative product that is produced for children aged 3-7 years and the vision and commitment of all the artists and small team of core staff that work for the company.
Has York been important to that story?
The relationship with York Theatre Royal has been ongoing but really developed into one of co-producers when Wendy (artistic director) and Emma (general manager) from tfp and Damian Cruden (artistic director of YTR) began discussions. Since this time nearly all tutti national touring productions have been made in collaboration with York Theatre Royal, the shows being rehearsed at York and supported by their production departments. The productions open in York before going off on national tour.
The importance of this relationship cannot be under estimated and tfp view YTR as a valued and important partner. In 2010 this was developed further with the creation of the Little Feet Festival for Children where YTR is taken over for one week and all the work is devoted to the young. Performances of some of the best touring companies, workshops and a plethora of activities fill every available space. The next Little Feet Festival will be in Spring 2014.
When will you be back in York, and with what show?
After Rapunzel we will be back in York in 2013. We have a number of projects in the pipe line and these are not completely confirmed yet but include an adaptation of the lovely book ‘Hue Boy’ by Rita Phillips Mitchell.
- Rapunzel is at the Studio in York Theatre Royal Studio from Thursday, September 27 to Saturday October 13 at 11am, 1.30pm and 6pm
- Tickets cost £10 for adults and £6 for children and are available at the York Theatre Royal website