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NEST at Ropetackle Arts Centre
Following the incredible NEST event at Ropetackle that SOLD OUT three sessions, we caught up with Writer and Theatre Maker Anna Beecher and director of the show Rachel Lincoln to ask them a few questions.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m a writer and theatre maker. I write in many forms including poetry, stories and plays. I am currently finishing up my first novel which will be published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson next year. My collaborator Rachel is a director and performer. She trained at the Lecoq theatre school in Paris, which emphasises physical and visual theatre. Her work includes directing New Views at the National theatre and working as Associate and Staff Director on Ivo Van Hove’s Hedda Gabler (National Theatre and UK and Ireland Tour). The work we make together fuses our two disciplines – I am focused on text and she is focused on movement and visuals. Together we make visual, sensory theatre with text. Think a sequence of poems which you experience in a magical environment of smell, sound, puppetry and movement. Rachel and I have been making theatre together for over ten years. We also, alongside our work in the arts, have both worked as early years practitioners.
How did NEST first come about? What was the initial idea before it started?
Late one night, Rachel and I had the idea of creating a new piece of theatre which drew upon all of the knowledge we had acquired working with children under five. As we chatted, getting increasingly excited, we realised that we wanted to make a show specifically for babies and their parents and carers. We’ve both taught baby sensory classes, and made immersive theatre – a type of theatre which takes audiences into a complete world, engaging their sense of smell, touch and even taste as well as sight and sound. Our vision was a show that enveloped the audience in a beautiful, multi-sensory environment. We spent a few days in Devon, chatting more and exploring ideas, and found ourselves really inspired by nature and the cycles of the seasons. We were then awarded a Creation Space residency at artsdepot in North London, to research and develop the idea. I had worked with a brilliant designer on several other projects, called Kirsty Harris. At this stage we brought her in, to help realise and develop the tactile, visual world of the piece. Throughout we drew upon our experience with babies and their families and did a lot of research, to make sure they would connect with the work. We also had a ‘secret inspiration’ – something we wanted the audience to feel rather than necessarily think about – which was for the show to feel like a spa for the adults, somewhere relaxing where they could escape from the world.
We’d like to know more about the science behind the concept, how does it help development in babies?
Our first goal in creating Nest was to make an environment which felt safe and comfortable for both babies and their parents and carers, because feeling secure is vital for babies to feel confident to engage and explore. The senses are the primary way in which babies start understanding the world around them, through touch, sight, smell, movement, taste and hearing. There’s a huge amount of research that indicates that all of this exploration, far from being random, builds connections within the brain, helping to develop everything from eye-tracking (being able to follow an abject with your eyes as it moves) to fine motor skills to social skills. In Nest, we have attempted to engage multiple senses. There are all sorts of textures to touch, from a mirror to a fluffy grass rug, stimulating and soothing smells like geranium and orange oil and lots of interesting things to look at. When creating the poetry in Nest, I thought a lot about how babies develop language. First, the become interested in sound, tuning into voices, music and other things which they hear. Next, they begin to explore making sounds of their own – babbling and finding out what their voices can do. They begin to recognise their names, the texture of their own language and some words, and the babble begins to contain real speech. This develops into understanding more and more of what is being said to them, and eventually being able to say more and more for themselves. It’s an amazing process. Playful, intriguing sounds, encourage babies to listen and imitate (there’s a reason why we often instinctively speak in a sing-song way to babies) and repetition allows them to process what they are hearing and discover the patterns which make up language. So the poetry in Nest has been designed to work on two levels. I wanted it to be meaningful and engaging for the adults but also sonically exciting for babies – drawing them in on a purely sound level. We had a lot of fun playing with speech rhythms and different cadences. When we brought the sound designer and composer, Max Perryment, into the process, we developed this even further, creating a soundscape which was engaging for babies, full of surprises but soothing and gentle, with a lot of satisfying repetitions.
What can people expect from a NEST experience
Expect to share a lovely a multi-sensory experience with your child. The show takes place in a tent-like structure, which we hope audiences will walk into and feel like they have entered another world, full of lovely textures, colours, sounds and smells. Expect poetry! And expect a giant, glowing egg. An audience member recently described Nest as ‘a beautiful mash up between a baby sensory class and a piece of theatre’ – we loved that.