A load of 'Rubbish'
As piles of post Christmas packaging mount up, it seems timely to tell you about Theatre-Rites new production ‘Rubbish’, which uses puppetry and object theatre to explore the potential of thrown away things.
Disposability, value and use are the things I think of when faced with discarded objects. However, a much more subtle landscape has come into focus since I joined the Theatre-Rites creative team. From the thrown away objects that harm other creatures and broken toys that were once loved, to junk food culture, disposable relationships and mass produced textiles – every rejected item has it’s own unique trajectory, meaning and story.
The theatre company's Artistic Director, Sue Buckmaster, has revealed how the devaluation of arts within the current political and economic climate were part of what sparked her interest in exploring rubbish. Working with puppetry co-designer and maker Yvonne Stone, they explored old objects that are being re-labelled as ‘vintage’ or ‘steampunk’, as well as looking at rubbish that we have the opportunity to recycle and how much of that could be recycled into art.
When faced with a monumental pile of rubbish, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. As we delved into discussions and research about land waste, oceanic pollution and environmental damage, it was challenging to maintain a light and playful perspective.
Theatre-Rites has a unique approach to creating theatre for young people, which feeds the imagination and encourages adults and children to share magical experiences. So, during the devising process it was crucial to maintain the exciting possibilities that rubbish offers, as well as its melancholic tones and dramaturgically darker shades. At the same time, it’s challenging to side-step the inherently political aspects of rubbish, sustainability and environmental awareness. However, the main aim of theatre is to inspire, show different possibilities and perspectives and leave the audience with hope.
Sue Buckmaster takes an ‘object driven’ approach to creating theatre, carefully listening to and observing how an object is to be used within a space. As audiences enter into the performance space, they are met with a large heap of rubbish. It’s almost bunker-like in its magnitude.
“What’s your impulse,” Sue asked on the first day of rehearsal. “I want to climb it,” I said – the answer being so immediate and spontaneous that I didn’t think there was any other response. As more people came into the rehearsal room, Sue repeated the question. The response from the creative team was vast – climbing, jumping, opening the rubbish, delving inside, sliding down the heap. This approach is the core of the creative process – finding out what the impulse was when faced with an object, and using that as the fuel for the devising process.
‘Rubbish’ has enabled Sue Buckmaster to return to her roots as a puppetry practitioner and explore the form of European Object Theatre. As the puppetry world has celebrated the spectacle of productions like ‘War Horse’ and ‘The Sultan’s Elephant’, it was Theatre-Rites’ intention to create a production that celebrated another aspect of puppet theatre, where audiences see the details in forgotten things and small gestures.
Inspired by the writing of Kenneth Gross, ‘Rubbish’ tackles “belonging to things not quite human but yet essentially physical, bound to gravity and time… companions among artefacts and objects, materialised ghosts….They are things excavated from the ground, with dirt and dust still clinging to them, thick with time, but light.”
“How would you like it to end?” asked Sue. I wanted a big party. A performer wanted another challenge – a larger rubbish pile. More and more creative responses were offered. Perhaps the rubbish pile implodes. Or explodes. Or is left. Maybe it expands. The proposals kept coming. So, how will ‘Rubbish’ the performance end? Come and see it to find out.
Liat Rosenthal is the Enrichment Programme Coordinator for Theatre-Rites.
'Rubbish' is a co-production with Warwick Arts Centre, in association with artsdepot.