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Behind the Curtain: An interview with Artistic Director Niki McCretton


photo credit: Mark Morreau


Stuff and Nonsense make inspiring shows for families. Their aim is to unite creativity and imagination, so that children and adults can learn together and inspire each other.


Led by Artistic Director Niki McCretton, they work with children, families, artists and theatres across the globe to make memorable and rewarding shows.


I got the chance to speak to Artistic Director, Niki McCretton, to find out more about Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company.


 

What is Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company?

 

Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company is a charity that creates inventive, touring productions for families and children. We are a female-led, inclusive company. The company has a team of high calibre artists, who devise and create with and alongside children during the creative process. We use a physical language, puppetry, music and we do work with text, but the ‘script’ or score comes from the experimentation and play in the room. We make work that doesn’t patronise children, rather we believe that children are immeasurably creative, quicker than adults and have a knowledge of play and imagination that adults can learn from.

 

 What inspired the creation of Stuff and Nonsense Theatre?

 

Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company evolved from a smaller team. The goals were always to create superb theatre that families come to, to create with children, and to make productions that are inventive, moving and will absorb adults and children, fire their imaginations and engage them in creative conversations and play from seeing the shows.


I had previously been commissioned to create several solo productions for children and had discovered that I had a special talent in working creatively alongside children. I trained with Professor Penny Hay, who was the Director of The House of Imagination, an organisation that researches children’s creativity and sees children as artists.  I was lucky enough to work with Penny for many years and really deepen my practice and understanding to develop a pedagogy around this, which is the basis of all our work.  

 

Can you tell me about the history of Stuff and Nonsense Theatre? And how did you get involved in Theatre?

 

The company evolved over the last ten years. I became involved initially as director and as the company grew, I became the Artistic Director. I trained originally as a circus and physical theatre artist and this still remains an influence in the work.


We began to look at how we could help new audiences to come to the theatre, new families with their first child, or those who have never been to the theatre before.  That led us to start working on a number of adaptations of well know, classic tales, such as the Enormous Turnip, Pinocchio and many others.  Since then we have played much bigger theatres and toured very widely with our shows, often having more than one production on tour at a time.

 

We were able to get our own base for the company about ten years ago.  With the help of a very supportive bank, I was able to buy an old theatre, The Lyric Theatre, Bridport, Dorset and move the company out of our rented studio, into our own home. We have a beautiful auditorium to create in and a puppet and prop making workshop upstairs.  It is 275 years old and a very inspiring environment for children to come and work in alongside us. We run it as an artist hub and help other artists to create their work and present it at The Lyric www.the-lyric.com

 

We have worked with Theatre Royal Plymouth for over fifteen years, so have got to know many schools and families in Plymouth, so young Plymothians have had a big influence on our work! TRP has been a commissioner of our work, alomgside Lighthouse, Poole, The Albany, The Arc and we have recently been supported by the National Theatre Generate Programme to create our new show, an adaptation of The Three Little Pigs, written alongside Anna Murphy (Kneehigh) and nine year 6 children.

 

We are quite prolific in creating shows, as venues know that we have very high production values and are passionate about audiences, so they want us back often! I think also if you are a child and you find a company whose shows you like, then having to wait more than a year to see another show is a really long time!  So that keeps us creative and lively!

 

What are your goals and aims for the Theatre?

 

To be able to play to many more audiences.  We have plans for working with an orchestra and to create some bigger shows.  We also have some lovely ideas of working with VR and puppetry, so we really hope to be able to bring some very interesting partners on board to see these visions turn into reality and that would mean that people could access our work in a different way.  We also invest in our creative team, so are hoping that we can grow some of their ideas and skills to present some new ideas.

 

A big aim of ours is to continue to look after artists.  It is such a tough and unpredictable career and we are passionate about finding ways to assist artists to succeed, especially when the sector is struggling. So, we spend time working on making the work environment work for them, we lobby organisations for change to better working conditions for touring artists, with or without access needs. We have a mental health first aider and have been cited by Equity as being at the forefront of care and change for better conditions for touring artists.

 

With the adoption of Arts Council’s Lets Create Strategy, our expertise in co-creation and co-design is very useful to those at the beginning of that journey. We have been mentoring and teaching co-creation courses for performance makers, as we feel support for this process is vital, so one of our goals is to continue to share this practice with other creatives.  

 

You work alongside Young Writers, why is this important to you? And what can any Young Writers expect from Stuff and Nonsense Theatre in respect to support?

 

Because our work is devised, the ‘writers’ don’t just write! The young people that we work with learn the art of theatre-making, how to devise from an idea.  This writing may be a series of physical actions to tell a story, or asking puppets to improvise around a theme and find what emerges from their mouths.  The writers shape the ideas alongside us, write dialogue, direct scenes.  It’s very collaborative, they are equals in the creative space, able to instigate or veto ideas too.  We have most of our creatives in the room with us, so they may also be working with our composer to create songs or soundscapes to tell the story. So I would say the process is two way or even multi-directional.  Our creatives know that the children’s ideas will be bold, impossible and different to ours.  It’s about finding the common ground where we all click, that’s where the great material lies!



photo credit: Mark Morreau

 

 

How does a Young Writer put themselves forward if they have a potential production?

 

We haven’t as yet, asked for young writers to propose something, as we have usually worked with children who are near to the theatres that have commissioned us, and to date, these have been young people who have not previously considered themselves as writers or creatives.  We have gone in search of them.  But that’s not to say we wouldn’t consider someone’s ideas for a production.  Write to us!

 

What are the biggest challenges you face as a Theatre company?

 

There are many challenges post-covid.  Touring has been getting harder for many years.  As I am sure many people know, funding is hard to come by. We are a project-funded company so we work very hard to raise funds to create our shows.  Venues have very hard financial targets, particularly with energy costs skyrocketing.  So all around, money is very tight, and we want to keep our shows affordable for families to come to.  It’s very important for companies and venues to work together and understand each other’s constraints.  I think we can all get better at this and try to pull together.

 

 What is your favourite part of being involved with Stuff and Nonsense Theatre?

 

The collaborative process! Whether this be with children or the artists, but also with the producing team, working together to figure out problems and get our work made. Also it’s great when you can work with a theatre that is a great partner, that cares about the work and cares about the audiences and their experience.  The best part is when it comes together and all the families are arriving and feeling really happy, looked after and full of anticipation of what they are about to experience.

 

Working with skilled creatives alongside children is an amazing part of the work.  It is them that play and improvise with all the ideas and bring it to life, whether that is creating a puppet, finding its character, playing with objects in the story or creating incredible music or a really innovative bit of set that enables us to do things that seem impossible.  

 

What are your hopes for Stuff and Nonsense Theatre in the next 5 years?

 

I would hope that we can continue to tour, despite the challenges in the sector, also that we can raise the funds to create some of the really interesting ideas that we have with some of our partners.  I would love us to influence the sector to see the continued importance of quality family theatre, to see family theatre flourish and for artists to have more support to create this work

 

In one sentence why should people support Stuff and Nonsense Theatre?

 

I would say because of the depth of our enquiry around children’s creativity and how this extends to the adults in the audience also.  We are all creative and it is vital for parents, guardians, teachers and grandchildren to connect together in the imaginative realms.  This is our passion and our shows are constructed with children at the heart of the process to help us create what they want to see.  


 

Artistic Director Niki McCretton comments "We are passionate about children’s creativity and we place it at the heart of what we do. We work with incredible artists to make outstanding theatre that excites children and enables adults to become seriously playful. It is a show about family". One of the current productions, Three Little Pigs, Niki comments "three plucky siblings and a Lone Wolf! We have been creating it with a group of wonderfully insightful and inspiring children who have contributed brilliant ideas, so it’s a show that has real heart as well as some exciting adventures".



photo credit: Mark Morreau


 

IMPORTANT INFO


Stuff and Nonsense Theatre

Current shows:

  • Three Little Pigs - Lighthouse, Poole

5th December to 24th December 2023

  • The Man who wanted to be a Penguin - The Macready Theatre, Rugby

10th December to 7th January 2024

  • The Adventures of the Little Red Hen - The Curve, Slough

12th December to 16th December 2023

  • The Gingerbread Man - Brewery Arts, Kendal

14th December to 24th December 2023


Age guide - Suitable for all ages


For full details and more productions



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