“It feels initially not the easiest route, but the route which has more value and feels more fulfilling. You can design a lovely set, order it in and it will work great, but if you’ve hand made it from stuff you found on the street that you can turn into something interesting and creative, it is way more rewarding.”
I spoke to Owen Jenkins of FacePlant Theatre about making children’s theatre, which raises awareness of the climate emergency, the importance of laughter in the creative process and using recycled materials.
To start off maybe you can tell us what the show is about? Who are FacePlant theatre?
FacePlant theatre met whilst touring with Les Enfants Terribles, as we all really enjoyed storytelling and clowning. I was reading this book called Moby Duck - a true story that the show is inspired by -t hat describes how in the 1990s there was a large shipping container of about 30,000 rubber ducks traveling across the sea from China to America. A big storm hit and all the ducks fell into the sea. They floated and the nature of the currents meant they dispersed and spent the next few years floating all around the globe. They were found washed up in the Arctic, in America, all over… they had totally been dispersed.
We thought this would be an amazing story for children. There are fantastical elements but it is also a great story to teach the younger generation about the effects of plastics in the ocean, ocean pollution and what we can do about it.
As a theatre company we have two arms; the first show was a comedy horror for adults (very
different in tone), then One Duck Down and then another horror. The one we have toured the most is One Duck Down and it has been amazing. It has already had a wonderful life. We started at the Vault festival 2018 and won The Best Family Show of the year. Then we worked with The Pleasance, HighTide Festival and toured all across the UK. We have never done Edinburgh so we are excited to work again with The Pleasance up there.
It sounds like you’ve already been very successful with it so I’m sure Edinburgh will be a
great experience. Why did you want to make a show using the story of Moby Duck but
focusing specifically on the environment and ocean pollution? What was the link between
these aspects for you and why was it important?
We all feel very passionate about the environment and I suppose the sad thing is that it has got to such a bad stage in which we all need to take more action. As actors and theatre-makers we can inspire audiences to be more aware. We feel passionately that younger audiences can be inspired by theatre and learn from it. That’s why we wanted to do something. We wanted to raise awareness about ocean pollution and One Duck Down felt like a brilliant vehicle to do this.
One thing that is important to us is to not be too heavy handed; to make the show light, fun and silly but still have a message at its heart. As actors who have worked in children’s theatre a lot [we believe] the best family shows are ones which don’t patronise children. They have elements which children enjoy and their parents enjoy, but if the child sees their parents laughing away they will enjoy it even more.
How do you think children’s theatre can be effective for engaging younger audiences and
raising awareness on climate change, or ocean pollution in particular? What are your aims
for making a children’s show?
Our idea came from the story itself, as Moby Duck lends itself to a wonderful, fantastical story that has characters which lead to all sorts of different places. What we’ve been trying to do is link up with charities in order to bring a theatrical element to the awareness being raised. We want to bring some entertainment to this discussion [on climate change] and do it in our way, which is to raise awareness through theatre, silliness and clowning.
We wanted to be ethically conscious in terms of how we made the show so all the set and props are made from recycled materials. We avoided getting anything bought in specially for the play. For example, one of the characters is a whale and her story line is that she is swimming around and she can’t see very well, so she thinks she is swallowing fish but actually it’s plastic and it is giving her a funny tummy. It’s a fun story but there’s an important message to it. It is staged with a whale puppet made out of plastic bags. We wanted to do something that can have that fun element, showing you can recycle and make interesting things in a fun way.
Definitely. I imagine that must insight an energy in the kids as well to be like “we can do
that, we can recycle and be creative with things around the house like they have.”
Exactly, we tour [the show to] lots of schools and that is always a fun element of it, showing kids that you can do something fun and creative with these things rather than throwing them in the bin… I mean not everything, I’m to encouraging children to not throw everything in the bin, but it is about valuing items and materials. Another thing that is important to us is showing the day-to-day easy things you can do such as owning a reusable water bottle. Things that we can all do collectively to make a difference.
Have you had any challenges in making sustainable theatre?
I guess in terms of the set, ours is quite lightweight so we have had some… well, some wobbly
moments… the set does look like its been recycled, but it is kind of charming and is something I love about it. We’ve found people tend to really engage with it which is lovely. I think there is
something [in the show] for everyone, so little ones have bright puppets to look at and as they get a bit older they can understand the jokes, so on the whole the response has been wonderful.
What have you learnt through making a show sustainably, both in terms of using recycled
materials and the process? What will you take forward into future shows to make them
sustainable? Even if the content isn’t specifically about ocean plastics, what can you take
from this experience into the future and in the way you make theatre?
It feels initially not the easiest route, but the route which has more value and feels more fulfilling. You can design a lovely set and order it in and it will work great, but if you’ve hand made it from stuff you found on the street that you can turn into something interesting and creative, it is way more rewarding.
We’ve never compromised on that, it is always at the heart of what we do. If we have some money come in there is always a temptation to upgrade the set and get something new but that would take away from the charm of it. I’ve learnt to really stay true to your core values. It might feel like a step forward to do something, but actually if you stick to your core values you are doing what is best.
The other thing I’ve learnt is that having friends who are creative and can help is the most amazing thing. I have to say we would not be the 1 and a half year old company that we are without the support of friends who have been really generous and are very talented, I’m hugely grateful for them.
So who do you think bares the responsibility to tell stories about the climate emergency in
which we are living? What role do you think theatre plays within this?
One of the wonderful things about theatre is that it breathes empathy. If you watch fictional
characters going on a journey, telling a story, having relationships with other people… as an
audience member you put yourself in their shoes. One of our characters, for example, is a polar bear that is running out of ice to stand on and he is saying ‘look I’m struggling here I haven’t got much room’ and I hope that a young audience can really put themselves in that shoe and think, "oh god we need to do more about this’. I think theatre is really good at inspiring people to want to know more and see different perspectives.
Yes exactly. I think especially with the climate things can feel very distant to us.
Yes that is the other thing, you hear facts, figures and statistics and you can feel quite removed
from it, but if you hear a story on a human level you can really see the impact of what is happening and it can strike a chord with you.
So finally do you have any tips for other theatre-makers? If there is another company who
want to use recycled materials, or in general artists that want to be more sustainable and
make work which is eco-friendly, do you have any tips for them?
I think in terms of recycled materials be as open minded and playful as you can. We have a
fantastic designer who is very talented and thought very hard about the things we can use and the way to use them, but we also struck lucky and walked down the street and found materials for our characters.
One of the characters is a seagull who is trapped in ring-pull cans and we walked along and found some big plastic boxes normally holding big beer barrels and we realised it would be perfect for human version for these seagulls to have their head stuck in it. We used it and thought that was fantastic. Keep your eye and mind creative to your surroundings and it is really fun! Much more fun than buying a prop.
In terms of making theatre the thing we always aim to do is make a show that makes each other laugh. Three of us wrote One Duck Down as we wanted to make a show which we would enjoy watching. There is nothing as fun as just sitting in a room with friends and having a laugh with each other. So that would be my advice: to enjoy it, if you are not enjoying creating something then maybe look at something else because it should be the most fun thing.
Finally, do you have any other companies or shows that you’ve been inspired by that you
recommend people keep an eye out for? Anything you recommend?
Les Enfants Terribles, they are a brilliant company. They have a children’s arm called Les Petits
Theatre Company that are bringing a pirate show to the Fringe. So come to ours and there’s will be very good as well!
How to see One Duck Down...
Catch One Duck Down at Edinburgh Fringe:
31st Jul 2019 - 26th Aug 2019
Pleasance Above - Pleasance Courtyard
If you aren’t in Edinburgh this summer catch the show on tour at:
New Wimbledon Theatre - 15th September
G Live, Guildford - 28th September
Phoenix Arts Theatre - 2nd November
One Duck Down. 7000 rubber ducks. Seven Seas. One big adventure!
Inspired by a true tale (featured on Blue Planet II) that saw 7000 rubber ducks cast adrift in a
mighty storm, jam packed with music, clowning and puppetry and with a set and props which are recycled from the lost and found of rubbish both on land and at sea, join us on an ocean clear-up adventure that would make David Attenborough proud.
Winner of Family Show of the Year at Vault Festival 2018