An interview with Tessa Bide about her new one-woman show ahead of its UK tour
How did you come to start making A Strange New Space?
I got the idea for the show when I saw the horrific scenes of the refugee crisis in our media in Autumn 2015. I wanted to use my skills as a theatremaker to try and raise awareness of the issue especially for young people who will encounter refugee or migrant children at their schools etc. I went to Greece to volunteer in camps and squats, and to talk to children who had undergone the journey that we would be exploring in the show. The conditions were very very difficult for the people who lived there, but I was struck by the resilience of the children. I wanted to create a show which helped to tell part of their story, conveying the complex emotions, and bringing the conversation to young children in the UK. No matter where a child is from, they are born with an innate sense of imagination, and my character; Amira really highlights this. She dreams of becoming an astronaught one day, and imagines her journey across continents as if she were going to outer space.
Was there specific research you needed to do?
As well as my trip to Greece, the creative team worked very closely with May Park primary school throughout the whole process. As one of the most diverse primary schools in Bristol (with over 96% of the pupils Non-White British), it was important for us to hear pupils own stories and experiences of moving to different new places – many from different countries, speaking many different languages. We also worked closely with a Bristol based charity called Integrate UK, which helps migrants and the children of migrants to get involved in creative projects, from music videos to short films and theatre projects too. It was important to us to have these key players on board in order to help shape our story, and to give it justice.
What considerations do you have in mind when making such a piece for primary age children?
With all of my shows I try to make them as accessible as possible for all, using audience interaction and humour to help our story along. However, with a show like A Strange New Space, there is an extra layer of a serious story which runs alongside the fun. I think it’s important to trust young audiences with the material you put out to them. I want to make work which starts conversations amongst the generations – and I hope that through exploring challenging themes, such as the migrant crisis, through the eyes of someone just like them, it makes these big topics more accessible for young audiences.
Do you always work without words? What does this approach bring?
A Strange New Space was my first non verbal show… and was certainly a challenge! In my previous shows The Tap Dancing Mermaid, Arnold’s Big Adventure and The Melody Makers, vocabulary played a key role, so taking that away with this show was really interesting for me, both as a performer and creative. A non verbal show has the advantages of being understood in any language, which was one of my key aims, and I hope really drives home the message of the show. It is my hope to tour the show back to the kind of refugee camps I spent some time in, and to share it with the children there.
What sort of responses have you had so far?
I’ve loved touring A Strange New Space, and have had some very positive feedback from both audience and critics alike. At the Edinburgh Fringe festival, where I performed the show for a month’s run, we won the Children’s Choice award from the Primary Times, which was a real high point for the company. We’ve toured the show all over the world, to Goa in India, The Hague in Holland, and all over the UK – and everywhere we have been, people have been so keen to talk to us after the show about the topics we’ve explore.
Where can people see the show?
We are next on at…
The Royal Albert Hall, London
Tuesday 29th May: 11am & 2pm
The Hive, Shrewsbury
Thursday 21st June: 11am & 1.30pm
Glasshouse Arts Centre, Stourbridge
Friday 22nd June: 5pm
Migration Matters Festival, Sheffield
Saturday 23nd June: (Times TBC)
Grassington Festival, Skipton
Sunday 24nd June: (Times TBC)
More info on our website: www.tessabide.com