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21st May — 2020

Part 3 — What makes Wildworks...

Photo: Ludo des Cognets for NT
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...Fluid?

Hi everyone, I hope you’re all doing ok and settling into this ‘new normal’ world we find ourselves in.

I’ve been asked to write about our Fluid value, which feels particularly apt at the moment.  I heard Covid-19 described as a ‘Corona-coaster’; I definitely feel as if I’m on a fluidly up and down path through this – from optimistic, despairing, enjoying lock-down, over-emotional, very clear, hugely keen to create, very confused and so on….

Anyway, it’s been nice to take some time away from uncertain project plans and spreadsheets full of scenarios to focus back in on why we make work and to dwell on the values that drive us. I’ve tried to unpick exactly why we’re fluid – looking at the qualities we have as a team and behavioural patterns we often follow as a company. This is where I’ve got to….

A Meandering River Of Fluid Thought

     shapeshifters
  fleet of foot
good at weathering storms
    inquisitive
trusting
      brave
   experimental
                          human
     lateral thinkers
                        enjoy the journey
                        Rabbit out of hat pullers
                        forgiving
open to gifts
    un-shockable 
creative
steady 
spontaneous
present
keep having a laugh
            resilient
     quick to accept change
     playful
collaborators
   living hopefully…

Why Are We Fluid?

Necessity

The short answer is because we have to be. If we weren’t adaptable, flexible and open – our projects wouldn’t build into brave and experimental artworks. They wouldn’t involve local people and tend to the locations we work in. And quite a few projects would never have materialised – falling at the first of many hurdles.

It Comes Naturally 

As a devising theatre company, we are naturally fluid. We literally make things up as we go along; luckily with the help of tried and tested techniques and a team of artistic wizards. This instinct to follow our noses and respond to what we find is at the heart of our methodology.

For the fun of it

We enjoy the journey of a project as much as the final result – the fun is in not knowing what we’re going to find. Being playful throughout the process is why we make work – it makes us happy, connects us with new collaborators and keeps us evolving creatively.

Keeping ideas fresh

Our process benefits from being open for as long as possible – open to ideas, to people and new ways of working. It keeps the projects fresh throughout the process. Our shows can be 3 years in the making and so we don’t want content to become too fixed down too soon; otherwise projects run the risk of ‘going off’ or becoming less relevant than they could have been.

Disclaimer: Obviously this openness is supported by a rigorous planning process and not everything is left to chance!! We set deadlines for creative decision making in our timelines and the final script is usually about Version 30 by press night.

Make the most of the gifts

A favourite WildWorks expressions is “What do you get for free?” We’ve learnt to find the gifts in life’s challenges – such as obstructions that are better to factor in than fight against e.g.  a trainline cutting through the back of a scene, which became souls on their way to the underworld.

Logisitically, the route of a show needs careful thinking about. Narratively, everything along the way should ‘serve the story’ and not pop you out of the world. I remember at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk how Richard Daplyn the National Trust head ranger offered up a suggestion of a possible route. It was perfect! Richard’s route also directly influenced the story development. For example, at the end was a magnificent V shaped avenue of trees which inspired the idea of a choice in the final scene between civilisation and the wild.

How are we fluid?

In form

We move with the tempo of the terrain – physically and metaphorically. Our work is often likened to being in a live film – the storytelling relies heavily on the visual – from epic long shots in the landscape to drawing the audience into striking close ups. Within a two hour show we will have collaged music, sound, bold visuals, intimate moments, installation, fictional narrative and real-life stories into one piece.

We also work on multiple projects at the same time, which all might take a different form. In 2014 for example, we were developing Wolf’s Child (a promenade ticketed theatre show), Installing Once Upon A Castle (a 26-room performance exhibition in a Flemish castle) and working on 100: The Day Our World Changed (a one-day event from dawn to dusk across 5 mile area).

Time travelling

We work in the past, present and future all at the same time. We’ll be wrapping up projects (for about a year after a project- would you believe!), whilst being mid delivery of a major work, as well as be having multiple conversations and planning sessions for future work for the coming year and beyond. This requires a lot of flexibility in thinking and extensive use of multiple colour-coded notebooks.

Expert bad weather sailors

In my nine years with WildWorks there has been all sorts of storms to weather – from sites going into administration months before a show is due to open, funding not coming through, beloved Bill’s cancer diagnosis, Bill’s death, biblical rain to Covid-19. It’s been pretty relentless. Just as it starts to feel like we’re back on an even keel- we get hit by another massive wave. Luckily, as outdoor theatre specialists, we’ve got fantastic all-weather clothing!

Being flexible is second nature to me as a producer – the job is to respond and tend to the artistic ideas and solve multiple problems and dissolve barriers along the way. Over time, we’ve learnt to ride the waves.

Photo Credit: Steve Tanner - Wolf’s Child

All change

ur team is made up of trusting, resilient, brave, pragmatic people who handle change exceptionally well. Whether the change has come about due to a good or disastrous reason- they are quick to accept the situation and give us the benefit of the doubt that we’ll re-plot in due course. Often it can feel like the rug has been pulled from under your feet several times a week, but then generally the new plan ends up feeling like it was ‘meant to be’.

With Wolf’s Child, the show was postponed twice – from 2014 to 2015 in Norfolk, and from 2016 to 2017 in Cornwall – these postponements were for different reasons and were very necessary but required a lot of fluidity from the team, goodwill and collaborative working with partners and funders.

From a producing point of view, the Covid-19 postponements have been the easiest as the whole world is in the same boat and the reasons are well understood. But for our dedicated family of freelance professionals, this is probably the worst disaster to ever hit. We’re sticking together closely, talking weekly and prioritising current workflow that provides income to WildWorks artists wherever we can.

Fleet of foot shapeshifters

We are most definitely fluid in form and are driven by the uniqueness of each project. Our shows have happened in castles, woods, across towns, nightclubs, department stores – we make theatre, events, heritage, etc. Each project requires a differing range of skills and varying numbers of people. We can go from having 2 people in an office to 50 on site or even 300 people working on site. We can easily shift to working from home or taking up lots of space across a sprawling 2-mile site. Our ways of working adapt to any context; although sometimes the WIFI connection struggles to keep up.

Keep moving

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving

Albert Einstein

Our default mechanism is to keep busy, keep going and keep peddling away at a process – even if the delivery date of a project is still up in the air. We’ve covered quite a lot of ground in recent years. Although since 2018 we may have been less visible with shows, we have been non-stop. We’re delivering and/ or planning about 5 projects at the moment, we’ve pretty much reviewed all aspects of the business and have had a little visual re-vamp; which we can’t wait to share.

Wildly optimistic

We’re good at staying positive and holding our nerve. We try and be prepared enough for all eventualities and in the best position possible to ‘put the show on’. We’ve been in situations before where the weather forecast has been against us, we’ve been under pressure from partners to cancel shows but generally we will throw all our cosmic ordering at it and wait for the storm to pass. If we were to cancel shows on the basis of weather forecasts, I reckon a third of all shows would have to be cancelled. In reality 99% of shows have been able to go ahead; albeit with slight amendments for safety reasons.

The Covid-19 situation is unsettling but we’re hopeful that we can be quick out of the traps as soon as it feels safe and appropriate to be rehearsing and putting our exciting plans back on the rails again. Our team are busy composing music, writing, testing tech equipment, finalising marketing materials, using the extra time to apply for some more funding and kickstarting additional projects; we’re definitely utilising the space and spending more than our fair share of time on Zoom.

Hopefully before too long, we’ll be able to firm up and let you in on our grand plans very soon. We can’t wait to see you on the other side.

 
Bye for now
Charlie