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  • The Backpack Ensemble

Simon Panayi speaks to Silent Faces

Updated: Jun 28, 2018




Can you tell us a bit about The Search for a Black-browed Albatross The Search for a Black-browed Albatross follows the story of Charlie as she, maybe unsurprisingly, goes on the search for a Black-browed Albatross, the one bird that Charlie's late father never saw. She sets off on a journey to the middle of no-where to find the bird and reconnect with the childhood that she spent with her father and to restore this neglected relationship. The whole show is created using the contents of our backpacks - using shadow puppetry, live music and a little bit of acting to tell this story of nostalgia and loss.

What drove you to make the show? The show started as a means for us to articulate the trepidation we felt ahead of leaving University. The prospect of losing the structure of education that we had existed within from as early as we could remember, and the prospect of no longer seeing the friends and mentors that had become part of our every day life. While we would never want to suggest that this is equal to the loss of a parent, we seek to create a story that is analogous to the feelings that we, well feel, but struggle to express - and at the time of making the show this was what was on all of our minds. Tell us a bit about The Backpack Ensemble We formed as a company just over a year ago, and this show was really the starting point of that. We began by setting our what it was that we loved about theatre, and also the things that we thought were it's shortcomings. Between us we found things that we mutually thought were successes of performances we'd seen prior - we knew live music was hugely important to us and a dedication to narrative, with whatever themes and ideas we wanted to explore to be told analogously through a story that an audience can invest in. We also spoke a lot about what sets theatre apart from any other art forms, and agreed that the by audience and artist existing in the same space that it allows for a liveness and authenticity that can't be achieved through other art forms.  We want to acknowledge the limitation of theatre and play with them, allowing it to inspire creativity. This is where the idea of the backpacks came from, it allows us to bring our whole show out of our backpacks in front of our audience and play on the fleeting nature of theatre. We're here to share a handmade story rooted from personal experience and hopefully have a good time while doing it. What was the last show you saw that you think everyone should see? Can I cheat and give three? Last Edinburgh I saw two very different shows that I haven't really stopped raving about them since. 2b Theatre's Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story was one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen. They found a means to speak about the pain they felt about the current refugee crisis through their own histories in a way that was authentic and brilliant and I'm still a bit gushy about it nearly a year later. I also saw Pelican's The Cat Man Curse which I'm pretty sure had the best opening to a show. It's playful and unpolished in all the best ways. And then more recently, I saw Eden Harbud's Burning Tails, as part of Pulse Festival at New Wolsey Theatre, a show about the costs and risks of commiting to a relationship told through the life of a squirrel puppet. All three are vastly different, but all are incredible, and i think there is a consistency in the self-contained nature of each performance, which I'm clearly a bit of a sucker for.

Theatre making is hard and, although we try our best to work around them, it has it’s limits. If you had an unlimited budget, a unquestioningly devoted audience and all the time in the world, what show would you make? This is a pretty difficult question for our company, as so much of the thinking around our shows revolve around making the most of a minimal budget, and how actually there shouldn't be any artistic compromise due to the lack of funds. We really believe that limitation inspires creativity. I'd love to use an unlimited budget, and a devoted audience, and fathomless time to make theatre as attainable to as many people as possible, to work with artists that inspire us, and travel to places we wouldn't be able to otherwise, and actually be able to spend some time in the same place as each other which is becoming more and more difficult! What else in the Incoming Festival line-up are you excited to see? We've been fortunate enough to see a few of the shows that are part of this years programme and we couldn't recommend them higher! We performed alongside Poltergeist at the National Student Drama Festival with their show Lights Over Tesco Car Park which we very much hope to catch again! I also saw Barrel Organ's Anyone's Guess How We Got Here at last years Edinburgh Festival - which is so urgent, but a show that no one else is making. Aside from this we're really pleased to be in a double bill with Pappy's Show's Boys at New Diorama and our Lincoln pals Stand By Theatre with The Room at the Top of the House. But really we're just pleased to be part of such an awesome programme of work and hope to see as much as we can throughout Incoming Festival!

The Search for the Black-browed Albatross will be on at New Diorama on 2 July and HOME on 4 July.



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