Saved events

Finding the wonder

The inspiration for We Cover the Universe

a woman drawing a rose
26 Nov 2020

Anna Beecher and Rachel Lincoln, founders of theatre company Akin explore what inspired their upcoming online show for under-fives.

 

I’ve been making theatre with my Akin co-founder, Rachel Lincoln, for over a decade. She’s also one of my closest friends. We’ve never had a year quite like this one. Like everyone in 2020, we’ve had to ask ourselves, ‘how will we get through this?’ We were separated by the Atlantic Ocean when the pandemic hit, and we didn’t know when we’d get to see each other again, let alone make a new show.

Our first response was to step back from live performance. As well as making theatre, I’m a writer and Rachel is an artist, and we began to meet weekly on Zoom to share her images and my words. There was something magical about seeing her hold a new drawing or painting up to the screen. Online meetings can be static and stiff and yet seeing her images, which are so colourful and bold, and watching her shuffle through a sheath of papers to find the right one, reminded me of her spontaneity, her vibrancy, her life. We noticed that we felt more connected when we shared what we had been making than when we just had a chat. And we began to invite each other to make particular things: ‘What if you drew this?’ ‘What if you wrote that?’

We noticed that we felt more connected when we shared what we had been making than when we just had a chat.

illlustration of an orange

At this time, I began to see creativity everywhere, people getting through the pandemic with little leaps of courage and imagination, the tiny heroism of planting a garden when all seems so uncertain, of learning to paint or make a beautiful meal. Children are naturally brilliant at finding the wonder in what is at hand; this is one of the reasons we love making children’s theatre. It seemed like this year adults were getting a little better at it too.

We’d been planning to make a new show for under-fives and their adults for a long time. Now we knew that the show needed to be about using creativity to brighten life and about how important imagination is when we feel afraid or confined. But we also knew that it could be a long time before we would get into a rehearsal room together, let alone bring family audiences into theatres. So, we started to think about how we could reach people in other ways.

a woman holding a lamp

We had a head-start on making an online piece. Though we founded our company in the UK, I’ve since moved to the US, so we’ve actually been working primarily online for a few years, in between dedicated periods of working together in rehearsal rooms. Our friendship has lived largely online too. We knew that space – the strange, digital everywhere of video-conferencing – could have its own magic, if you came to it with enough energy and imagination and love. But could we make it feel theatrical?

In our previous work, we’ve created unique spaces in response to our audience. Our last show, Nest, was for babies, so a traditional theatre set-up, with the audience static in their seats and all eyes onstage simply wouldn’t work. Instead, we created a cocoon-like tent for babies to freely crawl around in, playing as they pleased with tactile props, the atmosphere gently changing through sound, light and song.

We want to create magical spaces for people to share with those most important to them

illustration of a rose

Similarly, the way young children instinctively engage with online meetings was an inspiration for this piece. They don’t sit still in their squares and wait for their turn to talk, they do what children are good at: they wiggle and chatter and play, exploring the object they are presented with. My nephew loves covering the camera with his thumb and will order you to come nearer and nearer, until the screen fills with an extreme closeup of your eye. We began to think about what Zoom could do, if you played with it, exploring different angles and perspectives, and creating visual surprises.

And then we spent hours and hours on Zoom, playing and refining ideas, and shaping the story of Dot, who feels small and insignificant and trapped in grey, until she begins to draw and dream her way out of her confined space and into a vibrant, colourful world.

We Cover the Universe is the result.

illustration of a zoom call

As with all our work, we hope it operates on two levels: captivating children with colour and sound and the invitation to play, and that it speaks meaningfully, through the poetry, to adults (the title is based on a line by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, because why not be inspired by a 1950s French philosopher just because your work is for under-fives!) We are always excited by the idea of audiences not just watching, but exploring touch, movement and sound in their own unique ways during our shows. Interaction for us isn’t only about audiences connecting with the performers, but about parents, carers and children connecting with one another. We want to create magical spaces for people to share with those most important to them. Right now, that feels more vital than ever.

Anna Beecher, Co-founder of Akin

Poem by Anna Beecher

A sky full of stars,
far off twinkling things,
bright and small as hopes,
singing dots of light,
scattered like seeds in the ground of the night
We forget the sky
when we’ve been walled
and ceilinged, sealed-in
It’s been really
hard to feel together
when we’re apart
like this
spaced and fixed,
like stars
But behind each screen
are real places, real lives, human faces, bright
as stars
And we are together
We are sharing this
dark stars in one night
We cover the universe
dot to dot
light to light.

While you're here

We rely on the money we raise through ticket sales, commercial activities and fundraising to deliver our arts and learning programme. It forms more than 60% of our income. Show your support by making a donation and help inspire more people to discover and love the arts.