The inspiration to make What Am I Worth? came from a wish to tell a story that shared our worries over changes in society and our audiences. We wanted to reflect through our cast onstage, the diversity of audiences we wanted to reach and we wanted to provoke a conversation with them through circus and music about human value.
The first part of our journey was the longest.
We travelled to Melbourne to work with the Artistic Director and artists of the internationally renowned Circus Oz. Thanks to them, we were able to train, plan, play and begin asking questions about worth and value. Click here to watch the video.
We wanted to make sure the voices in the show reflected the marginalised voices of the UK and Ireland. So we went on a year-long journey to connect with 10 communities – Citizen Artists – and explore together our creative response to the question: What Am I Worth?
This helped us to go much deeper into the central question of how we measure human worth today. We uncovered surprising and beautiful stories and words that were incorporated into the finished show in Hattie Naylor’s writing and Ted Barnes’s lyrics and music. Every performance of What Am I Worth? includes Citizen Artists to perform alongside us as we tour.
We brought a new cast together for the first time during our residency at National Theatre’s New Work Department in January 2018. We were lucky enough to work with the National Theatre Senior Dramaturg, Nina Steiger, and Assistant Dramaturg Zachary James during this week and in rehearsals. They helped to shape the story and to look at integrating circus and story into the show.
In March the set from our designer Will Datson, arrived. It is integral to the show’s storytelling. It transforms and enables us to visualise different worlds as we create circus in a new and exciting way. Using a new, bespoke piece of equipment means we have had to reinvent the circus technique which is both exciting and challenging. Our Associate Director, Aislinn Mulligan, is a key person in the team who helped create much of the physical work.
We then co-devised the show with the cast, for two weeks in April and May at 101 Outdoor Arts and The Point, Eastleigh. The company has an incredible range of unique and diverse bodies. This means devising demands innovative and creative thinking around making circus. At this stage our costume designer, Jo Paul introduced the first costumes into rehearsal so the cast could test them out on the set and within the circus.
We work in an utterly immersive way, building creative access into the devising process from the start. The very making of the show inspires the story itself, a story about human value and individual worth within society. Things are only going to change if we collaborate, communicate and take risks.
And here we are, the show is made.
We wouldn’t have been able to make the show without the support of Arts Council England, from whom an Ambition for Excellence grant in 2016 enabled us to develop Extraordinary Bodies as the UK’s leading integrated circus company. Thanks also to Jo Mangan, who has supported the development of the show through several trips to the UK and gave us the chance to give the show an international premiere at Carlow Arts Festival in June 2018.
Billy Alwen and Claire Hodgson, Artistic Directors, May 2018.