Paper Balloon began life as a disparate group of people brought together to help Katie Boon with her dissertation for her MA at RADA, a piece for, with and partially by a group of young people. We rehearsed where we could (in flat gardens, religious buildings and even ocassionally a rehearsal studio), when we could (usually late into the evening and on weekends - we all had full-time jobs) and we were all paid the grand total of absolutely nothing.
But, the important thing was that we had fun. We became friends... and we decided that we should keep doing this...
We made another show, Katie was working at the New Diorama theatre at the time and managed to get us programmed in the children's fringe near Camden. People who had no connection to us came to see us perform and they brought their small ones.
Years passed and we kept on building, we were each other's therapy, we got alot wrong, relationships in the group could become tense and some fractured, but we kept on making things. We began to learn how to work together best, what sort of stories we all liked to tell, what our different strengths were, how to not get on each other's nerves so much.
We also started building a company structure with artistic directors, performer associates, composer/lyricist associates, producers. Of course we were all still paid absolutely nothing.
Then we reached a critical mass in our little group. We decided that this was what we wanted to do. Not only children's theatre and not only working with Paper Balloon but for most of us, we wanted a life in the theatre. As the real jobs slowly slipped down to part-time and then gradually drifted away into almost no time, we were able to begin applying for grants and residencies and full-time work making theatre with other companies. We engaged with the worldwide communities of theatre making for children collaborating with experts in writing and shadow puppetry from Australia and Russia. As we each got more work on other shows our individual networks grew and as a result our group networks grew exponentially. We no longer rehearsed in the evenings, we began to pay ourselves properly from the grants that we were awarded and most importantly we kept on building the shows.
At some point we found ourselves in the position of being asked advice by young companies on how to make it in the world of theatre for young audiences. It was surreal... even now we remain a small company working on smaller scale productions, but we are working, we are paid for that work and the work is seen by a good number of audiences throughout the UK.
Over the years, the group has changed, people have moved away and moved on to other things as life is want to do. We all remain friends but the core of Paper Balloon theatre is now Alex Kanefsky, Darren Clark and Dorie Kinnear. We are fortunate to work with a lot of brilliant regular collaborators who help us do things that we cannot.
The one thing that has not changed has been a desire to make original, exciting work for young audiences and their families...
What's the key to a good piece for younger human beings? I'm not sure we've entirely cracked it but a good portion of it is respecting the fact that children are complex humans, capable of feeling and understanding a huge range of emotion and humour. Children are built for the theatre because, unlike some adults, they like to be challenged and they are masters of the imagination. They can see things that adults can only dream of seeing. In the expensive world of big budget theatre making, a child's imagination is an absolute gift and you'd be foolish to ignore it.
So when making theatre for younger audiences remember that. Try not to talk down. Make your work a conversation rather than a lecture, you'll be surprised at what you might learn...
Paper Balloon has now toured three professional shows around the UK with one travelling to Russia and are working on our fourth piece, Faerie Cakes.
Stay tuned for more information...
By Darren Clark
Composer/Lyricist and Co-Founder of Paper Balloon Theatre Company