TC's Journey to Paper Mountain
SOME ideas are the result of the Eureka moment, that sudden flash of inspiration, the spark that ignites a creative flame. Then there's the idea born of knowledge and experience, the result of a lifetime's work, the maturing of a much slower burning concept.
TC Howard, the internationally acclaimed Sheffield-based performer and choreographer and one of the creative team behind new dance theatre company, Short Back and Sides, admits that for her it was the longer, more measured process that has led to her latest creation.
Paper Mountain, a new dance theatre show for children aged 7 to 11 - and anybody else who enjoys imaginative, magical theatre - has grown out of Generate, the family audience development programme devised and produced by Danceworks UK. Together with Short Back and Sides co-artistic director Matthew Bugg, TC has created a piece inspired by fairy tale tradition in which an old man visits his own past with the help of the paper man who represents his memories and experiences and who helps him to find the key to his childhood and move towards some sort of happy ending.
The project - and its enigmatic, faceless but strangely compelling paper hero - has been in development since 2007, when children from South Yorkshire primary schools began taking part in the Danceworks Generate programme and first encountered TC's creative team and the story of Paper Mountain began to take definite shape. But the true origins of the piece go back almost two decades and are inspired by events touched by tragedy and far removed from the world of theatre, dance or fairy tales.
The first time TC encountered the paper man was around 15 years ago when she was working on a project with the destitute and abused children of Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia.
'They were street children who lived basically off what they could beg,' she remembers.
'Some were prostitutes, all of them were struggling to survive the best they could'.
'I was part of a group of English performers working with an association that gave these children food if they wanted and somewhere to sleep'.
'We worked with these children, some of whom, even in the institute, wouldn't sleep in a bed but would put newspaper on the floor and sleep there because that's what they were used to.'
Perhaps inspired by that newsprint image, one of the projects TC worked on saw the children acting out a version of the Hansel and Gretel story, using paper figures.
'That's where my little man comes from,' she admits. 'I brought one back home with me. I didn't even think of it as an idea at the time, it was just a paper man I had above my bed, like a paper angel."
When, however, TC eventually began to think about developing a show specifically for a younger audience, the memory of the paper man refused to go away.
'We just grew him,' she laughs. 'We got to the point where me and the paper man could have a creative relationship!'
Move forward to 2004, though, and TC found herself caught up in an international disaster of epic proportion as a tsunami swept through Asia, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. It's understandable that TC shouldn't want to talk too much about how she and her husband were caught up in the Boxing Day disaster as they enjoyed a Sri Lankan honeymoon in what they thought would be a paradise setting but which was transformed in unforgettable seconds into a nightmare.
'We survived, we came back - but hundreds of thousands of people didn't,' she says quite simply as she recalls briefly but vividly how water engulfed their holiday villa and tore the couple apart as they struggled for their lives in the tidal wave.
'These things happen. You don't have to be in Sri Lanka or Bogotá - things happen to kids in Sheffield all the time. Parents die and grandparents and friends. We all have to learn about loss.'
'I remember later on the day of the tsunami we were in the jungle and I said I'd never been happier. People took us in, fed us, gave us a bed, they showed such generosity and they honoured our lives as survivors.'
It was those experiences, many years apart and taking place on opposite sides of the world, which finally inspired TC to work with Matthew Bugg and a team of dancers/performers this summer to develop what has now become Paper Mountain.
'I think too that since then having my two children gives you a different parental take on life,' she adds.
'Bringing all that together, I developed a story about what happens if you lose your mum because one of my fears, even now so many years later, is not being there for my children."
'The paper man is the thing inside each human being which leads you towards the light and guides you towards living your life with love.'
"It's a story about finding another way, making different choices to the ones you first made and, by giving him different choices, the boy is able to hold onto the positive things that his mother gave him.'
From Bogotá to Sri Lanka to South Yorkshire, the paper man has been on a long journey over the past 15 years, a journey that will reach a climax in 2011 when Paper Mountain is anticipated to premiere in Sheffield and London followed by a UK wide tour in 2012.
"It's definitely time for this piece to be born,' TC agrees - but there's surely no doubt that this birth will be just the start of another journey for TC and her paper man.
This 2010 research phase of Paper Mountain was:
Commissioned by Danceworks UK.
Co-produced by Sheffield Theatres; Nottingham Playhouse and New College Nottingham.
Supported by Arts Council England Yorkshire, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Sheffield City Council.
Research supported by Jerwood Studio at Sadler's Wells
Released on behalf of Danceworks UK by John Highfield PR. For further information call 07776 180911 or email: email@example.com