Wagon Of Wonder: Designing for Outdoor Theatre

an arty photo of a woodland setting. The camera focuses on a fallen log and out of focus in the background an audience watch a theatre show

The Challenges

We are only a small company so for this outdoor theatre production I have overseen many elements; the designing, the making, the venue booking and the finances. It has been difficult to get a full tour this summer for a number of reasons, budget cuts,being the main one. The arts landscape has changed and it will continue to be in flux as we navigate through the cost of living crisis and with the prospect that the UK economy is unlikely to grow.

We already had our team in place for the summer show, with Phil as Director and Tara and myself as Designers and Makers. Phil and I were also the performers in our production Wagon Of Wonder. We managed to secure bookings through our networks and existing contacts. Marketing the shows is primarily Tara’s responsibility, but as a small company, we all share the load on all aspects of the business.

Two actors dressed in tones of blue against a wooden yellow cart. The one on the right operates a firebird puppet

Designing for the Elements

I trained in design at Rose Bruford a long time ago, I actually think the best training is by doing and after 23 years of practice things are starting to make sense. The design for Wagon Of Wonder came about because we had a story we wanted to tell and we wanted to be creative. This led to raiding our store and reworking an old trolley we had. It fitted well with the story and so I got to work on thinking about what was needed to help tell the story. 

My job as the designer is to support the story in every way I can, from music to lights to the costumes to props. When designing a touring production I know it needs to be easy to transport, set up, pack away and withstand the elements! For this production, I knew that the set would be used in a variety of locations, so, I created a design that was lightweight, modular, and easy to assemble and disassemble.

I used durable materials that could withstand the elements, and I designed the set in such a way that it could be easily adapted to suit the different performance spaces. The result was a set that was both functional and visually appealing, and that looked great in a variety of settings.

A yellow and blue wooden cart sits amongst the trees in a sparse pine forest.

The Magic of Outdoor Theatre

When I design for an outdoor theatre production, I’m excited by all the natural elements we already have: trees, grassy areas, massive skies (cloudy or blue!), and even the noise! From traffic noise to kids playing to birds singing to the wind blowing through the trees, it’s all part of the magic.

Since it doesn’t make sense to compete with nature, it’s important to consider all these factors when designing. It’s always a good idea to have something to stand in front of, just in case there’s a dog walker passing by or a road behind you. But what if you’re performing on the moors, with nothing but the landscape behind you? Why compete with such a stunning backdrop?

The key is to position the show so that the audience is facing the best way. If there’s a particularly beautiful vista in one direction, I make sure the stage is facing that way, equally if there’s a distraction, such as a car park, I try to position the stage so that the audience’s backs are to it. One of the key questions I always ask myself is how can we enhance the magic of the venue, rather than compete with it?

I’ve designed and produced outdoor shows for many years, there’s something magical about a natural space. Perhaps it’s the shared experience with both audience, actors and landscape, but whatever the reason, there’s definitely a magic to telling stories to an audience in a natural setting.

A theatrical performance is being held on the lawns of a grand house. The audience look on at the performance.

Blog Contributor: Mark Hornsey

Busy Start To The New Year

Sometimes January can be a difficult month. The weather is rubbish and the dark start to the day makes things even harder. But deep down we know that spring is coming and the sun will get warmer.

Opportunities are arising at Babbler HQ and as we plan out the year ahead it seems we could end up being very busy sharing the vagabond joy.

snowy hilltops in view with a blue sky

Toyshop Success

Phil, Emily and I had great fun together in Derby with The Toyshop Mystery. Despite fighting off horrid colds and throat infections, we still told our wonderful and magical story and entertained both children and adults. The usual vagabond humour means there’s fun in it for everyone! More noticeable this year was the families attending with older children. Some of you have been seeing our shows for 10 years and we are firmly part of your Christmas Tradition (for the moment until the kids get too old!)

If you want reminding of the fun we had together, watch the trailer for the show here. If you want to know what you missed, you can click the link too. 

A girl is pretending to be a detective and shining her torch in the dimly lit space

The Curing Chemist

Thanks to Buxton Our Street and The Heritage Action Zone, we have a fun project this half term. January and February can be a difficult month, so we thought we would spread a smile to the people in Buxton.

We are working with our local schools and then running workshops on February 20,21,22 from 10am until 11am. 

The workshops are happening in the exciting location of the basements in Crescent Experience’s Apothecary Room.

cartoon image of a man on a strange looking bicycle, thats pullinga mini shed with an ariel coming out the top

You will then find us wandering the high street and crescent area for the rest of the morning. So watch out for the Curing Chemists as they wander Buxton’s Spring Gardens. They will offer passer bys the perfect remedy to rid those winter blues.
Mixing a dash of history, a splash of silly science, we dare to offer nothing but fun.

Two men dressed in victorian outfits are looking over a small child trying to work out how to cure them

Chin Up!

I’m not going to paint a picture all rosy and wonderful. But this feels like it’s been a hard first half of the year. I feel like our to do list has never been longer, yet our pockets are feeling emptier. This month we have had covid again, which has meant losing a week of rehearsals and now we have been given notice on our storage unit. 

But, keep our chin up, we must, and as like my good old Gran used to say, “When one door closes, another one opens.” 

Photograph of a woodland scene with the sun going down behind the trees

Adventure Shack

As we plough on with our new production, and change rehearsals schedules as Mark has covid, we continue to make wonderful discoveries in our storyline. This show will have our usual magic and there are enough moments where Phil and Mark are up to their shenanigans.

Two male performers dressed as sales assistants stand in front of a yellow cart. One holds a silver teapot towards the camera

The Future for Adventure Shack

Our aim for this production is to tour it to schools in September, October 2022 and then January, February 2023. We will develop it for night light experiences too, so there’s lots to get excited about.

So if you know someone who might be interested in either of these experiences then get them to contact me tara@babblingvagabonds.co.uk and I can send them more information.

We will turn up with the wagon of wonder and share some of the most magical stories that Madam Moo Moo has collected over the years.

Two male actors perform outside to school children. They are dressed in blue and there is a yellow wooden cart parked infron of leafy green trees

Charity Status Gets Closer

We have submitted the application to the Charities Commission, so we wait excitedly to see if they will accept our proposal. We really hope that it will enable us to provide more activities and creative opportunities for people in our local area.

A view of 5 animal shadow puppets that children are holding up

Set For An Adventure

As the dusky bluebells fade in our local woods, we get ready to put plan b into action. We are getting pretty good at implementing a plan b these days. Perhaps that’s called resilience? We didn’t get our funding for our exciting summer production, so instead we have come up with another idea.

Often it feels like we have so many ideas and when I look back I wonder how we got to the end result? Creativity is like a seed. Give it enough love and attention and something will eventually bloom. So, as we look forward to the next few months, what will you give your time and effort in order for something to grow?

Blubells fill the bottom of the photo as they sit amongst the trees. A dappled light gives the bluebells a smokey look

Adventure Shack

Dusting ourselves down and picking ourselves up from a funding bid rejection means we become even more resourceful. After flexing those little creative brain cells, we are proud to bring an outdoor experience for families this summer called “The Adventure Shack”

Escape the crowds, stray from the busy paths and discover the eighth wonder of the world:

Madam MooMoo’s Marvellous Magical Market Stall!

The Adventure Shack! 

The wondrous one-stop pop-up shop for all your adventure needs! 

Except today, of all days, Madam MooMoo is unwell, and so it’s up to her loyal assistants to look after her shop. Join Prentice and Dogsbury as they unpack the unusual items from her barrow of the bizarre and discover the fantastic stories each item has to tell. 

Epic tales of adventure, mystery, magic and derring-do guaranteed to heebie your jeebies and bump your goose. If you want to follow the progress of this fun experience, then follow us on the usual social channels. If you need no more tempting? Then you can book your tickets now by clicking on the venue details below.

Markeaton Park, Derby July 20-24

Grin Low Woods (Pooles Cavern and Country Park) Buxton July 27-31

We know how hard things are for some families right now so we have made Friday afternoon at Grin Low Woods, Buxton a pay what you can performance, but you still need to book a ticket. (it’s a numbers thing!)

A cart with a jumble of objects all piled up around it. Old suitcases, lampshades, kitchenware make up the arranged items

Happenings

We are thinking of hosting skills exchange workshops. We have learnt so much over the years we thought people might be interested in attending some days/weekends/evenings where we explore some techniques we use when we create our work.
This is still a seedling of an idea, but you can help shape it. What would you like to learn? If you are up for getting creative together, then hit reply to this email and let us know your thoughts.

A sketch book with a lightbulb drawn on a page with the word "Idea" written at the top of the page

Festive Beginnings

As we see out November and feel a cold chill in the air, we have one more treat in store to share.

Light switch ons, Christmas markets, may get us in the christmassy mood, but surely nothing says Christmas like a trip to the theatre to see our latest festive creation. The kitchen table has been covered for weeks as we design, make and craft the costumes and props for “The Hungry Trolls Christmas Dinner”… we’ve even got the kids involved!

The Hungry Trolls Christmas Dinner

Come and see us this Christmas in Derby Market Place. In a purpose built indoor theatre space we will share with you a heart warming story for all the family to remember. A tale of trolls, dinner ladies, and  yummy scrummy food. 

When a strange new dinner lady turns up to school the kids are going to get served up more than a plateful of trouble. Wait until they discover what’s really on the menu for their school Christmas dinner!

The origins of this tale comes from the ideas of school children. We held a workshop several years ago and one class came up with such a good story we knew that we had to retell it some day. We had to tame down some of the ideas as they were far too gruesome, but if you can make it to the show, you can sit and watch knowing that the seeds of ideas came from a bunch of nine year olds.

Flyer image for the show of a cartoon drawing of a Troll in a kitchen setting

The Lost Tales Of Grinlow Woods

What a fabulous time we had in Grin Low Woods. We delighted audiences and gave hearts a warm glow with our three stories. The glorious colours of the changing leaves gave an dramatic backdrop to our performances. The idea of following little tree sprites and discovering fairy doors along the pathways to find the next story have given inspiration to our friends at BCA. They are now talking about making an ever changing route around the woods for children to seek out.

Three characters dressed in hats and clothing with a woodland theme stand together and smile at the camera

Bogtastic!

Two fairies fly above a peaty bog character while 2 chiclren walk above them on a moorland

Thank You

We know some of you couldn’t make it for numerous reasons but it means a lot when families show an interest in our work.

We had a fabulous four days presenting our story and we know the weather was a bit of a shocker at times but we were bowled over by everyone’s enthusiasm come rain or shine. It was a pleasure to work alongside Moors For The Future Partnership in creating this informative piece on the important role our moorlands play in fighting climate change.

The photo is taken behind the audience. There is bunting a stage and a backdrop of greenleafed trees

Make a Bog Fairy

Don’t forget to visit our YouTube channel so you can see how to make your very own bog fairy.

If you want another resource head to our website and download a fun booklet that has been designed by Moors For The Future Partnership that gets you all thinking about the themes within our production.

Bilberry the bog fairy shows Cottongrass her family as little puppets
Bilberry the bog fairy sits next to a giant big eyed puppet called Peat

Newsletter #13

Here Be Dragons!

We are so excited to be performing at a brand new venue this summer. We are setting our Here Be Dragons family outdoor experience against the incredible backdrop of Heage Windmill near Belper. This unique historic building is the only working six-sailed stone tower windmill in England. Be sure to check out their website to find out about some of the events they put on there and the guided tours around the windmill itself via this link.

Heage Windmill
Heage Windmill

We’d love to see you this summer and share more memory making moments with you and your family. To get your tickets click on the links below. Hope you can make it. Tell your friends too. The tickets for these events are very limited as we wan to keep it intimate and personal, so do book ahead.

Seek us out in Grin Low Woods (Pooles Cavern), as part of Buxton Fringe, from Sat 20- Wed 24 July.  Tickets on sale from 1st June
Set sail with us at Heage Windmill Tue 30 July & Thur 1-2 Aug Book Now
Find us in Markeaton Park Craft Village with DerbyLIVE Mon 5- Sat 10  Aug. Book Now

Here Be dragons

Carnival of the Animals

This month sees us working with year 5 pupils across Buxton schools to create carnival inspired animals for the annual parade in Buxton on the 13th July.

Working in partnership with Buxton International Festival and Buxton Fringe Festival and using Saint-Sans as inspiration we hope to turn some heads this summer.

Don’t forget to follow us on the usual social media channels to see more of what we are up too. Facebook has changed their algorithms for business pages so be sure to click on our page as we might not be showing in your news feed.

Turtle made using willow and painted fabric
Turtle

Mask Making

Buxton International Festival would like as many families as possible to come dressed up for their Carnival of Animals performance on Saturday 20th July. If you fancy having a go at making a mask follow this “How To” video. They’d love to see your creations.

Head to our YouTube Channel and you will find videos to make a simple lion mask and bird mask. Happy dabbling!

"How to" mask making tutorial
“How to” mask making tutorial

Our Creative Process

New blog posts in the pipeline! I will let you know via our newsletter of the developments.
Ever wondered how we create our work. Head to our website and read our blogs.  Under the heading, ‘ Our Process’ there are posts about how we write the story, design for the stage, puppet making and songwriting.

Fun Finds This Month

Fleet Arts

A community arts charity delivering visual arts and music projects.
Check out the events they hold at their venue in Belper.

Fleet Arts logo

The Artful Parent

A great resource for creative ideas to make and do with your children.

The Artful Parent

Missing Link

A charming and beautiful stop-motion animated adventure film

Missing link

Spread the Word

Know anyone who would enjoy reading about our work, please feel free to forward on our newsletter and invite them to join the Tribe.