Open Theatre Celebrates Love Parks Week 2021 with Outdoor Immersive Performance: ‘Beyond The Trees’
– by Becky Kroon
This week is Love Parks Week, where from the 23rd July – 1st August, British citizens are encouraged to respect their local green spaces as part of the Keep Britain Tidy movement.
In 2020, our local parks quickly became a necessity, becoming the host of our daily walks and social activities, and a key source of our mental wellbeing. In these seven days, local authorities are putting on events to celebrate Love Parks Week. Open Theatre have joined in with these celebrations through our first outdoor immersive experience project: ‘Beyond The Trees’. The eight performances across the 16th-17h July took place in the natural surroundings of Martineau Gardens. With an integrated cast of learning-disabled actors, Beyond The Trees portrayed a message of admiration for local wildlife, while bringing out the unique surroundings of Martineau Gardens.
Directed by Marlien van Liempt, the narrative followed two explorers (Jake Jarvis and Lukan Smith) who found themselves in a shipwreck. Eager to explore, they promenade the audience in an immersive experience through the garden’s nature trail. The natural surroundings of the trail were emphasised by the immersive staging of the performance. The surround-sound jungle music and soundscapes, composed by Charles Craggs, accompanied by bubbles and delicately placed flowers and leaves, helped bring attention to the features of the Gardens, noticing the softness of the soil and the smell of wild garlic.
Across various locations, they discovered wild creatures in their natural habitat, each with their own personality. These animals included an athletic frog (Charles Craggs), a sleepy butterfly (Katie Rowland) and a rock star wolf (Mike Moulton). The creative costume design by Ella Barraclough, partnered with non-verbal physical theatre, brought out the unique characteristics of each animal. For example, the tired butterfly was created using a sleeping mask with bug eyes on and a wrap-around blanket for wings.
Using bells as a guiding tool, the explorers led the audiences in chasing each animal through the forest, gathering the animals at the end of the trail by wrapping a rope around all three in hope to bring them back to their ship to take home.
The end of the story showed the escape of the three creatures, using their unique physical strengths to evade their captors. The frog’s athleticism, the butterfly’s wings, and the wolf’s claws, freed them from the explorers’ rope, proving to the explorers that they should live in their natural habitat and not be bound by captivity. The overall message of the narrative, for me, made me appreciate the natural habitat of Birmingham’s wildlife, as well as further consider the global issues of biodiversity caused by human consumption and the ongoing climate crisis.
Therefore, Beyond The Trees played an important role in raising awareness of urgent issues affecting our green spaces, proving to be a valuable contribution to Love Parks Week. Bringing immersive theatre outdoors celebrated the natural beauty of Martineau Gardens, highlighting Love Parks Week’s ethos in loving and respecting your local outdoor spaces, as well as providing the opportunity to enjoy performance in the sunny weather of British Summertime.
With the impending hot weather, it is in no doubt that our local parks can be take for granted, including the increase of neglecting our spaces through littering. Therefore, this Love Parks Weeks, I encourage everyone to enjoy a visit to their favourite park. Be it for exercise, socialising with friends and family, or relaxing by yourself, enjoy your time there while following the Love Parks code on respecting parks. If you wish to further help protect our parks, write to your MP raising the urgent issues of funding, access, climate change and biodiversity.
In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine, and keep your eyes peeled on the next outdoor adventure Open Theatre brings!
Blog written by Becky Kroon
Photography by Jake Parsons
Beyond the Trees
Created and performed by: Katie Rowland, Jake Jarvis, Lukan Smith, Mike Moulton, Charles Craggs
Directed by: Marlien van Liempt
Composer: Charles Craggs
Costume and Set Design: Ella Barraclough
Producer: Rosie Clements
Production Assistants: Scott Noone, Ashley Tolley, Jack Gordon
Creative Enablers: Madeleine Levy, Cobi Aikman, Hannah Bird, Vicky Pritchard, Grace Smith, Melissa Daly
Created by: Open Theatre
Funded by: Peter Sowerby Foundation
Special Thanks to: Martineau Gardens, Janice Connolly and the REP Birmingham