Vicki Amedume, artistic director of Upswing, talks about her new outdoor show Catch Me. Catch Me has been performed as part of festivals up and down the UK as well as in Czech Republic and Portugal. It is part of Age Against the Machine festival, a new arts festival exploring the ways in which creativity can promote positive ageing held in Lewisham.
Tell us a bit about the show
Catch Me is a show about the way we look at people and what happens when we are drawn to look deeper than we normally do. It is also a show about strength and vulnerability — who we allow or expect to be strong or vulnerable.
The piece is essentially a duet between an older white women and a young black man working with twenty specially constructed wooden chairs.
What inspired it?
A couple of different experiences have inspired the duet. Firstly we’ve done a lot of work with older people, primarily women, in the last few years beginning with a show we made called ‘What happens in the Winter’. In that process we worked with older female dancers and circus artists and older women to think about how our relationship with our bodies and our personal and professional relationships change as we age.
A recurring conversation from the groups we worked with was around feeling invisible. The invisibility was not just the cliche of no longer being catcalled or whistled at in the street, it was much more a sense of people making broad — and often false — assumptions about their skills, their knowledge and pretty much everything else they could offer the world.
For young black men the reverse is often true. They are often hyper-visible and that brings its own set of problematic assumptions. I wanted to make something that allowed both performers to be vulnerable, tender, joyful and strong.
One of the performers is a dancer, the other a physical theatre performer. What do their different styles bring to the show?
The fact that the performers have very different physical training backgrounds to each other and to me is both a challenge and a gift. We were all approaching the movement possibilities with different ideas and offers. We exchanged a lot and learned a lot from each other; we also argued a fair bit too (in the best possible way) which really helped us understand what we were doing and why. Even within this diversity in movement language, we found a lot of commonalities where we discovered things we all did but approached in different ways. I guess those differences reflected the differences at the heart of what the work itself was about: where there appears to be a gulf, deeper interrogation reveals commonality.
It’s an outdoor show, do you think audiences would react differently to if it had been an indoor show? Have you had any reactions that surprised you?
Catch Me is very much a piece about visibility and taking space and so It felt right for the piece to be in the outdoors where it could be encountered by anyone. The length and the outdoor context also mean we can move lightly through a myriad of different stories and relationships that could exist between the two performers without settling anywhere long enough for it to become concrete. It’s really important to me that the audience do not every feel settled enough to decide who the ‘characters’ are and what their relationship might be. If we had made if as an indoor show for theatres it would have been tempting to define character, place and relationship more strongly. We have been surprised how strong and emotional the audience reactions to the show have been. I would describe it as playful, gentle and poetic which is unusual for outdoor work which often tends to be ‘louder’ in order to compete with the distractions you find in the street.
What’s next for Upswing?
Funnily, now that we have made Catch Me and understand more deeply what is important about it, I am toying with the idea of a re-making a version of it as an indoor piece, to explore how the time and the focus you can achieve on an indoor stage can further reveal the character/theme/story. I am very excited by the possibility of developing it further. I am also currently at a creation centre in Portugal working with young men and older women testing ideas about expanding Catch Me with a larger group of professional and non-professional performers.
More immediately, on Monday we start work in Brent on a new project for children and families called Seasons. We will be working with children and families, to explore the fragile and cyclical relationship between humans and the natural world, using circus, song and immersive design. We begin development in Brent libraries and will eventually create two works from the research we do with local families, one that tours to libraries and a large-scale immersive piece that will tour to theatre spaces.
Catch Me will be performed as part of the Outdoor Performance Trail on Saturday 28th September. More information here