ISAN Member in the Spotlight:
Daryl Beeton is an independent theatre professional, and was formerly the Artistic Director of Kazzum.
(First published: October 2016)
Who are you?
Hi there, my name is Daryl and I have worked extensively within the theatre, Disability and young people’s arts sector for the last twenty years. I’m an independent theatre maker creating my own work, but of course I have work for various companies such as Graeae, Drake Music and was previously Artistic Director of Kazzum for nearly 10 years.
I was fortunate enough to begin my professional career back in the 1980’s at the age of 14 (I know I don’t look old enough) when I joined Central Television Drama Workshop in Nottingham. It was a training ground for young actors and provided professional performance opportunities in TV, film and theatre. At the age of 18 I left Nottingham in search of fame and fortune, first to Plymouth, where I completed an HND in Drama Leadership and Community Theatre, and then onto a BA (Hons) in Performing Arts at Hertford (oh, the glamour).
After that I spent several years as a jobbing actor touring the country working for a variety of different companies and I began to realise that my passion was not for scripted work but for a more physical approach to performance. I was interested in mixing genres which focused on using our bodies as a way to communicate and didn’t rely so heavily on spoken word.
This approach led me to circus arts, which I have continued to develop ever since, starting off on a simple static trapeze in 2005, and then working with the Australian-based company Strange Fruit, developing new ways of creating accessible techniques and movement to perform on top of a 20 foot-high bendy pole in collaboration with Graeae. This collaboration lead to the creation of the outdoor shows ‘Against the Tide’ and ‘The Garden’ – and then led me to become part of the professional aerial ensemble for London’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony in 2012.
How did you first get involved in Outdoor Arts?
I was originally drawn to Outdoor Arts through the potential of funding! I know I should be saying the ‘art’ drew me in, but that came later. It was about 2008 and there was a small commission between Shape Arts and GDIF to create a new piece of work for the Liberty Festival.
London had just been awarded the Olympic Games and Disability arts and Outdoor Arts were intertwining. I had never really experienced Outdoor Arts and in many ways I had an idea that it was just for people that couldn’t get booked into venues. So I thought I should do some research and instantly I was amazed by the breadth of the audience; people from all walks of life, standing together, sharing this communal experience, laughing and crying as a variety of weird and wonderful performances took place around them. You would never get this type of audience in a theatre; this was an audience of my dreams! Outdoor Arts made theatre accessible and available unlike anything I’d seen before. Then I saw the ‘art’.
As we know, outdoor audiences can walk away at any point, so the work had to be engaging, thoughtful, funny; it had to speak to many without becoming beige and I loved it (well, most of it).
At the time I was Artistic Director at Kazzum and was becoming restless because our mission was to ensure our work was accessible to all, yet our indoor audiences didn’t reflect that vision. Anyway, I got the commission and after that first outdoor show, I quickly moved away from touring traditional indoor shows and developed Kazzum – and my own directing skills – into an outdoor and site-specific theatre company. Working in this way, especially outdoors, means that I have had to constantly challenge myself and always think about my audience and never be beige.
What is one of your earliest memories of Outdoor Arts?
My first memory was of the Liberty Festival in 2008 in Trafalgar Square. Although a Disability arts festival, it was full of people creating accessible and inclusive art outdoors. Back then the main focus was the festival stage, but what was happening on the paving stones around it really caught my eye. Back then I created the “family zone”: an interactive garden experience. It was a real learning curve. I realised that if it’s outdoors and interactive it has to be fit for purpose: I remember within the space of five minutes a child completely destroyed parts of the design. I was used to indoor audiences which sat in their chairs, not children outdoors where everything is a playground!
What performance or Outdoor Arts experience has made a big impression on you?
There have been so many and it’s hard to choose between Oerol Festival (more about that later) and Plunge Boom’s ‘Vegetable Nannies’.
I think I will have to go for ‘Vegetable Nannies’. It was watching the original walkabout version in the pram, many years ago, when I discovered the intimate nature of outdoor arts: it doesn’t all need to be about the spectacular. Seeing two performers interacting with an small, close audience and watching a couple of random teenagers bottle-feeding melons in nappies really allowed me to appreciate the detail, absurdity and intimacy of what Outdoor Arts can be.
The show’s approach inspired my own show, ‘Paper People’, in 2008, and allowed me not to be afraid to play small – and it worked: ‘Paper People’ continued to tour each year until I left Kazzum in 2015.
Where do your ideas come from?
The absurdity of everyday life.
I love to take the ‘average’ and turn it up a notch. Most of my work is created for young or family audiences so I always take a new idea to places they hang out and just play. To me, a simple box can become a variety of things, yet to a child it can be a million things. I’m basically a creative thief; I hang out with five year olds, steal their random ideas and turn them into a show.
What’s your best advice to someone wanting to work outdoors for the first time?
I’d just share the best advice ever given to me: get outdoors, see as much work as you can and let your audiences help shape your vision… this can be overwhelming, so always ensure you’re good at creative pruning. Like a well fed bush, a show with lots of ideas and input can become overgrown and messy; trim it back and make it neat.
What’s your funniest or most bizarre Outdoor Arts experience?
Well this would have to be Oerol Festival. Apart from sleeping in a leaky tent, cycling around the island with thousands of other (better) cycling arty types and seeing hundreds of shows in hundreds of different locations, my fondest memory was wearing headphones, clinging onto the top of a cliff, overlooking an angry North Sea as I listened to the heavy breath of dancers performing about a mile away in the distance. They were just dots on the horizon… it was a scary and beautiful experience.
Describe a current project or future piece of work that you’re really excited about.
Well I’m very excited to be working on a new commission for Liberty Festival this year. As we celebrate four years since the Paralympic Opening Ceremony, with fond memories of flying around the stadium 25 metres in the air as fireworks exploded around me, it’s nice to be back at the Olympic Park creating a brand new show. It’s funny how life has brought me back to where my Outdoor Arts experience all began. But this time it’s different.
I was attracted to the commission to make a show that Nicola Miles-Wildin (who played the lead, Miranda, in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony) and I had wanted to make for a while, this time it was the art that drove me, not the money (although it helps.)
‘Bingo Lingo’ is a fun game of chance which aims to harness the nation’s love of bingo. It’s an outdoor participatory intervention with audience interaction, compered by two colourful bingo lovers. Beryl and Cyril arrive in style on their oversized mobile bingo machines – one containing the bingo balls and the other decked out with the amazing prizes. They teach you their celebratory bingo dance, then it’s eyes down and time for a game like you’ve never played before.
The performance is based around four oversized bingo cards, each designed with disability focused ‘bingo calls’ which will be used during game. Beryl and Cyril love bingo and the joy it brings to many, and by playing it on a large scale they hope one day make it an official Paralympic sport.
(We hope to tour ‘Bingo Lingo’ in 2017, please let me know if you are interested and would like more information and see below for shameless plug!).
The wonderful work of Bradley Hemmings and Jenny Sealey, co-directors of Paralympic Opening Ceremony 2012, led to great exposure of Outdoor Arts. This in turn has really helped the sector, but four years on with ongoing cuts I think we are in an odd situation. More people want to engage with Outdoor Arts and the profile has risen but the funds are dwindling; artists are expected to create more for less. Money is not a driver for creativity, but we all know we still have to pay the bills. The passion and need for Outdoor Arts is stronger than ever, we just have to discover new ways to ensure it happens and, importantly, maintains its high quality.
Where do you think the sector will be in 4 or 5 years?
I think the sector will still be in demand and artistically thriving, but the challenge will be how the work is funded. Four years is a long timeframe these days in our current climate. I mean, who would have thought four years ago – after the euphoria of the Paralympics that placed Disability centre stage and on a public platform – that we would now be in a position where Disabled people are bearing the biggest cuts to welfare, that the Rio Paralympics are in jeopardy and there isn’t really an outcry about it. My god, anything can happen in four years, so I don’t feel confident predicting what might happen within the arts in the next four years.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and how do you plan to meet them?
Brexit… and I have no idea!
Who inspires you in your work?
This one is simple. I’m not an artist who can work alone, so those that inspire my work are the people I work with. These may be artists, children, teachers, parents, a random bloke in the pub… the list is a little endless.
How do you follow what’s happening in the Outdoor Arts and cultural sectors – what blogs, tweeters, websites, organisations do you recommend?
What’s a favourite book/film/concert that you’ve encountered in the past 2 years?
Owen Jones’ book ‘The Establishment: and how they got any with it’ (it’s actually a personal signed copy… I heart him).
What non-Outdoor Arts cultural experience has made a great impression on you?
The current National Theatre Production of ‘The Threepenny Opera’. Don’t ask me why, I just loved it. I love it when I can’t put into words why I like a theatre show. The feeling of pleasure and joy is worth more than a simple tag line.
Who would you have at your dream fantasy picnic?
My mum, Michael Stipe, Owen Jones and Dolly Parton…. with Tom Daley as the waiter and Kylie in the corner singing a few songs.
Any final top tips for Outdoor Arts practitioners?
Seeing work is important, but so is speaking with people, attend the conferences and seminars. The sector is quite a friendly place.
You can catch ‘Bingo Lingo’ at the Liberty Festival on Sat 3 Sep in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford at 1.30pm, 3.30pm and 5.30pm.
‘Bingo Lingo’ has been developed with support from Greenwich and Docklands International Festival and the Mayor of London’s Liberty Festival.