Guest Blog: The Makeshift Ensemble on I Am Turtle

I Am Turtle is at Exeter Fringe Festival on Friday 26th and Saturday 27th. Book tickets here.

Can you tell us about The Makeshift Ensemble, How did it get started and what is the ethos behind the company?

MakeShift came into being 4 yrs ago now when my main collaborator Laurence Aldridge and I met working on another show, we had similar ideals and many years of experience in making new work so joining forces seemed natural. We had a mutual love of traditional storytelling alongside contemporary theatre technique and thus was born our first show based on the Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear complete with live loop pedals and pig puppets with rockabilly quiffs. We also thought it important that the merriment on stage should carry a message of responsibility, that it should hold a mirror up to the key messages of our time and incite our young audiences to create change. Owl and Pussycat carried a message about looking after our bees, we worked in association with Friends of the Earth and handed out wildflower seeds at every performance. We even had pics sent from audience members of their flowers in bloom! Since then our shows have always followed this path… and it felt right so we ran with it, our following show ‘The Children in the Moon’ a show about celebrating differences came complete with an anti-Donald Trump song for three year olds I wrote in response to the rise of the right in the immediate wake of his election. Bringing I am Turtle into the world now at a time when we see the youth of the world rising to create change feels like a logical conclusion of collective energies. Every show is performed in solidarity.

Your latest show is ‘I am Turtle’.  What is the story about and what drew you to the subject matter?  (Why is it important?)

After our last show ‘The Children in the Moon’ I wanted the next step for MakeShift to be a contemporary book adaptation so I started researching modern children’s books with an environmental message. ‘Turtle’s Song’ by Alan Brown and Artist Kim Toft really stood out, the lyrical nature of it is just beautiful and the images so strong. Keeping key elements of the narrative we have adapted it to include clear message s about our use of plastics and how it impacts both our world and the world of others. We were extremely lucky to have Norwich Puppet Theatre supporting us in the final making stages and premier performances of this show in April, having the run of their incredible building for a week was invaluable to getting this piece and its narrative past and present, at just the right place. Our two main characters are Pocket, a spritely newly hatched turtle and his (very) great uncle Archie who take us on a journey to the past of the magical sea turtles as well as visiting a future that leaves them in huge peril.

Can you tells us about the puppetry design and materials used?

MakeShift believe in practicing what we preach and as such our puppets and entire set for I am Turtle is made from recycled materials….the only thing bought new was glue for the puppets, because puppets like good glue. A lot of materials came from Dorset Scrap store and from my own kitchen in an experiment with how much plastic I could reuse creatively, doing this made me realise how much plastic my family used and we have since made huge steps to reduce this. For I am Turtle there are a lots of recycled fabrics, our two Turtle puppets are made largely from recycled hessian coffee bean sacks.