Ben Pettitt-Wade: Directing The Flop, Hijinx

July 31, 2018 by

Our shows always start with exploring the skillset we will be working in with our Hijinx Academy artists. For Meet Fred, this was puppetry, at the beginning of the process this was all we had, to explore puppetry, all else progressed from this. With the Flop, our starting point was simply to explore Clown.

We started working with the wonderful people at Spymonkey back in 2012, when we invited them to lead on creating an opening and closing ceremony for our Hijinx Unity Festival. Over the past 6 years Spymonkey have returned to Wales to train our Hijinx Academy artists, in clown skills, and research ideas for a potential show together on numerous occasions. In this time the show has gone through many guises, it was “Wrong”, it was “This is not a show, this is science”, at one stage we were going to stage “Jason and the Argonauts”, but eventually “The Flop” stuck.

At times when Spymonkey were not with us I continued to explore Clown with our Academy students, and it was during this time that Adam, Ted and Jonathan started to shine. All are relatively new to our Academies, having joined within the past 18 months or so, Ted in Carmarthen, Adam and Jonathan in Cardiff. I’m immensely proud that this will be their first professional production, which they have been involved in as creators from the  beginning. They have all risen to the challenge, dealt with everything that has been thrown at them, and proven themselves to be equal to everyone else on the room.


I’m also blessed to be working with three incredible performers/devisors/collaborators in Iain, Jess and Hannah.

Iain Gibbons first came into contact with Hijinx in 2011, working on The Angels directed by the lovely Danish Clown Denni Dennis for our festival, and was also part of the 2012 project with Spymonkey, before heading to Paris to train at the renowned Ecole Phillip Gaulier. It is particularly pleasing for me that things have come full circle, and to be able to welcome him back to Cardiff for this production.

I first saw Jess Mabel Jones in the fantastic Backstage in Biscuit Land,alongside Tourettes Hero (Jess Thom), and was blown away by her energy and quick wit in a show in which literally anything could happen. She then joined us as a puppeteer on Meet Fred and has toured with us to both Germany and China. It’s been fantastic to have her involved in this project from the start.

Hannah McPake is a tutor on our Hijinx Academy and a well-known theatre maker and performer in Cardiff and beyond. She has performed with Improbable, Told by an Idiot and China Plate, for which she won a Fringe First for Shape of the Pain in 2017. I am also a huge fan of her own company’s work Gagglebabble.

You put a certain amount of pressure on yourself if you title your production The Flop, and that is certainly something we felt in the making of this show. Make no bones about it, devising work is tough. If you start with a script at least you have that, it gives you some security, something solid to hold onto. Devising work for a performer is akin to standing on a cliff edge and jumping off without a parachute. It requires a lot of trust. It can be a right old struggle, filled with doubt, anxiety and questions, constant questions of what this thing is, or should be, our could be. Is it OK for a person with learning disability to be a clown? Will people laugh? Will people feel uncomfortable? Are we being true the story? Is this just a story about another white guy? Where is the female perspective in all of this? Do our learning disabled cast members have a voice in this? How do we relate to the story? Shit, have we made a show that’s pro Brexit? Will it be a flop?  And this is when it is done right, it is only difficult because everyone in that room cares so much about what we are going to present, and ultimately what they are going to be representing.

Of course, these moment of anguish and soul searching are peppered with moments of utter joy, and inspiration, when an improvised scene suddenly cracks it and we all roll around in laughter. Gradually as the stronger material begins to rise to the top, we all start to agree on what we like and don’t like, and ultimately what the show is, and so the script begins to bring back some security for everyone. Though, in all likelihood, it will still be changing in one way or another when you see it, and that is the beauty of devised work, because we made this, we have control. That may mean that no two shows are quite the same, but that is the magic of theatre.

I need to make a special mention to all the creative and production team, who also have to cope with this ever-shifting landscape when devising a show. Remaining flexible, but with the knowledge that the clock is ticking on some decisions is quite a skill, and one our designer Rebecca Wood and lighting designer/technician Tom Ayres were adept at. And finally, a huge thank you to our collaborators Spymonkey, but especially Toby Park who went far beyond his role as Creative Mentor and Composer, his support, expertise and constant enthusiasm has been key to this process.

We hope you enjoy the show.


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