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How We Make Theatre – Mike Shepherd

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Read more on How We Make Theatre – Mike Shepherd from the Kneehigh Cookbook archive.

“I returned home to Cornwall 30 years ago to make theatre. It was a place where you could make things happen. Kneehigh started as a company making work for children and their families, but we soon found ourselves creating challenging, accessible and anarchic theatre for a diverse local and national audience.

Kneehigh builds a team for each project. The isolation of the barns, and the need to cook and keep warm provides a real and natural focus for our flights of imagination. This is not a conceit; it is a radical choice that informs all aspects of our work. Although much of our work is now co-produced with larger theatres, we always try to start the creative process at these barns, to be inspired by our environment and where we work. Both Tristan & Yseult and Cymbeline started life as outdoor shows, playing in epic but intimate spaces: Restormel Castle, The Minack, The Eden Project and Rufford Abbey. These elemental and charged spaces add a physical and vocal robustness to our performance style, which becomes further distilled when we work indoors’.

If we were to have a manifesto it might include words like generosity, passion, bravery, humility, ambition, instinct and irreverence. These words have become the secret principles that guide our work.

Kneehigh are an ever-changing ensemble, a kind of strange family, many of whom come from, or have chosen to live in, Cornwall: the extreme South West tip of the British Isles – outsiders, left-handers – engaging with the world with a sense of community and identity. As King Mark says in Tristan & Yseult, “We don’t look inland there’s not much point. No, outward, outward lies the way! Inland there’s little to write home about and much less to say!”

The company changes for each project, there are those who have worked together for a long time and those who have just arrived. We look to surprise each other, to take leaps in the dark but there is no given formula for making the work.

Kneehigh is 30 years old this year. Although I could never have planned this; there has been no great plan, just dreams and aspirations – some of which I never thought would take this long to achieve! Kneehigh has survived because it has actively evolved. We have committed to our home, our craft, to each other and to change. It’s a privilege to still be part of that journey.”

Mike Shepherd, 2010.