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> > > Tricia Howey talks to Kati Francis, Artistic Director of BeautifulMess
photo of a performer dressed as a large red fox standing on a table

Jennifer Muteteli dresses as a fox. Photo by Frances Marek

BeautifulMess have been running performing arts workshops in Brixton for adults with learning difficulties for a while. Tricia Howey of Narus Productions have been supporting the company in getting Foxfood off the ground. Foxfood is a multi-sensory performance which first took place at Brixton’s Lambeth Accord at the end of May and is part of the ongoing Fox Project, which will include summer workshops inspired by the production.

BeautifulMess is a new creative collective aiming to create inclusive, playful, multi-sensory performance projects. At its core is the belief that some of the most exciting theatre is also the most accessible: not relying on verbal communication, but engaging the olfactory and vision, musical and rhythmic, architectural and tactile elements of performance creation to immerse audiences in a full sensory experience, allowing strong, individual interpretations to develop.

By creating performances outside of formal spaces for free and within community settings, access is given to a much wider range of people, within relevant, fresh locations. BeautifulMess aims to develop innovative methods of performance creation through building genuine working relationships between professional practitioners and community members into exciting, creative, collaborative dialogues.

Firstly FoxFood: a site-specific multi-sensory professional performance in the garage of Lambeth Accord in Brixton. In conjunction we developing Community Foxes: a series of creative workshops inspired by the themes and materials from Foxfood. These will run for 11 weeks with adults from Lambeth’s learning disability community and aim to develop professional/community collaborative performance techniques. Finally Foxes in Boxes will be a site-specific, collaborative performance event within the local community, led by the workshop participants. The scale and scope of this part of the project is dependent on Arts Council funding.

We want to develop a model of practice that can be presented as a professional performance and facilitate inclusive workshops inspired by the performance. As the company expands the participants can develop their skills and artistic voices through working with professionals.

A core belief of BeautifulMess is in ‘the celebratory, immediate, deeply felt effect of the live performance event, and the importance of aesthetically exciting and richly developed theatrical/sensory languages. Working as a freelance ‘workshop facilitator’, I often felt creatively blocked, frustrated that there was never enough planning time or focus on the aesthetic or creative development of material. Often logistics, ‘learning outcomes’ or relationship management would take over. There was also often an idea around ‘process’ being more important than ‘product.’ Even when acknowledged that both were equally important (as I believe), there was a struggle to achieve this balance within a workshop-style time-structure.

I believe strongly in the need to embrace the power of the performance: the magical moments that we as theatre makers are trained in creating, and harnessing the energy it can inspire. I wanted to create a professional, accessible performance as a creative catalyst for the project.

FoxFood is a development of theatrical languages as well as a provocation of themes and ideas around issues of isolation, fear and control, and the power of transformation within society. These themes and ideas developed out of my living and working in local Lambeth communities, primarily with socially and politically ‘disadvantaged’ groups.

In allowing the professional development of a performance, it has given the workshops a rich artistic terrain from which to draw (adapt or reject) ideas and methods of working. It allows the professional practitioners to be creatively invested in the project on a much deeper level than if they were coming in fresh to facilitate.

There is often the belief that to make ‘ethical’ community arts projects, all of the ideas and material must originate from the community group, yet I believe that it is the professionals that need to begin by offering up something as a beginning. They have to be prepared to let go of everything that they bring, have it rejected, distorted, buried or celebrated in a way never conceived of by them. However without an initial offering I often find these projects struggle to find the levels of profundity and aesthetic richness they deserve and are capable of.

Tamarin McGinley (left) and Jennifer Muteteli (right) on stage in Foxfood. Photo by Frances Marek

I studied Applied Theatre at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. There is an ongoing debate about ‘what is applied theatre’ that plagues all ‘applied arts’ students! There are many intelligent and articulate people who have written books and articles about all of this: James Thompson, Helen Nicholson and Edward Bond to name a few favourites of mine. But in all honesty I have spent a lot of my time since graduating trying to shake the artistic paralysis created by the thick academia surrounding ideas (and often insurmountable ethical problems) of ‘applying’ art!

In short all theatre is applied if it is worth anything, as the root of the word theatre comes from the Greek ‘a place for viewing’- thus demanding a viewer! Theatre cannot happen without an audience and therefore it is being applied to/for/onto someone - even if that audience is one’s own consciousness, or fellow theatre makers. All art considers life, the world, and our individual or collective ‘realities’ through a lens whether or not it is abstracted, or is an interpretation. The minute it is considered it is always ‘applied’ by someone.

Applied Theatre really means non-commercially-driven-theatre with some sort of socially liberating ideology (in debatable amounts so as to not be seen as pushing an outsider-imposed social agenda but whilst still upholding some sort of social belief/increasing access to a group otherwise not given a voice). It all becomes an ethical quagmire which is why I suppose I believe in creating accessible, inclusive work that can be enjoyed on multiple levels by a range of people in a diversity of places… although I’m aware that could be seen as too vague, idealistic, and avoiding pinning down a ‘target market’!

I think if I could do for adults what Oily Cart does for kids I’d be a happy person! I am also massively influenced by Welfare State - the no-longer active street-theatre company who created celebratory performance events combining food, politics, music, theatre, and pyrotechnics. I would love to think that BeautifulMess events would reach that scale. Graeae are an inspiration as well as the dedicated work of smaller companies I have had the pleasure to learn first hand from Entelechy, Epic Arts and Corali.

BeautifulMess’ approach to working inclusively
It is important to fully listen and to open up all the senses as co-creators, working at the right pace, and working honestly with all of the people in the room. It is about not going in with any ideas of how things are going to be created, having a lot of ideas of things to try, stimulus to inspire creation, and knowing that nothing you expect will happen!

Everyone in the world creates differently and we can learn the most from listening to each other. We can suggest different methods, ideas, techniques and then let people develop their own unique styles of expression. That can range from creating movement sequences out of responses to textures and sounds; choreographing using visual-drawn scores; using performance improvisation around developed themes and feelings; developing object-manipulation relationships; directing through puppetry as well as more traditional artistic techniques.

I hope that having created such a strong theatrical provocation in FoxFood we have paradoxically facilitated a huge space for freedom of creative response. I would not like to predict where the workshops will take us artistically as that will be entirely dependent on the participants’ responses to the performance and the aesthetic components within it.

The response to Foxfood from the learning disability community in Lambeth has been amazing! We had over 40 audience members with learning difficulties in both of our afternoon performances, with some really wonderful feedback. A lot of the high attendance was down to the great support and response I’ve had from Lambeth Mencap, Lambeth Day Care Centre, Lambeth Walk and the Opportunities Project. And the response to the artistic standard and ideas within the work has been positive and assuring.

Why foxes?
Hmmm…the urban phenomena: the transgressive scavengers of the London streets. Why is it seen as wrong to be resourceful? Do they represent nature taking back what is hers? They are a symbol of adaptation, transformation and change. They elicit a strong emotion either way. Why do we want to either tame or destroy? Why can’t we live alongside the other? They live in the moment: easy come, easy go; unattached to material possessions. They provide an interesting comparison to humans…

You can found out more information about BeautifulMess and The Fox Project at

To find out about getting involved in workshops which run every Friday from 28 June – 4th October at Moorlands Community Centre in Brixton, e-mail:

You can find out more about Narus Productions at