Tickertape Parade is the brainchild of Birmingham-based producer and project manager Tim Hodgson. We chatted to Tim during his current project Fantabulosa!
Upcoming Fantabulosa! dates include:
Summer in Southside (Birmingham Hippodrome): 14 & 15 July 2018
The Big Feast (Appetite Stoke): 24 & 25 August 2018
Fantabulosa! is commissioned by Birmingham Hippodrome & Appetite Stoke, supported using funding provided by the OffSite affiliate partners – Déda, Derby Féste, So Festival and Appetite Stoke. The project is also supported using public funding from Arts Council England.
Phil: How would you describe your work for somebody experiencing it for the first time?
Tim: We make participatory combined arts events focused around cultural, municipal and social engagement – so really any kind of playful work around the subjects of inclusivity, how we live and how we feel about where we live. I’m also interested in the intersection between art and entertainment and ways to lower barriers to participation.
Phil: Are you the only person on the parade, Tim, or is the company made up of a whole army of people?
Tim: It’s just me, but I tend to say ‘our’ because everything I have made has been collaborative in some way, and I’m very happy to step back creatively if it’s not my area artistically or culturally. Tickertape Parade kind of references that – it’s supposed to suggest colour and spectacle, street-level engagement, and people being brought together on even terms to create or celebrate something. Obviously collaboration isn’t always easy but I love working with other people and learning from each other.
Phil: Tell us about three pieces of theatre – or theatre makers – that have had the biggest impact on you, and tell us why they made such an impact.
Tim: Dan Canham’s dance work manages to perfectly tread the lines between populist, political and social. Everything I’ve seen of his, I’ve thought, ‘I immediately get how this is useful.’
Luke Jerram, too, makes work which is beautiful, useful and lasting. I’ve got so much time for work like Park & Slide – the real effect of that project isn’t on the day or even really about the participants, it’s a few days later when a local resident comes back to that high street and feels a bit differently about it.
The work I have most recently admired was Dries Verhoeven’s Phobiarama, a theatrical ghost train about othering and Islamophobia. It reminded me a bit of Jamal Harewood’s The Privileged, which wound me up more than any show I’ve seen and which I love for it. Phobiarama isn’t subtle but it’s genuinely unsettling and I’m fascinated by the mixing of entertainment forms and political content.
The project inspired us to develop a range of performance and activities to showcase the imagination and inclusivity of drag and queer culture to children.
Phil: What inspired you to make your current project, Fantabulosa! and what can audiences expect from it?
Tim: Fantabulosa! came from a commission with Adam Carver to develop a Drag Queen Story Time for Birmingham Weekender last September. That project inspired us to decide to bring together an ensemble of local multidisciplinary drag artists to work, within their own artistic practice, to develop a range of performance and activities to showcase the imagination and inclusivity of drag and queer culture to children.
What we’ve come up with is Fantabulosa! – a fabulous and sparkly drag show for 3-8 year olds (but great fun for grown-ups too) with a whole variety of activities built around inclusive and queer-positive children’s stories.
Phil: RuPaul’s Drag Race has obviously become a prominent factor in bringing drag and queer culture to much wider mainstream attention. What do you feel is the value of bringing some of that culture specifically to very young people’s attention, as you’re doing here?
Tim: The way we’ve thought about this project has shifted a bit during its development – it was planned as a fun, accessible way to introduce identity and difference to children and a celebration of the warmth and creativity of drag culture. But as things progressed, it has begun to feel more important – for all of us, this is work which didn’t exist when we were children and having this show out in front of the Hippodrome in the heart of the city is exactly the kind of visible statement which could help young people feel less isolated and more accepted.
I love Drag Race but it does present a very specific kind of drag – I’m not particularly qualified to critique that, but I am bothered when inclusive narratives still ultimately exclude, just with different parameters. If we’re serious about inclusivity then it’s really important that Fantabulosa! presents various versions of drag culture which aren’t just confined to cisgender white male experiences. We also know that some people are just going to think of drag as men dressing as women, and this is a great opportunity to show the many different cultural and artistic forms it can take.
If we’re serious about inclusivity then it’s really important that Fantabulosa! presents various versions of drag culture which aren’t just confined to cisgender white male experiences.
Phil: What have you discovered about how young people and their adults respond to the artists you’ve featured and the events you’ve staged with Fantabulosa! so far?
Tim: During the original Drag Queen Story Time performances we visited a number of different venues, some traditional arts spaces and some not, but we often found that the most inquisitive responses and conversations came in city spaces where we weren’t expected, like the fruit & veg markets – that definitely inspired us to be more ambitious and to try to get into public non-arts spaces as much as possible.
Phil: We got very excited by your callout for someone to design and build a glitzy pop-up grotto for Fantabulosa! Which lucky artist got the gig, and how is the work on the grotto coming along?
Tim: The grotto is looking beautiful! We chose Emma McCusker, a multidisciplinary artist and designer working in 3D manufacture – her style is really striking, lots of clean lines and bright colours. We wanted the grotto to really disrupt concrete city spaces, so it’s basically this bold, camp technicolour oasis in the city. I really like Emma’s personal story too – since her MA she had been working in London for a car company, and then recently decided to move back home to Birmingham to be an artist here full-time. So she moved back this month and the next day began work on the grotto…
Phil: There’s a brilliant East Meets West thing going on with Fantabulosa!, with Appetite in Stoke, Birmingham Hippodrome and Déda in Derby all supporting the project. How important is it to you to be making work in the Midlands, and how would you like to see the regional sector develop over the next few years?
Tim: The artists we’re working with are from across the region but all from the Midlands, and if you see the show you’ll see there’s a definite Midlandness in the work itself. It’s really great then to be taking the show and the artists all over the country with this, not just celebrating queerness but celebrating queer Midlandness. That’s something which is key to Adam’s practice and it runs right through the project.
My work is generally about space or locality so I’m always going to work where I’m most passionate about those things, but ultimately art is so intertwined with transport, architecture, industry, food and jobs and those things are all local – I think it’s very difficult to be working productively in any public art context without really knowing and caring about where you live and work.
As for the sector, festival-focused commissioning is proliferating at the moment and that’s difficult for artists because there’s no continuity and the relationship is so lopsided. Similarly, there are more collaborations between small minority-led organisations and large established ones, but I hope that doesn’t replace bringing more minority voices into core teams.
I think we will see more commissioning coming from unexpected places within the cultural sector – that’s tough on traditional theatremakers but good for multidisciplinary artists and for minority practitioners who can hopefully hold the keys a bit more often.
I think we will see more commissioning coming from unexpected places within the cultural sector – that’s tough on traditional theatremakers but good for multidisciplinary artists and for minority practitioners who can hopefully hold the keys a bit more often. Organisations like East Meets West are so useful in that way, to empower us individuals with more resources and link us up peer-to-peer so we can build structures to produce, create and curate independently.
Phil: Beyond Fantabulosa!, what are you planning or working on for the rest of 2018 and beyond?
Tim: I’ve just finished working with Friction Arts on Everything Must Go, the culmination of their two-year Wholesale Markets project, and I’m currently developing a new mass-participation outdoor arts project for 2019 around sustainable building practices and reclaiming space.
Fantabulosa! will hopefully grow further after the Summer as we begin taking it further afield and we’re going to start integrating a new local drag artist everywhere we go. That begins in Hastings in September in association with Home Live Art and so hopefully as the show tours, we’ll be helping those national networks between drag artists and traditional arts commissioners to grow.
Phil: As a theatre-maker myself, I’m always fascinated to learn about other people’s creative processes. What main ideas characterise the way you go about creating a new piece of work?
Right now I feel like if you’re not trying to make things better somehow or if you’re just making work for your peers, I really struggle to get excited artistically.
Tim: I see myself closer to the curator/creative producer side of things – and broadly my projects respond to a space or a social moment, I need everything I do to be useful and that’s the starting point. Work which is simply joyful ticks that box too, but the moments which stand out from previous projects and jobs are all to do with having an effect on how we feel about a place, ourselves or each other. Right now I feel like if you’re not trying to make things better somehow or if you’re just making work for your peers, I really struggle to get excited artistically.
Phil: Many of our blog subscribers are theatre students who plan to go on and make their own work professionally. If you had to give one piece of advice to them, what would it be?
If you need support and no-one locally is helping then remember partnerships breed partnerships, so don’t be afraid to apply for small things all over the country in order to get a foothold locally.
Tim: Obviously see loads of work – especially work outside of your specific interests. Also, the big institutions might seem impenetrable sometimes but don’t take it personally or lose heart. If you need support and no-one locally is helping then remember partnerships breed partnerships, so don’t be afraid to apply for small things all over the country in order to get a foothold locally; if you don’t need support, then don’t wait for permission – we have more tools at our disposal than ever before to independently create, publicise and document something small and unusual.