How do you get onto the career ladder, when all the rungs are broken? This is what Tangled Feet are asking, at a time when 18-25 year olds are the hardest hit by the UK’s economic downturn.
Tangled Feet have defined themselves by delivering ambitious outdoor performances. Their new show – One Million tells the story of the 1,000,000 unemployed under 25 year olds in the UK. Now, as this lost generation continues to grow, Tangled Feet bring their ground-breaking performance to Black Rock on Fri 23 – Sat 24 May, as part of the Brighton Festival.
“We do lots of work with young people. What we could see looming was the scale and size of youth unemployment,” Nathan Curry, Tangled Feet’s artistic director, tells me. “We felt the only way to adequately tackle this, was to do a show as big and epic in size as the problem itself.”
Stringing together physicality, imagery, music and text, Tangled Feet create truly immersive and socially conscious theatre experiences. In Brighton they’ll bring together around 100 local young people, spectacular large-scale effects, high-voltage physical theatre, live music and dazzling pyrotechnics, to capture the power, fragility and ambition of the next generation.
Constantly exploring and exploiting the relationship between audience and performer, the company maintains an inventive approach to venues, utilising public places, unusual spaces and theatres alike. Previous performances have graced shopping centres, parks, nightclubs, school playing fields, disused buildings and high streets. “In a public space you can have public argument about public life. Once a story is told in a public space, that space is never the same again.”
By staging such a large show it is hoped observers can appreciate the sheer power through weight of numbers that young people possess. But it’s a power that isn’t wielded nearly enough by this section of the community. Young people are increasingly becoming estranged from the political system, yet they are the demographic that should be demanding more from their representatives.
The figures regarding political disinterest amongst young people are disheartening. An estimated 32% of 18- to 24-year-olds voted in 2013’s local elections. This corresponds to a noticeable decline in young voters that began in 2001. Unsurprising, given the way politicians engage with this demographic. “There’s a huge amount of disenfranchisement in that community. They think they’re powerless. One of the things the show tries to articulate is that there are lots of changes they can make.”
One of the show’s core themes argues that it is possible to ignore the current work culture and create your own opportunities. Curry has seen a growing number of young people are shifting away from following the previous generation‘s career choices.
One Million’s core motif is the ladder. It represents the common job cycle, with new employees starting at the bottom. Success brings movement up the ladder, to a better view, if they conform. In the UK space is limited, housing is limited and jobs are limited. We are also faced with a tiny amount of people controlling a disproportionate amount of the resources. “We can’t go on feeding this monster. Something has to change. We have to get better at sharing.” In a society where there are few jobs for young people, this age group is increasingly starting new businesses, exploring new approaches to working and essentially ignoring the system.
Growing up, Curry felt he’d be joining a world that had distinctive structure, but what he sees now is young people eager to change the society they are joining. “Young people have amazing ideas. We should let them, in a way, lead. Because I think they’ll redesign how things are done.” Curry assures me he’s not intending to empower an uprising on the Coty’s beach, at least not a political one. But he is convinced Brighton is the perfect place to spark a cultural revolution.
Young people have grown up with a new and technologically advanced set of communication tools. If they realise it or not, this gives them power. Even the humble smartphone can be an instrument of change. The ability to send out a message of any kind is immensely powerful, especially when the simplest of videos, thoughts and observations can be instantly sent around the world.
So can a large scale outdoor performance, as well as being positive and uplifting entertainment, also act as an instrument of change? “Theatre is a collective experience. This can be hugely transformative,“ Curry muses. “It has a huge potential to engender, not only social change, but personal change.”
Tangled Feet’s One Million comes to Black Rock on Fri 23 and Sat 24 May, at 9.45pm, as part of Brighton Festival 2014.