Prancer the Dancer
Image by Matt Crockett

New Festive Family Show – Prancer The Dancer

Marlborough Productions’ Lauren Church talks about innovative new work for children 

“It’s about saying it’s OK, and making space for joy, no matter what’s going on outside. It’s about you, and believing In you, and putting that self-belief into action.” Marlborough Productions’ Creative Development Producer, Lauren Church, is undoubting about the message their new theatre work offers young people and their grown-ups. 

Prancer The Dancer is packed with fun for the whole family, helping audiences imagine what discos might be like in the future, if dancing could translate into renewable energy and how time travel may provide a useful exercise in confidence building. “We wanted to make a space which is purely about celebration, so folks could come to the show and just be themselves,” says Church. “This year has been tremendously difficult, and this period is going to be particularly challenging for many families.”

We get to meet Prancer, who is painfully shy but desperate to dance. In fact, it’s their biggest wish in the world. Building a time machine in their bedroom, Prancer journeys to the future. There they become a world-famous star, as Prancer the Dancer, tears up the Blackpool Tower Ballroom with some futuristic dance power. 

“The festive period is a difficult time of year. It can be so isolating. When this opportunity arrived to preview this new work at ACCA and take it on to Shoreditch for a world premiere, we felt it was the perfect time of year. It’s not a Christmas show, but it can feel quite festive. I think disco music sounds festive, but that might say something about me!”

This dance theatre work celebrates movement, community and how we can all help construct a better future, while encouraging greater confidence and understanding of identity. There’s even a post-performance disco party, where you can bust out the moves you learned during the show.

“What Prancer is doing is treating adults and children the same. You could come to this work as an adult and enjoy it just the same. Children are intelligent, and they do know when they’re being patronised. The universal message is about realising you are enough and taking space to develop an awareness around mental health.”

If times are difficult, the enforced jollity attached to Christmas can pull everything into sharp focus for some people. But before Christianity, this period of the year saw many celebrations amongst communities designed to spread light and happiness in the depth of winter. Despite it not being a traditional Christmas show, Prancer The Dancer seems to tap into these ancient traditions. “All those adverts on the television, where you see people coming together, can make you feel a bit rubbish if you haven’t got that going on yourself. This is about community building and coming together in an authentic way, so everybody can be a stakeholder in the show.”

The idea for Prancer was seeded at Palaver Party at Cambridge Junction – a family-orientated space where everyone is encouraged to be whoever they want to be, with music, performances, DIY costume-making and lots of glitter. There was lots of workshopping with Adam Carver from Fatt Projects, who run a programme to develop performance work which engages with children in a meaningful way. “Adam was so important in the project’s inception, and what we realised was this was something which could become a full show.” With enthusiastic support from venue partners, and almost a year of production, Prancer The Dancer is ready for the world.

The show previews at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Sat 10 – Sun 11 Dec, before transferring to Shoreditch Town Hall for its World Premiere on Tues 20 -Sat 24 Dec. There are plans to take the idea onward. The role of Prancer can be fulfilled by any artist in the community, while the script can be adapted to cover important key issues. There are already ongoing conversations with national venues and talk of international tours. Like the titular character, there’s world-building ambitions for this work.

The Brighton-based Marlborough Productions is arguably Britain’s premier queer-led, intersectional performance makers. Working closely with local arts groups like The Spire, ACCA and South East Dance, it’s platformed a broad spectrum of critically-acclaimed and innovative new work over the past ten years, opening spaces to inspire people from a range of backgrounds. 

Image by Matt Crockett

“All the work Marlborough does enriches the life of our team and associate artists. Selfishly, it’s an incredible wellbeing strategy to make a piece that’s purely about joy.” Marlborough recently became an arts council National Portfolio Organisation, recognised as an organisation which provides meaningful cultural events which benefit the community around them. It means they now have secured core funding for the next three years, which will have a profound impact on their output.

“Just that very simple change will unlock so much more work for us. There are some big announcements to come from us. So, it is a really exciting time for us.” It allows them to create better strategies, develop new ways to work and challenge any barriers to access.

This is Marlborough Productions first full length for show children, and Church says she wishes there could have been something like this happening when she was a youngster. It must be tough being six years old, and hearing about the cost of living crisis, war and austerity. World events can sometimes be monstrous and scary, especially if you feel like you’ve no agency.

“The nearest I got to this was panto, and the problem I had was my mum and dad couldn’t afford that. There seems to be real learnings in the arts about how to talk to children about difficult subjects. I think it’s been a protection thing, it’s like: ‘No, we can’t talk to kids about mental health…’ But I wish something like Prancer had been around, so if I felt really isolated and rubbish, I could understand what that feeling is and devise some tools to deal with it better.”

Confidence building, understanding identity and learning that you’re not responsible for everybody else are all crucial steps in emotional development. “For me it was watching all the Disney stuff, where there’s a hero who goes out and fixes everything. They sort out the town they live in or the monsters banging at the door. I was thinking I had to go around and fix everything and be a people pleaser. But you don’t have to worry about that. And, if you’re feeling upset… well, that’s OK as well.”

Just before Prancer’s preview, Marlborough are hosting the latest instalment of their Live Art Social showcase at ACCA on Fri 9 Dec. “It’s a chance to gather Marlborough’s family and make a space for all the great stuff we’ve done.” A dynamic, and fully inclusive, evening of alternative cabaret, live music, and radical performances, it gathers a myriad of fantastic local queer talent. 

Church’s work is firmly rooted in social justice and representation, particularly around disability, mental health, race and sexuality. A theatre producer for over 15 years, she says she’s got to work with some amazing artists on shows which have toured internationally. A big hope for Prancer is not only connecting with young people but inspiring their grown-ups to unlock their own sense of fun and wonder. It’s a work which is filled with a subtle lesson, which can inform everyone’s day to day lives, from sustainability to the importance of dreaming big. “If you think back to when you were younger, you probably had all of these ambitions. Mine was starring in Star Wars, but a careers advisor told me it wasn’t going to happen. The inner child in me wishes that I retained some of my ambition.”

As a responsive performance work seeking to offer an enriching experience, Prancer encourages us to take some much-needed time to let go and check in with joy. We’re not born to just work and pay the bills. We can also live an experience – and feel the complexity of day-to-day life’s emotions. It’s a captivating idea. “This work is not going to fix all the world’s problems, but it is a reminder to check in with yourself and remember the things which are important to you – whether that’s dancing to disco tunes, or just remembering what your ambitions were as a child. Or maybe you’re starting to think about ambitions. It’s quite a small thing which can have a huge impact.”

Marlborough Productions present Prancer The Dancer at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on Sat 10 – Sun 11 Dec and Shoreditch Town Hall for its World Premiere on Tues 20 – Sat 24 Dec.

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