The Origin of Carmen Power at Unlimited Festival 2021

The Origin of Carmen Power, a project by Beyond Arts made in association with the Unicorn through our community REACH programme, is now available to watch online, for free, at Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival, until 17 Jan 2021.

This self-guided, digital quest playfully and sensitvely explores the real-life cancer experience of a young girl called Carmen. Innovative theatre-maker Toby Peach, who also experienced cancer as a teenager has developed this imaginative and often joyful story with Carmen in order to tell her story in her own words.

Unicorn REACH coordinator Shanti said 'The Origin of Carmen Power is an exciting collaboration with Beyond Arts, as it is a digital, interactive project that seeks to amplify the story of a girl who experiences cancer, directly with children currently in hospital care who have similar experiences.

This collaboration is a wonderful opportunity to engage children and families who would not normally be able to access such a theatrical, interactive experience, so we're excited to support it as part of our Community REACH programme.'

The Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival seeks to shift perceptions of disabled people with audiences from across the world which is why it's a brilliant platform to share this project. I'm excited for Carmen's story to be included in the Unlimited programme as it will engage many more children and families in her journey.'

The Origin of Carmen Power is for ages 7 - 13. It can be watched online for free here until 17 Jan 2021.

The Unicorn's Community REACH Programme aims to engage with children and young people who do not typically experience theatre and the creative arts. Working with communities from many different backgrounds, including young Refugees, young Carers, children with experience of foster care, children and families who access foodbanks, and others who have had adverse childhood experiences, REACH aims to champion the stories and experiences of children and young people from disadvantaged & marginalised backgrounds, through bespoke theatre and creative arts projects and opportunities to see Unicorn productions.​

You can find out more about REACH here.

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Winning the 2020 Creative Green Award for Outstanding Achievement

We were so proud to win the Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2020 Creative Green Awards this November. To celebrate this win Frey, our Schools' Officer caught up with Jenn, our Production and Technical Director to learn more about the Green Team’s sustainable activity this year…
Hi Jenn! What led to your involvement in the Unicorn's Green Team, and the theatre's recent efforts in sustainability?
The Green Team has been around since before my time, with Amy (General Manager) and Adam (Building Maintenance Manager) doing a lot of work bringing the energy footprint of the building dand others realised our reason for existing, the stage work, wasn't a part of it in the same way. It doesn't make sense to me that we could have what could sometimes be a "wasteful stage" within an enviromentally-friendly building. That's why we decided on our Greening Our Productions process. In my new role (Production and Technical Director), and I can see how the building and artistic side of things intersect. As my work is making sure that the artistic plan actually ends up onstage, to safely, sustainably facilitate that artistic vision, I think it's fed into this.

Jennifer Taillefer, Production and Technical Director

Do you think there's a particular responsibility for theatres like the Unicorn, and organisations which make art more widely, to be sustainable?
I think that theatres absolutely have a responsibility, because I see theatres as mirrors for what's happening in the world. They're places where people go to make sense of our stories and our past, and I don't think there's any bigger, more important story right now than the climate emergency. The two naturally have to go together. And as we're a theatre for young people, we have to make an investment in their future.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the Unicorn's green efforts so far? Could it have long term implications for theatres' green efforts?
We powered down in a much fuller way over lockdown, and discovered that that's okay! Sometimes there's a cultural storytelling in a building, an assumed "Oh, you can't turn that off! We never turn that off." But in lockdown, we did - and it was fine. My worry is that the strain of what's happened this year will make us separate the pandemic from being an environmental issue; theatres will want to prioritise getting back on our feet. But the desire to get back to "normal" and rebuild our lives is a desire to return, rather than to figure out what's next, and go about it in a different way. My hope is that we've learned some lessons from this, and recognise that the pandemic is a climate change issue, and our risk register will take this more fully into account in the future. I hope the slowing down has appealed to people, and doing less has triggered some thinking. I hope that continues.

The pandemic's pause has given us room to back our processes up and think; as we're not putting on a conventional Christmas show this year, we've got time to figure out the Christmas show next year. It's difficult right now, as theatres are on constantly shifting sands in terms of what can and can't do, but we have to be as forward-planning as we can. If we're constantly in a reactive mode, we can't move this forward.

How has working with creative teams and companies in the green-conscious way outlined in our Greening Our Productions guide been so far?
Though we published that guide in January, we'd implemented it for the whole season; so for instance on Anansi the Spider, the easy, standard scenic workshop way to have made its giant tree would've been to carve the whole thing out of polystyrene. The designer (Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey) brought the design to us to discuss how we could do it together. That tree ended up being a welded metal armature, which we reused, that was then covered in cardboard tubes that we got for free from a carpet supplier, and then wrapped in natural willow branches - and then we had to make it fireproof! And the fire-retardant is not very environmentally-friendly, but we need it to be safe around small children. Everything's a jigsaw like that, and whenever anybody says, "Is it environmentally friendly or sustainable?" I ask: compared to what? Compared to a giant polystyrene tree?

It's the corridor conversations, too. Catching a wardrobe supervisor to say "Please don't have five different options at a fitting," and explaining that eighty percent of what we buy online, we have to throw out - that's how we change mindsets. I think the biggest thing we've done to help our process is stand by our timeline, so sustainability is part of the conversation from the very beginning, permeating the whole process. So far, the response from those we work with has been amazing.

The tree from Anansi the Spider, which was made from recycled materials

How do you think the Unicorn's green work impacts our audience?
I think in being honest about what we're trying to do, you invite people to go "Well, yes, but what about these fourteen things you're not doing yet?" But I think it's important to be transparent about the struggles as well as the wins. Similar to dealing with Covid-19, there's a Venn diagram in my head of things that actually work, and things the public want to see, and every now and then they cross over. We had massive feedback from our audiences asking why we had disposable coffee cups at our Unicornershop. So we switched over to disposable vegware, made from corn, and while our audience was pleased, the recycling company we use said "We can't compost these - the worms won't eat them, they clog up the system and have to go into landfill." It's about taking audience feedback and ideas (especially those of the kids, which are often brilliant), yet also being up-front about what does and doesn't work. Something we're talking about is adding green notes to every show, available on the website and on any freesheet, and using that to openly evaluate the sustainability of each show.

How do you personally find hope when faced with news and statistics about the climate emergency?
Getting outside, even in an urban environment. When we locked down, it took two weeks until there were trees growing out of the concrete at London Bridge - I find hope in that. There's a resilience in this planet which is beyond us, but we really have to get out of its way. And seeing how wild animals adapt to being in an urban environment - I love foxes and raccoons, how they're just getting on with it.

I appreciate that our executives and board are behind us; it would be so much more difficult if we were having to fight this way. This has to be a cultural shift, not just another duty we load onto what certain people at the theatre already do. Like embracing health and safety twenty years ago, it needs to be something we do without even thinking about it - like putting locks on a ladder before we climb up it.

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Philip Pullman's Grimm Tales launches Mon 5 Oct 2020

We're excited to launch a deliciously gruesome selection of six theatrical readings from Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales on our YouTube channel, 10am Monday 5 October 2020. Find out more.

The cast of story-tellers include Nadia Albina, Le Gateau Chocolat, Colin Morgan, Cecilia Noble, Andy Umerah and Susan Wokoma who will each tell one story, creating a rich and potent world alive with the strange and the familiar.

They will be reading the following Grimm Tales:

Justin Audibert directs Nadia Albina reading Hansel and Gretel

Rachel Bagshaw with Le Gateau Chocolat reading Rumpelstiltskin

Polly Findlay directs Colin Morgan reading The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs

Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu directs Andy Umerah reading The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers

Ola Ince directs Susan Wokoma reading The Brave Little Tailor

Bijan Sheibani directs Cecilia Noble reading Cinderella

Unicorn Online has been made possible with the generous support of the Backstage Trust and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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Our empty theatre in photos

We're pleased to be part of Helen Murray's (@helenmurraypix) extraordinary #OurEmptyTheatres project documenting 22 empty theatres across the country at this moment in time.

View more photos on her website.

Unicorn Theatre foyer. Photo by Helen MurrayUnicorn Theatre view of the Weston stage. Photo by Helen MurrayUnicorn Theatre empty office. Photo by Helen MurrayUnicorn Theatre view from the Weston stage. Photo by Helen Murray

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During these extraordinary times, the Unicorn is responding with a new digital theatre project Unicorn Online - a fresh, innovative approach to making online theatre for young audiences during the building’s closure. Launching with Anansi the Spider Re-spun and streamed in partnership with The Guardian, this unique project brings theatre direct from the homes of the artist to the homes of the audience.

Each week from Sat 30 May, an online story of Anansi – the ultimate mischief-maker and master spinner of yarns – will be streamed for free on the Unicorn’s YouTube channel and The Guardian’s website. The show is aimed at ages 3 to 8 years. Alongside the Anansi episodes, there will be free downloadable activities for teachers and parents and a free online workshop where viewers can learn a song from Anansi, send in a recording and feature in an online Anansi community choir video.

Justin Audibert has shaped three of the most popular stories from his 2019 production – Brother Anansi and Brother Snake, Anansi and The Two Dinners, Anansi and the Pot of Wisdom – specifically for an online audience. Working alongside film company Illuminations and featuring the original cast of Afia Abusham, Sapphire Joy and Juliet Okotie, each scene will be captured by them within their own homes and edited within the current pandemic restrictions, bringing each scene together with a live, spontaneous sense of performance. 

Using the technology available and celebrating the ‘at home’ nature of the filming and editing, the Unicorn aims to deliver a bold, fun and new way to tell stories that spark the imagination. The Unicorn is currently closed to the public but its mission to engage, inspire and entertain young people remains vital.

The theatre hopes to continue to serve audiences through Unicorn Online – its new hub for digital theatre experiences for children. Premiering with this innovative, digital-specific production, the Unicorn aims to support young people through this time of crisis when they are living with more physical rules, social limitations and personal frustrations than many will have ever experienced. The theatre will continue producing more digital projects over this time as a way to reach more young people across the city, as well as across the UK and beyond.

Unicorn Online has been made possible with the generous support of the Backstage Trust and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Anansi the Spider Re-Spun is streamed in partnership with The Guardian.

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For our interactive show with Tim Crouch, I, Cinna (the poet), we asked the audience to write a poem and, if they liked, send it in to be shared online. We had a fantastic amount of poems sent in, and we would like to give a huge thank you to all of the people that were inspired by the show. 

You can view the poems here. 

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Announcing Bailey Lock as our New Executive Director and Joint Chief Executive

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Bailey Lock as our new Executive Director and Joint Chief Executive. Bailey will take up the position in March 2020, succeeding Anneliese Davidsen who is leaving the company after eight years to become Director of Two Temple Place.
Bailey is currently General Manager at the Donmar Warehouse, where she has been since November ‘14.  Prior to that, she was Senior Producer at the Lyric Hammersmith, and Production Assistant at Sonia Friedman Productions, where she was a Stage One Bursary Recipient.
Bailey will continue to build on the Unicorn’s success over the past decade, working alongside Artistic Director Justin Audibert.  She will bring a wealth of expertise to developing new and existing partnerships across the sector, as well as expanding the theatre’s hugely successful national and international collaborations and continuing to build the company’s outstanding reputation for producing bold, inventive, and provocative new work.

Chair of the Unicorn’s Board of Directors, John Langley, said“We would very much like to thank Anneliese for her exceptional stewardship of the Unicorn over the last eight very exciting years, working firstly with Purni Morell and then guiding Justin through his first 18 months. It has been a privilege to work with her and we would all like to wish her the very best in her forthcoming endeavours at Two Temple Place.  We are delighted now to hand the Unicorn on to the shared stewardship of Bailey, working alongside Justin.  Bailey won universal approval from the recruitment panel for her clear-sighted and precise focus, and she brings with her a wealth of knowledge and skills.  She will be a huge asset to the theatre in the coming years.
Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive Justin Audibert, said I am enormously looking forward to leading the team with Bailey, whose wide-ranging theatre management and producing skills will take us forward to the next phase in the Unicorn’s evolution.  We have exciting future plans in the pipeline, and over the coming months I can’t wait for the whole Unicorn team to make them real!”
Bailey Lock said "I’m a huge admirer of the Unicorn and its extraordinary work for children and young people on and off stage. I’m so excited to be joining Justin Audibert and the Unicorn team in delivering this incredibly exciting and important programme."
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The Unicorn Theatre declares a Climate Emergency

At the Unicorn, we try to take responsibility for our choices – for the work on our stages, for our practices and processes, for our effect on the world.  So in recent years, we have worked hard to improve our organisational environmental sustainability. 
But in October 2018, the International Panel on Climate Change reported that we only have 12 years to change how we live, globally.  Extreme weather events are changing the world and destroying lives.
If all of us take fast and drastic action within our own sphere of influence, making changes in our behaviours, we can meet climate goals.  The need to take action is more urgent than ever and here at the Unicorn, we know we need to do more, faster.
The Unicorn joins many other arts and cultural organisations in declaring a Climate Emergency.  We want to commit a response to this global crisis across all areas of our work.
Here are our commitments.
In our own work, we will continue to take environmental action across our building and operations – through our recycling, reusing and repurposing, through our merchandise and café activities, through our productions, and through our choices of energy suppliers and product providers – and we will continue to imagine new and better ways to work.
In our stakeholder and external relationships, we will support our community, our governing bodies, our national and international partners to tackle the emergency, to advocate for change, to speak out for the climate emergency.
In our relationships with our audiences, we will listen to and engage with young people to try to respond to their knowledge, their questions, and their demands.
In the wider community, we will advocate for and celebrate democracy and social justice wherever we can across political parties, civic institutions, points of view, and communities large and small.
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“It’s vital to me that everyone can visit us regardless of financial circumstance. Young people have a right to experience great art of the same quality that we adults seek for ourselves.”

- Justin Audibert, Artistic Director

Justin Audibert’s first season at the Unicorn as Artistic Director includes an incredible mix of playwrights, artists and theatre companies. Justin is passionate about ensuring the work on our stages is experienced by the widest possible range of young people. Our building is a creative environment in which young people can be challenged, engaged and inspired and we want to share it with everyone.
We are deeply committed to ensuring that young people and their families feel welcome, and to making our theatre accessible to all. Thanks to generous funding from The McGrath Trust we subsidise thousands of school and community visits every year.
We have committed to maintaining our £10 tickets for state-funded schools for the eighth consecutive year, and offer as much support as possible to non-fee paying schools who might be unable to visit us for financial reasons. As brutal cuts are affecting creative learning opportunities in schools across the country, we know that this work is more important than ever. We also stretch beyond education to defend children’s right to a creative and fulfilling life and have recently launched REACH – a major new community programme which welcomes children from London's most deprived communities into the Unicorn to experience the joys of a live theatre experience. 
In order to reach more young people, we are launching PASS IT ON…AND ON… a new campaign that enables us to give more free tickets than ever before to those who need it most. The premise is simple but the impact will be massive.
In 2017 we launched our original PASS IT ON campaign enabling audiences to donate £10 so that another child could have the same great experience at the Unicorn as them. This has been hugely successful. But we asked ourselves if there was a way to make this better, to reach more people? We believe the answer is PASS IT ON…AND ON… our brand new campaign that gives everyone the opportunity to donate £10 per month. This will go straight to giving a child a ticket to the Unicorn. You can learn more about the campaign here.
We already do so much to ensure everyone can visit us and experience great theatre. But of course we want to do more and we are always being asked by audiences, friends and supporters how they can help, how they can do more too.  This is how, and now is the time. 
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"I believe in the power of words because they need no mediation": this National Poetry Day, We Talk To Tim Crouch about his play I, Cinna (the poet).

The poet, Cinna, hardly says a word in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceaser before he is mistaken for someone else and torn to pieces by an angry mob. He’s Shakespeare’s unluckiest character. For National Poetry Day, we spoke to writer and performer, Tim Crouch about his show, I, Cinna (the poet), which plays at the Unicorn in February 2020, and asked what he thought the role of poetry is in young people’s world today. 
I, Cinna (the poet) is set to come to the Unicorn 5 Feb 2020.
Originally written for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012, and with a filmed version live-streamed to secondary schools across the UK, I, Cinna (the poet) tells the story of Cinna, who, after only 17 lines, is mistaken for another Cinna (Cinna the conspirator) and killed. This is the fifth of a series of plays written by Tim, which re-writes the narrative of Shakespeare’s minor characters. But why does Tim believe these stories need to be told?
“It’s good to change the angle at which we look at the world. It helps us to discover new things. History is written about the leaders, but it’s made by all of us - big and small. It’s good to get the small person’s perspective on the big stories. The powerful can look after themselves. They don’t need our help.
“Young people are often perceived as ‘minor characters’ in the world. But their voice is just as important as anyone else's.
“Dear old Cinna the poet. One short scene - and then he’s killed.  Killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time - and with the wrong name. If anyone needs their story expanding, it’s Cinna. It barely starts before it’s finished. In the 21st century, there’d be a campaign for Justice for Cinna! His killers would be found and prosecuted. In a way, I’m doing this for him through writing about him.”
The fact that Shakespeare appointed Cinna’s unfortunate fate to a poet is, for Tim, not a detail to be disregarded:
“In Julius Caesar, Cinna-the-poet’s fate helps us to understand the impact of political events on ordinary people. Cinna is caught up in the public disorder and he is killed by the mob. He could have been any ordinary citizen  - Shakespeare mentions cobblers and carpenters in his play, for example - but Shakespeare chooses to make Cinna a poet. It’s a poet, an artist, who is killed as a consequence of the public unrest. By this simple act of making Cinna a poet, Shakespeare invites us to consider the role of the artist in society. Later in Julius Caesar, another poet appears and argues with Brutus for peace. The question Shakespeare gives Brutus about this second poet is ‘What should the wars do with these jigging fools?’
“I take this question as a starting point for my play - what’s the point of art during major political upheaval? My Cinna says, ‘What use is poetry when the tanks are in the streets?'
 Tim Crouch believes we need to hold on to poetry's power 'in the face of digital media and screens'.
Not only is Cinna a poet himself, but the audience too becomes poets during the show, as they are given paper and pen and encouraged to participate in creating a mass-database of poetry, inspired by Cinna’s story. With this year’s National Poetry Day theme being ‘Truth’, and as slogans and protest increasingly becomes the backdrop for young people’s lives, what does Tim think about the role of poetry today?
“Poetry can get to the heart of where we are and how we feel. It helps us feel the mystery of being alive… We need to hold on to its power - in the face of digital media and screens.  I believe in the power of words because they need no mediation. In I, Cinna (the poet), Cinna says: 'There is nothing that cannot be done or undone with words. Pictures are helpful, but words don't need a camera. Words are also pictures. They can change the world.’
“I’m struck by the power of words in the language of protest - the banners that we see during rallies, particularly climate protest.  These protesters are using words in the same way that poets do - finding an economy and power to deal with complex ideas. They are all poets.”
I, Cinna (the poet) opens at the Unicorn on 5 February for ages 11 – 14.  What is exciting Tim about the show?
“The relationship between the performer and the audience in I, Cinna (the poet) will be a mix of story-teller, writer and good teacher - I hope! I’m very excited to see the writing that is done during the show. We all work together in this show and it feels very fresh and alive. Each performance will be different, each performance will produce something!”
You can find more information and get your tickets here: /ICinna
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