Interview: Yasmeen Arden On Small Truth Theatre’s Digital Caravan Theatre Series

When the world isn’t completely upside down and full of uncertainty, Small Truth Theatre lay claim to a unique theatre space: a retro 1950s caravan! Now Small Truth Theatre may be small in name, but they’re bold and ambitious in nature; while live performances are on hold, they’ve launched the Digital Caravan Theatre series, offering audiences plays which have previously enjoyed live runs in audio form. I caught up with Director Yasmeen Arden to chat about adapting to uncertain times and this fab new audio play series…

First of all, tell me a little bit about Small Truth Theatre and how the company came to be.

Sometimes you have to literally make your own dreams come true and Small Truth is enabling us to develop and grow our practice, proud of our working class roots. Our style is all about shining a light on stories and characters that often go unseen and creating work in a genuinely collaborative way.

Now when the world is on an even keel, you’ve got a very unique set-up for audiences to enjoy with your ‘retro 1950s Caravan Theatre’. What would you say is the best or most enjoyable thing about being able to offer up an unconventional space for theatre productions?

The caravan is a very inviting space where we can take the very best of theatre out to people’s doorsteps, their markets or town squares and connect directly with our audiences in their everyday lives. The caravan theatre is the most immediate and equalising space so gives both the audiences and artists involved a unique experience. We are literally all in it together, we are all as important as each other and this is very empowering and unifying. We are the ultimate outreaching theatre. All our caravan shows are free (live and digital) as we want good art to be for everyone.

That’s fantastic! And as you’re currently not able to produce live work, you’ve created an audio festival of mini plays, the Digital Caravan Theatre. What sparked this decision and what can listeners expect from the festival in terms of content, style and running times?

All the micro plays (15 minutes) were originally commissioned for our live Kensington Karavan Theatre festival last year and have been inspired by our local area of North Kensington and now we are so excited to share them with you to listen to in your local area, whether you’re listening while out on a walk, sitting in the park or at home in your favourite armchair.

It is so lovely to think that people all over the same city, around the country or even all over the world will be enjoying these stories together and might feel a little more connected to their own communities. All the original actors are reprising their characters and they are such beautiful performers so it is a joy and an honour to be working with Safiyya Ingar, Lilly Driscoll and Danielle Vitalis again, they are a total dream!

It’s interesting to know that each play was originally performed at the Kensington Karavan Festival 2019. What’s the process of adapting the work for audio audiences been like?

We wanted to capture the essence the Caravan Theatre experience, so we thought let’s embrace the new micro space – people’s ears – and create what we do best which is a direct connection with characters and audience and then it actually becomes an epic space that we connect with – people’s imagination. Working in partnership with sound designer Nicola Chang is always a pleasure and this time she has taken things to the next level! We also saw the opportunity to make our work even more accessible, so all have BSL versions interpreted by the extraordinary Jacqui Beckford.

All three plays are obviously audio works, but Spirit of the Carnival includes a visual film created by Daniel Renwick – what is it about this particular piece which prompted the commitment to maintaining a visual element?

Dan is an incredible documentary film maker who works extensively in North Kensington making the award winning Failed by the State – available to watch on youtube. I knew he would have loads of footage from many years of visiting the Notting Hill Carnival which is the world of the play and that he would be able to capture the colour, spectacle, joy and grit of this spectacular event. It feels right  to offer a multi-sensory experience for Spirit of Carnival because the event is such a feast for the senses.

It’s also great to see that all three audio plays will be accompanied by British Sign Language. Is this commitment to accessibility a staple of your work and something you intend to continue with when you return to live work?

Definitely, we are always striving to make the best theatre and to do that, it must to be more accessible to more people.

What‘s next for the company?

We have our second collection of digital plays for the autumn, we can’t wait to share them with you!

And finally, there are three plays available to date so leave us with a little taste of each…

SPIRIT OF CARNIVAL BY EMMA DENNIS-EDWARDS Let the Spirit of Carnival take you on a journey to the heart and soul of Notting Hill Carnival. Bringing to life the wonder of this spectacular event and its roots – Spirit invites you to join her for Europe’s biggest street festival. How will you find her? You can’t miss her she’s everywhere!

ENOUGH BY ABI ZAKARIAN Dedicated to Portobello Road and all roads that hold a community together. Meet Olive with all her stories and the people she meets along the way. Olive is great company, so come and take a walk with her down Portobello Road. A love story between one woman and the street where she lives.

SEPTEMBER SKIES BY JESSICA BUTCHER Join Kite as she remembers one very magical summer holiday adventure before she went to secondary school and everything changed. This one will be enjoyed by all ages. Set in North Kensington September Skies is a story of growing up and finding your way. *Learning Packs to accompany September Skies – for Teachers, Parents and Carers – are available. Contact Small Truth Theatre for more info.

So there you have it! You can keep up to date with Small Truth Theatre via their Twitter page and their website and you can listen to the full Digital Caravan Theatre series here.

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