dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Fun family show with a serious message
Children's show The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad aims to be fun for families while having a serious message. Created by Bootworks Theatre Company, the show, which comes to Birmingham Library on Saturday May 12, is about the topic of death and dying and uses Frank's story to encourage parents to talk to their children about these issues.
The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad. Photo: Alex Brenner
Bootworks co-artistic director James Baker explains: "The show follows a character called Frank who has lost his mother. He doesn't know what has happened to her and, being an inquisitive kind of guy, he sets about trying to find where she is. He doesn't get any answers from his dad so he goes to a place called the Lose-O-Porium, which is where all the lost things are kept but mum can't be found there either so he goes on a journey to look for her. On the way he meets lots of different characters who talk about the things they've lost in their lives as well and each character takes Frank through a different stage of that learning journey."
And James adds: "It's a really fun show – despite the theme of it. It's all about getting kids to talk about, and think about, what it's like to lose things and equip them with some tools for when that might happen to them."
James and his team believe theatre is an ideal vehicle to open the door on these discussions. "Children are very aware that bad things happen in the world and we feel that as a theatre company we should address the whole palate of human emotion – not just try and maintain a pretence that everything is always great," he says. "I don't think that sets children up for the reality of the world. Exploring these themes means that when things do happen in their lives like the death of a parent or a grandparent then they are familiar with reference points and perhaps parents have already had a conversation with them about death so it's not such a jarring experience for them."
Family theatre from Bootworks Theatre Company. Credit: Alex Brenner
Families will have the chance to experience The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad when the production comes to Birmingham next month. Performed at the Children's Library at the Library of Birmingham on Saturday May 12, there are performances at 12.30-1.30pm and 3-4pm.
The show forms part of a two-week festival, A Matter of Life and Death, which features theatre, arts and crafts, discussions, dining and film to encourage people of all ages to discuss issues around end of life. Created by the community collective BrumYODO, the festival take place across Birmingham between May 10-26 and is supported by Arts Council England and sponsored by Silks solicitors and international professional advisors STEP.
Festival programme manager Antonia Beck saw Frank Feelbad at the Life, Death (and the Rest) Festival in Bristol earlier this year and knew straight away it was the ideal production for A Matter of Life and Death.
She says: "Frank Feelbad is a wonderful show for children and adults! It's funny, charming and presents the sensitive subject matter of death and bereavement in a very supportive and perceptive way. Bootworks Theatre Company have created a great experience for all ages and, once you step inside the 'Lose-O-Porium', you are completely engaged in wanting to help Frank in the search for his mum. This is a much-needed piece of theatre with a very profound message about having open and honest conversations with children about death. Death comes to us all at some time and the more prepared we are to discuss it with children and young people, the more they can understand when they do experience the death of someone they love."
James believes A Matter of Life and Death is the ideal place for Bootworks to bring Frank's journey. "These kind of festivals are really important," he says. "They are the places where our show can have significant impact on the people who experience it because beyond the show the festival has a whole cultural shift around the subject of dying. The fact that someone will go to one event and then take their children to another event is a real cross-pollination across the generations. It becomes a whole family experience."
The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad encourages families not just to discuss the themes after watching the production – but also to be part of the story. "The children are recruited to help Frank locate places and things throughout the show," James says. "The first thing they do is go on a scavenger hunt to find puzzle pieces and when they put them together they discover a map of the town. They have a role and with every character they meet there is some interaction between the kids and the character – that may be shouting out answers or doing a dance to unlock the next level or listening to their parent's heartbeat. The audience helps us along the way."
And they also talk to each other. "It's a family show and there are things written into it which encourage the carer and child to sit together and share experiences," says James. "It's very participatory. Families love the show and the responses have been really positive. Children are totally wrapped up in the story and what happens to Frank and his experiences along the way and it does tend to act as a catalyst for conversation. We've kept the audience pretty small in terms of audience numbers, it's a show for 30 or so at a time because in that smaller context we can talk to people about something which is a bit taboo. A small space like that is more nurturing and safe than a larger theatre space."
James says that while Frank Feelbad does have an important message, it's also a fun show which will draw children into the world of theatre. "Our show does break from the norms of children's theatre but we do so in a responsible way and in a celebratory way. And in a way that's fun – this isn't a 'dirgey' show in any way – it just so happens that death is something which happens in the piece of work."
Tickets for the show are £5 for children, £7 for adults or a family ticket for four costs £20. For more on The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad and to book tickets see brumyodo.org.uk