#NWConnect: Interview with The PappyShow’s Kane Husbands

We are very proud of our North Wall Creative Associates: 10 individuals and companies with a special relationship to The North Wall, representing the best and brightest of UK Theatre.

The PappyShow are a playful, physical and visual ensemble theatre company. Formed in 2013 by Kane Husbands, difference and diversity are the cornerstones to their work and process. Their shows have toured across the UK, winning multiple awards at London’s Vault Festival and most recently performing BOYS at the Southbank Centre for the 2020 London International Mime Festival.

Could you tell us about your relationship with The North Wall?

I first started working at the North Wall in 2016 (I think), when I worked with John and Tom Brennan (from the Wardrobe Ensemble) on an ArtsLab project. Since then The PappyShow has delivered our own ArtsLab residency last year – for three weeks we researched around the world’s understanding of death and how we celebrate, mourn and cherish life. We have performed our shows BOYS and GIRLS and I recently spoke at a Q and A with some of the North Wall’s ArtsLab artists. John and Ria are also dear friends and I’m a mega fan of them and their work.

What is at the heart of The PappyShow’s work?

At the heart of the PappyShow’s work is connection, authenticity and difference. We are a diverse company that believes in celebrating our differences and giving space and a platform to the identities we hear from less. We are a joyful company that believe ‘Play’ makes us better people. Training and self-awareness are the foundations of our work. We research big topics and centre our work on ‘lived experiences’ and then want to share that research with audiences. We believe that the world can be better, and that through opening up the conversation through practice, performance, story, discussion and bringing people together – we can begin to move towards a braver and better-connected people.

Could you describe a day in The PappyShow’s rehearsal room?

We always start with a check-in. A couple of big questions that help us get to know each other. We gauge the temperature of the room and share stories from the beginning. I may ask ‘what does your heaven look like’, or ’tell me about someone who changed your life’ or ‘what dish best describes you’, and we hear how each person is feeling that day. In our room – you just have to be yourself – that’s enough for us. We will then play – for about 45 minutes – 1 hour – a whole array of games that get us up and bouncy and bright and connected. We will then do a big physical workout – something challenging, sweaty, maybe some choreography. Then we would start the work – if it’s a show we are working on we may recap and pick up where we left off. If it’s not we may look at some provocations and discuss them, respond, devise. Our work is often rooted in exercises, discussions, and research. At the end of a rehearsal we would check out – talk about how we felt and what we witnessed today.

Ensemble is at the heart of our practice – everyone in the room is a maker and has a viewpoint. We follow the path that we feel we are led down and then respond to that at the end. We devise our work, looking at what we have and reflecting on it – which allows us all to be the artist and maker and director. Everyone in the room contributes to making the work.

BOYS and GIRLS have toured extensively with different company members – when new performers join, do the shows themselves change?

It’s important to us that the shows change. The people, the cast and the audience have changed – it’s important we reflect that. In our work there is always an element of liveness and improvisation – the audience witnessed things we could never repeat. As the world shifts and turns, so must we – so we adapt to the space, the people, the location, the audience and each version of our work – is a perfectly imperfect performance.

What inspired you to make CARE?

CARE is a beautiful show that was our love letter to the NHS. All of my maternal side of the family work in hospitals. I feel like I grew up in hospital; they are cleaners, porters, receptionists, nurses, administrators. It’s a diverse community of professionals all working hard to look after people. It’s broken and cracked and falling apart – but there’s a whole barrage of effort and energy that aims to look after the whole nation. It’s one of the best inventions the UK ever invested in, and in today’s times if one of our politicians would put forward an idea like this now – everyone would say how crazy they are. And yet we have it, and yet it’s here. I wanted to take stock and say thank you. That for some people we ask them to ‘Care’ even when it’s hard, and even when they don’t want to – and still they do. Caring can be really really really hard – and some people do it every hour of every day.

It’s so strange to think that now the whole world has shifted – we’ve potentially started to value our NHS a lot more in these uncertain times, I’m grateful for that.

What collaborations have brought you joy over the last few years?

We’ve had some amazing collaborations over this time. A really successful one was with an LGBTQ+ young people’s charity – called MetroCharity, with English Heritage and the National Youth Theatre. We created a site-specific promenade piece around an English heritage site. It was amazing to work with a diverse cast of people of colour, the trans and non-binary community, young people and my own PappyShow family. I felt like we were making a big difference giving platform to these voices and identities in a very traditional space. Often we may think of heritage and ‘Englishness’ as not necessarily celebrating queerness or people of colour – so I felt very proud of that. That project just won an award for best event in the UK Heritage Awards 2020.

Which artists or pieces of work (any medium) helped you through lockdown?

I never thought I’d say this but I started to transform my instagram through lockdown, I filled it with colour and artists and it really does inspire me. I love @PrinceJyesi @manjujournal and so many black photographers out there. There is some really beautiful African art that has filled my mind with colour and shape and story. I’ve enjoyed watching dance – I’ve always loved Pina Bausch’s work – so recapping moments of that has been beautiful too.

What advice would you give to early-career artists?

I live by the NIKE slogan – Just do it. Embrace the idea of Perfectly Imperfect and lean into being brave. We talk about so much – but be brave enough to put your work out there and make it.

What are your hopes for the future of the theatre industry?

I hope to see the cracked system that feels so broken and under-representative of the people we spoke of, be better reflected and included. I hope we see privileged platforms shared. I hope to see more colour, joy and play in the world. I hope we take this opportunity to rebuild seriously and move towards doing better.

What makes you happy?

I feel happy around my company – playing games, silliness, laughter, running downhill, wildness gives me such energy. I love seeing people thriving. Gratitude makes me feel so happy. Eating cheese and bread, hanging out with my nephew, dancing in the living room. These things are bringing me joy at the moment.

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