Blog 2 – Anna Newell, Theatre Maker for Early Years & Children with Complex Needs
Anna Newell is one of Ireland’s leading theatre makers for young audiences, creating unique theatre adventures for audiences of babies, early years and children/young people with complex needs.
She created the world’s first BabyDay, introduced theatre for children and young people with PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties) into Ireland and helped start baby theatre in South Africa. Her work for Early Years audiences has been seen on six continents.
The shows are informed and inspired by their audiences at every stage of their creation and have human connection at their very heart.
Tonic Theatre Award winner 2017 - for “women who are changing the face of theatre”
Ellen Stewart Award 2016 finalist - for “theatremakers whose work with/for young people has had a major social impact”.
How Spiderman Inspired Me Last Summer
In 2019 (which now feels like a decade ago), I made a new show for early years audiences called BigKidLittleKid. It’s a wordless physical theatre piece for ages 3-6 years about the complicated world of sibling rivalry. It opened at The Ark for Dublin Theatre Festival and toured to the Mermaid, the Civic and Draiocht.
Through the summer of 2020, I grew surer and surer about my commitment to finding a way to keep a live connection with my very particular audiences.
During what had become my weekly check-in with my wee brother, he was talking about some guy somewhere in England who’d dressed up as Spiderman and spidey-ed his way through his local streets to the utter delight of the children forced to stay at home in these first shut-in weeks of the first lockdown.
I’ve always been interested in making the ordinary extraordinary and believe that if you can literally change the landscape, you make visible the possibility of change and of hope.
So I hatched a plan.
Thanks to the Ready Steady Show programme run by my main producing partner the Civic, a wee pot of money was found to create a PopUp Play version of BigKidLittleKid which we played on a tennis court outside a summer camp, in a massive hall inside another summer camp and outside a nursery.
My favourite picture of the whole summer was the picture of the one pod sitting watching the extraordinary adventure that unfolded in their tiny playground with the second pod who weren’t allowed to share the same space as them, determinedly pressing their noses against the window intently watching the entire show.
For us as artists, being out there with our audiences again, hearing that very particular laughter of children delighted with a new story, a new connection, was extraordinary. Our hearts soared and I’d be lying if I said we didn’t shed a tear or two of hard-won joy and hope.