I’m Bitter About Glitter – An Interview with Cocreator Liz Clarke

I’m Bitter About Glitter is a theatre show for children and adults on at the Wardrobe this month. It is ‘A joyful exploration of identity, belonging and choice’, created by Liz Clarke (age 43) and Felix Council (age 10).

How did the project come about?

The idea began as a conversation between Felix and I about not always making the same choices as everyone else, about growing up in an art making  family and being your own person. Felix coined the title, and we began to wonder what it would be like to make a performance together. The result is I’m Bitter About Glitter!

What was the process of making the show?

As a live artist with a strong maternal practice I have always been interested in the ethics and politics of making work for and with children. I wanted to embark a truly collaborative process with Felix. We worked with Lucy Cassidy (Schools Without Walls/The Egg) who directed the process led work, facilitating our ideas and being a wonderful pastoral ‘holder’ for us. Early sessions explored ideas, and an other worldly and decadent aesthetic started to emerge!

We worked very gently, in the holidays and weekends, with lots of snack breaks and walks in the sunshine. Felix brought a relaxed and playful approach to rehearsals. I’d thoroughly recommend snack breaks and walks in the park!! We made short films of improvisations, some even made it into the show. There was loads of play and the story emerged from our mutual imaginings, expertly held and developed by Lucy’s facilitation.

In the making  process with Felix I rediscovered the power of effortless play and imagination. He dreamily and seamlessly glides from one fantasy world to the next. One second we are mum and son talking on a bench, the next we are exploring caves with glitter rainbow stalactites and stalagmites. He has an eye for a great image and a storming one liner!

Non hierarchy in the process was really important to us, as was making a show that would appeal to adults and children alike, so no innuendo or jokes that would go above childrens’ heads and no dumbing down important stuff for small people. We came up with the phrase ‘No Pantomime Hierarchies’ and you can read more about that here.

Last year I’m Bitter About Glitter premiered at the Watershed as part of Beacons Icons & Dykon’s family event and went on to tour as part of the Come As You Are festival produced by Camden Peoples’ Theatre. We are delighted to bring it back to Bristol this month.

What was it like working with your son?

I can safely say it is my most challenging collaboration yet! 

I had an inkling of the issues we might face before we embarked on this project; for example his vision for the work versus mine, issues around consent and privacy, agency and empowerment. I even foresaw the rampant personality clashes. I was not prepared for the microcosm of the process reflecting the macrocosm of our relationship and the way our family operates in the world. On reflection, this is of course what I could have expected! This became an important part of what the show is about and seeing this relationship on stage has been very powerful for audiences.

My overarching role in all of this, of course, is a Mother, and Felix’s safety, enjoyment and agency are always top of my list and inform all my decisions around the work.

During the R&D I became really interested in the ethics and politics around making this work, especially addressing LGBTQI+ themes in making work with and for children and families. Early on in the process we wrote a manifesto that set out our ethos and approach. We found it really helpful in being clear in our mission, setting clear boundaries about how we work and deciding which partners to collaborate with. You can read it here. This led to supporting other companies in their work and talking about the process at events such as LADA’s Kids, Families, Gender and Live Art.

It has been a demanding, wonderful, and glittery process. As collaborators go, he’s pretty fantastic.

What can we expect from the show?

I’m Bitter About Glitter tells the story of a mum and son battling the patriarchy! It features giant balloons, magical journies and DIY hot air balloons. We travel to distant lands and along the way muse on gender norms, finding your tribe and making bold choices. It is a joyful and gentle show that really is suitable for all. The performance at the Wardrobe will be a relaxed one, so babies and small children welcome.  

Expect lots of glitter, mythical beings, laughter and dancing.

You can see the trailer and audience reactions here!

Tell us about the workshops.

We have a fabulous team of facilitators to deliver a hands-on workshop after the show for families to take part in together. We wanted to share a bit of our making process for people to explore the themes of the show in a creative and supported environment. Together we will create magical lands, and think big thoughts; with the help of props, found poetry and most importantly – participants’  ideas. The workshop is designed for families to participate in together, to share the fun and share experiences.

It runs for an hour and a half after the show. Places are limited. You can book tickets here.

What next for I’m Bitter About Glitter?

The show in June will be the last ever showing of I’m Bitter About Glitter (so please come along!!!) However, the project will live on in the form of films, workshops and presentations. We have commissioned the wonderful Paul Samuel White to make a documentary following the life of the project. This will then tour with a workshops for families and a programme of talks. Get in touch if you’d like to know more, or download the information pack here.

I’m Bitter About Glitter is on at the Wardrobe Theatre 23rd June at midday, followed by a family workshop. You can book your tickets here. If you have any questions about the work or the process you can contact Liz on [email protected] or on Twitter @LizGClarke