What’s in Your Box? Anatomical

10 minutes with | 09 April 2021

What’s in Your Box? – Anatomical

As part of our new initiative, ArtsUnboxed, we’ve commissioned six artists to make ‘recipes’ that can be uploaded onto a digital platform for venues, festivals or other arts organisations to purchase and restage in their local area. We spoke to Tom Roden of Anatomical about what he and his team are putting in their box…


First of all, tell us about Anatomical.

Anna and I are both choreographers, performers, writers and all round theatre makers. We began making work for families in 2013 with The Doodle Dance Show. A show where the audience gather round a giant 8m Sq piece of paper. We then lead them through an experience that is a narrative theatre piece, a creative drawing workshop and a dance workshop, all running concurrently. The different elements are all hidden within the form of the show. By the end the audience have drawn and danced all over the paper. We toured it for years and it’s still in demand. It’s a great feeling to be in amongst families having a good time, expressing themselves and allowing themselves to be emotional at the happy/sad ending.

We followed that up with The Buildy-uppy Dance Show. A similar experience but with cardboard boxes to build things out of. Landscapes, towns, animals, buildings. The audience create the set for the show as it goes along. They then inhabit those spaces as the narrative develops. It’s chaotic, celebratory and poignant. We thought that one was best suited to small audiences but ended up doing it with 230 people a time at the V&A over Christmas 2018 and 2019.

The company is changing. We’ve been collaborating with lots of other artists including Amarnah Amuludun, the voice on this project. We’re working with producer Claire Summerfield who has great background in family theatre. Together we have lots of other projects in development. A show/book about the history of Women’s Football, a seasonal show at The Place 2021 and, of course, Midsummerland.

What is it that drives you to make work for families?

We have an interest is making theatre events that are participatory. We are both parents (of the same child, what are the chance of that?) and when the child was younger we sought out experiences to share together. Easily the most rewarding and satisfying where visits to the theatre. From experimental stuff in Edinburgh to big commercial shows, even ballet, although some of us found it hard to concentrate through that. Myself, not the child. Even though these outings were incredible we sometimes felt we wanted more, more interaction, more to do. It came to a head as we entered an auditorium at The Fringe. The child whispered “is it a sitty down show?” I replied, yes, and the childs shoulders sunk a little. I get that, I feel like that too. I like going to gigs and football and festivals, I like being able to move around and join in a shout. Anna and I set about trying to make shows where the audience can do what they like, join in, watch from the back, dance, express themselves. The shows aren’t about us, they are about them. They’re the kind of shows that we’d like to go to. Either with a child or not.

We see the benefit of family work in terms of social cohesion and community building. From young people to enjoying valuable shared experiences with their parents and carers, to those family groups mixing and mingling during and after our shows. Swapping phone numbers or heading off to the park together.

We want to have a really positive impact on peoples lives. Where playing with a cardboard box becomes preferable to young people than screen based activity. Where celebrating and dancing with other people from your community is a normal and natural thing to do. We all want to belong and even if it’s just for an hour, when you come to one of our shows, you do.

Tell us about your creation for ArtsUnboxed

Midsummerland is an audio, theatrical adventure for families. You put on headphones and press play at the same time, either with your family or a bigger group. You are all then led on a journey to a magical mid-summer festival where you visit all the areas of the festival site. The circus tent where you need a good head for heights. The main stage to join in a dance based on a trifle recipe for some reason that has been lost to time. And the Thoughtful field where you twist yourself in knots with the ‘Celestial Acorn Society’. All whilst dodging hedgehog cannonballs. It’s about allowing yourself to be swept along with your children and the sheer joy of moving to music. It may even lead you to see the public spaces around you in a different way.

The soundtrack is by long term collaborator Gareth Ellis Williams. If you’ve ever been to one of our shows, its his tunes that are still in your head two days later. As well as music there’s the whole aural world of the festival to enjoy and the sounds of the bonfire at the end will hopefully bring a few tears to peoples eyes. There’s even a chance to have your fortune told, what more could you want?

Who do you think will buy your box?

Venues and people who want to come together to have a big community experience. After so long of being apart I think we want to have shared experiences more than ever. Midsummerland gives people a safe, friendly way of being together. To move, to laugh and hopefully connect with each other and the environment the event is happening in. Perhaps it will play in museums or heritage sites. Indoor, outdoor, anywhere. We’d love to see people following the instructions as they peruse the galleries or the gardens of their local venue. It seems to me like a show that actual festivals may want to programme, as something that sounds exciting and different but who knows? For once it’s not going to be Anatomical staging the events, it’s up to individual venues and we find that an exciting prospect. It’s out of our hands how people use Midsummerland, we love the thought of hearing how people are engaging with it.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

We’d like to say how grateful we are to the funders and commissioners. We love what we do and we simply couldn’t do it without them. Being asked to make something, especially if it uses public funds, is a great honour. We hope that with Midsummerland we’ve repaid the trust people have shown in our work and that families and communities can enjoy it for years to come.

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