Listen to the Groove On Down At Home Spotify Playlist
‘I think we don’t grow into creativity, I think we grow out of it. Or rather, we are educated out of it.’
Sir Ken Robinson
Interview with Kate Prince – Groove on Down the Road, 2013 programme interview
ZooNation’s founder and Artistic Director – and also the show’s director, writer and choreographer – explains the inspiration behind Groove On Down The Road.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO REINVENT THE WIZARD OF OZ STORY?
I am a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson who is an expert on the importance of creativity within education. Having watched all of his talks on TED.com so many times that I could start quoting them, I realised how deeply
his words had resonated with me. I started thinking what would the world be like if there was no art… no creativity at all? What would happen if all creative subjects were taken off the curriculum? Why aren’t creative subjects given equal weight in schools to academic subjects? What would the benefits to young people’s development be if they spent more time being creative, and less time receiving and regurgitating information? So I decided to create a piece of work that was directly inspired by Sir Ken Robinson’s theories, and the story of The Wizard of Oz seemed like the perfect starting point. For example, the character of Scarecrow wanting a brain made me think how there are many different forms of intelligence and say, for example, a child that has dyslexia might get overlooked or dismissed as ‘not being bright’ but actually might be highly intelligent in many other ways. I am really interested in creative intelligence and what that means, and how can we harness the incredible creative abilities that young people have.
It worries me that more value isn’t put on creativity within the education system. When we are children we all have the ability to make up hugely elaborate stories when playing with our toys… Whether we need to defeat pirates, or climb huge mountains, or free the Princess, or slay the dragon, or shoot the bad guy, or capture the castle…
Our imaginations run free. When I listen to my nephew playing he makes up brilliant characters with different voices and complex plots… and he will happily play alone for a long time, completely immersed in his own story. The sad reality is that as we grow older we, most of us, lose the ability to do this. If we gave the same toys today to a 16-year-old, would they be able to play so freely? Many of them wouldn’t. So somewhere through the process of growing up and being ‘educated’ they have actually lost an incredibly valuable skill. And it’s not just creating stories. Children will sing loudly at the top of their voices without worrying if they sound good, or frantically dance around as soon as they hear music without feeling self-conscious. This sense of creative freedom is a gift that should be nurtured and encouraged.
HOW HAVE YOU UPDATED THE FAMILIAR CHARACTERS IN THIS PRODUCTION?
I have set the story of The Wizard of Oz in a fictional school where all creative subjects have had their funding cut and have been removed from the school curriculum. No music. No art. No drama. No dance. No design. Nothing creative at all. Imagine a world with no art. It’s not one I would like to live in.
I have based Dorothy’s character around my own experiences at school. I found it incredibly hard to listen, to engage and to stay interested. Sitting still in a classroom and ‘listening’ was my worst nightmare.
So, I used to mentally go somewhere else in my head and make up stories and daydreams. On the flip side, when I was given the chance to be creative, to dance, play music, do creative writing, build something… or anything physical
or expressive… I would be fully alert and engaged. There’s a great story about the choreographer Gillian Lynne which describes her as being someone ‘who has to move to think’, but whilst she was at school they thought she had an academic problem as she never seemed to be engaged. Nowadays they might have told her she had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or put her on medication, but fortunately an expert told her parents at the time, ‘there’s nothing wrong with your daughter. She’s a dancer.’ The story of The Wizard of Oz provides lots of opportunities to look at issues that young people face in school. I had always wondered who this character Tinman was and why did he need a heart? It made me think of the word ‘heartless’, and that’s a word I would use to describe bullies. When they pick on someone vulnerable and weaker than them, they are being heartless. What Dorothy offers Tinman is compassion, neatly packaged in the form of an oil can. Compassion is such an incredible kindness to offer and it requires asking the question ‘why is that person being so horrible? What has happened to them in their lives to make them behave that way?’ Bullies are most often someone who has been bullied in their own lives in some way, and bullying is something that I know is a huge issue many young people have to face every day at school. The character of Lion wants to find courage and within the world of a school the most likely scenario for needing courage would be to stand up to a bully. So the Tinman, Scarecrow and Lion are all connected within the world of the school before we meet them in the land of Oz.
THE SET IS VERY ORIGINAL. WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD?
Ben Stones, the set and costume designer, is one of my most favourite people. He designed the set for Some Like it Hip Hop as well and his attention to detail and interpretation of story are immense. The Yellow Brick Road is made up of blank yellow pages from school work books. The pages are blank to show the lack of inspiration that would exist in a land where there was no creativity. I wanted to make everything in the land of Oz have a connection to the classroom, from the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City High, the Wizard’s platform (a roll up green board) and the Poppy Girls (the temptations of drugs and alcohol).
HOW DID YOU CHOOSE WHAT MUSIC WOULD BE IN THE SHOW?
I love the music from The Wiz [the musical written by Charlie Smalls and William F Brown based on The Wizard of Oz], so that was the starting point, and then it was just a matter of finding songs that seemed to fit the story and compliment the mood of the scene. DJ Walde has also created a few original tracks too.
HOW IS THIS SHOW DIFFERENT FROM A USUAL ZOONATION PRODUCTION?
This show is all about ZooNation Youth Company (ZYC) – the next generation of ZooNation dancers. It’s their first full production and the first time ZooNation have created a show with a cast of young people. The cast are aged between ten and 19 years old. I’ve wanted to find a way to give ZYC their own show for a long time and I’m so grateful to Southbank Centre for giving them this opportunity.
WHY DO YOU THINK IT’S IMPORTANT TO GIVE OPPORTUNITIES LIKE THIS TO CHILDREN?
The opportunity for the young people in ZYC to create and perform in this show is exactly the kind of creative opportunity that I think is vital in young people’s education and development. It’s not just about performing, it’s about the valuable lessons of teamwork and discipline, and the chances for them to be creative and express themselves. I wish there had been something like this for me to do when I was their age. I think creative subjects and sport have a huge influence on the overall development of young people today. They are powerful tools of motivation. Every young person wants to feel like they are part of something, that their presence and ideas have value, that they belong. If young people don’t find this sense of empowerment within their school activities, they will go looking for it somewhere else, which is why it is so important to provide these sorts of opportunities to ALL young people.
IS THERE ONE THING WE CAN ALL TAKE AWAY FROM GROOVE ON DOWN THE ROAD?
Well hopefully you’ll take the programme away with you… and anything else, I’ll just have to leave it up to you.