20 Stories High and Theatre-Rites joined forces in 2016 to create a unique mash up of hip-hop, theatre and puppetry bringing together 4 amazing artists: beat-boxer Hobbit, b-boy LoGisTic, singer / poet Elektric and puppeteer Mohsen Nouri to form The Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective.
Sometimes when I can’t stand on my own two feet
Or the voices in my head feel cracked and incomplete
I turn up the volume of my Broken Beats
The Big Heavy Bass sends moves flowing to my feet
Melodic rhymes fill my head and make me feel oh-so-sweet
Cos my Broken Beats help me feel alive
And not so Broke and Beat.
In Spring 2016 we toured to Liverpool, Birmingham, Corby, Manchester, Bolton, Belfast, Rossendale, Canterbury, Oxford, Huddersfield, Oldham and London. In July 2016 we returned to Birmingham and performed during the Assitej On The Edge Festival, winning the Young Critics Choice Award.
August 2017 took us to Bristol, where the collective performed at the Tobacco Factory Theatre as part of the Bristol Puppetry Festival. They then headed to the Ruhrtriennale Festival in Germany for a run at Jahrhunderthalle Bochum.
Hobbit (Jack Hobbs) has been a household name in the beatbox scene for the past 10 years winning numerous titles such as 2015 World Crew Champion and UK Loopstation Champion.
Elektric is a 24-year-old artist from the midlands; her music fuses R&B, Indie and Hip-Hop, telling stories through a British melodic rap style.
Mohsen trained as a puppeteer at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has a long established relationship with Theatre-Rites. Outside of theatre his credits include the Argos Aliens advert and Muppets Most Wanted (Disney).
Ryan started his career as a contemporary, modern and jazz dancer. After working with one of the most established Break Dance crews in the UK, he won tournaments in the UK, France & Germany. He tours the UK and internationally and has recently returned from performing in New York.
For Stitches and Glue.
This show is a fusion of ideas, genre and companies. A synergy of real life responses from young people in Liverpool and London, live music, dance, beats, puppetry, music and theatre. I didn’t know what to expect but I was blown away by what I experienced.
It was birthed last year from workshops with young people in Liverpool and London, led by the performers Jack Hobbs aka Hobbit a beat-boxer, Ryan Harston aka LoGisTics a dancer, Elisha Howe aka Electric a singer/poet and Mohsin Nouri a puppeteer. Under the direction of Keith Saha from 20 Stories High, a youth theatre company that engage disaffected and excluded young people in the arts; and Sue Buckmaster from Theatre-Rites one of the Uk’s leading theatre companies making work specifically for children.
Tonight’s performance was billed as a gig/theatre experience. It was a jigsaw of songs, rhythms, beat and loops; stories, poetry, physical theatre; dance, puppetry, multimedia, and so much more. In the 70 minutes that elapsed on stage we had moments of laughter and fun with the Boombox Boy; times of tears and terror with the Paper Girl and passages of pathos with the Hooded Boy. These were all puppets expertly brought to life by the cast. They inhabited that magical space on stage when an audience dispels disbelief and allows the inanimate to have life. The audience and the performers breathed life into these faceless characters and we saw them. In so doing the performers were able to get to think about the political landscape that young people face, issues of self-harm and sexual abuse and those young people who don’t feel they have a voice.
We also heard the story of Jack, in a fusion of dancer and puppet. A character who lived for what he could get from life and got more than he bargained for. A very powerful story unpacked for the many boxes that formed the backdrop, scenery and prop for this evening’s performance.
I didn’t know what to expect from tonight’s experience and in many way I thought I wasn’t the target audience. I thought this was the voice of the younger generation for that generation and it definitely resonated with the audience who were predominately 18-30. But this also impacted me. This was a voice of a generation who wanted to be heard, of young people who were trying to find their identity and who were overcoming immense obstacles and hardships. I was deeply moved on several occasions.
But there was another voice, a voice that was optimistic and defiant that said, yes we may be Broke and we may be Beat but we aren’t Broken and we’re not Beaten! This is theatre at its best, it was raw, it was thought-provoking and it had a message that needs to be heard. It continues at the Unity Theatre until the 13th February before touring across the UK.
Review by Alan Harbottle
KEITH Saha of Liverpool based 20 Stories High and Sue Buckmaster of Theatre-Rites have worked together before and Liverpool audiences will remember their work on Melody Loses her Mojo in 2013. Both are committed to helping young people to find a voice through theatre, and here they join forces to explore a collection of issues that are often ignored or misunderstood.
In a world where young people are pigeon holed or hold their problems locked away internally, Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective encourages us to think inside the box.
In something that seems to have grown out of a set that Miriam Nabarro designed for Saha’s 2014 ‘Black’, she has now created a world that lives entirely in cardboard boxes, stacked up at the rear of the stage. The cast unfold boxes to reveal scenes from young lives, while out of other boxes emerge puppets and props enabling the stories to be told.
Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective introduce themselves as a band playing a gig, in which each of the numbers they perform recounts a young person’s story. The material comes from direct workshops with real people, but the off-the-wall delivery enables us to see each of their lives from a different angle. Principal narrator is poet and singer Elektric (Elisha Howe) and alongside her are b-boy dancer Ryan LoGisTic Harston, puppeteer Mohsen Nouri and, creating most of the soundtrack, champion beat-boxer Hobbit (Jack Hobbs).
Hip-hop theatre meets puppetry in many different ways during the show’s unbroken 70 minutes, but the effect is constantly alive and thought-provoking. The four performers cross over between each other’s disciplines in sequences where dancers perform as if puppets, with boxes on their heads, where one or more operate puppets to a narrative, and where all there is is the music.
A girl cuts herself because magazines give her a negative body image, so she’s played by a puppet made entirely of paper, while another gives birth to a baby made entirely of boxes. There’s humour with a boom box becoming the head of a dancing puppet, but there’s a political message behind this too.
Running through the whole show is a thread following Omar, a boy in a grey hoodie who feels marginalised and invisible and reacts with a mixture of fear and aggression. This puppet – an empty hooded top – is startlingly human in form despite its lack of a face or lower body, and the skill of the puppetry here is really striking. The sequence when Omar finds a voice and finally connects is, along with the Paper Girl, among the most emotionally charged parts of the work.
What Saha and Buckmaster achieve in spades here is a perfect balance between emotional tension and engaging humour, and the entire piece is delivered with such energy that it can’t fail to keep its audience engaged. Rarely will you find such weighty issues leaving you with quite such a sense of exhilaration.
Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective plays at Unity until Saturday 13th February after which it continues on a 14 venue tour ending April 2nd.
Review by Nigel Smith - Feb 12, 2016
What do you get when you get a beat-boxer, poet, dancer and puppeteer in the same room? Certainly nothing that has been seen before as, 20 Stories High and Theatre-Rites collaborate to produce a spectacular show.
The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective is described as a mash up of hip-hop, theatre and puppetry and brings together four incredible young talents each outstanding in their own field. Beat-boxer Hobbit provides all the music and sound effects throughout and with the use of his loop system sets the tone nicely for the evening. He also provides voices to the different characters that come to life through various objects. A hoody becomes thirteen year Omar, a boy who has lost all confidence in his own voice and wants to be invisible; we have Jack who comes to life when dancer Ryan aka LoGisTics puts a box on his head. The favourite and the cutest puppet of the show goes to Beat-box Boy – a 1980s beatbox attached to a toy’s body. There is real character and humour attached as well as an important message; for each of the puppets that are created there is attached a young persons story. These stories are told wonderfully by poet Elektric; some are sung but most are vocal.
There are many issues that are tackled head on in this 70 minute show, amongst them education, poverty and the struggle between being a teenager and an adult. However perhaps one of the toughest subjects handled is the story of Joanne and her memories of Chris, her mum’s boyfriend. This puppet is made entirely out of paper and for a while there are no words only the haunting vocals of Hobbit in the background, as we see her share her story with the audience.
Puppeteer Nouri, brings life to these wonderful characters and the audience are quickly charmed. There is clever use made of the space as the set is made entirely of cardboard boxes, again it just adds more creative and visual layers to this show that has helped to create a unique theatre experience.
A lot to pack in, yes, but it is done with such originality and creativity that it is easy to understand why this show has taken 18 months to come alive. It is sensitive, poignant and is very much in touch with young people. Written and directed by Keith Saha and Sue Buckmaster,The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective will touch the hearts of all that will go and see it with its beautiful storytelling told with passion and energy.
When the pitch for a performance is four diverse artists bringing us the stories of young people in our communities, the first thought is one of those very special school assemblies where a touring theatre company told you to respect your peers. With a toe-curling rap.
Forget all that. Cast the very thought into one of those massive metal bins outside the school canteen of your mind. Chuck it in along with other such ‘90s phenomena as Pogs, purple shell suits and the unstoppable rise of 2 Unlimited.
This is arguably the most innovative piece of theatre to hit Liverpool since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime stopped off at the Empire last year.
A deceptively simple conceit, it uses the most basic of technology, stuff the majority of us have at hand, to astonishing effect.
The collective of beat-boxer Hobbit, dancer Ryan LoGisTic Harston, puppeteer Mohsen Nouri and the singing poet Elektric enter behind a line of mics with a geometric cluster of boxes in varying sizes stacked innocuously behind them.
As they take us through the stories of the young people this collective has collected, boxes are removed from and returned to the pile. Some contain a solitary chuckle, others are transformed into urban streetscapes where the intricacies of life within are relayed by camcorder to a screen at the back of the stage.
It’s possibly a knowing metaphor for what runs through the minds of disenchanted youth today. There is so much of quality going on inside their heads, if only we’d be prepared to lift the lid and take a look inside. Instead, we keep such boxes tightly shut and eventually slot them back in to the pile to get lost among all the others.
One such box housed Omar, a grey hoodie brought to life by Nouri and Harston at various points in the 70-minute show. At first aggressive and confrontational, Omar can’t connect until, eventually, he is given the means to communicate to a wider audience. It makes for a truly moving final chapter in the evening’s stories but one that is best told by the Collective, not here.
As well as the grit, there’s the skit and the titters too.
Jack in the Box is one of the cleverest sequences we’re shown. A breakdancing Harston becomes a player and then a father, all while wearing a box on his head with the features added by his fellow performers. It could well be the first time in your life that you see a flirtatious cardboard girl but it all fits in the folds of the tale. There’s also a good chance you’ll want to adopt Boom-Box-Head. You can’t unfortunately - but he is available on a t-shirt.
Issues such as teenage pregnancy, anti-social behaviour and self harm are all laid bare, the latter being the most tenderly told of all as a girl made from strips of paper tells us of the images in the magazines she wants to relate to but instead turns on herself. It builds to a positive ending but one that will have you hanging on its every word.
This is short, stocky theatre with ideas that will stay with you long after the final beat of the box. Step out of your pigeon hole and give it a go.
Every Friday we share a 'Puppet of the Week'. We love to celebrate the rich talent of puppet makers throughout the UK and internationally.
This week we thought we'd share a beautiful puppet called made by the brilliant Matt Hutchinson for our current show 'The Broke 'N' Beat Collective'.
Paper Girl was designed to tell the story of a young girl who can’t escape a family secret or the perfect body images saturating the media. Her only release is self-harm. We first wrote a poem about her life which was expressed beautifully by our singer/poet Elektric and then we explored what it would be like if the girl in the story who cuts herself was actually made out of paper and advertising imagery. These materials enabled us to look at her emotional dilemma and suggest that however fragile we may feel, there is always a way to recognize our own robustness and not tear ourselves up.
'The Broke 'N' Beat Collective' is touring the UK until the beginning of April. To find out more, click here.
What a brilliant press night we had last night at Unity Theatre. The Broke N Beat Collective did a fantastic show - one we are very proud of. We ended the evening with a celebratory drink with our co-pro buddies 20 Stories High and woke up to some rather lovely 5 star reviews!
"This is arguably the most innovative piece of theatre to hit Liverpool since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime stopped off at the Empire last year." ***** Liverpool Echo
"The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective will touch the hearts of all that will go and see it with its beautiful storytelling told with passion and energy." ***** Sound and Vision
"This is theatre at its best, it was raw, it was thought-provoking and it had a message that needs to be heard." North West End
The Liverpool Echo visited rehearsals and had a quick chat with our performers and co-directors.
Keith Saha and Sue Buckmaster said, “These four stunning artists have come together with us to hear first-hand what young people in our communities face, from feeling invisible to feeling pressured, from harming themselves to the harm inflicted on them by others.
“We’re committed to telling these stories in an exciting, relevant way and, as well as opening up a dialogue about their concerns, we hope that the evening is ultimately filled with hope and energy.”
The Broke ‘n’ Beat Collective is at the Unity Theatre from February 4-13.
Our cast travelled up to Liverpool on 17th January to continue rehearsing with these fabulous puppets.
The cardboard masks have been created by Matt Hutchinson and Jemima Robinson, the Paper Girl is another Matt Hutchinson creation and Boom Box was designed and made by Paul Vincett and Becky Johnson of Stitches and Glue.
Photos do not do them justice; it's wonderful watching them being animated.