Nikki Charlesworth is a Theatre Designer, Puppet Designer and Animator from Nottingham. City Arts has been working with her since 2015, when she created costume designs for our opening and closing ceremonies at the Cerebral Palsy World Games.
Nikki now works at the forefront of disability-led theatre making. Recently, she was announced as one of the winners of the Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund, in association with TikTok.
Nikki is presenting her new show, “What Happened to You?”, at the upcoming Nottingham Puppet Festival. We spoke to her about the show, the support she has received from City Arts and her plans for the future. Read the interview below.
Hi Nikki. Tell us about you show, and how it came about?
“‘What Happened to You?’ is a semi-autobiographical puppetry piece that explores our preconceptions of disability in a playful and humorous way. The idea came about because I wanted to explore puppetry movement that reflects the way I move – and that had not been done before. I’ve used my old boots and orthotics to help create this. The journey has been more emotional than expected, as I have been changing the narrative of my orthotics. Throughout my life they have been a negative. It’s so exhilarating that they are now the centrepiece of a project in such a positive way.“
Why did you choose puppetry to tell your stories?
“Puppetry connects with people differently to performers/actors, and I decided it was the best medium to tell this story. In this project puppetry has been especially effective for demonstrating the environmental barriers disabled people face. At one point in the story, a puppet takes on an epic obstacle course just to get to the toilet – a sketch most effective in puppetry and object theatre.
The dynamic between puppet and puppeteer, the scale, control and manipulation has also been used to effectively mirror the dynamic between disabled and some non-disabled people. Disabled people are used to being picked up, touched, moved, without consent, by people who think they are “helping”. Puppetry excellently highlights the power imbalance when this happens.“
You are part of the Puppet Club and Young Producers at City Arts. How have these groups helped you?
“They have helped me first sketch these ideas. The first scratch performance of “What Happened to You?” took place at a Puppet Club cabaret evening. That opportunity to sketch an idea and receive feedback from both audiences and collaborators was invaluable for taking the idea forward. They are both really good support networks. It is just great to have so much support around you when you are first developing ideas.”
What are your top tips for people starting out on their creative journey?
“Just go for it, and tell your own story. I started out wanting to tell disabled people’s experiences in general, which is still my aim. However, the first phase of producing this show made me realise the value in telling my own story, and not letting it get lost in the whole picture.”
What are your plans for the future?
“I would love for “What Happened to You?” to reach far and wide! During lock down I learnt how to create stop-motion animation. Specifically, object-motion animation made with the same orthotics that appear in ‘What Happened to You?’
My first TikTok video! Thank you to Graeae Theatre Company for the nomination, this is my #FutureTheatreFund entry: “What Happened to You in 2020?”♬ original sound – Nikki Rosa Charleswo
I would love to take that further. Who knows, perhaps a What Happened to You digital animation spin-off is on the cards!”