Preview: Epic Fail (Kid Carpet, touring) – interview with Chantal of Common Wealth

This summer, acclaimed performance artist Kid Carpet will make and present playful new production Epic Fail with schools across the country. At a time when children are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis, with latest NHS figures showing a record-breaking over 400,000 under-18s a month being treated for mental health issues, the show aims to support young people in saying goodbye to perfectionism and instead embracing  failure.

Working with arts organisations and year 5 pupils across the UK from May through to July, Kid Carpet will use hands on activities, workshops and performance to open up conversations around how failure is to be celebrated, not feared, to help children to get stuck in with new ideas and ways of working.

In co-creating the show, children have also worked with female engineers and architects with workshops such as designing a bridge, or exploring Chindogu, a Japanese process of designing intentionally useless things, as part of the wider drive to encourage women in STEM and highlight a career path which children may not have considered. With young people continuing to feel both the academic and emotional effects of the pandemic, Epic Fail will also explore worries and ambitions of children in schools today to help overcome the fear of failure.

Epic Fail is the second project from Moving Roots, an ongoing social change initiative exploring new ways to tour co-created performances comprising Restoke (Stoke on Trent), Common Wealth (East Cardiff), The Old Courts (Wigan), Jumped Up Theatre (Peterborough) and Battersea Arts Centre (London). The areas include a selection of those specifically targeted for “levelling up” as well as communities such as those in East Cardiff, with Wales facing the highest child poverty rates across the UK. 

The initiative, now in its second year, gives local people the agency and empowerment to be a catalyst for creativity and leadership.  Moving Roots combines the expertise of arts organisations across the UK who are embedded within their local communities, to present artistically excellent work driven by their needs recognising how the arts can contribute towards long lasting social change.  

These organisations have also set up local Sound Boards to gain invaluable insight into what issues their communities are facing, and upskill and give resource to local people for them to be the agents of the change they want to see in their hometowns.

We caught up with Chantal, Common Wealth’s community producer, to find out more.

Picture of Chantal Williams, Common Wealth

Q: Where did the show come from? And what goal do you think it seeks to achieve?

A: The show originally came from a call out via Battersea Arts Centre through the touring network ‘Moving Roots’. As part of Moving Roots, there were three separate commissions, originally over three years but the pandemic extended that to four. This call out was in the second phase of Moving Roots and various artists and shows proposals came back from the call outs. This particular show was proposed by Kid Carpet and his team. The show was seeking to investigate failure as a virtue with year five students to see how they could co-create a show from a series of workshops designed to explore failure, resilience, and wellbeing. 

The first component of that process was a two week residency within the school, where we partnered with Cardiff School of Engineering. The engineering aspect came from the scientific use of failure as the learning mechanism and teaching tool in order to securely build or assemble and operate things. So it feels like a very logical fit. We did a workshop around rubbish robots where we had to make robots that were designed to fail. It was interesting because it unleashed a creative story element in the young people. Everybody designed a robot which they saw as a failure. But actually, they designed some backstories to them saying why they were rubbish robots, which was really interesting.

It showed compassion in them, and creativity in and around how they tell stories. I’m not sure they would have created those backstories if they’d made successful robots. There was a workshop around Chingdogu, which is the practice of creating useless inventions – such as umbrellas for your shoes! So although they work, their uses are questionable. And the children made some adverts for those which were hilarious. Their inventions were really good, too. Through this, Ed created his version of what the show would be for the four partner organisations. 

Q: Given all the pressures faced by young people today, what is the value of an education system that allows for failure?

A: I think for me in particular, this is a very credible question. Room for failure isn’t always apparent when you’re working on a test based system. I’m not sure that’s correct for all schools as I think all schools understand the different pupils they’re working with, and the different nuances in children and how they adapt in school and how they engage. I think a few schools are very aware of that, it’s an interesting concept to come into a test based system with something that is encouraging children to fail, encouraging children to be a bit more radical, and encouraging children to be a bit disruptive. That was interesting to see the dynamic change from being seated and learning into purposefully creating a disruptive and chaotic environment for the children to be in. Although that sounds like what we were doing was creating some kind of rebellion against the school, we weren’t! We were disrupting the dynamic in order for them to take some agency and ownership over the space. So by breaking down the normal learning mechanisms, they finally found themselves in a place where they were cooperatively managing the spaces they were in, which was really interesting and also kind of paramount to them taking some agency of the project. 

In Wales, we’re very lucky, we’re moving into a new curriculum. We’ve always had creative arts in school. I think that there’s always been real value on creativity and learning through creative activity within schools in Wales.  Although I feel like it was great to bring a project like this, I don’t think it was groundbreaking for Wales, I think it’s creative learning aspect is very valued in our education system here.

Q: In Cardiff East, there are loads of communities that are hard to reach, how do we ensure that we’re reaching those hard to reach young people and involving them in opportunities like this?

A: I think that working in the school is quite intrinsic to that because we’re going to them. The school we were working with has over 50% of the children who have English as a second language. Over 70% of the children access free school meals. And the school itself is just a fantastic school, it’s based in the bottom of llanrumney, it’s really local residents that use the school. The school was sort of a gateway, an opportunity for us to go to them be in their environment and be invited into their space.

What’s important to access in any community is being invited in and the kids definitely, after a little bit of time, accepted us into their world and were really happy for us to be there. Being careful, being caring and tactile. Understanding that we are not there with all the answers, what we’re doing is just inviting the gifts that we can bring into a space and inviting those with a multitude of gifts and life learning into a space to create with us. I think on the wider conversation of engaging people in llanrumney we have a lack of space and a lack of service here where people can just be in a space. So the that landscape can create a difficulty in us reaching people.

We’ve built up a rapport with people and relationships from previous projects. Those relationships are growing stronger still as we transition post pandemic into being in and focussing on creating physical spaces for us to gather. The biggest difficulty we have is definitely the space aspect where there aren’t a lot of civic spaces where people congregate.. 

Overall I think as long as you’re tactile in your approach with communities and ask, do you want to engage with art? How do you want to engage with the arts? And how can we be a vehicle for you to find benefit or social change through your gifts? And what are the skills that we can bring as a creative person or organisation? 

Q: Why are these workshops so important now?

A: In terms of being post pandemic, I think we, as a country kind of failed. In a lot of ways, we failed kids. When the children went back to school, there were behavioural issues. And there were socialising issues, mental health issues and wellbeing issues. I think anything that engages young people in order to collaborate and see their peers as learning resources and as people they can make and create with, I think is really important when coming out of quite a solitary time.

I would advocate for anything that brings young people, even adults, back together in a way that’s celebratory, or even just investigates in a really light touch way. How we share space, again, together, I think is really important.

Q: What do you think needs to be done to encourage young women to aspire for a career in STEM, a young age in school?

A: I think the engineers are the people who really need to answer this question. But Deborah, who we worked with is an absolute passionate advocate for all young people understanding what it means to be part of engineering and to want to be part of engineering. I think the biggest problem that she has is how engineers and scientists are portrayed as these super geniuses who have all the answers. That feels quite unobtainable to a lot of young people. And when she goes into school, she asks, “Do you want to be an engineer?” And they say, “oh, no, no, that’s not for me. That’s for all the brainy academic people”. And in her mind, what she wants to change is that idea. She says all you need is an active curiosity in order to be an engineer. Engineers are problem solvers. All they need to have is a curiosity in how to solve problems. There’s also a care aspect to me in that a lot of the engineering is about people. So it could be medical engineering, you for example could be engineering prosthetics. If the kids understood that engineering wasn’t just building bridges, or designing roads, and understood their social aspects to it, there’s medical aspects and there’s all different ways to engage with engineering. With regards to gender, I think there’s an absolute massive inequality, I’m sure, but I think the way we need to start is just by encouraging the curiosity in young people.

Q: How important are our partner organisations in the various towns to success in Epic Fail

A: All the partner organisations are really important to support each other in the network, particularly for this kind of operation. There is no one single producing partner who’s touring the show. Each partner location becomes the producer for that show for that time. So what that means is, we’re overseeing aspects of the show on Ed’s behalf. And we’re each doing that. So the shared learning that comes with that is invaluable. Moving Roots is aiming to achieve local producing partners producing shows that speak of the place to really engage with that place in a very co-created and embedded way but we still need the learning that comes from each partner in a very practical way. Technically, how shows run, who to have in the room, how their invitation lists have been structured and what the attendance rates were, that’s going to be different, but just that really practical information that we can share with one another, is really key to a smooth and successful show for each person. 

Q: What do you think the legacy of the show will be after it is concluded?

A: I think that’s going to be different for everybody. I think for us , it’s going to be a further investigation into what is co creation? And what does it mean to really co create something with the people of Llanrumney that exists beyond this project. Part of the legacy will be Kid Carpet investigating his practice and what it means to be part of different processes,what the nuances of those processes mean, and how subtle changes create different outcomes. With regards to the legacy for the young people, that’s really hard to measure.  Because each child would probably have gotten different things out of it. And until we go back and ask them, I don’t think I could even say. 

Q: What do you hope to achieve by the time the project is completed?

A:  A group of year five pupils who had a cracking time feel a little bit more confident cooperating with each other, performing and bringing their ideas into a space. Being a little more confident in not being led finding their way and finding themselves and where they fit into a space and how they can contribute. I think if I said I want everybody to feel like failures are right, and that they can do that and become more efficient learners and more resilient people, then I’d be lying because I don’t know how that is going to affect them. That’s something that they will take with them on personal journey. But I feel like as long as they know how to collaborate better and they understand how to be in a space and maybe change the dynamic of that space with their confidence or with their input.