A new theatre project called Tiny Heroes based on real stories of real people in north Devon and featuring re:store, is coming to Beaford Arts before going nationwide. Catherine Jones spoke to theatre maker Daniel Bye about the making of a hero.
What makes a hero?
There’s been a visitor to north Devon over the past few months, who has been pondering this question.
Daniel Bye is an award winning, Leeds-based actor and theatre maker, who had an idea for a new production called Tiny Heroes. Dan wanted to shine a light on real life heroes who through actions big and small have made things better for others, bringing their tales to life through compelling storytelling, magical light puppetry and local scratch choirs.
His idea caught the attention of north Devon’s rural arts organisation Beaford Arts and The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, who invited Dan to make the piece in Devon before it heads out on a national tour.
Over a two week period, Dan explored north Devon, meeting and talking to local people, asking questions, gathering thoughts and stories.
In his search he met with various groups and individuals of all ages, from environmentalists to schoolchildren, shoppers, teachers and volunteers. One day he’d be wandering around a food market, the next, coppicing in a woodland – and at every point he’d be listening and observing.
On one occasion Dan visited the re:store shop in Barnstaple, which gave him one of his storylines. He heard about a woman (Dan called her Penny) who had suffered domestic abuse but who, through being encouraged to work some hours in the shop, was able to rebuild her life. At first she didn’t have the strength to face the public, so her first task was preparing clothes behind the scenes. It was a major turning point when, eventually, she started working on the shop floor.
Could Penny be described as a hero? ‘Say the word “hero” and we think of the military, or firemen; but isn’t that a narrow definition?’ asks Dan. ‘The story of Penny demonstrates that sometimes just going through your day to day existence is an act of heroism. Just the simple act of going on living. The things that people take for granted are so difficult because of something else in your life. So they take on a structure of heroism.’
He adds, ‘This young woman may not have been able to find the strength if she didn’t have the support provided by the shop manager – the confidence and trust that person showed.’
The story of Penny was weaved into a first draft and a scratch performance was held in Exeter in November last year.
The first official version of Tiny Heroes will premiere in north Devon at the end of February and it’s a performance that will continue to evolve. Penny’s story looks set to feature alongside animal rescuers, organ donors, even heroes from the Lynmouth flood disaster 60 years ago. The show will change depending on what emerges from each town or city where it’s performed.
And as for finding what makes a hero, it may be that Dan never reaches a definitive answer. It’s going to be fun finding out though.
Tiny Heroes will be performed at The Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter on February 16-20 and through Beaford Arts at Swimbridge Jubilee Hall on
February 25, The Pavilion in Atherington on February 26, and Lee Memorial Hall on February 27.
Tickets available from the relevant websites.