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Will Amott and Alanna Boden - Palaver Party Interview

As part of Leicester's incredible Spark Arts Festival which runs in the city from 13th to 19th February 2023 Fatt Projects brings Palaver Party to Curve on Saturday 18th February.

Palaver Party promises a fabulous performance party for kids and their grown-ups too. The show is an open space where everyone can be who they want to be with a line-up of superb drag and cabaret performers come together for the most exciting disco you'll ever see. 

Ahead of the show coming to Leicester, I spoke with producer Will Amott and performer Alanna Boden to explore the show in further detail.

"Palaver Party came from Palaver which was an artist development programme which ran at Cambridge Junction" Will tells me as our chat begins. "It ran in 2021 and we took five artists where each of them got a one-week residency to develop a piece of work designed for children and family audiences. Everyone came from different backgrounds whether that was drag, cabaret, or live art and this was to show you can have queer positive performance work made by LGBTQ+ artists. It's just the best school disco you've ever been to. Palaver Party ended each of the residencies and we would have the two artists present their work for the first time as well as a DJ and some guests turns. The kids loved it and the audiences grew over the time we were in Cambridge and at the end, we had a big family festival fun day where all the shows were repeated after a bit more development and Palaver Party has been touring since the end of 2021."

Alanna is one of the performers in the show and she explained her role as well as more about the show. "I'm one of the artists that perform in Palaver Party, I also help run the production so I help get the show from wherever it is to wherever it needs to go next. My main skill is singing but as with all the artists who travel around with the show are skilled in many different ways, you get spoken word so you get to listen to a book in a magical environment, some choreographers come on board so you can learn a dance routine that is accessible to everybody regardless of physical ability you can join in and then at the end we put the song on and you get to do it en masse. Think of the best birthday party that you've ever been to except it's your birthday and everybody who goes is their birthday. The whole point of Palaver is to celebrate you, the individual and it's about enjoying the differences we have in our communities. It's for families so it's for everybody where everyone can feel welcome and safe. One of the reasons it was born out was that growing up you are always trying to fit in and fit in with the norm and Palaver is about there being no norm and the sooner we realise that, the sooner we take the pressure off to fit in and the sooner we can embrace our differences and embrace our sparkle and enjoy the differences we have with others."

With such great work behind them, I asked the pair if they have to prepare differently for a show that is aimed specifically at a children and family audience. Alanna told me "If anything the one thing about working with children is that if you are not doing a good job and that they are bored they let you know very very quickly. There's no malice in it, it's just that kids are the most honest people you meet. In terms of preparation, it's actually the stuff we do before we get on the show. We have to be well rested because the children will outrun us at every opportunity. One of the joys of Palaver Party is that the artists are forever changing so it doesn't get stagnant but that does mean you are working with new people quite a lot so it's about making sure you get that early bonding in on learning what each other's vibes are and learn what each others strengths and weakness are. It's about supporting each other, so anybody who is performing is engaging with the kids but also engaging with the other artists on stage. One of the most beautiful things is that you meet so many children and families who sit at the back and they don't really know what they've come for, they know they've come for a party but they are unsure about what that involves, so one of the best things is going and speaking to those nervous children and watching them get more and more confident as the show goes on and by the end everybody is up and dancing and that is how you know you've done it and we've achieved what we set out to in that moment."

Will added "I think we treat it the same. They want high energy, they're a bit raucous and you have to manage them but they are there for the best time ever and if you're good they'll respond in kind. In a way, it's quite similar to the rest of the work that we do. The spirit is the same of having as much fun as we possibly can."

For such an exciting party what do the pair want audiences to take away from seeing the show? Will explained "because it's a family show we really believe in creating a space that is for all those children and families to learn about different people and relationships and families and encourage them to respect one and other. It's as much about them enjoying and having a great time as individuals and as family units but also trying to drum up that sense of community for after we leave."

Alanna adds "we all enter Palaver Party because we each have something to offer but we also want to see what we didn't have in our own childhood. For me Palaver Party is about removing the sense of otherness, nobody is othered, and everybody is beautifully and wonderfully unique. It's about integration, it's about removing the barriers and the boundaries with communities mixing and all recognition we are one community and we might be a bit dysfunctional as all families are all but we have the same intentions and want to create a safe space for that."

Performing for children and families is clearly something the pair are passionate about and I posed how rewarding it is for them to be involved with the show. Alanna said "it's huge, I personally think it's really important to get young people into theatres and make them comfortable with the environment as young as possible. Remove the stigma of theatre only being for the upper classes or the people who have had an education in theatre. Theatre is for everybody regardless of their background. What we bring is assisting in recognition that theatres are safe spaces. It's getting young people in and that it is a really fun, freeing and creative space where you can be 100% you and bring all of your creativity to the forefront and be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone around you."

Will added "Palaver Party is always a relaxed show and children and families can choose the amount of engagement they may have in the show. They can get involved and learn the dance, they can step back, and they can do crafts. We have a framework for the show but there are multiple options for the kids in how much they want to be involved. I think that reflects the best school disco ever vibe because the children are in charge and they are looked after but ultimately they are the ones driving the party forwards."

When working on the show there is clearly a structure to follow but there are no two performances the same Alanna told me "it's the best time you can have as a performer, we know there's a framework but we have no idea how we are getting from a to b. It is completely ruled by the kid's enthusiasm. You're kept on your toes but that's the best place to be. It means you can't rest on your laurels and think that you've got it in the bag. You are constantly seeing where the flow of the theatre is going and where you can interact with that. I personally think it's the best kind of theatre, it's live theatre at its rawest when we are on the spot having to guide the audience and taking it in a way that we may not expect it. It's about how we lean into that and still guide it round to our final destination."

Will adds that whilst he isn't one of the performers "one of the models that we work on is that we always employ local artists for each Palaver Party. We are coming to Leicester and all of the artists are from the West Midlands. We want the kids to see that this person is from around the corner or went to the same school they went to. It's really important to have that local element as the show goes around the country."

Alanna also said "I would say that adds to the Palaver legacy, it's not that we pull up have an amazing time and then disappear. It adds to the legacy that we are using artists in that local area. So that if any of the venues want to explore the work further the artists are already there."

Talk turned to what theatre means to the pair. Alanna said "I have always loved theatre since I was a really young age but I've also really struggled to see people like me on stage. It's always been in a very historical context. Theatre and performance for me are about being a part of the change that I wanted when I was a child and ensuring that anyone growing up doesn't have to feel that. It's not that I can provide all of that, and I can't, but that's why being part of Palaver is so great because I am surrounded by queer performers, drag performers, musicians, singers, and dancers who are all at some point have felt ostracised by the general community at some point and actually, we are a part of the general community, we're not separate and we're not sidelined and not on the edge. We are right in the centre of most communities within the UK and therefore we should be right in the centre of theatre as it goes out. Life should reflect art and art should reflect life and the only way that can happen is if people from all demographics get involved in theatre and put their best forwards doing the best that they can."

For Will "I would agree with Alanna and working for a company like Fatt Projects that has these kinds of shows is quite a transformative and sometimes emotional experience for a queer person who grew up in a different time. It allows us as an adult a window to see what life might have been like had we as LGBTQ kids been exposed to this kind of joy. I think people in our community are often painted or were painted as being one-dimensional. It's very underground, it's very adult and seen as a grown-up thing but we've been queer since we were born. I'd say that's what I've got out of this project and others that we work on."

Alanna added further, "you know what is really fascinating off the back of what Will said is that we've been doing Palaver Party for quite a while now and the kids don't bat an eyelid at all. They literally see sparkly flamboyant rainbow colours. It's the parents that say I wish we had this. It is one of the most positive, powerful and enriching experiences for us as performers. All of the things we're led to believe the kids do not bat an eyelid, the kids do not care, the kids are there for a great time, to be their unique and authentic selves and to dance in the middle of the dance floor even though no one else is dancing. It's actually the parents who are more grateful for us being there because this is what they've missed and they wanted as well."

The Leicester performance is sold out but there will be future chances to catch Palaver Party on the road. The pair explained why they think anyone should check out a future Palaver Party. Alanna said first "if you are the guardian of children in any capacity and you would like a couple of hours to sit back and watch your kids have an amazing time. You have 2 hours of craft, of singing, dancing, of general laughing and entertainment. You can get involved in as little or as much as you want. We are here for you and we are here to give you a couple of hours of top-quality entertainment." Will finished with "I can't think of anything more that kids like than being silly and getting permission to be very silly and being encouraged to do it."

Palaver Party is playing at Curve on Saturday 18th February at 2pm. Tickets are sold out. You can find out more about the full Spark Arts programme here. You can also find out more about Fatt Projects by visiting their website

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