“I’ve got that funny feeling again… it’s a good thing right?”
Three friends embark on an exciting adventure to chase their butterflies away. They cross new seas to uncharted lands, on a journey filled with discovery. The only trouble is they’re all a bit worried about it! During their voyage the group ride the waves, walk high bridges, skirt deep caves and climb to the sky, before reaching dry land, braver than ever before.
Created in response to young children’s experience of anxiety, Butterflies was an uplifting tale of friendship, courage and facing your fears, told using innovative staging, breathtaking physicality, touching humour and an original musical score.
Butterflies was a co-production between award winning theatre ensemble Tangled Feet and Half Moon, the UK’s leading small-scale theatre company creating work for young people.
The production originally toured in 2017 and again in 2018.
In 2021, the production was re-mounted into a new version of the show, now presented in a traverse format (originally it was presented front-on), featuring an updated storyline exploring how COVID-19 has affected the anxiety levels and resilience of children as they witness the characters talk about, accept and use their anxiety creatively to overcome obstacles, physically and metaphorically, acting as a launchpad to explore well-being and mindfulness.
This version toured again in spring and autumn 2022.
You can access the script of this play via the British Library’s MPS Modern Playscripts Collection.
One of the central concepts of Butterflies is the characters have a ‘feeling’ in their tummy and do not know how to describe it or how to make it go away. This ‘feeling’ is one we can all identify with, although it may manifest itself in different ways. At Tangled Feet we work with hundreds of young people each year and we are often struck with how much stress and anxiety they carry with them. Butterflies is an attempt to shine a light on some of those feelings of worry, to normalise them and also to share the idea that small amounts of anxiety help keep us safe everyday.
When making the show we had a sense that there was a strong physical language in the world of anxiety – a lot of the way it is experienced is a physical reaction – breathlessness, dizziness, confusion. We thought that a physical world would help explain and unlock the feelings for a younger audience and visualise how they may feel inside.
At the start of the creation of Butterflies we worked with a group of young teenagers who do not attend school due to anxiety. We spent time discussing images, metaphors and poetry in a bid to help connect our creativity with their reality. They helped us find some key images in the show, some of the coping methods our characters use and also the title. By making accessible work inspired by and in partnership with young people we hope to shine a light on invisible stories and that our work connects with the lives of young people in challenging contexts.
Nathan Curry, Director
Butterflies was featured in a video by ARC Stockton to advertise their Every Child Campaign.
“Children’s theatre that tackles a difficult subject with admirable ambition.”
*** The Stage
“The use of visual metaphor throughout the show is particularly refreshing in the world of children’s theatre”
*** The Stage
“Emotionally vivid and truthful, it’s very moving but also very funny.”
Children’s Theatre Reviews
“[Butterflies is] rooted in an authenticity that goes beyond emotional clichés to really tug at something deeper…. The idea that mental health issues are a purely intangible figment of psychology is dispelled; Butterflies shows there is a palpable, painful physical reality to it.”
Children’s Theatre Reviews
“Once again, Tangled Feet and Half Moon are creating important issue-based work for young people… Butterflies shines a light on the challenging circumstances many young people are living in.”
Children’s Theatre Reviews
“Seeing Butterflies 20 years ago would have been a truly transformative experience, though watching it now is powerful enough. Ultimately, however, this show is for everyone…speaking compassionately to those who suffer, and showing ways to be supportive for those who don’t.”
Children’s Theatre Reviews
“We just caught Butterflies – it was honest, complex and beautiful. The experience of those difficult feelings is the same whatever age you are.”
The Herd Theatre
“Butterflies was received brilliantly. Teachers, parents and children commented on the high production level and were particularly impressed with the atmosphere created by the performers, lighting, and use of physical theatre. It was particularly interesting to see that the children were connected throughout. This play dealt with anxiety in a sensitive and kind way.”
Nursery and Primary School Teacher, London
“Totally wonderful. It really expressed exactly what my daughter has been feeling, thank you.”
“Such an important subject to introduce to children and it was done beautifully.”
“Very thought-provoking show. My three-and-a-half-year-old was mesmerised. Thank you.”
“Brilliant work! The kids loved it and I (mum) got emotional – well done!”
“This was a wonderful emotional show. My daughter really went through all the journeys with you. My heart is still processing it all. You all did a great job.”
“Nearly six year-old thought it was “great”; nearly three year-old was utterly transfixed and burst into tears when it was over.”
“I brought my 5 and 3 year old to see Butterflies yesterday. They both absolutely loved it but my 5 years old especially. He is quite sensitive and sometimes nervous about doing new things, especially since COVID. We talked a lot after about it and he has been practicing making a butterfly with his hands. I hope it is now a tool he can use going forward. It was a wonderful performance and so refreshing to see something a bit different for children – such a great message. The three performers were brilliant. Thank you.”
Audience Member via Instagram
“Wonderful! My three year-old was very transfixed by it and understood it well. Thank you very much.”
Tell us a little about Butterflies. What’s the show about?
Butterflies is all about setting out on a journey into the unknown where, with friendship and bravery, you can take on all that life throws at you. It’s a thought provoking story that discusses how we learn to accept the butterflies in our tummies as part of life. Through friendship, play and understanding what’s happening inside of us, we can live alongside our nerves and be happy.
What can audiences look forward to?
Adventure. Drama. A great set! The staging transforms in a magical way – at one point we are at sea, then dangling on a rope bridge, then lost in a forest, then climbing a mountain and more. It is inspired by magical, yet realistic play (making landscapes through imaginations), that we see children enjoy all the time.
What was the inspiration for the production?
At the very start of the creation of Butterflies we worked with a group of young teenagers, aged 12-14, who do not attend school due to anxiety. Although these ‘creative consultants’ weren’t from the target audience age range for Butterflies, they helped us understand how their anxiety started, what the shape and feel of it was and what their coping mechanisms were.
We spent our time with them discussing images, metaphors and poetry surrounding anxiety in a bid to help connect our creativity to their reality. They helped us find some key images in the show, some of the coping methods our characters use, and also the title for the production.
Why do the issues in Butterflies particularly resonate with you?
Anxiety is everywhere in our society and we all feel it. One of the central concepts of the show is the characters have a ‘feeling’ in their tummy and not knowing how to describe it or how to make it go away. This ‘feeling’ is one we can all identify with and is how I used to describe my nerves to my parents when I was young. At Tangled Feet we work with hundreds of young people each year and I am often struck with how much stress and anxiety they have to carry with them – both politically, globally and personally. Butterflies is an attempt to shine a light on some of those feelings of worry and normalise them a bit.
What was the process of creating Butterflies?
Lots of experiments and trying movement, text and use of set ideas to see if we can communicate a theme to the audience. We often mix use of set with a movement idea and music to see what feeling we create. We make lots of work that doesn’t end up in the show but helps us find our way. We are looking for things that feel authentic and entertaining.
The production features some exciting physicality. How did this come about?
As a director, I always had a sense that there was as strong physical language in the world of anxiety. A lot of the way it’s experienced is a physical or bodily reaction – breathlessness, dizziness, foggy mind, sweating, wobbling, missing a step – it all suits a physical language. I also thought that a physical world would help explain and unlock the anxiety feelings for a younger audience.
Do you have personal connections to any of the areas/venues that the show is touring to?
Tangled Feet moved their base of operations to Luton in 2017, so performing at the Library Theatre in October feels really exciting, as does being back at Half Moon for the start of the tour. A lot of Tangled Feet are from the West Country, so visiting Bath will be brilliant and our performers are from St Albans, Manchester and East London, so getting to all those places is great for them. Personally, I am a Trustee at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre in Havant, so am pleased to visit Havant.
What would you like audiences to take with them after seeing the show?
A sense that they’d been on a big adventure and seen acts of bravery, creativity and examples of friendship. Some reference points for talking about anxiety with young people and how it’s a completely normal part of life.
Describe Butterflies in three words.
Beautiful, meaningful and exhilarating
What inspired your career? What advice would you give to young people hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I enjoyed the creative process at school – creating plays, creating an ensemble of performers and sharing stories with an audience. In terms of advice, I think you need to look at it as a marathon not a sprint – seeds you sow now could grow into wonderful collaborations or ideas. Collaborate, be kind and ask questions.
Butterflies: show exploring children’s anxiety returns with new storyline on Covid
Butterflies, a play for children created to explore how young children experience anxiety that already toured in 2017 and 2018, comes back this winter with a new storyline on Covid.
In October 2021, UNICEF warned that children and young people could feel the effects of the pandemic on their mental health for years.
Nathan Curry, Butterflies’ director said: “Following the pandemic and the increase in anxiety we felt it was time to re-explore the show and share it again.”
Curry explained that the show was initially conceived by working with young people and noticing an increase in anxiety overall, but especially in very young children.
The director explained that they first launched a mindfulness programme to help dealing with worries.
“It felt like there was a piece of theatre to be made that was fun, energetic and thoughtful to explore how worry can feel inside you and how friendship, playfulness and sharing your feelings can get you through”, he said.
And that’s how Butterflies was born.
Thus, the story follows three friends on a journey filled with adventures that represent different stages of worry, as Curry explained, but they manage to face their fears by trying new things or looking after each other.
“During the piece the children are very animated and excited by the characters’ adventure and there is a powerful connection as they witness them managing their worries”, said Curry.
In addition, the director explained that the play focused on how some worries such as the fear of the dark or loud noises can exist in very young children, while others are learnt like the fear of getting things wrong, or what other people think of us.
In order to represent anxiety on stage, Curry said that the company uses images and movements to show feelings and atmosphere.
“We have three fantastic physical performers and a brilliant stage design to explore the various physical states of anxiety – being off balance, stuck, feeling the flutter for example”, he added.
As for the new Covid storyline, Curry said they did some research on ways the pandemic has impacted children and explored how people have coped.
Asked about the message of the show, he said: “That worry is a normal part of life, we all have it. It’s something you cannot avoid or completely get rid of but you can learn to know it, name it and work with it.”
As well as in venues, Curry explained that the show had also been toured in schools and will continue to do so.
“At the end of the piece we share a few mindfulness techniques with the young audience and they each get a small butterfly puppet to take home,” he said.
Regarding future projects, the director spoke about Belongings, a play on growing up in the care system.
“We are committed to making theatre for children that explores the complicated and sometimes challenging elements of growing up with a sense of play, fun and optimism,” he added.