Karen Bartholomew is associate artist in dance and engagement at Mind the Gap and co-creator of A Little Space. Karen has worked in the field of inclusive dance for around 15 years – 10 of which have been with Mind the Gap. She has also worked for Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Leeds Playhouse and Yorkshire Dance amongst others. Since 2009, Karen has been co-director of inclusive contemporary dance company MeshDance which specialises in working with young people with learning disabilities and autism. Karen's current work with both Mind the Gap and MeshDance focuses on championing excellence in work made by people with learning disabilities and raising aspirations about what LD artists can achieve.
How did you come to be involved in A Little Space?
Back in 2017, Mind the Gap were talking about exciting people or companies that we might be interested in talking to about potential collaborations. Gecko were mentioned and there began the start of what has become one of the most exciting projects I've ever had the chance to work on!
How have you found the experience of working with Gecko? How has it been different to the way Mind the Gap works alone? What have you learned?
In short, it has completely transformed my teaching and choreographic practice. I’ve learnt about the power of having sound and lighting artists built into the creative process, and how that can really make a show come to life from day one. We don’t always get the chance to work like this as of course, it is a costly (yet valuable) way of working, which isn’t possible on a day-to-day basis. However, this hasn’t stopped me thinking and plotting sound and lighting at an earlier stage of my creative process and finding other ways of bringing movement alive within the studio. I find it really boosts how my students engage with choreography and helps us work at a quicker pace as sound and light choices become part of the overall ‘script’ of the work.
What do you think is special about the way Gecko and Mind the Gap have worked together?
I think we've done a brilliant job at bringing together what both companies are passionate about. In many ways, our ethos as companies are very similar; it’s about seeing lived human experience on a stage in front of you, and it’s about audiences seeing themselves reflected on stage. We explore this in different ways, not least because MtG has primarily created theatre for performance. A departure into the more physical world through this co-production has taught us how else we can explore this kind of storytelling and representation. Another special part of the process has been how willing and open we have all been in sharing our knowledge and experience. We’ve talked a lot about how we have been able to learn from so much from each other, and that has entirely come from a process that has been open and honest from the start. It also helps that we have had a few opportunities to ‘play’ together before embarking on creating the show itself. That time allowed us all – cast and creative team – to get to know each other and build relationships, which laid the groundwork for going into the rehearsal room.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in performing/creating the show?
On a personal level, I think the process as a whole has really challenged me – as cliched as it might sound – to step out of my comfort zone. I have been challenged to rethink how I create and what is important to me as an artist. In the Gecko world, you have to be bold. I suppose that’s something that doesn’t always come naturally to me, but it’s a sure-fire way to get the most out of a process. Making bold choices creates great art and that’s what we’re here to do! On a company level, I don't think we've ever done a collaboration of this scale, and it's really interesting to learn how many people are needed to pull it off! Everyone involved has played such a vital role and it’s been a great learning experience to discover more about all the other roles that are so unbelievably important when planning, creating and touring a new show.
How would you describe A Little Space to a friend?
Sometimes you can be in a room full of people, but still feel like you're alone. Sometimes being alone is the best feeling in the world. Sometimes loneliness is the most painful experience you can ever live through. A Little Space is set in an extraordinary world where things aren’t always as they seem. The five performers explore the idea of being alone, these very ordinary feelings that we have all experienced, and show us that no matter how it feels, we're never really alone.