Oystercatchers are fascinating birds. They can live very long lives – a male which was tagged as a chick in 1970 was caught in 2010, making him over 40 years old. A unique aspect about these birds is that they adopt one of two different methods for eating shellfish.
The Hammerer uses their beak to smash into the shell
The Stabber uses their beak to prize the shell apart.
How a pair eat will determine the behaviour of their chicks. Researchers predict that at some point these could evolve into different species.
Some Oystercatchers that live on the Taw/Torridge Estuary are resident all year, spending much of their time in mud flats that team with cockles, mussels and worms – like the Skern on Northam Burrows or Isley Marsh near Yelland. Others arrive from Northern climes in the autumn and spend the winter here, returning North for the breeding season. Some of these migrant birds come from Scotland or from further flung places like the Faroe Islands. Did you know – the Oystercatcher is the national bird of the Faroe Islands? For the Faroese, the arrival of the Oystercatcher marks the beginning of Spring and they celebrate them at a national holiday called St. Gregory’s Day or Grækarismessa.
Our Oystercatcher characters travel between North Devon and the Faroe Islands. After a flight of 766 miles, they arrive back in Bideford more than a little dazed and confused and need a bit of help to get to the sea, where they can find their wings again.
If you’d like to find more about Oystercatchers and the other birds that live around the Estuary, why not visit the Northam Burrows Visitors Centre, Sandymere Road, Northam, EX39 1XS, search the website of the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds or visit one of their reserves. This wonderful landscape is overseen by the North Devon Coasts Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which gathers information about how best to protect it and holds events throughout the the year.
The Estuary of the Torridge and Taw Rivers is an important habitat for wading birds and the Oystercatcher is one of the most characterful residents. Some live here all year round and others visit from northern climes during the winter in order to feast on the mudflats.
Our characters are migrant Oystercatchers, who have just arrived back from the Faroe Islands. Arriving in the town, rather tired and disorientated, they enlist help from local people to reach their seaside home and attempt to trade with shells for things that will help them through the winter. At the seaside, they get to work with setting up home and get fishing.
Performances happened in Bideford and Northam Burrows, Barnstaple and Saunton Sands on 14th and 15th September 2019. We worked with a brilliant team to create this curious pair and to share them with the public. Read below for more information about how the project came together.
Ruth Webb made these beautiful masks. Her aim was to make the heads look appealing, but not cartoony and realistic, but with character. We think that she achieved the perfect balance. The masks are bright and charming but can also be overpowering at close quarters, perhaps reminding us to respect nature.
The masks were made by building up layers of plastazote foam sheets and papier-mâché onto the base of a climbing helmet. It was a time consuming business, with several layers of paper and paint. Here’s are some photos of the work in progress.
Strolling theatre or ‘walkabout’ is a wonderful way to connect with people on the street. Performers walk a designated route and along the way, they interact with passers by. Some people like to stand back and observe the overall picture. Others like to find out what’s going on, ask questions. Ideally they are drawn into the world of the performance and interact in a playful way.
We think that this kind of performance is brilliant. It punctuates everyday life, offering moments of curiosity and make-believe for people who are unlikely to have been expecting it. It provides unusual stories to share at work or down the pub – ‘I funny thing happened to me yesterday…’ And at the very least it makes people question what’s what.
We spent a 8 days developing this performance piece, working on Northam Burrows and in rehearsal spaces in Appledore and Bideford. We spent time observing the birds – both on the Skern mudflats (when we could spot them) and on video and then attempted to adapt their mannerisms and behaviours to the human body. We wondered who Oystercatchers might be if they were humans – perhaps they would be people who scour the mud with metal detectors? They would certainly be people of the mud, who were outsiders in some way.
We decided that our characters would have just arrived back from their second home in the North. That way there would be some drama to play with – if they were disorientated or lost, then people could lend them a hand. Sarah Corbett and Michael Wagg are very spontaneous and engaging performers who managed to create a ridiculous and yet strangely enchanting pair.
We hope that by performing with these characters in Bideford, Barnstaple and on the beach at Northam Burrows and Saunton Sands, we’ll encourage people to think about the wonderful birds that live in our local area of outstanding natural beauty. By presenting the characters as half human, we intend that people can draw parallels between their lives and ours. If we can relate to the birds more completely, perhaps we will look after them better. After all, while Oystercatchers are not yet on the Red Endangered list, they are on the Amber list – with numbers in sharp decline.
The Covid-19 pandemic struck just as we were preparing to start work on a new project – The Whistlers, commissioned by Green Carpet. This was to be created through a series of residencies in the UK, France and Belgium this spring but all work was postponed in March. As such, we have no ‘live’ projects to present but a gallery of images which give an idea of our shared experience and expertise.
Follow links to find out more about our current projects – comic short films made during lockdown, sound journeys & touch tours helping people to destress and connect to nature, walkabout performance to help bring a smile to people’s faces, a socially distanced Silent Disco to bring back the sparkle, plus an upcoming community responsive project in 2021. If you’d like to receive (infrequent) newsletters and updates please…
Chronicles of an Infectious Agent is a series of 6 short comic films, introducing the character of Sars CoV-2 and their deliberations with sanitising & social distancing.
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A Trip to… is a series of Sound Journeys in which the listener is transported into different natural environments. Each has an accompanying Touch Tour where the listener is offered objects to touch and smell, providing a more immersive, sensory experience. We’ve made guides so that you can offer a Touch Tour to a friend or family member. NB Post Covid-19, it is only appropriate to offer this to someone who you are able to interact with and touch.
Book for an event or a party…
Social DisDance brings the fun and frivolity of Disco back into our lives – DJ DisDance is the mistress of ceremonies, with a set list to get those hips wriggling and some moves to pass on. Our headphones (sanitised by us) mean that you can rip it up in the park or in your private garden, without disturbing the neighbours. Available for
Oystercatchers is a beautiful and curious strolling performance, featuring two migrant Oystercatchers, who have arrived back from the Faroe Islands. Rather disorientated, they enlist help from local people to reach the seaside. At the seaside, they get busy with setting up home and catching shellfish.
Work in progress…
Whistlers / Les Siffleurs (Commissioned by Green Carpet) is an outdoor performance around bird song, whistling and whistling, explored through the idea of a fantastical ancient culture of people who have a symbiotic relationship with songbirds.
People joined us for Ebb and Flow, an interactive, creative walk designed for both Northam and Braunton Burrows. We invited groups to explore this monumental landscape through the idea of movement: the shifting earth beneath our feet, the routes of migrating birds and the human impulse to travel beyond the horizon.
We introduced a couple of Oystercatcher characters onto the streets and beaches, where they got lost and into mischief. People could help them or observe them at a distance through binoculars. Our aim was to draw attention to this fascinating bird and encourage people to look out for their future.
We took field recordings and made a series of compositions share with people during walks and through our specially designed immersive, sound experience. Follow the link to listen to Creek field recordings and compositions.
Photo credits: left and centre by Jim Wileman; right by Paschale Straiton
Stepping Out was supported with funding from Arts Council England and the North Devon Coast Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The North Devon Coast AONB funding is supported through their Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) which is funded by Defra. Stepping Out was part of the celebrations of the 60th Anniversary of AONBs.
If you or your organisation are interested in partnering with us, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
We were grateful to work with photographer Jim Wileman, who has created some fabulous images of the project and you find more about him or contact him here.
Stepping Out is a biannual programme of distinctive, fun and captivating outdoor performance that encourages people to come together to experience familiar places in unfamiliar ways. In 2019 Stepping Out featured three projects celebrating the unique nature of the Taw/Torridge Estuary and the creatures that live there.
Ebb and Flow– an interactive, creative walk exploring movement within the monumental landscape of Northam and Braunton Burrows
Oystercatchers– regular migrants from the Faroe islands, two characters arrive back to North Devon, dazed and confused and looking for fish
Creek– a multi-stranded sound project exploring and sharing the sounds and atmospheres of places along the Estuary
We create shows for Arts Festivals, Community Events, Shopping Centres and Corporate Events.
Social DisDance – originally made for the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford, the Social DisDance is Silent Disco made appropriate for a socially distanced world. This show is available for booking – for street and garden parties and outdoor events – when government guidelines allow.
Oystercatchers is a beautiful and curious strolling performance, featuring two migrant Oystercatchers, who have just arrived back from the Faroe Islands. Tired and disorientated, they enlist help from local people to reach the seaside and attempt to trade with shells for things that will help them through the winter. At the seaside, they get busy with setting up home and catching shellfish.
We were commissioned by Green Carpet (a consortium of organisations across France, Belgium and the UK), to create Whistlers / Les Siffleurs – an outdoor performance around bird song, whistling and whistling, explored through the idea of a fantastical ancient culture of people who have a symbiotic relationship with songbirds. As a result of Covid-19, the project is postponed to 2021.