Meet Mortal Fools – the local theatre company improving our relationships
We chat to Kiz Crosbie, CEO and Artistic Director, and find out how this female-powered theatre company is supporting our mental health through drama.
Kiz Crosbie (a white woman, with curly brown hair, wearing a black top and beige trousers), Mortal Fools CEO and Artistic Director presenting to members of Mortal Fools team during a team development day.
Ever get the feeling your voice isn’t being heard?
Maybe you’re talked over in the team meeting. Or ignored in the group chat. Maybe you’re thinking about not voting if we ever get another general election.
Maybe you hate the new blockbuster everyone else loves. Or maybe you can’t get anyone else to vibe about that book you can’t put down. Maybe you simply feel it’s pointless to share your opinion because you already know no-one else in the room will understand you.
Image: Some of the young members of Mortal Fools Youth Theatre and some staff, in YMCA Northumberland’s lounge, pulling funny faces and poses, with a Mortal Fools’ birthday cake, celebrating 10 years of the company.
That’s what theatre can change. And it’s a feeling that local theatre company Mortal Fools are committed to erasing.
This creative learning charity, based in Northumberland, are passionate about using theatre to bring people together and facilitate open, honest and critical conversations about the world we live in. Working as co-creators with their local communities, Mortal Fools create theatre productions that look at modern life with integrity to invite positive change.
Why? Because the Mortal Fools team know that theatre, when used well, can bring people together, increase our resilience and improve our mental health.
In other words, drama has the power to change lives. But Mortal Fools also understand that, right now, not everyone is getting equal access to theatre.
Which is why, on the eve of their 10th birthday, they’re stepping up their game.
We chat to Kiz Crosbie, Mortal Fools founder, CEO and Artistic Director, about the importance of representation and how helping us all to feel heard, seen and understood can transform our local communities for the better – from the inside, out.
Image: 12 members of Mortal Fools’ core staff team in front of YMCA Northumberland entrance around the time we opened our head office in Ashington.
Here’s what Kiz told us…
What’s Mortal Fools all about?
Mortal Fools is a theatre, drama and creative learning charity. We co-create socially engaged theatre, film and creative projects with children, young people and communities. While we’re increasingly working with broader audiences and participants, our focus is working with children and young people – equipping them with the self-knowledge, confidence and skills to walk into positive futures.
We exist to support people to have better quality inter-personal connections and relationships with others. Positive relationships are a fundamental part of wellbeing, and when our wellbeing is good, we’re more fulfilled, resilient, content and better able to positively contribute to society. To us, that’s a purpose that really means something.
Image: 12 members of Mortal Fools’ Ensemble Young Company during a performance of FLUX; some are dancing, some are performing as a band and Maisie (a white young woman, with blonde short hair, yellow top and orange trousers), is performing a monologue to the audience.
How does the company work?
Having a clear purpose attracts others who believe in the same thing and want to play their part in making a difference, too. We collaborate with cross-sector partners, brilliant artists and talented staff to engage, enable and empower young people to make sense of the complicated world we’re all living in and scaffold towards better mental health and bright futures.
We work with other charities like YMCA Northumberland to reach young people who don’t have opportunities to take part in high quality arts activities, and with schools where creative interventions provide much needed support and essential safe spaces for young people struggling with life challenges.
Image: Mortal Fools logo
Why is theatre the perfect medium for this?
Theatre is about bringing people together; to share stories, make sense of the world, to speak, to be heard and to be present. As an inherently interpersonal art form, theatre lends itself perfectly to supporting people to have better relationships.
In our work, we facilitate this in several ways:
- We co-create original theatre performance, film, audio and digital art by professional artists working alongside children and young people; all participants contribute their ideas, their experiences, their questions and their voices and relationships are improved by people developing the confidence to speak up, listen to different opinions, supporting one another to take risks and accomplishing something together.
- We invite audiences to see our creative work, thereby platforming young people’s ideas and experiences. This often leads to other young people in the audience feeling seen for the first time and helps to build their own confidence, validating their experiences and increasing their self-worth. Adults in our audiences often reconsider their views of young people because of what they’ve seen on stage, too.
- And finally, our work and access to our groups are either free to attend or extremely low cost. Access to high quality activities remains out of reach for large proportions of communities and our economic situation is only going to make this worse. There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating that participation in arts activities can positively impact our wellbeing, but we have to get serious about removing the barriers that prevent participation.
Mortal Fools are determined to push for dramatic change in our sector to make the arts a truly equitable space. The time is now.
Image: A member of Mortal Fools’ Ensemble Young Company during a performance of FLUX; Katie (a white young woman, with long dark brown hair, wearing a green jumpsuit and silver jacket) is playing a character who is the lead singer of a band and mid performance.
It must take some confidence to disrupt the creative sector in this way. Why did you feel it was necessary?
Too many cultural organisations who receive public subsidy or donations know what they do, but can’t articulate why they do it or why anyone should care. For me, this has always felt unethical. The models I was seeing within the cultural sector were rife with inequity, elitism and self-importance. That simply wasn’t something I wanted to replicate or participate in.
Disrupting and treading your own path does sometimes take confidence but rooting yourself in a clear purpose helps keep you on the right path. There are an increasing number of other brilliant sector disrupters out there, too. It’s our privilege to stand alongside them and work to build a sector that truly is accessible and fully representative.
Image: Five young people performing during a school sharing of their work across the term, to parents and classmates.
Tell us about the CONNECT training and professional development programme you offer?
CONNECT is a programme of workshops, consultancy and coaching for people in businesses of all sectors. It’s practical, experiential training which combines approaches from the creative sector with social science, neuroscience and thought leadership in business development.
It’s called CONNECT because it’s about supporting better interpersonal connections between people in different contexts of business – for example, in leadership, team development, communications and presentations, or in building cultures of resilience and innovation. We also hold safe spaces for important conversations to discuss topics that often aren’t being openly talked about in workplaces. Topics like fear, which is something that often gets in the way of individuals and businesses achieving.
Image: Two Mortal Fools theatre practitioners at work during a session in a school. Zoe is a white woman, with medium length dark brown hair, sitting down wearing jeans and a checky shirt, holding a script. Scott is a white man, with short blonde hair and glasses, wearing black trousers and a brown shirt, holding a script.
You have an all-female leadership team, which is still rare in any sector. What qualities would you say this brings to the company?
We didn’t set out to have an all-female leadership team, it’s simply the result of attracting brilliant people who happen to be female. We’re a dynamic team, each bringing gifts, attributes, skills, and experiences to the table to support our work. Working well doesn’t happen by accident; as a team, we devote time to working hard on cultivating our relationships, working through our challenges, differences, and frustrations so that we can best serve the needs of the rest of the team and the company’s work in a healthy and unselfish way.
Image: A Mortal Fools theatre practitioner at work during a session in a school, Zoe (a white woman, with medium length dark brown hair, wearing jeans and a checky shirt) is giving out certificates to young people for completing their work with Mortal Fools.
You’re celebrating Mortal Fools’ 10th birthday this year – what did the company look like a decade ago?
Mortal Fools began as a youth theatre: me (a freelance director at the time), working alongside young people to devise original theatre in five days from a chosen theme. Our first show was called A Mad Hatter; A Serious Matter. We had a tea party for the audience, my mother-in-law made multi-coloured cupcakes…and then people started asking me when I was doing the next one. I couldn’t keep doing it alone, so I pulled together a group of interested people from the local community who became our first board of trustees.
Some of my fondest memories are from the early years; we pushed the boundaries of what could be achieved artistically in a village hall, transforming them into exciting, interactive and immersive theatre spaces, and we had so much fun doing it.
Image: Eight members of Mortal Fools’ Ensemble Young Company, in a Youth Theatre session.
And where would you like to see the company in the next 10 years?
This is an impossible question to answer, because so much will change and influence our direction. However, there are a few ambitions I have for us…
We have some irons in the fire which, if successful, will lead to a permanent home for Mortal Fools in a new, high-spec cultural building within a community that has been historically starved of this. A new home will give us a secure base from which to continue to grow and will also mean we can bring in other brilliant artists and companies to serve the community and audiences. I’d like our reach to be national and international in the coming years.
I’d like us to have more artists on our staff team, providing a well-paid, dynamic and supportive training ground for those at the early stages of their careers and providing interesting work as a person-centred employer that makes them want to stay with us for years. And I’d want to be able to say that we made a significant difference in changing the cultural sector; turning on its head what it means to be a cultural organisation and becoming genuinely rooted in people’s lives rather than something reserved for a special occasion.