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Oily Cart’s Associate Artist scheme: Spotlight on Debbie Bandara

24 May 2018

A vital but often unseen part of what we do here at Oily Cart is supporting and nurturing artists creating theatre for early years audiences, and young people with complex disabilities. Our upcoming blogs will shine a light on the individuals and theatre companies who are part of our Associate Artist mentoring scheme, to reflect on their experiences and celebrate the amazing work that they're doing. First up is Debbie Bandara, an artist, director, choreographer and producer...


I have always been passionate about creating work for children of all ages - the young, and the young at heart - as I know that we all have an inner child that just loves to play and be free. When I discovered Oily Cart, I was relieved to find that there were ‘big kids’ making vibrant and passionate work for all to enjoy.


I recently established my own dance theatre company, Forest Tribe Dance Theatre. After departing the world of teaching and forest schools, I noticed that a large proportion of kids from diverse backgrounds don’t have access to “pure creativity” in the form of theatre and dance. Dance and movement has always been my way of communicating: it’s through feeling and sensory experiences that my work resonates with others. It’s also my main artery: without it, I simply couldn’t function. I guess I felt the need to nurture and create new opportunities for others to experience this too, and that’s how Forest Tribe Dance Theatre came about.


Forest Tribe Dance Theatre is a small team, and we create shows where our studio is literally our patch of grass outside. Through rain, wind, snow, and glimpses of sunshine, we work on shows to be performed in spaces that will appreciate “pure creativity” and reach out to those ‘inner children’: libraries. We were very humbled recently to receive further funding to develop our R&D show, Alluriat, into a tour-ready piece, which will be touring across Greater Manchester Libraries 2018/2019.


Working with Oily Cart has helped me to carefully understand the processes behind making exceptional work for children. My relationship with the company began as a choreographer, and I have worked on recent shows including Kubla Khan, Hush-A-Bye, Light Show and Splish Splash, taking great care and thought in supporting these productions which are tailor-made specifically to each individual child in the audience. It’s an absolute honour to be part of the process and see the shows come into their own, and to realise the importance of making such high-quality theatre for children on the autism spectrum, who are deafblind, or who have profound and multiple learning disabilities.


The mentoring support offered to me since becoming an Associate Artist has been invaluable. Being a dance theatre company creating work for children, it can be quite tricky to navigate the waves of producing. It’s not my forte, but in order to get anything off the ground, I have to wear several hats as well as my primary artistic one. Marketing support and advice has allowed me to develop my practice and figure out how to tackle problems. Another hurdle I have faced has been the enigma of tour booking. It has been a breath of fresh air to have such support offered kindly and generously by Oily Cart for my recent show, Prince of Fire (Autumn 2017).


In January, I became the first Associate Director of Oily Cart as part of their new Associate Director scheme, established to develop the next generation of artists creating work for young people and supported with funding from the True Colours Trust. It has been wonderful to see how such an organisation works from all aspects, creatively as well as administratively. To be able to sit in board meetings and look at budgets of such a level is fascinating.


It is the Artistic Director, Tim Webb, who has been so generous in offering these opportunities, and essentially ensuring that Oily Cart supports emerging children’s theatre companies from all parts of the country and diverse backgrounds.


As the funding landscape changes, it is uncertain what will be around the corner for me, but I know that I have to create work for children who rarely get the chance to experience “pure creativity”: it is their right. I look forward to the rest of this year as Oily Cart’s Associate Director, and continuing to make work for all children, young and old. Most of all, I look forward to spending time with the Oily Cart family, they are quite truly a special bunch of ‘big kids’.


To read more about Debbie Bandara and Forest Tribe Dance Theatre, please visit or contact her directly .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Follow Forest Tribe Dance Theatre on social media: Facebook, Twitter @FTDanceTheatre, & Instagram