Sunday, 6 December 2009

Christmas Event Take 1

This weekend we began our first weekend of storytelling events at Ham House. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but i was confident that the event was organised well and that we were equipped enough to work with whoever and whatever came our way.

The first hour was quite slow with only a couple of families through the door but as the afternoon progressed more and more came in to enjoy the fun. My first couple of stories i felt were quite energetic as they were fresh but i didn't feel as though i really got into it until the afternoon when we had told it a few times. We would only be telling the story to 3 or 4 children at a time but each story was different which i really enjoyed. We adapted it to the age of the children; one of the stories we told to a baby who obviously didn't understand the story but could enjoy the pictures so we focused more on them and on our facial expressions.

When we were on a break from our stories, i went to encourage children to listen to other people's stories and to see what was happening around the house. I tried to get the children into stories so that people had audiences. Jayne, Jess and Emily were really good at getting the children into the house as they stayed in character all the time.
The roaming stories worked quite well as they were unexpected. There was a really nice moment when Laura told her story to some parents whilst they were quing for balloons. When she ran off the child wanted to know what she said but the parents played along and told her it was a secret. She had to find Laura if she wanted to know. This was really lovely as it encouraged the children to go off and explore the rooms to find stories.

Sunday worked a little more smoothly i felt as we had got into the swing of it and knew what sort of thing to expect. However we had a lot more people come into the house. The first hour on Saturday was quite quiet but on Sunday there were a lot more people and they seemed to be a lot more willing to explore and get involved. We had decided that we weren't really going to schedule breaks as on Saturday we found that it was better to have people interacting with the families and encouraging them to listen to stories. There were also times that we found that we needed more stories on. I felt that this worked better as the children got to know all the characters before we told our stories and therefore they were a lot more engaged.
In our story, we encouraged the children to go and meet the other characters and we interacted more with them by asking them what else they had heard and what they wanted for Christmas. Siobhan's character was the elf who looked after the reindeer and she never came out of it. After our story she would give the children a task to ask Mrs Claus for some new gloves. This was nice as it gave the children a sense of involvement and linked the stories together. They would come back and tell us that they had asked her and tell us things about the other stories.

I really enjoyed the weekend and i thought that we did very well as a new company. We may have had a few hiccups before, but on the day everyone worked really hard to make sure that the families enjoyed themselves and the stories had audiences and energy. I feel that i learnt a lot about what works when telling children a story, in as much that its not always about what you are saying but about how you say it and how engaged you are. The story might not be very interesting but as long as you are invested in it then the children will enjoy it. Having props helped a lot as it gave the children a visual focus, but we also let them use their imagination which i feel kept them engaged and interested. When i was watching the other stories i noticed this too, especially with the elves. They had so much energy and involved the children all the way through even after they had finished the story.

I'm really looking forward to next weekend. We will have some different stories which will keep the event fresh and therefore the energy and enthusiasm will continue. The event will probably be better than this weekend as we have changed some things because of seeing what worked and what didn't. Just as Sunday was better than Saturday, we are learning from each event. With a play, we wouldn't have been able to change very much and it would have been more or less the same each time. What is good about the storytelling events is that we are learning all the time and have the ability to analyse the event and change and adapt as we go along.
I'm hoping the rest of the weekends go as well! We should all be very proud of ourselves.
Well done everyone!!!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Anish Kapoor

I haven't blogged for a while so a have a few things to catch up on. Last Sunday myself and Sophie took a trip into central to see the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art. The que was huge, this exhibition has been on since September and is still drawing huge crowds which tells you how popular he is. Outside in the courtyard was a beautiful steel sculpture called Tall Tree and The Eye which consists of lots of globes of mirrored steel. They reflect everything around them in every direction which is quite a strange experience. It seems as though the globes are floating freely and unattached to each other and i was intrigued at how something so simple could throw up so many different interpretations. This was just the beginning of a truly amazing exhibition. Each sculpture gave me so many ideas and i took a lot of different meanings. It really inspired me to create performance work. The most memorable pieces were Svayambh and Shooting into the Corner. Svayambh was a huge block of red wax that moved incredibly slowly through 5 rooms. It was difficult to tell if it was even moving at some points and it takes an hour and a half for the block to reach the end and back. As the block moves through the rooms it squeezes throught the doorways and is then moulded into their shape. It was really interesting to watch this process even though it took a long time, i didnt find myself getting bored at all.
Shooting into the Corner is the most famous work of the exhibition. Sophie is working on a performance inspired by it for her creative collaboration performance. A canon fires a block of red wax into a blank white corner every 20 minutes.
The anticipation of waiting for the canon to go off was probably more powerful and affecting than when it actually did go off. A man sits with his back to the audience and every 2o minutes he walks to the canon, takes a cylinder of wax from the shelves and places it in the canon. He turns on the gas and then waits. This is probably the most tense that i have been. I knew it was about to go off so i was bracing myself for the bang. When it did go off the wax missed the wall so it did feel like a bit of an anti climax, however when we left we both found ourselves feeling really emotional. I honestly never thought that a piece of art could affect me so much. The canon is a symbol of destruction but their is something quite theraputic in watching something so clean like the white wall get destroyed or messed up. I think that we have all been in a situation where we have wanted to throw something and we find a sense of release from that. This piece really captured that feeling and it was definitely worth the long wait. I would recommend this exhibition to everyone, you will definitely come out having been moved in some way.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Christmas Stories

Friday was our first opportunity to work in the basement where the Christmas event will take place. It gave me a real sense of how the whole event will take shape and I'm looking forward to the dress rehearsal on Friday when we will hear all the stories and see what will be happening and when. I'm really looking forward to the event now and seeing the rooms full of people and the stories in full swing.

I am working with Siobhan and Emily on The Bear Who Found Christmas, which will take place in the long corridor by the stairs. We felt that this was a great space as the story is set in an old toy shop. Children will often play and create their own worlds in all sorts of weird and wonderful places that we just wouldn't think of, and i feel that the use of the corridor brings this out. Stories can be told anywhere, as long as you really believe that the chair you are sitting on, for example, is a mountain then the children will believe it too. They love to use their imagination and these stories will give them the opportunity to do this.

I was reading an article about children's theatre in Time Out which spoke about the way that the majority of children's theatre is big and loud and colourful, but actually young children are very good at seeing the beauty in small, subtle things. They are often a lot better at it than us, and many new shows have worked with this principle in mind, such as Katie Mitchell's Cat in the Hat at the National. I think that we should think about this in terms of our Christmas stories. We don't have the option of using huge amounts of props, set, costumes etc, but i don't think that it will matter. As long as we fully invest in each story and really create an atmosphere then the children will do the rest themselves.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Ghost Tour

On Thursday we were given a ghost tour at Ham House. I thought it was brilliant and really fascinating. Although we have had other tours of the house and had been told a lot of the history of it, i felt as though we were really given an insight into how Elizabeth and her family lived .... (and died!!)
Some of the rooms i hadn't seen before, and although I'm not sure whether i believe in ghosts or not ... i definitely felt a chill in the chapel! The 2 guides who took the tour were funny and clearly very passionate about the house and its history. Their anecdotes really helped to set the scene and made the tour very accessible to all ages.
If we are going to start to try and 'revamp' some of the tours then i think we should look at this one as a good starting point. It's definitely important to make the visitors connect to the material, just like a theatre audience. If you are just telling them facts then it becomes quite boring and they lose interest. Stories or bits of gossip are quite funny and mean that the visitors can start to remember that these were real people. They aren't just paintings on the wall, but actually lived, breathed, laughed and cried here and i think that appeals to all ages.
Its so much more interesting when you try to imagine how they lived and what they did in the house.
Another good example of this was on the behind the scenes tour when we were shown the graffiti on the window. A young servant at the house called John McFarland had fallen in love with another girl called Emily, but they couldn't be together as she was already engaged to someone else. He had scratched her name on a window and then committed suicide. This isn't shown to visitors of the house, which is a shame as i felt that it brought the house to life for me.
The Christmas stories are a great chance for us to do this. It will bring people to the house who may not have been before and will hopefully encourage them to come back.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Shooting Rats/ Our Own Little Piece Of Shit Paradise

This week in the lesson we had a talk from Harvey Edgington, the National Trust's Film Unit manager and Ham House's film conservator Milla. I found the talk really interesting, not realising that Harvey was in charge of ALL NT properties in the UK, not just Ham. His job is extremely hard work but I'm sure really worthwhile. The amount of enquiries that they receive every month for work is huge, so no doubt he is always busy.
Harvey mentioned an opportunity to possibly come in an help with the preparation for their next filming project which would be a fantastic opportunity to see first hand what they do. Looking forward to seeing how this develops. :)

On Friday night i took a trip to London town to see Fanshen Theatre Company's 'defiant new drama', Shooting Rats. There is so much to talk about so I'll break it down:
The Venue
The venue was part of The Oval House's Elsewhere project, using non theatre spaces around the city. The assembly hall of the Lillian Bayliss Old School Site was amazing! It is a huge octagonal hall with the audience looking down onto the stage from a raised platform that goes all the way around. As the space is so high, the acoustics weren't brilliant, but the actors really worked hard and i heard every word. This space has so many possibilities for all kinds of work. I saw it as a great space for physical theatre and movement work as there is so much to play with and it's also a unique and interesting environment for the audience to walk into.
The Play
Evie and Ads are going on a date... to a rubbish dump! As the night continues and they begin to get to know each other, they discover more and more about their own lives and the disguises they put on to hide their real problems. The play was originally written by Peter Turrini and Willard Manus in 1967, and it was described as 'a desperate attempt at self cleansing'. This production was adapted by Rachel Briscoe.
The actors were fantastic, really capturing the emotions of their characters and clearly portraying their struggles to fit in and find themselves in an increasingly materialistic world. Themes that are universal and extremely relevant in today's society where young people are struggling to find work and become independent from their parents.
The performances were really powerful and i found myself forgetting that i was watching a performance, really believing in the characters and their stories.
Our Own Little Piece Of Shit Paradise
Following the performance of Shooting Rats, their was a work in progress piece formed in response to Shooting Rats. Directed by Steff O'Driscoll and performed by 5 young actors including Monsay Whitney both graduates of St Mary's, the work was a series of short devised performances depicting each characters lives and the way they interlinked with each other, infused with current songs and images from popular TV programmes.
I really enjoyed the performances and i felt that it was a great example of how inspiring other plays can be when looking at creating new work. It was also really great to see the work of previous students as it gave me an insight into what people are doing after graduating.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Ive been quite busy since my last blog. Tuesday was Cardboard Citizens in the theatre. I hadn't seen any of their work before but i had heard about it and knew that it was going to be an interesting evening. The 3 stories they performed were very different but all were easy to relate to and i had hoped that we would forum all 3. Unfortunately we only had time for one. The one that i was drawn to the most was Emma's story as i felt that her story had the most potential to forum. However when we spoke about the evening on Friday, a lot of people disagreed. They felt that it was too easy to change her situation and that they couldnt empathise with her at all.

When speaking to the actors after the show, they told us about their experiances with the work and the response that they get when performing in hostels. I can see how the work has a positive effect on those who are possibly in the same situations as the characters, they are able to see how their choices might make a difference in their lives and are not being patronised by people who have no understanding as all the actors have been through similar experiances. I'd be really interested to work some more with CC and am looking forward to attending some of their workshops. I saw the potentials of forum theatre as a really good way of connecting with groups of people who wouldn't normally watch theatre.

On Wednesday i attended Amici Dance Theatre's workshop at the Lyric Hammersmith. It was amazing! The performers are all so friendly, open and welcoming and seem to relish the opportunity to show new people what they do.
Amici works with disabled and non disabled performers and its incredible to see how some of the participants interpret the music. Run by Wolfgang Stange, the work is all based on improvisation from a piece of music or a mask or piece of material etc. Performers are picked at random to dance in groups/duo's; however many people the group as a whole decides. One of the most beautiful improvisations was a duet by a blind performer and a performer in a wheelchair. The movement was simple but i could see their connection with the music and with each other. Another performer joined in the dance and started to touch their faces. The performer in the wheelchair really responded to this, and later when we were dancing with fabric and cloths he seemed to really enjoy the feel of it on his skin.
Dancing with the members of Amici was really inspiring and quite liberating. Their energy and confidence rubbed off on me and i didnt feel worried or self concious when others were watching me. Speaking to Wolfgang after the workshop, he told us about their future productions and invited us to go along to more workshops. This is a really great opportunity to see how they work.

Both of these companies have shown me completely different ways of delivering theatre to people who wouldnt normally access it. I think that we could take this idea when looking at our work at Ham House. Looking at people who wouldnt normally visit a National Trust property and trying to get them thinking about it in a positive way as somewhere they would like to visit and enjoy visiting. Gary was saying that there is a school next door to them who don't do anything with the house, they have no connection with something that is right on their doorstep. I think that it is something we could look into with our future projects at the house. What do people think?

Sorry if i have rambled on a bit.. got carried away!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


I've been thinking quite a lot about the christmas project over the last couple of days and have had a few ideas.
When i was in Edinburgh there were a lot of childrens shows and one that had a huge amount of success was Room on the Broom by Tall Stories theatre company. This is a well loved story and Tall Stories adapted it into an interactive, fun filled show.
I had an idea that for the christmas event we could possibly take some classic childrens stories and adapt them into short performances that continue throughout the day on a sort of loop. This would mean that visitors could wander around and see all the performances as well as enjoy other activities. It would also mean that children and parents of all ages could enjoy them. They could be interactive as well so that children can get involved in telling the story with costumes and props.
Jorge was saying that they wanted to focus on family fun so i think its important that everyone can get involved, not just the kiddies!!!
What do people think?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Been a bit unsue as to how to get going with my first post but thought the best idea was to just dive straight into it.
I'm really looking forward to the community projects this year. I'd never been to Ham House before but i wasn't dissapointed. Its a really beautiful setting to create work in and i think that everyone was getting inspired just from being there.
I'm still trying to decide which project to work on. I am excited about the big project at the house and know how much fun they can be from speaking to people involved last year, but Turtle Key Arts, Amichi and Ockhams Razor also sound like great companies to get involved with to. Especially Amichi and their work with disabled performers, as i have always been keen to work with people with disabilities as i know from personal experiance how rewarding it can be and how much you can learn from it.