Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Community Days!

The past few weeks have seen a lot of activity at the house, with community days and Easter events. We were asked to attend them and provide games and face painting for the children as well as advertising the 400th birthday.
At the recent community day, i wasn't sure what to expect but when we got there, there were many different organisations from all over the local community presenting themselves and showing what they did. It was a great introduction to the 4ooth birthday event on the common, as this is exactly the kind of community spirit that we want to achieve.
We went around handing out leaflets to people but most people already had them from our recent leaflet drop around Ham. It was a fantastic response as it showed that people were genuinely interested in the event and told us that they were going to come. Some had children who were taking part through our work in the schools. We also had responses through the email account with some people interested in performing and also making cakes for the event!!
One thing that has always stuck in my mind when thinking about what the whole project is about is something that the landlady of the Royal Oak told Jennie and Zoe when they visited her. She said that they didn't feel that they had a connection to Ham House, it was in their town but it didn't belong to them. This is what the project is really about for me - making sure that the community feel like they have something to remember about the house, something that they were a part of. The idea behind asking them to sign the flag which will be raised at the end of the event means that there will always be a part of the community in the house.
I just read Zoe's blog and she mentioned Sharmilla's project and leaving a legacy. This is what keeps the project moving for me. It has been a long process and at times frustrating, but when it all comes together NEXT SUNDAY, (i can't believe we are finally here), i hope that we will all see how rewarding it has been. All the groups will be together, enjoying being a part of the birthday celebrations and celebrating everything that is good about their community - what makes it special. The parkour group will have the opportunity to meet Circus Suburbia who are looking for strong teenagers to come along to their free evening workshops. Parkour are looking to keep going and if we can combine the two and make sure that both projects continue, all the stress, constant emailing, phoning and arguments will have been worth it. I am really looking forward to the project now. It has been quite a tough few weeks for me but i now have the time to put my all into the project and make sure that everything goes well. I know that by the end, i will be proud of both myself and the rest of the team for sticking with it and pulling it off. A massive well done must be said to Sharmilla as well. She has gone out by herself and done her own thing without help from anyone and no matter what happens she should be incredibly proud of herself for taking a risk and being so brave. So well done and congratulations Sharmilla!!! And also congratulations to all of us for the hard work and support over the last few months.


2 weeks ago, myself, Ben, Jennie, Jayne and Jess went to St Elizabeth's School in Richmond to begin a series of workshops ready for the big event.

I had been in contact with the school for a while and they have been really enthusiastic throughout the whole process, which has been really encouraging and refreshing. I sent out a letter to the parents detailing the event and also whether the children wanted to take part. The response was great and at the first workshop we already had 13 children, with more that couldn't make it.

As it was the first workshop, we wanted to get to know the children and make sure that they were comfortable working with us. I was slightly apprehensive as the children different ages ranging from 6 to 11 and i knew that it was important to keep them all engaged. After doing Theatre in Education last year i did have an idea of how to work with the children but it was quite nerve wracking to have 13 children looking at you waiting for you to entertain them.

We began by playing some name games, such as, 'My name is...and if i was an animal i would be...' . We also played ABC where the children have to say ABC in a specific way, for example happy, sad and angry. These games were interesting for the children and also allowed us to see the different levels of the group. Who was confident, who would need a bit more encouragement etc. The children were great and we had a really good time with them, they were all asking lots of questions about the event and seemed very excited about it.

For the second workshop we wanted to work a bit more on the event. We had a lot of new children and so we did some name games again at the start. We decided that St Elizabeth's should be behind the pig in the parade, and so we worked with the children on how the pig might look, sound and move. We also told the children that there would be a story on the common, but we kept the story a secret so that it is a surprise on the day. We looked at storytelling with the children by asking them to make a story by saying a line each. The story had to be about a pig and it had to mention Happy Birthday. At first the children were quite tentative but as the story went on, they started to get more imaginative. By the end of the story the pig had wielded a light saber, left his wife and got lost in the woods!!

In the parade the children will be walking behind the pig and therefore in the next few workshops we will be making pig masks and also working on the big HAPPY BIRTHDAY banner that will be carried at the front of the parade.

I'm really looking forward to seeing the children again, and meeting any new ones that come along. This week should be great fun for them as they get to be really creative and get messy, which all children enjoy!

Monday, 29 March 2010

A trip to Mexico and back....

Apologies for my lack of blogging of late. But to fill you in... the week before the Easter break saw our fundraising efforts in the SU take shape. The theme was Spring Break/Mexican so Jennie and Jade rallied the troops and we all spent the day painting, paper macheing and decorating the SU. The design team were great and had made some pinatas, flags and palm trees which we all joined in with to transform the SU as much as we could. We had the idea of having a limbo competition as well as pinatas full of sweets for people to win, to make the evening more interesting and enjoyable for those that ventured in. The night went well, we ended up raising just under 150 pounds which is pretty good considering we had to pay for security as well. We may not have had as many people turn up as we had wished, but the night was in many ways a success. We made a profit, worked together as a team to create an enjoyable evening and we all had fun in the process!!
On 2nd April, myself, Siobhan, Chantelle and Carolina spent the day face painting at Ham House for their Easter event. The weekend was sponsored by Cadbury who have teamed up with the National Trust, designing Easter egg hunts and encouraging families to spend the day at their local NT property. It was a really enjoyable day and the parents were very interested to hear about the 400th anniversary. Most of them were locals from the surrounding area and had children at the schools that will be participating, so it was great to meet people face to face and explain to them what it was all about and get them involved too. Gary gave us each a free egg to top off the day and we even got to do the Easter egg hunt, (on the premise that we were giving constructive feedback of course!!)
Today was the first meeting back after Easter and so we had a lot to talk about. Jennie and Ben have written a fantastic story for the parade about an evil eagle and a plot to steal all the clocks so that no one knows when their birthday is!! They put so much work into it and have given us lots of ideas and things to create in the workshops. The event really does seem to be taking shape now, with workshops planned to begin in the next couple of weeks when the schools are back and meetings taking place here, there and everywhere. We had some great news about funding just before Easter and we have almost 20 confirmed groups with others on the verge of confirmation. I have noticed a definite change of pace in the group, people are a lot more enthusiastic and energetic and decisions are being made quickly and efficiently. Well done everyone, lets keep up the good work!!!! :)

Friday, 19 March 2010

A catch up and an apology!!

So first off, an apology for my lack of blogging. I have been rather busy, as i'm sure the rest of us have and have been trying to fit everything in - hence why this blog is being written at 11.30pm!!

So to bring everything up to date - the project has been moving forward a lot more and people are seeming to really get into it now. I have been busily trying to arrange meetings and will be starting workshops with St Elizabeth's School in Richmond after Easter!
Ham have decided that they would like a brass band to accompany the choirs for the 4 songs that everyone will join in with towards the end of the event, which seems to be a great idea and will sound fantastic.

Things seem to have picked up in the last few weeks, whether it is the realisation that the project is only 2 months away or just that people are starting to be more energised, there is a sense of new enthusiasm in the team. The last few meetings have been hugely productive with us using the first part of the session to gain feedback from the teams and then the rest of the time to contact, plan and organise. The parade is getting under way - we have started to look at groups that are quirky and fun, like drag acts, circus performers and nuns! We know that in order for the parade to really showcase the community and be an enjoyable day, it needs to be fun, loud, colourful and literally involve every type of person/group that we can think of. Lollipop ladies, commuters with their briefcases etc!

Briony, Emily and i have started to work on the business side of things, drawing up a contingency plan in order that we have all of our bases covered in event of something going wrong. I have been used to doing risk assessments before, through stage management, however this is a lot bigger and takes a lot more time. Just as the whole project does. I am enjoying it, though at times i feel that there is so much to do and not enough time. I think that we will all come together as we are starting to do now, although the pace does need to pick up a little bit otherwise we run the risk of running out of time.
Siobhan and Megan are doing a brilliant job and managed to secure accomodation for Ed and Laura for an extra night. They have also been working really hard on getting other students involved and creating the posters for the event. There are a lot of pockets of activity going on outside of the meetings and this needs to continue from everyone in order to make the event a true success.

The much anticipated SU night on Wednesday will be our first opportunity to come together as a team and create an event. It will be all hands on deck to make the SU look great and ensure that everyone has a good time. This way we will get some much needed money and can start looking at materials for the flags - we have decided that each group should have a banner or flag with which they will be represented. They will walk behind these in the parade and then the flags will line the terrace of the house in order for everyone to see who has taken part.
So things are starting to shape up and there are some busy, busy weeks up ahead.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ham House Diaries - Bell Ringing

As a follow up to our meeting with the bell ringers, we were invited to go along to one of their meetings and see what they did. Myself, Hannah, Rachel and Sarah ventured off to All Hallows Church, Twickenham on Tuesday evening and climbed the tower to the bells. Stephen, the chairman spoke about the church - built by Sir Christopher Wren, its original home was Lombard Street in central London, however the congregation became very small due to the large amount of churches in the area. There was a high demand for churches outside of the city, especially in Twickenham and the surrounding areas and so the church was taken down and rebuilt brick by brick right here in Twickenham. The bells were also moved from the original site and we were able to climb higher to see them, up a tiny ladder which was a bit nerve racking. There are 10 bells in the church and when we got back down the other ringers had arrived and demonstrated the sound of all of them ringing together. They warned us before hand that the tower would move!! This was not them exaggerating how good they were... no the tower actually swayed when the bells rang!!!! Not the greatest feeling in the world when you are very high up and the only exit is down narrow, spiral, stone steps!!!
Anyway, once we got over the initial panic, we sat back and listened to the ringing - it was like a different language when they were calling out numbers and sequences. I never realised how complicated it was. We were given a go - i must admit i was slightly apprehensive at the thought of forgetting to let go and flying off into the roof! However it was actually quite fun, we only rang for a few seconds and my arms hurt so i can't imagine how they must feel at the end of the night.
It was a really lovely evening and we had the opportunity to meet the group and get to know them. They were really interested in the project and we spoke a bit more about it to them. There is an opportunity for more people to go next week, and i hope that they all do. It was a really interesting night and quite unexpected. I hope that meetings with the other groups go as well and we can start to build a lasting relationship with them.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Ham House Diaries - Sun, gardens and Thai food!!

On Monday as the sun was shining, myself, Zoe, Jennie, Siobhan, Megan, Ben, Emily, Ed, Sarah and Sharmilla took a trip to Ham House to catch up on ideas and get the layout of the day clearer in our heads. As soon as we walked into the garden, we all breathed a sigh of relief and were reassured that they day would be a success. We had forgotten just how big the space was!!! Realising that fitting people in would not be a problem we started to wander around discussing ideas and trying to come up with some solutions as to where people would go and whether we would be able to hear the choirs from the back.
It was really great to get to the house again and to start to visualize the day. The 8 grass squares are a lot bigger than i remembered and they will certainly be big enough for the groups and the audiences to congregate on, have picnics and sing along with the choirs.
We also walked to the river to have a look at the ferry. Ham are trying to make the event as eco friendly as possible and are encouraging people to use alternative modes of transport to their cars. The ferry is a nice idea as it is a part of the community and is also something that people may not know about. It might be difficult to arrange something though as we cannot guarantee the numbers of people that would use it and they do not normally run on Sunday's. It is something that we should think about though, as it would be great to include them.
After the house visit - we went to The Fox and Duck pub to meet the landlady Pretti and to have some dinner. The pub are really interested in the event and would like to be involved. They have recently started a Thai restaurant in the pub and offered to cook for us even though they are not normally open on Mondays. It was a really delicious meal, and Tai, the chef and Pretti were really lovely, friendly and welcoming. It gave us the chance to get to know some of the local residents of Ham and to show our faces. There was a large group of us so if people ask who we are and what we are doing then its an opportunity to sell the event and get people involved. It was a really lovely evening - we all got to know each other more, having lots of conversations and enjoying the company.
I think that it was a shame that there were not many people there. It is important that we are all on board and all take the opportunity to go out into the community that we are trying to celebrate and bring together. I'm sure that there will be lots more opportunities to do this and hopefully more people will come along.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Ham House Diaries - Planning and Preperation

The weekly meetings seem to have been getting quite heated recently. Everyone really wants this project to come together and be brilliant and i think that it will, we just need to have patience that those people we have contacted will reply and that all of us are doing our jobs properly. I think that this started to sink in a bit towards the end of the week, especially when Jennie and Jade gave us some great news about the funding application to Richmond Council. Its going straight to the top of the pile - its all about who you know these days - Great work girlies!!!

I have been compiling a spreadsheet of all those that have been contacted so far with the other necessary information. Its now up and running in the office and after looking at it, i have started to calm down a little bit. We have contacted a lot of people and from quite a wide range of areas and disciplines. There is room for plenty more though, and we need to keep plugging away at it. We definitely don't have enough people yet, but maybe we need to be firmer with those groups that are taking their time in replying/deciding. This event is going to be fantastic but there is a limited amount of space. As Mark said in Thursday's meeting - publicise to everyone, but let them know that they need to get in quick.
During Thursday's meeting, the design team showed us how to make flowers from recycled materials such as bin liners, paper, card etc. Each week they are showing us different things that we could put in the procession and also some great workshop ideas. It's very exciting to start seeing how things are really starting to come together. I am starting to picture the event now much more clearly.
Next week we are giving a presentation to Gary and Jorge. This is to update them on all that we know so far - to reassure them in some ways that we know what we are doing! We discussed in the meeting our concerns about the presentation - that they want to know a definite on numbers and on what is happening where. Unfortunately we can't give them all of these details right now as we simply don't know. It isn't ideal as i'd love to be able to give them a complete breakdown of the day and who is involved, but there are still 3 months to go and it would be ambitious to have all of that information at this stage.
On Monday we are going to the house to have a look at the grounds and see where we can put people and try to form some kind of structure for what will happen.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Ham House Diaries - Meeting the bell ringers

This has been a strange week for me. All my plans seem to have gone completely out of the window, possibly after a fleeting visit from my mum on Tuesday. Maybe I slipped back into the mentality of, its OK i can do it tomorrow! Oops.. but this week I'm back to my recently quite organised self. Getting things done and trying to fit it all in!

So an update on how its all been going:
Briony and i had a meeting with the chairman of the Middlesex County Association of Bell Ringers where we discussed the project and what their involvement if any could be. It began with Stephen (the chairman) giving us a brief history of his club and church bell ringing. His suggestion of getting a hand-bell team together for the event sounded great and when we discussed what the day would entail, he was very happy to be involved and thought that they could fit in wonderfully. He explained to us that as they would need to be able to hear each other it would probably work better for them if they could play in the grounds, rather than in the procession. I think this is better as it is important for the group to be comfortable and to be showing what they do to the best of their ability. Whilst we would love them to all be in the procession, i think that we need to accept that it won't always be possible and compromises will need to be made. We discovered that the ringers also have a kids group, which is fantastic and we agreed that perhaps they could take part in the procession. Stephen told us that he hoped that the event would encourage people to 'have a go' and take bell ringing up- i think that this is a fantastic idea. The whole idea of the event is to celebrate the community and bring people closer as a community who share something - Ham House! If it showcases the best of the local area and encourages people who wouldn't normally get involved to do just that then i will be really proud of what we have achieved.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Its All Kicking Off....

We are now 4 weeks in to our final semester at St Mary's and its been a bit of a baptism of fire!! Last semester i was only taking DIC, Dissertation and Physical Approaches to Playtext and so i was working hard but a more comfortable pace! This semester i actually haven't stopped and I'm sure its the same for everyone else, with 5 modules including my dissertation and Drama in the Community.

We are underway in our planning for Ham House's 400th Birthday celebrations this coming May - setting up working teams and beginning to contact community groups. Our plan is to have all the groups come together in a procession that will begin at Ham Common and will walk up to the south gates of the house. We walked the proposed route of the procession 2 weeks ago and it seems perfect! The common is directly behind the house down a straight avenue all the way to the common which will hopefully work as a great meeting place for the groups and for the community to see everyone gathering together.
The meetings have been going well, although there has been a few people missing in the last couple of weeks. Thursdays meetings will now be given to the creative team to teach us what they have been doing with Tina. Last week we learnt how to make masks which we can possibly do in workshops with children so that they can wear them in the procession. Claudia filmed the meeting and interviewed us so that we can have an archived process of the whole project.
Everyone has been given a group to contact so we will hopefully have a broad range of groups participating in the event. A good thing about the project is that people will gain awareness of the different community groups in their area and therefore hopefully come together more as a community and borough. For the younger generation to gain an interest and knowledge of Ham House and the National Trust would be really fantastic as well.
Zoe mentioned that one of the landlady's of the pubs in Ham said that they didn't feel that the house was a part of the community. It didn't seem to do anything that showed that it was a part of Ham. This is exactly the reason that the National Trust want to do have this party and from the work that we did with Spiral, it is something that i would love to be able to achieve. I hope that we can give the people of Ham and the surrounding areas something that they can really be proud of and help them to really celebrate having the house in their community. It would be really great if the party was just the beginning, and that the community begin to take a much bigger role in the future of the house and supported each other.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Spiral Theatre Project - Bielva 2009

So on the 13th December we set off to Spain on what would prove to be one of the most rewarding weeks for all of us.
We arrived at Santander Airport and were met by Spiral - Chris, Carol and Marta (and Carols mum). Chris is english but has lived in Spain for over 10 years, he is a theatre director and writer, Carol is a journalist and Marta is an archeologist. They were immediately welcoming and were really enthusiastic about us being there.
On the way to the villlage Chris told us all about the project and also about the way that theatre works in Spain.
Spain is split into different regions and each has its own government. There is a main government in Madrid. The regional governments are responsible for looking after health, education, culture etc and the spanish are very protective over their cultural heritage, they have laws that protect things like paintings from being bought or sold and leaving the country. Banks and Building Societies in Spain put a proportion of their profits into foundations which fund arts centres in each town. Companies/organisations have to put in a bid in order to do a theatre project and so a lot of time and effort goes into the preparation and deliverance of each project by Spiral.

Bielva is a small village right in the mountains about 40 minutes from Santander. It was beautiful! We arrived at the house where we would be staying to find that Chris, Carol and Marta had prepared a huge meal for us. That night we all got to know each other over food, wine and traditional spanish sweeties!!!

The days in Spain are much longer than they are here as they work in the mornings untill around 2pm and then have a big meal and a siesta for a couple of hours. Work starts again at around 5/6pm and continue until 10pm. Our mornings consisted of a series of workshops where we were told all about the work of Spiral and why they work the way that they do. We also learnt a lot about the history of spain and the cultural policy. In the evenings we would attend the rehearsals with the company and the villagers.

We met the villagers on the Monday night during their rehearsal. They knew that we were coming and when we walked in they were so friendly, there were kisses all round!!!!

The project really did involve the whole community. The oldest performer was 80 and the youngest 8, some of the villagers helped during the process but did not want to perform. Whole families performed, Yolanda and her son Cesar and daughter Virginia, Lola, her son and his wife and 2 daughters all performed. Not many of the village spoke english, only the younger ones who were learning at school and all the rehearsals were conducted in Spanish. Chris would translate everything for us, however some of the older participants became quite self conscious if we laughed at what he told us, thinking that we were laughing at them rather than with them.

The play was completely devised by the villagers and Spiral, the names, the story all the lines came out of improvisations and games. Chris told us that they had discovered the relationships between the characters through hot seating. They had created the whole thing and as Chris told us, when the lines were typed up and given to them, they suddenly found it harder to say. They didnt feel that it was their words any more, they didnt belong to them now that they were in print. It was then that we started to see how much this play meant to Bielva and how connected it was to their own history and heritage.

The play was called 'Una comida para llegara de Fausto' A meal for the arrival of Fausto and was about a man (Fausto) returning home to his village 50 years after leaving to seek his fortune. He returns rich and with a plan to build a ski centre in the mountains near the village in order to bring money, jobs and prosperity to the villagers. However Fausto finds that when he left, his girlfriend was pregnant and gave their son away. The first part of the play is set days before his return and the villagers are all gossiping about why he might be coming back and what he will do with his money. The centre piece of the show is a huge dinner they have to celebrate Fausto's return! All the food was freshly prepared for the performance and the process of setting the table and bringing out all the food was part of the play. In real life, 50 years ago many people left their villages and set off to 'The Americas' to seek their fortunes and we were told that there was a plan to build a ski station in some of the neighbouring villages and so the play was very much embedded in the villagers own lives.

During the week we began to really get to know everyone in the village and each other. The villagers were so welcoming to us, they invited us to mass on the last day and Nuco who played Fausto, took us on a tour of the village, telling us all about its history. Yolanda delivered fresh bread every morning and also gave us 36 eggs!!!! The younger villagers seemed really happy that we were there, especially Cesar, Isabel and Zaira who invited us out with them and came over for breakfast on our last day.

The performance took place in a bar that had no heating and was decorated with some very strange cartoons! We covered the whole space with white material which completely transformed the room. It was a surprise for the cast who were all so happy when they saw it. Once there were a few lights in place, it began to look like a performance space, which was a completely new experiance for them. It was a really nice feeling to take a familiar place for them and transform it into something completely different.
As we had experiance of technical theatre, our roles for the performance were front of house, stage management, lighting and sound and everyone worked really hard to pull off 2 great shows. The audience were locals, friends and family of the cast and had never seen something like this before and they all seemed to really enjoy it.

As a thankyou to Spiral, we cooked a big 'traditional' roast dinner for the 14 of us! Very difficult when the electricity cuts out if you turn on more than a light!! We also wrote them a song 'The Twelve Days of Spiral'! After the shows, the cast gave the food that they had used for the meal to us as a thank you for helping them. Their was a party with singing and dancing and spontaneous bagpipe performances from the audience!! We wrote another song to say a huge thank you to the village. 'Thankyou Bielva' was definitely a group collaboration between all 9 of us and we performed it to them at the 'aftershow party'. Carol translated it into Spanish so that the villagers could understand!
It was such a fantastic week and a huge learning experiance for me. It was great to share the experiance with the 2nd years who were all lovely and really enthusiastic. We spent many evenings drinking sangria around the fire!!! I hope that we will have the opportnity to work with them more this semester as they have a lot of ideas and skills that we can hopefully utilise and vise versa. I have learnt so much about the power of community theatre work and i would love to work more with Spiral in the future!!