Soup

It’s getting colder and I’ve been making soup this morning. My soup is always a bit of an unknown. I’m not great at following recipes nor do I shop for specific ingredients. The mixture in the pan is usually the food that either needs eating up or I think might be an interesting flavour. The soup of today is Meg’s Slightly Too Garlicky Mediterranean Tomato. I think it tastes nice though!

Soup is an odd choice of topic for a drama practitioner’s blog but today as I sit down to reflect on the sessions I have been running for the last few years it strikes me that breaking down the ingredients of a good drama workshop is really similar to what makes a delicious soup. We know it tastes good, it warms the soul and satisfies our appetites but what actually makes it work? I am increasingly being asked to teach teachers or those in training how and what I do. These soupy reflections are an attempt to break down some of my thoughts.

My own kids had a book that they loved me to read to them at bedtime called Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper. The basic plot was that a group of friends regularly make soup together and each of them is in charge of a particular ingredient. The recipe is simple and the soup tastes good. One day, however, they swap around their responsibilities without understanding the timings and the quantities and the soup tastes awful. It doesn’t take much to change the flavour but it makes all the difference when it goes wrong.

I am often asked to explain what I do in my workshops and how I know what will work especially when our drop-in groups* dynamics shift and change all the time according to who is there. I have to admit that most of the time I’m not sure. It’s an instinct and the years of experience I have working with children and young people. Like a chef who is well trained in the art of preparing fine food, you begin to learn what elements are fundamental to the workshop. Good themes, fun games and teaching acting skills are all part of the sessions but without thoughtful planning, can remain fairly meaningless and at the end of it all, you can find yourself asking what’s the point?

I have an education background and so my number one motive in everything I do in drama is to create a space where youngsters can develop their own abilities to become great learners. Now for some of you reading this, you may think that’s an odd starting point especially as I don’t work in the school system anymore. However, this is like my stock in the soup. It’s the basic, fundamental ingredient. If there is no stock, you can’t make the soup. If you are not creating safe spaces for children to explore, question, and experience the world around them, then why drama? Where else is there such a wonderful medium to practice being a human being?

A recent project that the Little Doorstep Theatre* groups were exploring was based on the book Peter Pan by JM Barrie. We all know the Disney versions and most of us are aware of some of the themes in the original story. It’s a great novel but in the hands of the children becomes a wonderful vehicle into their imaginations and dreams. The final show had very little of the story left and instead they had designed sets and costumes, directed themselves, written music, imagined fantastical worlds faraway from Neverland. They had encouraged each other, climbed over obstacles and solved problems. They overcame fear and confusion and ended up celebrating their achievements as parents came to see what they had cooked up and delighted with them.

All from a simple ingredient. The stock of a safe space and a little story.

Yes, perhaps like my soup of the day, it could be a bit too garlicky. A bit far fetched! A wild and windy version. But the soup itself tastes amazing and doesn’t food taste better when you’ve worked hard for it?

Meg Searle

*Little Doorstep Theatre runs on Saturdays during term time. It specialises in creating devised theatre with children from 4-14years old. Please see our website for more information:

doorsteparts.co.uk

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Who tells the tale?

Post written by: Erin Walcon

This weekend, Torbay is teeming with cultural activity. On top of our usual weekly, consistent, grassroots Doorstep work with children, the bay is hosting the International Agatha Christie Festival, the wonderful team of Mark & Sarah Bell have opened their new speakeasy venue the Lucky 7 Club, the White Rock Festival hosted loads of local talent & traders, and we are also being presented with a one-off special event called The Tale, which has been created by Bristol-based Situations. It’s all happening.

I’ve written in the past (several times) (plus a few more) (and in a journal article) about the challenges of working in an area of deprivation. And one of these challenges is that Torbay can sometimes be seen as a likely spot for arts organisations to get funding – because it’s a high priority area with fragmented infrastructure. So the Doorstep email regularly gets barraged with young up-and-coming theatre-makers who’ve heard from a friend of a friend that their first Grant for the Arts will scrape through approval if they list a few ‘deprived regions’ in their tour… and they come a-knocking to see if they can bring their work here, or at least list us as partners.

On the surface, this isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes (often) we say yes with enthusiasm. It can be really hard for young people growing up in Torbay to see outstanding theatre year-round, and anything we can do increase the high quality opportunities seems like a good thing, right? Plus, we really like to learn – we’re curious about new work and new ways of making work, and we love the chance to expand our own aesthetic palette and skill sets. It’s fascinating to see new work, and to learn new things from amazing visiting artists. All good, right?

It’s complex, though.

The work that’s visiting has to have relevance to the local community.

And organisations leading that work need to have respect in their engagement practices.

Otherwise, the ‘bringing of good art’ to a place like Torbay starts to become ethically precarious, in my view. Like a big red bulls-eye exists over the poverty here, which makes artists feel like they can get paid to work here, at times when work can be scarce in more affluent areas (like Bristol).

(I’m aware I’m poking some sensitive material here. Please feel free to disagree – we need to have dialogue about this stuff.)

Art? It’s subjective. Different strokes for different folks, as we’d say in the USA. Your cup of tea might not be mine. This weekend’s activity is a great example of that. On Saturday, I went from dropping my 8-year old off at Little Doorstep drop-in drama club in a church hall in Torquay, to driving over to Paignton, where I chatted with other local mums at the White Rock Festival (which was heaving with local families rain-dodging and buying plastic key-rings). And then last evening, Jade and I took a group of 22 young people down to perform at the Agatha Christie Festival, where they did a youth exchange with Beyond Face, another young company from Plymouth. When I woke up this morning, my Facebook feed was full of young singer-songwriters buzzing with excitement who had performed at White Rock Festival,  and it was clear from friends’ joyfully exuberant photos that the Bell’s Lucky Seven Club Launch had been a huge glittery success.

Each of these cultural events drew a different crowd – and each has its place in providing a unique cultural experience for local people, who have diverse and disparate tastes.

So generally, I tend toward an enthusiastic puppy-dog-like enthusiasm for everything – a hearty yes-nod toward any new artistic work coming into Torbay, and a wholehearted handshake of support for any organisations wanting to do work here. The more the merrier – welcome all. The need is huge here. We need as much wonderfulness as we can get.

Except.

Occasionally, projects or events are parachuted in without adequate local engagement, buy-in or support. And if you live and work in an area of deprivation, sometimes the power imbalance is quite problematic between a big, robust, well-funded arts organisation based in a city (like Bristol), and Torbay with its socio-economic challenges, fragmented history of territoriality and short-term fixes.

Two years ago, the Doorstep team first started having conversations with the team from Situations about local engagement for The Tale. And I won’t go into the specific details, but in summary, after a period of research/development and consultation, we decided that this was not a project we wanted to be involved in.

The Doorstep ethos is about embedded working – long-term sustainable work which builds trust through consistent quality, warm open-armed invitation and good partnership collaborations.

One-off, parachuted projects which are ‘done to us’ without respect for local voices and local expertise are not part of this ethos.

We decided, two years ago, that the best thing we could do was just stand aside and hope that the project would be a success. And then we watched, as a number of other local SW organisations that we love and respect made the same decision… had initial conversations with Situations, and then stepped away, feeling that the project was not set up for real local engagement. In essence, that local expertise was not being listened to or respected. That the large amount of public money (A £300,000 Ambition for Excellence award) from Arts Council England which was funding this project would not meaningfully impact or enrich local people or organisations.

To put this financial figure in context, the same amount would fund ALL Doorstep core activity for the next 3 years. At the time, the decision to pull away from the project meant that we were saying no to a promise of some financial support – a major decision for a small, precarious, fledgling organisation which could barely afford to pay ourselves. (We sometimes didn’t pay ourselves at all, if the funds weren’t there.)

I don’t think this is me being precious? (Just sitting with inward tensions and frictions about that – trying to decide…)

I’m trying to weigh up how it feels, this weekend, to watch colleagues who have never engaged with Torbay before, suddenly descend on the region to see international visiting artists perform here – and then leave again.

I suppose this brings in money, and casts a spotlight on Torbay in a positive light. Which is a good thing. But we’ve been slogging away here for four years, working in small-scale and grassroots mediums to slowly, gently, support the arts infrastructure here. And we are only being visited by the Great and the Good, the Academic and the Artistic Elite, because of a visiting project, which is rated as ‘Good Art’.

A visiting project, which in my view, has profoundly problematic ethical framework with regard to community engagement.

I guess I’m sitting with my own aesthetic taste – my own subjective response to art.

And I know this… I would much rather watch a group of young people from a small, under-funded youth arts organisation in Plymouth, who got here in a van because their facilitator Alix drove them over.

Beyond Face, who visited us last night, drove for an hour to share their monologue work which the young people had written themselves. The pieces were gentle and beautiful – about how to be a good neighbour. And the writing was thoughtful, nuanced, intelligent. In a tent, on the beautiful grounds of Torre Abbey, two youth companies shared work and chatted and got to know each other. We’re excited for future collaborations and exchanges next year – making the boundaries around Plymouth and Torbay more permeable, enabling them to see work in each other’s regions, and to share work they are making themselves.

The artists who work with these two young companies are embedded in their communities. Often they’ve grown up there – and they know first-hand how difficult it can be to access high quality arts opportunities when you’re growing up in rural Devon. They know that those young people have to catch two buses, or hitch a lift with their facilitator, or another parent, in order to get to an event at all.

The visiting folks, who have descended here for the weekend, on their ‘Wanderer’ tickets, are loving the the ‘novelty’ of seeing The Tale, navigating Torbay through ferry and bus.  But they don’t have to deal with local infrastucture and access issues on a daily or weekly basis. For them, this weekend is a tourist jolly… a chance to have a place shown to them through (visiting) artists’ eyes.

In contrast, the local Torbay people who are engaging with The Tale this weekend are paying for a ticket to have streets that they grew up on, that they know like the back of their hand, ‘shown’ to them by visiting artists who have done several weekends of research. And if this is done in an artistically beautiful way, in a way that changes how we see our local place, that is of course a very good thing.

But many of the young people we know we engaged with this project felt frustrated, unheard, disrespected in the artistic development process. That their participation and engagement was tokenistic at best, and exploitative at worst. Many have left the project, or half-heartedly seen it out, feeling limply impotent to change anything – like their contributions have been taken, used, and exploited, to make art for the Great and the Good to come and see. In the name of ‘participation’.

And that makes me angry.

I’m sitting with my frustration – but ultimately, deep down, I’m at peace. Because I know that after next weekend, the Tale will be over, and our Doorstep work will continue long-term. That we will keep on walking our talk, providing regular consistent offerings for local families. That parachuted projects may continue, but Torbay’s core infrastructure is strengthening… its growing. And so is our power to speak up, speak back, and stand up for ourselves. To receive wonderful visiting work… but on our terms, and with strong voices of local engagement.

I would like to think that the story – the tale, if you like – of this place – this Torbay, is much longer, more vivid, more inspired than a single parachuted project.

A story of change that is genuinely authored from a sense of embedded integrity, with an unshakable belief that social justice is possible here, on our doorstep, for the children who are growing up here and who deserve better.

That’s the tale I want to contribute to.

 

Sketches

Post written by: Erin Walcon

Our first Sunday full-day rehearsal for The Woods took place on 3 September. It was, in a sense, a refresher day because we hadn’t seen each other for a month. And coming back into the studio from beach-surf-chill-summer brain is always a little bit of a grind. It was also D-Day for scenic design decisions and the original script – so a big tasky deadline day at the same time.

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The company were buzzing as we sat down to do a read-through of the draft original script for Out of the Woods (the original second half of the show).

This script has been a labour of love in August for Hugh and Chloe and I – and it is a genuinely collaborative document – the product of many writer’s pens during the July Intensive rehearsals and during the Summer Term scratch stages.

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Reading dialogue aloud for the first time is always revealing… it shows which beats will be working and which are awkward – it draws laughs in unexpected places. Certain song lyrics worked beautifully and others not at all. This is what I love about making an original show – the mistakes often prove to be the most magical, and the certainties are never certain.

While we were stumbling over mistakes and certainties in a circle upstairs, the design team was hard at work downstairs, sketching, shaping, creating scenic design elements in the craft room.

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This is absolutely my favourite part of the process – the manic middle bit. Where all the pieces start to fit together (or not) and you have to scrabble around to figure out solutions.

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It’s also where the team really gets to know each other. We figure out where the strengths lie – who we can turn to if we need an emergency fix on something. Who will hold the room while we’re trying to work through the trickiest bits. Who can rescue the scene that isn’t working…

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Here’s the best bit. The person we turn to? Quite a lot of the time, they are a young person on the project. Our company of young performers (artists!) are exceptional, and they’ve been surprising me (again!) this week.

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People stepping up into roles they’ve not taken on before… or younger members of the company showing exceptional potential and real leadership.

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This is what the manic middle brings – unexpected gifts.

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Next weekend, we’ll be performing short excerpts from Out of the Woods at the International Agatha Christie Festival, alongside another young company, Beyond Face.

We are so excited to get the first scenes up on their feet. We’ve scratched this show quite a lot now – once in April, once in July. But this will be our first time sharing the final script form.

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We’re entering the final stages of this process… on Sunday, we’re right back in the rehearsal room, working music and songs. It’s going to be all go until this production goes up in mid-October. I’m loving every minute of it. 🙂

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July to Sept: A Flurry of Days

Post written by: Erin Walcon

Autumn leaves are drifting down – which means it must almost be time for The Woods, our big mainstage production for this year. In the summer flurry of activity, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog-front, so this is a catch-up – on all we’ve been up to and where we are now.

We finished up our summer term with some wonderful July performances by the DAS and Little Doorstep groups.

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We saw wolf packs of 7-11 year olds do contemporary dance, contact improvisation and physical sequences (incredible!)

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We saw parents get up and dance with their children – fueled by Polly’s contagious enthusiasm.

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There were wonderful devised and original stories, songs, dances, and some teaser hints from The Woods too.

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Our oldest group, Doorstep Youth Theatre, performed a scratch of Out of the Woods at the TYPify festival in Exeter – a gathering of SW youth theatre groups, organised by Katharine Stevens and Lucy Hirst from The Young Pretenders.

What a wonderful event! We were so inspired by the work we saw, and really hope this becomes an annual affair.

Our Saturday drop-in drama groups performed a final combined sharing in mid-July, along with an indoor picnic.

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This was an emotional day, as we said goodbye and good luck to Doorstep Co-Director Meg Searle, who is relocating to Bath.

 

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We know that we’ll be seeing lots of Meg this year, but she will no longer be running the Saturday morning groups, which have been her special project since Doorstep began. There were a few tears, and lots of happy and proud smiles, knowing that her legacy is strong and vital.

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Doorstep Co-Director Jade Campbell will be taking the Saturday groups over (beginning 16 Sept 2017) and we can’t wait to see what exciting new projects they take on!

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And no sooner was term over, but we fell right into 3 intensive rehearsal days for The Woods. This was the first time that the Sondheim score was brought together with the raw, developing material for the original second half. The intensive was a buzzy, jam-packed, productive, and hard-working three days, with some incredible artists supporting.

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Kate Graham from Soundlaunch has joined the project as a music mentor, and she jumped right in, songwriting with groups of young people from the first moment.

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We welcomed our new Foot in the Door production interns Sophia & Ethan, who will be stage managing and operating LX/sound for the show.

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Production Leads Mair George and Nat Palin took up residence in the Palace Theatre basement to get the scenic design and costume ideas mapped out.

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Erin & Hugh turned the cafe/bar into a writer’s workshop space.

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The Palace Theatre staff are wonderful and they let us have the run of the place – so we filled every nook and cranny with young people working creatively. We wrote songs in hallways and stairwells.

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We tried out make-up ideas in the lobby on the floor.

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We side-rehearsed dance routines in the vestibule.

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The cafe/bar was full of writing pockets and instruments and laughter.

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And Polly ruled the script rehearsals on mainstage with an iron fist, an unyielding schedule, and a heart of gold.

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At the end of the July Intensive rehearsals third day, we were ready to fall in a heap – but there was one last surge of energy on Friday afternoon as we trooped down Palace Avenue in a long walking parade toward the Paignton Carnival on the Green.

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In the pouring, blustering, sideways July rain, the young people from our Tuesday DAS Junior group and the principles all performed at the carnival.

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Special bravery awards are due to the parents, carers, family and friends who stood supporting them with rainjackets soaked and saturated, hoods pulled tight around faces – broad smiles shining in spite of the weather.

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After this epic feat, everyone enjoyed a well-deserved month’s holiday. (Although Polly and Mair did also run two wonderful Play-in-a-Day workshops in August).

These August workshops were such good fun – staging a full production in a single day, learning songs and dances and parents arriving at 4pm to watch the performances. It was great to have Lee Thomas from the Palace Theatre providing technical mentoring for these!

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Other than the Play in a Day summer activity, August may have seemed quiet… but that serene surface was deceptive. Behind the scenes, a flurry of quiet prep activity was happening. The Out of the Woods script was being written by a small devoted writing team, costume plans were being drawn up, and the music score for the Sondheim half of the show was intricately detailed and planned by Harriet, our wonderful DAS Assistant Lead.

With all this quiet, underground activity, it felt like the summer month break passed in a blink of an eye – and now we’re in the midst of a new flurry – preparing for autumn term. We’re already in mid-flow – The Woods company has already had their first Sunday rehearsal – where we read through the original script. We’ve spent the last week making last changes to the script based on the read-through, and this week has been full of songwriting… expect another blog post about that! This early start is because we’re performing a couple of excerpts from the show at the International Agatha Christie Festival on the 16th of Sept. So it’s a mad dash to be sure we’re ready! More about all that to come.

Summer update complete!

 

 

 

 

Work Experience: by Morgan

Post written by: Morgan Waters

I have found this week at Doorstep Arts to be very beneficial to my understanding of what goes into the running of a theatre company and there are a few things that have surprised me this week.

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The first thing that surprised me was how collaboratively creative business etc. work. At the Torbay Culture forum I met a great amount of people who worked for different parts of the community and they were all largely there in order to meet new people. With whom they could collaborate synogetically in order to achieve their goals or further whatever it was they were working on. I found this to be very interesting, as it showed how communities can work together in order achieve things, without necessarily having to search for help from outside the community.

From the different people I talked to at the event, it was clear how hard they all worked in order to get where they are and how much harder they were willing to work in order to achieve more and to have a greater positive impact on their community.

Another the thing that has surprised me this week is the talent of young children. On Wednesday at the youngest DAS group, consisting of three children, I was hugely impressed with their dancing ability and how confident they were in introducing the games. It was really inspiring to meet such confident, happy young performers and showed me that there is nothing to be ashamed of when performing and that we should put energy into everything do. I was also very impressed with how kind they were and how quick they were to accept us into the group.

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The second DAS group on Wednesday were also very energetic and kind to us, as well as each other and Polly. I loved watching Polly with the younger groups, as they all seem to adore her and take her direction on as much as possible.

The final thing that has surprised me is how much work goes into getting a leaflet made. We were asked to create a rough design for the Doorstep leaflet for autumn. This was difficult in itself, as it was hard to fit everything in and to decide which events or shows should be highlighted more than others, as I didn’t know much about the shows and so it was hard to gage which were likely to be the most popular.

We were then asked to begin working on the leaflet brief, which was to be sent off to the graphic designer. This was surprisingly difficult, as we had to find the information for each show or event, include the dates, ticket prices etc. and make sure we filled in the table, stating what was to go on each page of the program. The hardest part of this task was making sure that everything was included and that we hadn’t forgotten any important information.

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Overall, my Work Experience this week has been very informative and I have had a great time learning what goes on behind the scenes at Doorstep Arts.

Birds: Making Bridges With Music by Jade Campbell

When I met 4 year old E in our second session at Warberries Care Home, she was incredibly shy and reserved. Although she did engage a little, we walked over the rainbow bridge together, hand in hand.  Four-year-old C spent most of the session fixing the rainbow bridge, with immense concentration, using brown tape.  E noticed this and chose a different colour – blue, to add to the rainbow.  We did this together on the floor, no talking necessary.

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During the third week, E entered the room apprehensively and her child minder said that she had been anxious about meeting the residents.  After 5 minutes of being in the space, Hugh had used his purple lycra to play hide and seek with C. Eventually all of the children had joined in, including G, an 89-year-old resident.  E was hiding with G and all the other children, laughing and giggling…. And her participation didn’t stop here.

 We journeyed and sang ‘Over the Bridge’ and rowed and sang over the river, until we could hear the birdsong (Inspired by G, but that’s another story).  The birdsong inspired us to create our own birds; everyone got stuck into the task with much enthusiasm. E was particularly focused and instigated sharing her creation with all the residents one-by-one.  We walked around to each person in the room and we had a moment of flying our birds together.  E was so proud of her work and thoroughly enjoyed sharing her creations.  She gathered all of the birds she could find and independently circulated the residents to show them her flock of flying birds – on her own, without me or her child minder or any other children.  With each person she encountered, she spent a few moments engrossed in performing her flying flock of bird movement and then continued onto the next.

 At the end of the session, E said goodbye to all the residents in turn, shaking hands, waving and smiling.

 As a drama practitioner, I often state that drama, dance, music and all art forms increases confidence. I say it all the time as a matter of fact and so do teachers, artists, practitioners, lecturers and theatre makers etc. – we all use that phrase to convince our funders or anyone that will listen, that our work is valuable for a child, young person, or vulnerable adult. 

E’s story here is a small, but potent example of this and I don’t say this lightly.  If I think back to the moment that helped E feel less anxious about interacting with the residents, it was the provocations made my Hugh, Steve or I during the session – to play with the purple lycra, to hear and really spend time listening to the bird song, to be invited to choose an instrument to contribute to a song or composition, to repeat a song each week – something familiar – a song that takes us into our play space, our story and also to create something yourself – to make a bird, to choose the colour that feels right for it and to bring our story to life.

These provocations sparked ideas and the rhythmic, familiarity of the sessions, provided by Hugh, Steve and I, have formed a safe and secure space to respond creatively in the room as artists. E responded as an artist in her own right, she was inspired and her inspiration and creativity gave her the confidence to interact with everybody in that space with a sense of purpose and pride.

……………

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more. The project is funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

 

Agony is bliss!

thumbnail_IMG_20170628_215726_403Completely ecstatic with the work the seniors have been developing this week. They are doing a great job at exploring their characters by reacting and responding to one another. Each actor is taking steps to build their confidence in what they are doing and being really proactive which is just want we need on a production such as this.
In particular the song ‘Agony’ has really moved forwards. Rather than just having two Princes singing on there own, they now have a large ensemble performing with them. This ensemble consist of a group of ‘Ladies in Waiting’ literally waiting for the two main Princes to take notice of them. These ‘Ladies in Waiting’ are there to give the Princes comfort and sympathy during the song. Also there are younger Princes onlooking the situation. Confused as to why they are not receiving any attention, as they are of course just as handsome and manly as the lead Princes.  The song is now a large ensemble piece that should leave the audience smiling from ear to ear.

For next week this group will be focusing on posture, presence, status and voice. They now need to connect the physicality of their characters and understand about holding a space, having power within a room and know how to use that power.

Well done DAS seniors, you’ve worked hard this week and I am looking forward to future progression.