Work Experience

Post written by: Hollie Uzzell and Aldwyn Abbott, work experience students

At Doorstep HQ, we absolutely love hosting work experience students. It’s one of the highlights of our year. In February, we welcomed Hollie and Al in for a week, to become part of the core Doorstep team. They were both absolutely brilliant – enthusiastic, up for anything, hard working, and a total pleasure to have round. We asked them to write up their week for us, and the following is their description, in their own words:

On Monday we did marketing for the upcoming festival. This gave us a real insight as to what Doorstep has to do behind the scenes.

On Tuesday we went to Exeter University with Erin and watched the students’ Theatre-in-Education pieces and gave them feedback. Then, in the evening, we helped Polly with the DAS groups which was so much fun.

On Wednesday, we distributed flyers and posters to local shops to advertise the upcoming festival. In the evening, we helped Polly with the DAS sessions which was great like Tuesday.

On Thursday, we had a creative task to do at home for Out of the Woods. We got a lot of freedom to do what we wanted and both came up with very different pieces of work.

On Friday, we helped Meg with the Choral Engineers and got to see a bit of the performance they were working on which was sounding amazing.

On Saturday, we helped Meg with Little Doorstep – all three drop-in groups.

This week has been incredible because we have done so many different things and everyone was very welcoming. It has really opened my eyes as I had never really thought about everything that goes on behind the scenes.

 

Opening Doors

Post written by: Erin Walcon

When we began our work in Torbay in 2013, there were a lot of closed doors – particularly with schools. There were some very good reasons for it, but it still felt a bit like knocking with no one answering the door.

When we would ring or email a school to offer them a free visiting workshop with a professional artist, we would be met with silence. At first, this baffled us. Why would a local school not leap at the chance to work with someone amazing, for free, at a time to suit them? How could all other schools in regions across Devon have waiting lists for this kind of offer, but our own local Torbay schools just seemed to disregard it utterly? It was (sometimes) hard to not be bitter, when 4-5 emails, 2-3 phone calls, and occasionally even a personal visit to a headteacher would result in… nothing. Lots of hours of invisible labour, all ending with tired eyes at the office and a sense of despair at what appeared to be willful ignorance.

But when you turn on your empathy button, and look at the big picture of Torbay, this apparent willful ignorance becomes something much more complex, much more understandable. It even becomes a kind of defiant courage, if you look at it right.

I have distinct memories of wrapping my ankle tightly around a metal chair, sitting in a headteacher’s office, gritting my teeth and attempting to explain (again) why this grant-funded work was not an ‘insult’ to her school, not a marker of their inability to deliver a good education to their students… I stared at her defensive face and something clicked.

This headteacher wasn’t ignorant – she was powerfully clued up.

She saw right through the trappings of this grant funding to the core premise: that we are able to offer this kind of outreach only because we’re working in an area of deprivation. And she perceived (with a sharp intelligence) that her school was eligible because she works with students in a particularly deprived area within that larger region – and she took it on the chin (like a good leader would) that this free offer was somehow a handout, or a remedial intervention, intended to ‘save’ or ‘support’ her school. And she was (naturally) defensive. The walls were up.

Because she is in that school, day-in and day-out, ensuring that students are having a meaningful experience at school, working against immense odds to deliver an education which is excellent. In spite of government initiatives which embrace nonsensical standardised testing, Year 2 SATS and a national curriculum which does not adequately honour multiple intelligences or leave space for teacher creativity or complex processes of assessment which move beyond reductive checklists.

She is in the trenches. And we were approaching with what she perceived to be a charity handout. In that moment, I kept my ankle wrapped round the chair leg to give me courage  enough to stay in the room, and I lifted my chin and I looked her in the eye and I gave her the respect she deserved. And I explained (again) with patience (not my strong suit) that this grant-funded work would be welcomed by any school, in any district. That the artists we were offering in residence were pure-magic, absolutely top of their game, and anyone would snatch them up, because they would provide a safe space for children to play, explore and invent. That I was here because we were in the trenches too – a parallel trench, fighting the same battle. That we were on the same side… the side of the children. That I profoundly respected her school, her approach, the work they were doing.

Something shifted in our conversation.

After over a year of attempted communication, we finally worked with that school for the first time after that conversation – we delivered free drama workshops with Year 6 students in Autumn 2015. Since then, we’ve been back 3 times. Now, when we email, they reply within the hour. Now, when we offer a free workshop, the replies start with ‘Yes please, when can you come?’ When we arrive, the teachers and the students have a gleam in their eye and bouncy legs – they are ready and poised to play.

This isn’t a warm-and-fuzzy story about breaking down walls, though. To me, this is a story about how long and slow the trust game is when working in an area of deprivation. Because trust is earned, not given lightly. Because people have been burned – by bad practice, by short-term parachuted work which doesn’t continue. People are used to inconsistent and short-term ‘interventions’ which don’t begin to touch the sides of what is needed. Trust is earned. Trust is earned by us knowing what is needed – because we live here too, and our kids are growing up here and we see it daily. It is earned by us respecting the courage of the school staff, starting a conversation with patience, delivering consistently excellent outreach workshops to these schools, and continuing to offer this once that first flicker of trust- so that we don’t just disappear again like so many quick-fire projects have in the past. From this flicker of trust, through this consistent bridge, we begin to form partnerships. Slowly slowly, gently gently, with patience. Something I struggle with. But I’m learning.

We’re still building this trust with schools. But we’ve seen some remarkable progress from 2015-2017, and there is clear evidence that it’s working. We are just completing the first full Open Doors Outreach programme, which is ran from 1 Jan to 31 March 2017. We worked with an astonishing 760 students, across 18 schools, delivering 30 workshops and 2 platform events. I’ll write more about this soon. Suffice it to say, the doors are opening.

 

 

One-Armed Armies

Post written by: Erin Walcon

There’s a billboard advertisement that I keep driving by on my way to the Doorstep office this week. I think it’s for Sainsburys, or another big supermarket and it features a woman, holding a baby on her hip, and a wok in the other hand. The title on the billboard reads ‘Mandy’s one-armed stir fry’ or similar. She is smiling knowingly out at all the cars whizzing by, a sardonic eyebrow lift… a sense that she is fully in control, that this stir fry will be delicious and nutritious, that the baby is well fed, clean, content. She is having it all, doing it all.

Often as I’ve driven past this billboard this week, my own baby has been wailing from the backseat. In my decidedly untidy car, with my unkempt personage slightly wild-eyed behind the wheel – racing from a school run, or back to a school pick up. Mentally composing emails that I won’t have the fingers free to type for another 3 days. Listening to global news which is so far worse than anything I could have imagined it stuns and baffles me into an aghast numb silence. And yet, my mind returns to Mandy.

Why does Mandy irritate me? I think it over to myself, with my half a brain cell free to mull it over, in between loads of laundry and piles of dishes and stacks of unpaid domestic labour and further radio reports of governments slashing budgets and building walls. Later, collapsing into bed, my brain cell finally stutters out its conclusion. Mandy irritates me because she is standing alone on that billboard, smiling at her wok.

My own often one-armed life is sustained by a web of remarkable women who help and bolster and make impossible things possible. Their arms are mighty and they wield them with compassion. Doorstep’s work is driven by a network of strong, intelligent, committed women, who all are working around enormous obstacles of care-giving, family-support, and invisible labour. It’s an army. And, yes, at various points, each of us is one-armed or no-armed, but we have each other’s backs.

Since I don’t have billboard printing skills, I’ll instead use the tools at my disposal and write instead – even if I’m pecking it out with one finger in 30 second bursts.

Finding the time to write is hard.

A short piece I wrote about the Resilience Web just came out in the March 2017  issue of Research in Drama Education. It’s about this stuff too.

Finding time to write is hard, but important.

 

Earth Echoes – In TORBAY!

I am writing this post for a few reasons, one is down to the fact that I never write blog posts and Erin said we all had to contribute :). Another is that this a major project that Doorstep Arts was involved in and it needs writing about because of its sheer wonderfulness. Finally, it is mainly because of the affect Earth Echoes has had on me as a participant – a participant who went to school in Torbay, is now 34 and this was the first time I had performed on the ERIC stage!

14435244_10154507178060070_4462871614761650384_o

A bit of context: Earth Echoes was a community project that we sometimes called the Geo Opera, working in collaboration with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Mark Laville, Hugh Nankivel and Doorstep Arts and it was actually based in Torbay!  Yes, you heard me – this phenomenal project was actually based IN Torbay, with members of the whole community. From young children to grandparents, from first time performers, to seasoned professional opera singers – all together, creatively collaborating in Torbay!

geo6

The impact it had on me: Me being Jade Campbell.

My background:

So, I moved to Torbay back when I was 8 years old.  I moved from Nottingham and the school I went to there celebrated every single religious celebration it could. I had white skin and I was in the minority. This was a good thing!

My memories of this school are filled with excitement and joy.  We celebrated festivals throughout the year with theatre, storytelling, dancing, singing, costume, steel drums, carnival, food and this is what our learning was based on – complete immersion into all these wonderfully diverse cultures, in the most creative way possible.

We then moved to Brixham and my memory of my first day at school was walking into assembly, sitting in lines on the hard, wooden, cold, floor, a hymn projected onto the over head projector and singing banal hymns.  My 8 year old self accepting the strict rules of my new school, accepting the coldness of the singing and accepting that this was our new life in this new fishing town!

The contrast was quite shocking.  But what I realise now as an adult working tirelessly to facilitate cultural and creative experiences in Torbay, if you have never had these creative experiences before, you won’t actually know what you are missing! I moved to Edinburgh when I was 9 for a year and then Canada at 12 for 2 years.  Each time being exposed to wonderfully enriching cultural and creative experiences, each time moving back to Brixham thinking – hmmm beautiful coastline! and partying is fun in Torbay!

So in a way, thats why I do the work I do.  Because theatre helped me to explore my identity as a teenager, theatre gave me a safe way in to express my teenage angst (I had to go elsewhere to have these experiences!) and it also enriched my life long learning. I feel passionately about this happening in Torbay, because my family live here, my nieces are having their own babies and I want Torbay to be a place that those little ones can grow up in it having been nourished in creativity and love and actually having options, other than partying.

Why participate in Earth Echoes?

I have my own creative practice, which usually involves facilitating other people’s creative processes and I have worked hard to get to the point to ensure I am paid as an artist to do this – it hasn’t been easy.  So why choose to sign up to the Geo Opera as a participant, without being paid – well, here are a few reasons:

  • Meg guilted me into it
  • I wanted to participate in a project with my boy
  • The subject matter – the environmental impact of humans
  • I haven’t been a participant in years and in away it was like a CPD session for me

What happened?

The process was fantastic.  I was on the receiving end of a professional project, Directed by Mark Laville and Ass. directed by my two favourite people – both friends and colleagues: Meg and Erin.  I was pushed as a performer, in so many ways – singing, physically (Climbing on some questionable structures that we hadn’t met until 2 days before the show), learning lines and keeping my energy up whilst also co-producing Doorstep Theatre festival, day to day running of Doorstep Arts and working with my regular groups.

geo4geo7geo5

I am telling you, these structures were scary!

I worked with about 50 members of the Torbay community that I haven’t worked with before and I was so inspired by all of them – we all came from different backgrounds. The process was marvellous and we all developed and grew as a creative artist in some way or another.

I loved being in the presence of Hugh – such a warm and genuine person and facilitator – I felt like I actually had some rhythmic abilities in the end, Meg made me feel like I could actually hold a note and sing and also being pushed by Mark – he was relentless because he strives for the BEST in everyone and expects no less.  It feels impossible to live up to his expectations, but that is what pushed me to do my best – because I had something important to say about the world – a global message!

geo3

If the process was fantastic then I have no words to describe the actual performance – it was mind blowing – I was on the stage on my OWN TURF for the first time ever!  It felt so powerfully meaningful!  We hosted an international conference in Torbay and WE, the people of Torbay, were giving delegates something to think about with Earth Echoes! It had relevance to Torbay, but also put Torbay on the map as an important site for exploring real, relevant and meaningful subjects through creative means.

I left that stage shaking and crying because I gave my heart and soul to it, because I care so much about Torbay, I care so much about the planet and I care so much about people and people connecting!

THE ROCK CONNECTS US! The rock connects us all, whatever our backgrounds or cultural reference, we are connected – lets make the most of it and keep creating, keep sharing, keep loving and keep looking out for one another!

I realise this is an abrupt end to a heartfelt blog, but I could write a thesis on this experience… I wont. I must dash as I need to pick up my children from school, I need to send another 10 emails and clean the toilet too!

I will leave you with some more photos and leave the rest for another blog post on another day.

geo2geo1

 

Wild Things

We’re about to walk into the next Doorstep Theatre festival this week. This is our 7th season, and it feels like we’re finally managing to get a sense of rhythm and flow to the work. It’s exciting to see how the ongoing participatory work we run year-round is feeding the festival – and particularly special to see how the young people we work with are progressing as artists.

All of our Doorstep Arts participatory groups are being inspired by Maurice Sendak’s book Where the Wild Things Are this term.

DSC03424.JPG

DSC03139.JPG

We love this idea of starting all 12 groups from a common stimulus and then watching the work creatively spiral in a dozen different directions, each shaped by the strengths and vision of the group.

DSC03119.JPG

The youngest groups (aged 4-7) are creating their own wild monster creatures, using face paint and their wickedly wonderful imaginations.

wild-things-3wild-things-5

Our oldest group, Doorstep Youth Theatre, is devising their own original response to the book. This piece will perform an early scratch performance on Saturday 29 October, as part of the upcoming festival, alongside Conrad Murray’s DenMarked.

The DYT piece, loosely titled Lullaby or perhaps Rumpus, is a short scratch piece at the moment- only about 10 minutes long. Facilitated by Jade Campbell, Hugh Malyon and myself, the script is an original creation, written collaboratively by the company. We often use Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing Practice during our devising process. This non-school style of writing creates a space where everyone in the company is unquestionably a Writer – no matter what we may have been told in school about our own writing skills. Within the devising studio, all of us have capacity to be writers – and it is often the most poetic, messy, misspelled, and wild writing which enriches the piece. And it is this notion of ‘wildness’ that I’m intrigued by as I look at this short scratch piece in mid-development.

SONY DSCSONY DSC

There are two original songs in the piece. One song is called Lullaby and one song is called Rumpus. These have been written by 3 members of the company – Elley, Izzy and Millie. These two melodies compete with each other – there is a call of the wild, and a reassuring song of home. But they pull and twist against each other… a tension exists. The lead character Russell is torn between them. There is a Chorus of Wild Things who live by the ‘Rule of Fun’ – manic and mercurial. Russell is drawn to them, but also drawn back to the lullaby. Perhaps Russell is torn between his own wildness and his longing for the comfort of home?

Wildness – the embracing of it, the fear of it, the necessity of abandoning ourselves to it, these concepts are permeating the DYT piece.

SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSC

But there is something else emerging within it too – a question. I’m not sure how much I’m driving this question from the director’s seat, or whether its a collective wondering of the ensemble. The piece seems to be asking a question about where the good stories are in our world – right now. Particularly this moment of 2016, post-Brexit, mid-USA-election, overwhelming refugee crises, and drowning in social media stories of pain, despair and human coldness, there is a feeling of being lost. Of somehow a more negative kind of wildness overwhelming our societies – and a fear of the darkness and chaos which seems to be implied by it.

My social media feed is saturated by it.

I’m overwhelmed by this.

And I’m 36. I wonder what it must feel like to be 13, 15, or 18 years old in this moment in the world?

The Scratch piece will perform on Saturday and we’ll ask for audience feedback on it – seeing some advice about where it should go and what it should become. This term’s work will finish at the end of November with final sharings of all the groups’ work. More updates soon, I promise.

SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSC

 

Dancing on Our Doorstep

The Doorstep Theatre festival just finished up a couple of weeks ago and this was a very important one – what could have been our sixth and last festival, but what now looks to be the beginning of a really exciting 3 year journey.

We’ve received news from Arts Council England that they will be funding 2 years of activity in Torbay through Doorstep Arts, called Stepping Stones. While we’re still waiting to hear from some very important (and essential) match funders for this work, our hearts are full with all that can now be possible – for our children, and for our friends’ children, and for all the children of this community who deserve to be able to play, and imagine, and be in a safe place to take risks and try out their voices and possible selves.

This is a wistful time – a tap on the table and wait time – but it’s also a really busy time because the new Spring term has just begun, and all our 12 groups are heaving, thriving, boisterous, and so full of joy. It’s a real pleasure to see so many new faces at the new Palace Theatre Studio Courses (formerly TAF), which we took over on 1 April 2016. It’s a real pleasure to see so many of our Drop-In groups absolutely full to capacity, and to see small and important growth with the smaller groups which desperately need to expand.

It’s been 3 years of hard graft, sheer effort, determination and will… but at the Doorstep Theatre Festival on 9 April, we got to celebrate some of the successes of that graft.

52

We watched 111 performers come together at the Palace Theatre, in a partnership project with Dance in Devon, which ended in a full theatre dancing together.

21

The Dance on Your Doorstep platform event encapsulated much of what we’re trying to do here – with ROC Creative participants dancing alongside Sixth Form students alongside primary aged dance groups… a rich rainbow array of dance forms, styles, bodies, abilities, techniques, and interpretations.

41

40

35

20

It was glorious. There’s so much more work to be done, but with nights like this to celebrate, we feel ready for the next round.

3

 

Under its Roof

The Doorstep Arts team is getting ready for some big (ish) changes in the next month or two. We’re slowly getting ready for them, but meanwhile our artistic projects are rolling on merrily.

At the moment, our Doorstep Youth Theatre group is getting ready for a couple of sharings. Tonight they’ll be performing their radio play Lift live at the Palace Theatre in Paignton, alongside Sound Communities.

And in a week’s time, they’ll be performing as part of the Under One Roof charity event at the Princess Theatre in Torquay.

The title Under One Roof is largely about raising awareness about homelessness here in Torbay, but the phrase has been evoking a vague ghost-like memory of a poem I once read, so today I went looking for it.

And I found it.

It’s actually  not a poem, per se. It’s a quote by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favourite writers.

And it’s this:

‘The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.

And the most you can do is live inside that hope.

Not admire it from a distance,

but live right in it,

under its roof.’

I think what is echoing round in my mind at the moment is how difficult that is to do… to live right inside your hope. It means you spend a lot of time believing in something you can’t see yet. And for us, at the moment, a lot of time visioning something not yet possible.