Making Bridges with Music: Finding Treasure by Meg Searle

We are telling a story.

 

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In fact, we are mostly playing and singing a story. Accordion, guitar, percussion, shells, bananas, sheet music, baton and a chest full of surprises.

Some of the story is familiar. You might recognise a melody or a lyric but because of the unique group of people that are taking part, it’s our very own story. An original tale that weaves its way though the hour or so that we have together every Tuesday morning in Bethesda Care Home in Torquay.

The authors of this story are aged from 18 months to 90 years plus. A mix of elderly residents and their carers, children with their child minders and 2 musicians with their filmmaker. We set the scene because that’s what we do; it’s become the expectation of all the participants. Equipment is fetched to help narrate and open the imagination. Instruments become tools for building a boat, walking frames become bridges and lorries and we set sail to be pushed and pulled in what ever direction the wind might be blowing on this particular Tuesday.

It’s exciting and loud. It’s focused and gentle. At moments we can be completely still with little or no noise but which ever mood we are in, it’s still our story.

Today we are looking for treasure. The narrative has moved from the familiar front room, down the steps and into a beautiful (real life) garden. A treasure chest has been buried and the smallest of our collective are on the hunt. They are totally absorbed in the story. In the background, a little boy plays with a toy piano in the middle of the lawn. Two older residents experiment with bird whistles which mingle with the laughter of the children and the actual Bethesda garden bird song.

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This is our fourth session out of six and we are already approaching the final chapters. How will it finish? That depends on the direction we decide to go. Maybe we won’t finish it at all. A never-ending story is what some of the elderly residents have suggested. A forever story. An ever story. Who knows, it’s all in the making anyway.

Post written by: Meghan Searle

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.

The Wrap-Around

Post written by: Erin Walcon

I just spent a fantastic afternoon at acta in Bristol on Friday 16 June, talking about the topic of class and theatre. The discussion topic was:

Is theatre really an artform for everyone, or does it remain the domain of the middle-class? Why do people without privilege feel that it is not for them? Do people need to actually make theatre in order for it to become part of their world? Community theatre serves and responds to the whole community. Theatre created on people’s doorsteps, telling original stories, bringing new voices to the stage. But can it be strong enough to challenge the status quo? The seminar will examine the role of community theatre in making theatre relevant to the working class majority.

These Friday provocations are being run as part of acta’s Paul Hamlyn-funded seminar series. It was a wonderful discussion – warmly and well held by Neil Beddow and the acta team, and the room was full of participatory arts specialists who are all trying to examine their practice to see how it can be as inclusive, ethical and action-based as possible.

The other two provocations (besides the Doorstep one) were done by Sarah Thornton from Collective Encounters and Jacqui Contre from Banner Theatre.

In talking about Doorstep’s work, and in sharing best practice with the other outstanding organisations in the room, it was clear that there are some commonalities amongst us in how we work…

  1. working where people are already at is key – both in terms of access and in terms of aesthetic.
  2. clear pathways of progression are essential… in other words, we all agreed that it would be unethical to run outreach unless it was leading on to a more meaningful sustained involvement opportunity.
  3. the work must be linked to big questions or rich theatrical content – it must be of substance.
  4. participation is absolutely the way in.

During the seminar, I spoke a lot about the value of the curtain-raiser event in the Doorstep Theatre model.

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Curtain-raisers, for us, have been essential as a way of getting young people’s work seen by a larger audience, and by creating a shared platform between a national touring artist and local Torbay young people, we raise aspiration and develop new audiences too.

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Driving home on the crawling M-5 southbound from Bristol in rush-hour traffic, I found myself with extra time to think.

And while I edged down the sun-blazoned motorway, a particular phrase kept running through my head: ‘the wrap-around’. This is a phrase that gets used at Collaborative Touring Network meetings a lot. We use it to describe the diverse plethora of activity that surrounds touring spine shows in a festival.

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The wrap-around could be (and usually is) engagement-focused – so workshops, CPD offerings, participation, curtain-raisers, trainings, seminars, and community platforms.

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The wrap-around also is often about food… every Doorstep Theatre Festival we’ve run so far has involved free food for participants, often home-cooked by Mara at The Edge or potluck meals brought by the young people we work with.

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Food is an equaliser. Food makes people stay.

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We’ve wrapped-around all sorts of other things too… music events, street busking workshops, cardboard box re-purposing art events at libraries, and fish and chips suppers in the sunshine after a breakdance workshop.

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The wrap-around activity is where the real conversations happen, where we can lure someone to stay and see a show that they would never see otherwise, where a grandmother stops to tell us that her 11-year old granddaughter wants to do theatre but is too nervous to try it.

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The wrap-around is how we build trust, how we know that we are deeply embedded in our communities where we work.

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It’s where we feed each other, where we nurture, where we build connection.

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The wrap-around is the lifeblood of the festival.

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The wrap-around is bigger than just the festival too. The wrap-around is year-round, it is Doorstep’s ongoing participatory work, which we run, week-in, and week-out. Consistent, reliable, sticky.

The more I thought about, as I inched down the motorway, the more I realised…

the wrap-around?  It’s the whole point.

I love the brilliant touring work that comes to us in the festival – it is innovative, exciting, inspiring stuff.

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It lights a fire and makes us all want to see and make more and better theatre. It is often gobsmackingly good. We will work tirelessly to ensure that it keeps coming to Torbay after CTN finishes. But that touring work, it’s not the real point.

For Doorstep Arts, our heart is always going to be in the wrap-around.

That’s where the magic happens.

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Making Bridges With Music: G’s Birdsong by Steve Sowden.

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. 

This is a project funded primarily by Awards For All and with the support of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Doorstep Arts and Torbay Council.

G’s BirdsongGeorge at Warberries

Post written by: Steve Sowden

G is a 79-year old resident of The Warberries. The first time I met him, my colleague (who’d been helping to co-ordinate a previous gardening project with children and childminders at the home) was surprised by how animated and cheerful he appeared and remained for the session. G seems to me to be very talkative, although his speech is quite disorganised and he often talks about and remembers parts of his professional life. As a porter he looked after young adults, some with disabilities and some with mental health, and he was by accounts, well respected and liked by his charges.

At the beginning of session 2, he entered the room and clapped and danced with a red ukulele to entertain the children, he has exuded smiles and humour throughout both sessions. Today he was joined and supported throughout by his wife, D. With his regular verbal and musical interventions, G is a really compelling participant to track and capture.

Hugh and Jade were guiding and recreating the Oz-inspired story from Session 1. At the point where mirrors and mirroring came into the narrative, G seemed to take over, as if conducting; producing a birdlike whistling sound and flailing his arms. He then proceeded to sing in a sonorous Scottish folk voice, a series of verses to the room, and everyone quietened in response to him while his wife looked on in apparent incredulity. No one recognised the song, but upon replaying the video later that day and transcribing it together, we think G was inventing a lot of it in the moment. We recognised the melody of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, a song that another resident has played on keyboard at both of our Friday sessions, and we recognised fragments of bird themed imagery, perhaps growing out of the whistling sounds. While he sang, he seemed to be making wings with his arms, as if gliding.

The wings are like this
The birds begin to fly
But Mum returns and seems very unhappy
To see that her babies have gone
So It’s now a year
Before you’ll hear
The only one you’ll hear is a little robin
And he is a very good man
And his love is well shown
And we’ll meet again to us

By the end of session, his mood had adjusted and he seemed quietly emotional and contemplative, talking to his wife who may have been unpacking it all with him. I talked to them both and she was still quite shocked by the singing. What really inspired me is that D insists she hasn’t heard him sing before, in over 30 years of marriage. Jo, the manager of Warberries, was also able to affirm the change; he has been singing regularly during lunchtimes since our first session here last week.

G seems to have found some freedom to sing performatively, so I wonder about the changing of permissions in that space and to what extent these precipitated G’s creative outburst. Mostly, I wonder about the song and I look forward to seeing/hearing the life of the invention play out, with ideas in my head but no solid expectations.

Next week we are planning to make paper birds and to have ambient birdsong coming through a Bluetooth speaker at the start of (and throughout?) the session.

Studio Course Update: We Are Back!

Post written by: Polly Ferguson, DAS Lead Artist

We are back and Milky White is on the move!

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The first week back after half term is always tough. Children are tired and getting back into the swing of things, however with that said, the DAS groups have done a brilliant job.

The junior DAS group worked really well together. I set them the task to create a story about Milky White (the cow from Into the Woods).

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Good old Milky White

What does she do if she’s not with her friend Jack? Does she like to go to certain places in the woods, does she get up to any mischief, does she dance? I set them this task and they created extremely comical scenes.

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We used Harriet, our wonderful pianist to set the atmosphere and the children presented their work to one another.

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Lots of comedy gold was made, children were listening to each other, offering ideas, being respectful and most importantly laughing. It’s workshops like these that remind me as a practitioner that children have wonderful ideas. It’s our job to nurture and encourage them. Allow them the freedom to explore their imaginations and work with children they wouldn’t usually.

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Nurture always.

I can’t wait to see what they devise for next week’s workshop.

 

Making it Matter

Post written by: Erin Walcon

We have inherited a story, not of our making.

We are waking up inside it.

We have to deal with the consequences of someone else’s plot.

We have to live it out.

Last night at our DYT (Doorstep Youth Theatre) rehearsal, we talked about how we can make The Woods story matter to us. How we can ensure that it is urgent and important, essential to be told. How we can make it ours.

This was an important discussion, and one which will help us to steer the direction of the piece as we start to construct it properly. There are 6-7 songs in various forms of completion now… and some narrative devices which we keep circling back around to again and again, which is always a sign of something sticking.

Our process with this show is going to be different, I think. Usually, we devise our way in, constructing the narrative through play. This is a great way to co-construct the story, but it is slow, and often tangential. Full of whims and sidesteps, mistaken paths and discarded characters. This process is full of dabble.

I don’t know if it’s the global news, or the state of the UK at the moment, or the looming general election, or just the barometric pressure in the air, but it feels like there’s a sharp urgency to the work right now. Like we don’t have permission to just tell a simple fairy tale. Like we don’t have the freedom to dabble.

I’m a little leery of this sense of urgency. You can’t really make a co-constructed piece of theatre without dabbling playful experimentation.

Last night, when we asked people to pair share with each other about themes in the story which matter to them, I could feel the seriousness in the room. These are serious times, and we all know it. Here’s what they said:

  • We need to see past the ‘beast’ in others. To peel back the layers and understand what’s behind. How do we speak about ‘Otherness’?
  • Chechnya and gay rights. Unspeakable barbarism, in our time. Like the Holocaust. But happening now. On our watch.
  • Disgust with the ‘people in power’ who inhabit the rooms where decisions are made. A sense of disquiet and lack of interest in engaging with them. A total despair looking at the situations they are creating. A hunger for leadership.
  • Why does it feel like we’ve lost our narrator? Where has our storyteller gone? What do we do if the plot feels overwhelming and no one seems to be in charge who we can respect?
  • The false dual binary of choices which lead to Happy Endings. The artificial nature of how black and white (and false) this is. The necessity of forging and choosing your own path, amidst the grey uncertainty. In the hinterland. In the space between right and wrong.

I’m struggling to see the playfulness in these strands. I think we all are.

But the irony is, much of the content we’ve generated so far has been quite funny. I think it’s more moving when the lightness sits next to the darkness. For example, last night at rehearsal, a group of 5 young men (Ryan, Dan, Ashley, Joe and Yule) worked on a song called Its Your Fault round the piano. This is a song which the princes will sing when they are transformed into pigs. It’s comedic. The lyrics are absurd and silly.

Meanwhile, across the room, Hugh and Al and I were talking about how the Child Storychanger might kill the character of Jack off. Immediately, at the start of the second half. And we launched into a long discussion about what we would do with the body. This was a serious artistic discussion about a plot twist, and as we were giggling about the notion of the mother sweeping the corpse offstage with a broom, I was reminded of images I’ve seen in the news over the last two years of refugee children. I was caught up in a wave of unexpected grief (still giggling, living at the seam between the lightness and the darkness, between the seriousness and the playfulness) struck by the notion that Jack’s Mother (nameless as she is) might never know what happened to her son. That she might be confused about why his story ended, unexpectedly and too soon. That the greatest tragedy of all might be that no one cared, because it wasn’t their child.

We all laughed at the idea at the end that we might literally sweep Jack under the carpet. To hide him away, and pretend he didn’t exist. We’re still playing with this idea.

I don’t know what will stick.

DYT Rehearsal 22 May 2017

Post written by: Erin Walcon

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Tonight at Doorstep Youth Theatre rehearsal:

  • We had a go at shaping the story.
  • We turned the princes into pigs.
  • We harmonised Glue.
  • We think that Red pushes back against the child and that’s why he enters the story.
  • We made a list of all the boring things that happen after Happily Ever After.
  • We spoke about how hard it is to be a mother.
  • We killed off Jack.
  • We might bring Jack back to life, we haven’t decided yet.
  • We lost the Bakers’ baby.
  • We asked for more lyrics.
  • We decided that ‘Who is at Fault?’ is an important question.
  • We took on tasks, we took them away.
  • We all learned the Red Hood Army song – or began to.
  • We started over again when we had to.
  • We knew this was the end of the base of the triangle.
  • We stretched.
  • We decided that children’s playtime clapping could become fighting.
  • We had to forfeit and run around the circle.
  • We know that something bad must happen, but we’re not sure what it is yet.
  • We created Jives.