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.

 

Year 1 of Stepping Stones

Post written by: Erin Walcon

I’ve just completed our interim report for the Stepping Stones project, which is our Arts Council-funded programme of participatory theatre activity in Torbay, running from April 2016 to April 2018.

To some degree, interim reports are thankless to write. For one thing, it’s a lot of paper. A lot of numbers. A lot of totting up.

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But on another level, they can be a really great chance to add everything up (literally and figuratively). I find them a useful space for reflection – on what has gone well, on what hasn’t and on the surprises we’ve encountered along the way. It’s also an exercise in honest storytelling – how to think through the challenges and frame them proactively in terms of moving forward. I find this process of storying really useful, both in life and in terms of large scale projects like Stepping Stones that involve lots of artists, lots of partners, and LOTS of children.  I guess any moment of stillness and reflection is good, but especially when you’ve been as busy as we have.

The first year of Stepping Stones has been transformative for Doorstep Arts. There is absolutely no denying that – it has utterly changed our sustainability from a small struggling arts organisation with no core infrastructure, to where we are now.

But even I was really pleasantly gobsmacked by the level of activity we’ve managed to churn out in this first year. When you add up the numbers, it’s really overwhelming to think about the number of children, young people and families we’ve worked with in an integrated and ongoing way throughout this year – the sustained and deep approach has a sense of geographical embeddedness and integrity too often missing from parachuted-in one-off projects.

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At the mid-way point in early April 2017, we have now delivered a full year of integrated year-round activity. This has included 3 full terms of participatory drama for children and young people in 11 different drama groups across Torbay. This equates to a total of 33 weeks of ongoing consistent, high-quality participatory arts provision across Torbay for 151 children aged 4 to 25 each week.

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Over these three terms, participants have explored a new theme/stimulus chosen by the artistic team for each term. For example, in Autumn Term 2016, all our groups explored themes from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, which took wildly diverse forms.

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Our oldest group, Doorstep Youth Theatre, created a piece of political theatre titled Rumpus which gently questioned a lack of political engagement.

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They chanted the phrase ‘Where’s our rumpus?’ with regard to current global and UK contemporary events, and wrote spoken word poetry about what it means to be growing up in this context, facing scrolling social media feeds of overwhelming political apathy.

Their work has astounded us with its complexity, its maturity, its playfulness, and the groups have embraced a diverse set of aesthetics and new theatrical languages with boisterous enthusiasm and hunger to learn more. All of the 151 young people we work with each week now identify as artists and believe that they can make work of substance– that their voices matter and deserve to be heard.

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In addition to this, our Open Doors outreach programme has worked with 21 schools, providing 35 visiting professional artist workshops for 1,053 children from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4.

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Through Open Doors, we’ve also supported 17 workshops by professional artists in the Torbay Libraries, working with 441 participants over the year.

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Our Foot in the Door internship and mentorship programme has supported 12 emerging artists in Torbay through 1:1 mentorship, providing them with paid stipends, advice, office space and support from professional artists and producers.

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We began the project in April 2016 with an amazing launch event – a large community dance platform event co-hosted with Dance in Devon.

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This platform, titled Dance on Your Doorstep, which featured 103 community participants aged 4 to 84 sharing their work together on the Palace Theatre stage.

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On 31 March 2017, we finished up the first year with another platform event at the Palace Theatre, titled Up and Away, which featured all our Doorstep groups performing their original work together on the Palace Theatre stage for a packed audience.

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These two bookend events have created a sense of aspiration and achievement for us and for the young people we work with, and the use of the Palace Theatre mainstage has been important in enticing participants from our community centre sites to participate in new places and with new people – we can see the progression routes into the arts for Torbay’s children are really working.  

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The Stepping Stones project has created clear progression pathways to access Torbay’s theatres from some of Torbay’s furthest reaching neighbourhoods.

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On 1 April 2016, we took over the creative learning provision based at the Arena Studio at the back of the Palace Theatre in Paignton. We re-titled the offer Doorstep Arts Studio Courses (or DAS) and after a first summer term of transition, we are now thrilled to find that 5 DAS courses are running with a live total of 75 children taking part – this is an increase of 66%, with further growth expected. In the first transition term, DAS courses were taught by Doorstep co-director Jade Campbell and associate artist Michael Smith, who focused on devising/original theatre skills.

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From Sept 2016, we have employed Paignton-based theatre-maker and Dartington graduate Polly Ferguson to take over the leadership of DAS. Under Polly, the DAS curriculum is composed of a rich variety of theatre-making skills, including devising, puppetry, new writing, diverse forms of dance (contemporary, Latin American, street) and still some musical theatre too. The numbers in the DAS courses have ballooned under Polly’s vibrant leadership, and we have been astonished at how quickly it has created a bridge for students from our community centre sites.

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Students are now enthusiastically tackling making original (and challenging!) work themselves, devising in ensembles around complex themes, creating work which raises big questions about the world and their place in it, writing their own music and spoken word poetry, and learning about new diverse forms of performance.

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‘I love that we can make what we want. We’ve never been able to before.’ (DAS participant, aged 12)

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‘There is a real sense of community now with the parents and families, we feel like we’re a part of something important.’ (Parent, Little Doorstep and DAS)

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‘I’ve never worked like this before – it’s like, now, we all make the stories happen.’ (Course assistant)

This last piece of feedback really struck a cord with us, and we’ve adopted it as the new Doorstep Arts strapline because it captures so perfectly what our core ethos is, both artistically and in terms of social change – the notion that we all matter, and ALL children deserve to access the arts and to be artists: ‘We all make the story happen’.

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Luckily for us, there is a whole second year to go in this funding… because we’re not done dreaming and working yet… there is too much still to do. In Torbay, the need is huge, and we’re only just beginning.

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Our Foot in the Door mentorship scheme will continue for another year. This is an open invitation to young people to express interest in getting involved with Doorstep at any time, and a staged process of support which is unique to each young person’s needs. Over the last year we have supported 12 young people through Foot in the Door – 8 of these have been under 18, and have done work experience, internships, or worked as class assistants with us. 4 of these have been older (18-25) emerging artists who have receive our support, both in advice and financial terms.

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This year has been hard work, but the moment where I felt the most hope and belief about its legacy going forward was when I was watching the Up and Away platform on 31 March, wearing my headset back at the lighting booth. In an inspired decision, Doorstep Director Meg Searle had our oldest participants join the youngest group on stage for a special sequence. The youngest children had devised a physical theatre piece where they wanted to ‘fly’. Knowing this wasn’t possible, we were happy to use our imaginations and believe together with them, but Meg had a flash of inspiration.

In front of a packed audience of their parents and friends and families, these little ones were lifted up and twirled around by the older children, and the impossible happened. They really flew.

Their faces were alight.

In that moment, I could feel the ground move under me – a grinding, rusty creak of enormous momentum as four years of graft… hope… stubborn willfulness to not give in against sometimes impossible odds moved into gear. We’re all lifting each other.

Together, we all make this story happen.

Sometimes, by willfully believing in the impossible, we can all fly.

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Beautiful chaos

Post written by: Erin Walcon

Tonight, in our DYT session, we were finally able to get a good start on generating content for the second half of the show.

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Up until now, we’ve kind of been in limbo, waiting for casting. It’s hard to know which strands of the story will need to weave through into the second half until you know which characters are which.

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Now we know.

So tonight, it was all systems go.

Even more excitingly, we had visual artist Nathalie Palin and production leader Mair George in the space, to shape and guide discussions around design concepts.

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There is something really magical about having design elements in the room while you’re making the story.

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There are 5-6 scrappy song ideas on the table, plus 2 other songs fairly fully realised. We’re thinking that the narrative arc of the second half will be a connect-the-dots between the songs, rather than pre-scripted narrative choices. The devised playing we did tonight was really useful in thinking about narrative arcs of the key characters and what their journey might be.

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Playtime is important, as my colleagues remind me.

(I can tend to get overly tasky and need reminding.)

There are some early lyrics on the table too. Tonight we played with four songs in total.

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We rehearsed Could I Would I Should I, which is fairly complete as a skeleton. We started some initial ideas for The March of the Red Hood Army, which is a rough idea involving lots of Little Red Riding Hoods. (Creepy? But interesting.) Beth brought a lovely set of lyrics for song called Glue, which she and Izzy and Jess orchestrated. And Chloe and I worked out some hybrid lyrics for the Princess Rant, which is a duet featuring Cinderella and Rapunzel.

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It always feels a little chaotic in the early stages, with lots of ideas bubbling in every corner of the room. Too too soon, this will focus in, and the narrative strands will be tightened and we’ll move into shaping the story. So we’re enjoying the early playtime.