Just over a year ago, I was lucky to be able to take part in an NEADN Residency, which is a brilliant scheme bringing together regional venues and artists across the North East, managed by Arc, Stockton. I have been privileged to work with a range of companies as a director, actor and facilitator but knew that I needed to try to create my own work.
I was hosted for a week at The Witham, in beautiful Barnard Castle, by Katy Taylor and Sarah Gent, and mentored by Jo Potts from Alnwick Playhouse. This support was just what I needed to help me make my first steps in making my own work.
But what would that work be? My favourite story growing up was Chicken Licken and I could not get it out of my head. I don’t know if it was the simplicity of the tale, the wonderful way that the story builds and builds to it’s pretty dark climax or the richness in how it speaks to what is going on in today’s world. So that begin my current obsession with all things chicken and fox-related: my wardrobe has taken on a very yellow and orange vibe of late!
Through my work directing New Writing North’s picture book adaptations over the last 5 years, I knew music would play a big part in what I wanted to create. Even though I am not musical, music helps me to understand and to tell stories. I was joined at The Witham by the wonderful musical brains of Calum Howard, Jeremy Bradfield and Joe Johnston and together we created a gig-full of rock-chick-riffs and foxy-trot tunes – well they did, I just wrote the words. I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of bands and how music takes us to a place that is nothing less than magical and I was interested in how we could combine traditional storytelling techniques and a rock and roll gig. Marrying this with my interest in how old stories become new with each new generation and looking at ways the audience can take more ownership over the story being told, and always wanting to be in a band - this is when the idea of a Tale Jam was born.
Along the way, we have gratefully received so much support from so many people; Arts Council England for their support and funding of the project;; Jo Cundall and Kylie Lloyd for believing in the idea and supporting us every step of the way; everyone at Gala Theatre Durham and Durham County Council for their kindness, support and care; Kate Craddock for her encouragement and letting us scratch at the Little Gift Scratch event; Hilary and Amanda at Greenhills Community Centre in Wheatley Hill for their mentoring and advice; Jeremy and Joe for their continuing generosity to the project and so many more!
Skip on a year and here we are in the last week of rehearsals. Calum Howard is the most magical Musical Director and we have been joined by the brilliantly talented Liam Scarth as Chicken Licken. Rachel Glover is our Production Stage Manager who looks after us all with such skill and style. Anna Robinson is our lovely Designer, colliding the two worlds of perfect pvc rock and roll with farmyard chic. Caroline Ryan has brought joy to the room with her wonderful energy and will be joining us for 3 BSL-integrated performances across the tour. Wayne Gamble has created the lushest graphic designs. Rebecca Johnson has created the illustrations and some beautiful textile design. Dr Anna Fancett has given brilliant advice on using Audio Description techniques within the text. Connor Thompson is joining us a brilliant sound engineer, who also does a mean chicken impression.
If you come to see the show, you will meet and join a band trying to tell the story of Chicken Licken. They will definitely need your help along the way, especially when they can’t decide how to end the tale. After the show, you will be able to download the songs along with a live audio recording of the big finale. And, you get to join the band, we hope you enjoy it!
I am sure my Dad is chuffed to be reading this and not just because he is mentioned in the title of this post! When I created this website and blog he was the first one to drop me a line through the contact form. Always one to be very forthcoming with critical and constructive feedback, I braced myself. It read:
Very good for starters
As could be expected it's colourful (but surprisingly it's tasteful too!!)
Keep up the good work but remember to keep the "monster" that you have created up to date!"
As with most things in my life, my Dad was right. He knows me very well and knows that I am very good at starting things but not always brilliant at maintenance. He has vast experience of this from my excellent outfit planning whenever I would "help" in the garden or the garage or when I would accompany him on a fishing trip. Style over substance you might say but I perfected the headscarf and dungaree look from an early age, which is something I have never regretted.
And here I am doing it again. When I set this up I planned to blog once a week. Not that I thought anyone would read it but as a way of reflecting on the working week that had been and the one that was about to come. It has now been six weeks and this is the first time I have logged in since then. I hate proving my Dad right.
Without excusing myself too much, one of the main reasons that I haven't put my bum into gear on here is that it has been so busy. Wonderfully so. And with wonderful people and places.
I feel like I have got to know Northumberland much better over that last 6 weeks. Working with Open Clasp on a project in partnership with Northumberland Domestic Abuse Service has been a roadtrip around the glorious landscapes on our doorstep and my co-pilot, the fabulous Jess Johnson, has been the best of travelling companions. We have also had my car (we like to call it The Limo) full of the brilliant young people we have been working with on this project. Touring around schools and community venues in Northumberland, performing First Time Free, a play about Child Sexual Exploitation in rural areas and facilitating a workshop based around these issues, Ben, Gavin and Charlotte have been a credit to young people everywhere. Committed, reliable, caring, brilliant performers who are also a pleasure to be around and have excelled themselves every step of the way. There is something very powerful about young people raising issues with other young people and taking ownership of the words and the issues. It has been such a privilege to work on this project and to see what good work is being done by NDAS and the West End Women and Girls Centre Domestic Abuse Peer Educators.
We come to the end of the tour on Friday and so it feels timely to reflect on the journey so far. The response has been incredibly positive from the staff and students we have met. The piece is very powerful and goes where it needs to go in a way that is real for the audiences and I think that is one of the many strengths of Catrina McHugh's writing. It very quickly allows the young people to recognise and to care and to talk. Whilst this week sees the end to the tour, hopefully this won't be the end to the conversation started by the young people in the places we have visited.
I feel like I could go on and on about this project but I will aim to stay brief. It has felt good to jot this down and whilst I am not going to promise myself that I will do this weekly I am going to try and keep it up. Thanks for dropping by.
Once I have posted this, I am going to ring my Dad so that he can say "I told you so." Actually, I don't think he will do that. He will probably send feedback via the contact form instead.
So, a few things have happened lately that have got me all excited. Actually, that is not true, these things have been happening for ages and the truth is that I have failed to notice them. I sometimes find myself so involved in my own things that I rarely lift my head up to see what is going on around me.
Over the last month I have been doing lots of meetings. I always have lots of meetings but these have been different in that they haven't been production or planning meetings but much more about meeting people. People who are not in the same field of work that I am in but are experts in their field (which more often than not I have known nothing about) and the conversations have been brilliant, mind-blowing even.
I have always enjoyed working in an interdisciplinary way; the richness of skills-sharing and the surprises it can bring can transform a process. However, I have tended to do this within the Arts arena and recently I have been stepping out of that comfort zone and speaking to people from completely different areas of work. Heritage specialists, archivists, technology and computer experts, planning and conservation professionals and academics specialising in areas of work that have expanded and exploded the way that I look at my own practice. The notions of difference between what we do have been overtaken by the amount of connections we have found and it is very exciting.
I am starting this blog as a way of documenting some of these discoveries. Everyone I have met is doing exactly what we all are; committing themselves to work that they love, and everyone I have met has helped me to lift my head up to other possibilities and have blown my tiny mind.