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!