Author Archive


Malcolm J
March 2nd, 2017

Performing Pedagogies project

Throughout this year, Juliet and me have been working as part of a group of drama workers on Performing Pedagogies, a teacher CPDL programme to support and develop the use of drama for writing in primary schools. The project is being jointly led by the RSA and Arts Connect with funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. We hear almost every day that participation in one of The Play House’s Language Alive programmes has a significant impact on the quality of writing children produce, so it’s been great to be able to share our practice more widely.

The project has involved teachers and drama workers participating in a series of training days and planning sessions to exchange practice. This term, we will be visiting schools to co-deliver and team teach in the planned scheme of lessons. The class teachers have each chosen a research question to explore as part of their CPDL.

The project will culminate in a performance in the summer term where pupils will visit The REP and see their writing brought to life by professional actors. The academic research will contribute to the debate around the effectiveness of the creative arts in education.

If you’d like to know more about the project or discuss how we can deliver CPDL in your school, please get in touch on: 0121 265 4425.

Malcolm

Malcolm J
November 11th, 2010

Put the kettle on!

I’m often asked “How do you come up with your programmes?”, “Where do you get your ideas?” The answer is with big bits of paper, marker pens and tea, lots and lots of tea. Oh! And sometimes biscuits too. (Actually the biscuits feature quite heavily.)

I found myself thinking about this as I unloaded the car at our rehearsal room at the start of term. We were beginning to devise On the Edge, our new PSHE programme about community cohesion and the effects of violent extremism. Clutched in my arms were the aforementioned large bits of paper, marker pens and most crucially a kettle.

The importance of tea cannot and must not be underestimated in the creative process. Soon the walls of the rehearsal room would be adorned with the large sheets of paper, held precariously in place with Blu-tack, and covered in brightly coloured scrawling. Aims and outcomes on one sheet, possible characters on another, a timeline with the key events in the gun powder plot here, symbols, graffiti and slogans over there. These are all fundamental in the creation of a programme but it is at the small table in the corner, its legs bowing under the weight of tea, mugs, milk and if we are very lucky some biscuits, that much of the inspiration strikes.

It is at this table we gather when there is a pause in our strutting and fretting to re-fuel and alongside the slurping and munching much reflecting takes place. It may be thoughtful musings on a film or TV programme or it may be indignant ranting about a news story but it all feeds in and connects.

Coffee does not lubricate the wheels of invention to such a degree and it keeps us up all night when we should be dreaming up great programmes.

Of course the process of developing a new programme starts well before arriving at the rehearsal room and curiously enough tea also plays a prominent role. It goes something like this. The whole team from The Play House  get together and put the kettle on and we talk about all sorts of ideas for programmes. They might be a suggestion from a teacher, stories we have read, an opportunity or request to use a specific place or building, something in the zeitgeist, an invitation or a commission to address a particular issue, a curriculum area that we feel has been under represented or an art form we would like to explore. We sound out the nooks and crannies for educational and participatory opportunities, sometimes with members of our teachers group. (I even noticed Jaffa cakes on the table at the last meeting. Is no expense spared? Not when it comes to our teachers group.) And of course the wheels of invention need lubrication, quite a lot of lubrication it turns out.

(How these projects get funded is of course a different story. Deb wrote a blog on this earlier this year if you want to find out more detail, but I should warn you it doesn’t contain nearly the right amount of references to tea as its importance warrants. )

Meetings are set up and held, speculations had, some practical trying out of ideas takes place in which the whole team work together for a day or half day to figure out things like is it possible to replicate the blowing up the Houses of Parliament in a school hall twice daily? Details get thrashed out and thirst gets quenched.

Once the possible parameters of a programme have been wrangled into some sort of shape a “long list” of possible programmes is sent to school and teachers comment on which ones they are most interested in, and of course licking all those stamps is thirsty work. A final short list is drawn up and sent to schools (more stamp licking) and the bookings are made. Our trusty administrator Gavin then pieces together the complex jigsaw that makes up the tour schedules and, oddly enough, needs to be almost constantly refreshed. It’s usually about this time we consider getting an urn. We already have the largest teapot we could find, a fairly recent acquisition, as its predecessor wore out. (You can imagine the anxiety when that news was broken at staff meeting and the frenzied subsequent search for a replacement big enough. Does this give the impression that our staff meetings are like a mad hatter’s tea party? Well I couldn’t possibly comment.)

But if you are passing anytime, drop in, say hello, especially if you have a great idea for a programme. We’d be happy to talk about it with you – the kettle’s always on, and I do mean always. Or you could contact us via the web site, but then you won’t get a biscuit with that, just a cookie!!

Brew anyone?

Malcolm J
November 17th, 2009

We don’t just throw this together you know…

Tapestry is currently touring schools and is our participatory theatre programme that explores violent extremism. In the story Jason, Hassan and Nazia find themselves in a derelict shop, taking cover as a protest they are involved in becomes violent. Jason and Hassan are from opposing ends of the radical spectrum with Nazia caught in the middle. (You can read more about this in the previous blog entry “We just have to figure out how to weave the strands together”.)

As we continue to tour Tapestry a lot of the young people we meet are suggesting that Jason and Hassan stop fighting, become friends, talk to one another and other people. This is great and of course good advice, but I am left wondering how that can happen as there seems to be too great a divide between them.
Thinking about this, it occurs to me that they have already started to break down the barriers, they have begun to talk, and more, they begin to understand. During their enforced time in the closed down shop they begin to share their life experiences, they begin to “live life in the others shoes” [Pupil at King Edward VI Aston]. The complexity of the situation becomes apparent and challenges the simplistic rhetoric of Peter Jeffries and Dr Farooq.

During the programme Jason and Hassan are drawn into playing out moments from each other’s lives, and in taking on roles in each others stories they begin to gain insight. They are part of the stories as they are being told but are free to contribute from their own understanding of the world. Hassan, Jason and Nazia comment on the actions of others, question, advise and challenge, just as the young people participating in Tapestry can.

As a company we are committed to using participatory drama as a tool for learning because it allows young people, and adults for that matter, to wrangle with the complexities of the real world from the safety of the story whilst at the same time being part of it.

In the story of Tapestry it is drama that enables Hassan, Jason and Nazia to begin to see the other points of view, to know how it feels from the other side, to understand the complexity of the situation and begin to see the possibility of change. In just the same way as the young people participating in Tapestry the programme begin to see different points of view, understand the complexity of the situation and to begin to see the possibility of change.

Not only does the programme stand alongside the rest of our participatory theatre programmes, it also celebrates our way of working, with the characters in the story learning through drama.

The programme has become an advocate for our way of working.

Malcolm J
October 9th, 2009

We just have to figure out how to weave the strands together…

I had mixed feelings when Gary and Deborah told me that I would be working on our preventing violent extremism programme, Tapestry. Excitement as this was to be a high profile project dealing with up to the minute issues that had great impact on all of us. There was also a significant level of trepidation, even fear. Would we do justice to this very complex and sensitive area? If we got this wrong we could make tensions worse.  So no pressure there then!

Inspired (if that’s the right word) by the protests in Luton around the soldiers of the Anglian regiment returning from Iraq we chose to set our drama in a closed down shop unit on a recession hit city high street (you might think Woolworths, but we refuse to comment…).

We created Jason, fighting on behalf of “The Young Patriots”, a far right organization; Hassan, arguing in support of an extreme Islamist organization, “The Circle of Truth”; and Naz, caught in the middle, a young British Muslim woman trying to make them see the complexity of the truth.

This allowed us the opportunity to explore parallels in right wing and Islamist extremism, each fuelling greater excesses in the other.

The research sessions we ran with a variety of diverse groups served to allay some of my anxieties. One of the key things that helped was the eagerness with which people wanted to talk about extremism in all its forms.  It was something everybody was thinking about but not talking about as if they were as worried as me about saying the wrong thing and offending people. I took great heart that people were less sensitive than I had imagined ready and willing to have this conversation.

But the violence in the City Centre in early September reignited worries in me that we might be opening an extremely lively can of worms. It felt as if we had been overtaken by our own prediction.

As we continue the tour it is the young people we are meeting on a daily basis that are quietening my fears. They are thoughtful, sensitive, optimistic and passionate. They challenge each of the extremists in the programme equally whilst acknowledging that both have some justification for their disenchantment. It is the courses of action that Jason and Hassan have chosen to resolve their frustrations that the young people so vehemently take issue with.

Which begs the question: what can each of us do to avoid the future of death, fear, anger and revenge that is predicted in the drama if Jason and Hassan continue on their present course?

Answers on a postcard please! Or simply comment below.

Malcolm J
April 2nd, 2009

Donkey Work

One of the pleasures (there are many!) of working over the last five years on Language Alive! tours is the opportunity to return to schools and develop a working relationship with teachers and children. We are often greeted on the playground as we arrive by children, eager to know, “Are you going to work with us today?”, “You’re that man that did that thing”, “What are you doing today?”. Often children recall characters and stories from years before.

I was particularly delighted last week to go back to Lyndon Green Junior School. We had been before Christmas with Out of the Box, a programme that used contemporary movement to retell the stories of King Midas and Pandora’s Box. On that visit we’d been particularly struck by the commitment of some individuals in year 3 as they brought to life “all the evils in the world”. On this visit it was a great joy to be told by the staff how well the children were doing rehearsing their Easter play. We were able to peek into the hall to watch the children we had worked with last term perform with equal involvement a brilliant song and dance routine. And there was some compelling donkey acting to boot…

You can see what 3c thought of our November 10th visit by looking at their class blog.