Archive for the ‘Issue-based/PSHE’ Category

September 2nd, 2011

No Kidding at ArtsFest!

The Play House will be presenting ‘No Kidding’ at ArtsFest on Sunday 11th September at 2pm in Birmingham Conservatoire’s  Recital Hall

‘No Kidding’ is a fun and slapstick participatory programme designed to improve the quality of children’s relationships with each other, and it’s one of our Language Alive! theatre-in-education tours for 2011-2012. Designed for 5-7 year olds it’s one of our most requested programmes, and an excerpt is presented free at ArtsFest, performed by Malcolm Jennings and Simon Turner.

‘No Kidding’ explores notions of friendship, co-operation and bullying through the eyes of a pair of ‘overgrown children’, Bally and Billy. In the best traditions of clowning, Bally and Billy struggle to maintain their friendship at work and play. Amidst all the fun there is a serious lesson to be learnt when Billy downs tools and the pupils must take the lead in resolving the conflict between the two larger-thanlife characters. Will the pupils be able to help Bally see the error of her ways and get her to apologise to Billy? Will the two make friends and get to perform their big finale?

Visit its website to find out more…

May 26th, 2010

Nearly there!

Welcome to the new website. Pardon our appearance whilst we tidy up!

We’re not quite finished yet. There’s still a few bits that don’t work quite how we want them to, and other bits we still need to add (come back next term and hopefully we’ll have some activities for the Interactive WhiteBoard too). Hopefully when we’re done we’ll have a truly interactive resource to support learning, and with fun activities for young people too.

It’s designed to grow though. Each new project will have it’s own mini-site, and we need your help too. You’ll be able to comment on activities, and help us develop by suggesting your own activites to add ours. It’s not quite working yet, but you’ll also be able to embed our activities on your own sites too.

In the mean time have a look at our current tour sites.

Our current Language Alive! tours:

  • Little Red Hen is our  Early Years programme, with lots of numeracy ideas and activities.
  • Where there’s smoke… explores the Great Fire of London with 5-7 year olds, with some great interactive activites
  • No Kidding looks at bullying with 5-7 year olds (sorry, we’ve not had time to develop a full website, but there’s a resource pack to download with lots of useful ideas)

 Also touring:

  • Tapestry is our successful tour for 13-18 year olds exploring the implications and consequences of extremism. (At present there’s a link to a temporary website, but this will be integrated into our new site soon.)

Please let us kow what you think think, either through the comment links or the contact page. Thanks!

February 26th, 2010

The voices of the Home Children

“…we are sorry that the voices of these children were not always heard, their cries for help not always heeded. And we are sorry that it has taken so long for this important day to come and for the full and unconditional apology that is justly deserved.”

Gordon Brown has followed his Australian counterpart and issued an apology for the ‘deportation of innocents’, child migrants sent from this country to countries such as Canada and Australia as late as 1967.

The Home Children is our theatre-in-education project currently touring schools that tells the story. The issue is particularly resonant to Birmingham as many of the children sent overseas came from the Middlemore homes in Birmingham, one of which (long since closed) still stands just off the Middleway. With the help of Birmingham Archive we used letters, newspaper articles, original records, testimonials, workshops and interviews to shape this participatory performance.

At the end of their experience the children create their own podcasts about The Home Children. These modern-day children’s voices can be heard, and can be found on our website set up to accompany the project:

Gemma S
January 26th, 2010

The Home Children… my journey so far

I have been a freelance Teacher/actor at The Play House for just over six years now and loved every second of it! But I have to say, it has been a particular privilege to have been given a rare opportunity to be part of such a lengthy and in depth project with all sorts of other practitioners on board.

The Home Children, with audio as a prominent feature throughout, looks at the migration of some of the poorest children from Birmingham to Canada in the early 1900s. Sir John Middlemore set up emigration homes here in Birmingham where children would be prepared for their new lives in Canada and then off they would go, leaving their old lives behind them, embarking on what were largely unpleasant experiences.

The rare opportunity, one of the things that has made this project so special so far for me, is that before even beginning our luxurious 4 week devising process we were able to develop 3 consecutive workshops that we then delivered at 5 schools over 3 weeks, confused? This is how it broke down….

Having had an initial visit to the Birmingham Archive to look at real artefacts relating to real home children experiences, myself, Simon Turner and Director Geoff Readman got to work on devising the workshops; workshop 1 looked at life in the slums of Birmingham in the early 1900s and the kinds of situations children were removed from, workshop 2 focussed on the journey from Birmingham to Canada and workshop 3 was about the home children’s’ lives in Canada.

Throughout each of the workshops we used projected images to evoke thought and discussion, audio vignettes to set context and various dramatic conventions including: hotseating, collective role, teacher in role, still images, thought tracking, conscience alley, marking out the space etc

It was just fantastic, we were able to develop great relationships with each of the classes, get a real grasp on what elements of the narrative the children most engaged with, and then tailor the next workshop based on what had come out of the previous. Just brilliant to re-visit each group 3 times, a real invested interest was had by all involved, and not to mention how valuable these sessions were in enhancing the devising of the programme…..VERY!…what a treat……

Heritage Lottery Fund

December 14th, 2009

I must get out more often

Last Wednesday was one of those rare occasions that I was allowed out from behind my desk and off into the real world. We’d been invited to take part in a Networking Day staged by Birmingham City Council. The event was billed as an opportunity for arts organisations to meet extended schools co-ordinators and other school representatives.

I have to confess I’m not exactly the first person to volunteer for these sorts of events. They can be a bit dull, and often attended by people who have been told to attend by their boss rather than wanting to be there. However, with another big event that day (Tapestry was being presented to Directors of Children’s Services on the other side of town), the job fell to me and Gavin, our administrator.

And I have to say I was really glad it did. I might have cursed the weight of our display boards once or twice as we lugged them into the foyer of Symphony Hall, but once we were set up it was clear it was going to be more than worth it. The attendees – extended schools to begin with, schools later on – were interested and enthusiastic. We had the opportunity to present a workshop on using drama and storytelling to support children with English as an Additional Language which drew a small but eager group. I had the chance to talk to lots of different people about our work, about what they needed, and about how we could help them.

But there was more. In what we call in our evaluation reports an ‘additional outcome’, myself and Gavin also had the chance to network with other companies. It’s so rare that we all come together in one place, showing our wares and getting chance to chat, seeing some old faces but a good array of new ones too. I’m sure more than one partnership was brokered that day.

All in all a really good way to spend an afternoon. I should really try and get out more often. 

To find out more about our extended schools work, you can have a look at Gangs & community cohesion, Holiday projectsEnglish as an Additional Language. Also our theatre-in-education tour Tapestry (Preventing Violent Extremism)  which has been mounted in out-of-school settings

Cheryl S
December 2nd, 2009

Be quick, don’t waffle, and just write the darn thing….

This is my second attempt at writing a blog.  The first one, on reading it back, was too long and too relevant to that week at the beginning of November, therefore it would read as old news today.  Here I go again.

Note to self: be quick, don’t waffle, and just write the darn thing….

Here I am in the office awaiting the imminent last trip into school tomorrow with our newly devised and flawlessly written programme The Last Train, a participatory theatre-in-education piece that engages year 5 & 6 children.  I had the privilege of creating this key stage 2 programme as part of a fabulous team at The Play House;  John Flitcroft and I, who were the permanent staff involved, director Geoff Readman, writer & audio specialist Charlotte Goodwin, designers Dawn Allsopp with Emma Thompson and freelance teacher/actor Toni Midlane.

At the heart of this one and a half hour programme is the story of a 10 year old German Jewish girl Inge Gershon, from Berlin.  Prior to the beginning of the Second World War in 1938 a scheme called the Kindertransport was created to evacuate refugee children from cities across Europe. To escape the dreadful persecution at the hands of the Nazis, Inge’s family send her to a place of safety in England as part of the Kindertransport scheme.  The drama focuses on what life was like for families and particularly children at this time.  We see how the persecution or the Jewish people quickly changes a child’s life of normality to one full of fear and constraint.  Alongside Inges’ journey, the children see glimpses of a contemporary refugee who is seeking refuge in Birmingham today. 

The tour has been received incredibly well by children and teachers alike.  The themes and issues raised through the content of the drama are a useful stimulus for work around citizenship, history, religious education and PSHE.  The children after each session are bursting with a whole host of lines of enquiry from ‘What happened to Inge’? to ‘Why did Hitler hate the Jews’?  All of which can be followed up in the classroom through work with their teacher.

As the literal last train is about to leave the station, I will be sad not to be exploring the immensely stimulating material covered in this programme and will say a fond farewell to the whole host of characters I have had to portray. And what a pleasure it has been to work with Toni and her ever increasing pregnancy bump!.

I shall now look forward to a whistle stop whizz around the office doing all manner of ‘winding up before Christmas tasks’. Such as: writing a fine report for the afore mentioned The Last Train,  cleaning duties, set-auditing, attending new programme development days, eating mince pies, reading and planning for the new programme looming next term; Roll Up! Roll Up!, and washing up.  All to be completed in about 2 and a half days ‘cos I’m only a job share you know…

Happy Christmas to you all.

Cheryl Stott

p.s. New Year’s resolution number one – not to write any more blog entries unless threatened with my life.

November 26th, 2009

Safety and the cyber-world

Cyber-bullying and online child protection is in the news at the moment with some social networking sites refusing to install the “panic button” recommended by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. Opinions on this decision has been mixed, with The Guardian (Just one click to prevent child abuse) applauding Bebo’s decision to install the button, but The Times (A life online: just delete the cyber-bullies) questioning whether the button could address other issues, such as cyberbullying, and putting the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of parents.

Safety in the cyber-world is an issue for us on two different levels. Earlier this year we ran a project with a local school looking specifically at cyberbullying. The school had experienced some disturbing instances of bullying through email and texting, and with them we developed a project to look at these issues. Initial research sessions with year six pupils had shown that many of the children were acutely aware of what cyberbullying actually entailed. However, when probed further it became apparent that the children did not really distinguish between cyberbullying and the more general types of physical bullying or intimidation that may take place in school or other settings. To address this the project utilised masks and mask work as a way of ‘distancing’ participants from one another and exploring the anonymity provided by email and text messages. From this a peer education performance was created, with participants delivering to the rest of the school.

But we’re also wrestling with online safety from a different perspective. You might have seen from my earlier blog post (Digital potentials), we’re in the process of looking at our resources, and how to make them interactive and participative. For the first time the activities and resources we develop to support our programmes could be open to anyone online, rather than just teachers. This is certainly possible, but is it desirable? What sort of activity is appropriate? What sort of activity isn’t?  What can we put in place to make surfing safer for children and young people?

But there’s also another question. In The Times report above it references a survey by the Anti Bullying Alliance that said over half of children they consulted thought their parents needed to learn how to deal with it. How do we get to grips with a world where our children are more at home than many of us?

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.

November 6th, 2009


A couple of years ago we asked primary schools we regularly work with about their interest in a tour “looking at issues around sex and relationships for Key Stage 2”, and 57% of schools were quite or very interested. We’re currently looking again at developing this sort of project (funding permitting…) to go in next year’s offer to schools.

So this week’s discussions on sex and relationship education have been quite timely for us. The plans by Ed Balls to remove the opt out for parents for children over 15 has, predictably, had mixed press. The BBC reported broadly positive feedback, whilst the Daily Mail focussed on fines for parents and religious leaders saying parents would ‘vote with their feet’.

Of particular interest to us, in the light of us planning a Key Stage 2 project, is the report from the BBC that a third of those polled said the right should end at age 11, and 20% said there should be no opt out at all.

It’s clear that the schools we work with do have an interest in this sort of work. There will, of course, never be a consensus…

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.