Archive for the ‘The Play House’ Category

November 13th, 2012

Introducing our new(ish) General Manager

I’ve been in post here at The Play House since April so an introduction and hello from me is very overdue. I’m really enjoying working here with the team (apart from Malcolm’s terrible jokes) as I’ve known and admired the company’s work for many years. All the teacher actors are busy in schools delivering the usual diverse programme and we’re already making plans for our programme in 2013/14.

This term’s programme sees the first new production that we have created in our new partnership with the Birmingham REP. By the River Bank was inspired by the stories and characters in the Wind in the Willows, with Gwenda Hughes directing both productions. The new piece has been very well received and it looks set to become part of our repertoire.

We’re all really excited about the partnership which is a fantastic opportunity for the company. We’ll be relocating to the REP when the building work connecting to the new library is finished in spring. We’ve already begun to prepare for the move – after 25 years here at Percy Shurmer we’ve collected a lot of stuff. In July, we packed up years of scripts, notes, photos and other materials to be deposited in the archive at Birmingham Central Library. We are aiming for the collection to be properly catalogued so that the material will be accessible to organisations, students etc interested in our characteristic approach.

We’ll keep you posted about the next year’s programme as it develops and news about the move. Meanwhile, you can follow what we’re all up to on Facebook and Twitter

Gavin M
May 11th, 2012

Programmes for the next academic year

Hi there,

I’m not usually one to blog but recently I have received so many calls from schools about our programmes for next year that I thought I would post a little update.

We are currently in the final stages of confirming our schedule for the next academic year and we have some very exciting projects already lined up. I hope to be sending out all of the information in the next few weeks.

If you do have any questions you would like to ask in the meantime please call me in the office on: 0121 464 5712.


Deborah H
March 19th, 2012

Moving on…

It is with a mix of sadness, excitement and trepidation I am finally moving on from The Play House. After spending 11 years with the company, initially as a teacher/actor and for the last five years as the Artistic and Educational Director, the time has come for me to leave for pastures new. I am heading north to Leeds where I will begin a freelance career, directing, lecturing, researching and working as a practitioner.

Leaving such an inspiring company whose work I have seen light a flame in so many children, young people and teachers has not been an easy decision and I will leave behind people whom I both respect enormously and consider my close friends.

I will look back on my many years with The Play House with great affection… Where else would you find yourself meeting with high profile police officers to discuss violent extremism one minute and introducing three and four year olds to a naughty teddy the next… and get paid for it!

However the great rewards of working for The Play House have only been possible as a result of our long and sustained relationships with schools, the highly skilled and committed practitioners who have worked with us, the thousands of children, young people and teachers who have (and continue) to participate in our work and the countless associates and advocates who have supported us. I would like to say a heartfelt thanks to all of these people and leave by wishing the company another 25 years of success…

January 13th, 2012

Why should we fund the arts?

This is our 25th year delivering work across Birmingham and the West Midlands.

From a modest start in Balsall Heath at St Paul’s Community Trust, Language Alive! was born. Steve Ball was appointed as a clown to promote language development across 12 schools. Over the next few years the work expanded to include Northfield, Saltley, Nechells and Ladywood with a range of tours and site-specific projects, and the team grew with Local Education Authority-funded teacher/actors.

The 90s gave rise to sister company Catalyst to tap into huge demand for health work. Fortunate timing, because the withdrawal of LEA funding stripped Language Alive! of most of its staff, and saw the company leave St Paul’s, struggling to survive.

But survive it did, and thanks to an Arts Council Lottery Award moved to its present premises above Percy Shurmer Primary School in Highgate in 2000. The Play House was born. The company went from strength to strength, being funded to create a virtual ‘Healthy Living Centre’, delivering a range of innovative and developmental projects through Creative Partnerships, and moving out of the classroom with Extended Schools projects.

But all these initiatives have come to an end. Looking back it says a lot about the cyclical nature of the world we work in. Once again funding is being withdrawn and The Play House, like many other charities across the country, is once again struggling.

But should we rely on funding? What is the value of the arts? Here’s a thought-provoking article from David Edgar about the subject. Make up your own minds.

Juliet F
July 31st, 2011

The end of an era?

For the last few years I have been lucky enough to be part of the Creative Partnerships programme led by Bright Space in Birmingham both as a creative agent and as a drama practitioner.

For 3 years I supported two lovely primary schools, Erdington Hall and Nonsuch Primary to work with artists and develop their creative curriculum. Teachers and children worked with outdoor visual artists, digital media artists, Mantle of the Expert practitioners, dancers, gardeners and a whole host of other creative practitioners. I hope the schools continue to work creatively to engage their children and I have found it fascinating to document the work. So a big thank you to the staff and children at both schools for making feel so welcome and for making me a much better project manager. Won’t miss the CP data base though!

I’ve also been reflecting on what I’ve learnt working on the projects that I delivered as a drama practitioner and storyteller and it’s hard to boil it down in a blog but here goes:

• Children are more confident as writers, speakers and thinkers if they feel a sense of ownership over a story and feel like they have participated in its making.

• Using a mixture of process led drama and performance techniques supports different kinds of learners.

• Stories are made to be told!

• A child’s imagination is often richer than the pictures in a book.

• Never expect children to respond to a story in the same way.

• Unlocking the imagination is the problem not a lack of imagination.

• Stepping into a story should mean just that – we go in together and grown ups need to be in role too!

I’ve worked in partnership with wonderful teachers across Birmingham and Coventry to use drama and story to develop children’s literacy, speaking and listening, imagination, writing, confidence and play. So thanks to Whitmore Park, Stanton Bridge, St John Vianney and All Souls primary schools in Coventry and to Hillstone, Skilts, Sundridge, St James R.C, Clifton, Anderton Park, Lillina de Lissa Nursery, Washwood Heath Day Care and Kingsthorne for having me.

November 18th, 2010

Carl Chinn meets The Play House!

Tune in to Carl Chinn’s radio programme on BBC Radio WM this Sunday!

From midday you’ll hear Juliet and Malcolm talk about some of the company’s heritage-based projects, from a storytelling project based on the life of the Ladypool Road to participatory theatre-in-education at the Museum Collection Centre in Birmingham.

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?

Gavin M
October 15th, 2010

Say cheese

To me, The Play House has always been a very visual company and over the years there have been some photographs taken that have managed to encapsulate the thoughts, feeling and emotion of a programme with just one click of the shutter. This is why I get excited when I get asked to photograph a programme in school as I’m always looking to find that one image that conveys the mood of the programme. It’s extremely challenging, as moments can happen so fast, and I often find myself being so absorbed in the drama that I often forget that I’m their to do a job.

I have always been fascinated by how a moment of time can be captured by a camera. Although I did a photography module in college and understand how photography has been made possible through the years, a part of me still believes it is some form of ancient witchcraft. Stop and think about it the next time you are taking a picture; does it seem logical to be able to capture something your eyes can see (and then print it onto a t-shirt for your teddy or something equally as awful)? Anyway, I better get back to my blog before I get carried away with my rant. Don’t even get me started on why 35mm is still better than digital!

I am always very appreciative to the schools for letting us come in to document our programmes and helping with the distribution and chasing of the permission letters. Photographs and video recordings act as an extremely useful resource for when we come to retour a programme and help to capture those special moments when a young person says or does something inspiring.

You can view a selection of programme photographs which are featured on our Flickr site below.

September 10th, 2010

Socially enterprising

The Play House has become the first theatre company outside of London, and only the third in the country, to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark.

The Mark is a new countrywide scheme offering an instantly recognisable logo that represents enterprises working for social and environmental aims, trading to benefit people and the planet.

The Play House – or Language Alive! back then – started almost 25 years ago with Steve Ball promoting language development as part of St Paul’s Community Project. It became a company and a charity in 1993 with the withdrawel of local education authority funding. It’s been reliant on project funding, commissions and trade ever since, with all ‘profits’ from our work ploughed back into developing new educational projects aimed at children and young people.

You can find out more about the Mark and other organsations that have qualified at

July 27th, 2010

From our foreign correspondents…

Whilst we sit here in Brum trying to predict the vagaries of the British summer, some of our colleagues are half-way around the world in Belem, Brazil, for IDEA 2010: the International Drama/Theatre and Education Association World Congress.

The IDEA Congress takes place every three years, and The Play House has been represented at all of them in recent years. Last time in Hong Kong we were successful in an Arts Council bid to mount a tour there and send the whole team out for the Congress itself.

This time representatives from 3 applied theatre companies – Deborah Hull, our Artistic & Educational Director, and Artistic Directors Andy Watson from Geese and Johnny O’Hanlon from HamFisted! – came together to participate.

Contact with the team has been a bit sporadic, but Johnny sent his impressions of Belem itself

What can be said of Belem – aside from the heat ‘cos it’s hot, damn hot…

Belem- once a rich city based on gold and rubber, but now a city of contrasts – beautiful buildings butt up against rotting cement shells of buildings – richer middle class shopping malls the like of which you get the world over next to run down markets -and all the while the amazon river flows its way to the sea…

The smells of the city are pungent and human – and indeed the local population are helpful and friendly – though the crime rate is extremely high – pickpockets and muggings at gunpoint have been reported by people attending this conference…

The team don’t seem to be particularly impressed with the organisation of the conference though, with Deborah reporting it was

poorly organised and [there was] a distinct lack of rigour to much of the conference content

…a view echoed by Johnny. So a bit of a mixed bag, a real shame given that Hong Kong proved a fantastic experience for the company. Then we reported…

IDEA provided a fantastic opportunity for the whole company to take the time to both share and celebrate the considerable achievements of the company as well as to be inspired to continue to develop our collective practice into several new and exciting areas.

Part of the benefit of this type of event is meeting new people, engaging with different companies, and becoming more aware of international developments. And as well as attending Deborah has also presented a paper

 … things [have] been pretty full on during the conference… managed to have several interesting conversations/contacts and the paper went really well. 

The contradictory nature of the event is summed up well by Andy…

Ilana, a Brazilian theatre practitioner currently working in London and working as an interpreter at the IDEA Conference, succinctly summed my experience of the 10 day congress – “Brazil is a country of massive contradictions.” This goes some way to explaining my astonishment at the final, closing celebratory dinner, in which the Bahia Military Police performed the most audacious and spectacular drumming and dance performance I have ever witnessed. Serving police officers singing and dancing a range of classic Portugese songs, African drumming, Afro Brazilian caporera demonstrations, and finally encouraging the whole audience to join them in an extended and energetic Carimbo dance. If this had been presented by professional theatre and dance practitioners it would have been spectacular. The fact that it was presented by serving police officers, and according to Ilana, officers serving in a police force which is notoriously corrupt and alledgedly brutal made the whole experience that much stranger.
It served as a good conclusion to a congress that has been incredibly contradictory: in equal parts frustrating and rewarding; confusing and inspiring.

A bit closer to home they’ll be legacy too, as The Play House, Geese and HamFisted! will continue to meet, forming a mini Applied Theatre network. Longer term we hope this will grow and extend networking opportunities provided by the mini-network to include other applied theatre companies based in the West Midlands.