Put the kettle on!

Malcolm J

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?

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