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Tag Archive | "Childrens Theatre"

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Feature: Skitterbang Island – a cross between The Tempest and Wall-E…

Posted on 22 April 2014 by Katie Smith

skitterbang-header
“Really emotional and quite magical,” says Director Peter Glanville about Skitterbang Island, an opera for very young children, collaboratively put together by Polka Theatre and the Little Angel Theatre. “I know ‘magical’ is a world that’s overused – but in a sense you really are taken into this other world, this other island.” When one of the actors in the production, Lowri James, starts to animate the puppet of Skitterbang, the word “magical” does not seem far off the mark. Complete with long ears, fluttering wings, and a movable brow that allows for changes in expression, Skitterbang seems enchanting and real simply moving around on a table.

Aimed at children aged 3-6, Skitterbang Island returns to play at both theatres following a short run in 2010. “It kind of combines The Tempest with Wall-E,” Glanville remarks, referring to the opera’s plot. Completely sung-through, it follows a young girl, Marie, shipwrecked and separated from her uncle, as she finds friendship and companionship in the strange island inhabitant Skitterbang, only to run into further conflict when her uncle eventually finds her. It features an enviable creative team: Glanville, Polka’s Artistic Director, is directing the piece, with a score by Martin Ward (composer for the Olivier-award winning production of The Wind in the Willows) and libretto by acclaimed playwright Phil Porter.

Though the idea of an opera for young children may at first seem strange, Natalie Raybould, who puppeteers and sings the part of Marie, describes how Ward and Porter “knew how to balance serious and silly” in creating Skitterbang Island, which features the usual trademarks of an opera. “We wanted it to have all the complexities of an opera, we didn’t want to compromise,” Glanville agrees. “So it’s sung through, it’s got arias, it’s got duets, it’s got trios, it’s got all the things you would expect from an opera.” Raybould further asserts the authenticity of the piece. “There’s no ‘writing for kids’ music in this,” she says, “it’s exactly like their music for adults. And it’s just as fun, just as emotional.”

The production combines the specialities of both theatres – the puppetry expertise of the Little Angel, where Glanville was Artistic Director until November, and Polka’s specialism of creating children’s theatre. With the Polka also collaborating on future projects with Royal & Derngate as well as the Royal Opera, Glanville suggests this sort of collaboration is partially a “sign of the times” in terms of funding cuts, but mainly that there is great artistic benefit to be gained from two theatres working together. He suggests that in Skitterbang Island, opera and puppetry go hand in hand for children because “with opera, you’re singing with these kind of arcs and shapes that are non-naturalistic, and of course what we’re looking for in puppetry is the one gesture that can extend and carry through the sentence, and allow the audience to then imagine that character coming to life.” Raybould demonstrates this when she takes me to “meet” Marie. Referring to the puppet by name, and showing how simple changes in the puppet’s position can imply a range of emotions, it becomes clear how easily Sue Dacre’s puppets can appear lifelike.

It is the music, however, that helps the most to bring the characters to life. “Music gets you in the gut,” Raybould says. “Even when you know the story and you know what you’re going to sing. It still gets you. It still takes you by surprise. The whole place reacts to the music.” Raybould created her own show, Lullaby, for babies, using a combination of music, light and shadow to explore the relationship between baby and parent or carer. She strongly believes in young children experiencing music, and notes how when Skitterbang accepts the apology of Marie’s uncle, “that’s like at the end of The Marriage of Figaro, when the Count forgives the Countess. And the music tells the story even more than the words do.” Skitterbang Island, owing a great deal to the music, also manages to explore wider themes of trust and forgiveness. Raybould notes the importance of having the adult character in the opera admit to being wrong, “which is a serious issue in itself.”

“Children really should have work exploring the human experience in the same way that we would expect that as adults,” Glanville agrees. This is something that Skitterbang Island achieves, and looks to be something we will see more of during Glanville’s tenure as Polka’s Artistic Director. He is currently looking into an immersive project that explores the possibilities and uses of the whole building, a piece developed from material created by children themselves, and the possibility of more extensive touring, but is also “thinking a lot about professional development,” and is “looking to set up a more cohesive programme that allows artists that want to create work for children and young people to come together and explore ideas through a kind of initial scratch phase, so actually we’re supporting people potentially over a process of two or three years, in terms of taking an idea through to realisation.”

This development seems to be something present in Skitterbang Island as well. The production has had a rehearsal period in which to rethink and remember the piece, as it has not been performed since 2010. All three performers were in the original production, and Raybould notes that “it’s a luxury to be able to rethink it like this, rather than hurry back in.” Although there could have been the possibility of simply attempting to slot everything back in quickly, “happily Polka and Little Angel don’t think like that, and it’s lovely to be able to take the time.” Glanville acknowledges that the audience will find the production, in parts, “really soothing; at other points it’s going be engaging, and it takes them to a lot of different places emotionally. But I think it’s unique.” The emotion he describes speaks through the music and puppetry – and although developing and changing, Skitterbang Island seems as magical as ever.

Skitterbang Island is at the Little Angel Theatre from 26 April to 15 June, and at the Polka Theatre from 25 June to 16 August. More information and tickets form the Polka’s website and the Little Angel’s website.

Katie Smith

Katie Smith

Katie is a student and occasional playwright and theatre director. When not frantically fitting in as much theatre as time will allow, she can often be found complaining, reading or drinking copious amounts of tea

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Filskit blog – young people are important

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Filskit Theatre

It’s 11.34pm on a Monday night. One night owl Filskit Lady was getting ready to send our latest blog offering off to A Younger Theatre, when she came across a discussion on our Twitter feed about this piece by Susan Elkin – Stop marginalising young audience work. As a company which works with young audiences and feels passionate about creating high quality theatre for children and young people, we just had to respond.

Now, we have admitted many times that Filskit Theatre did not initially set out to create work for children; we were all prepared to live out our theatre days performing five-hour durational pieces to drunk people in various tunnels underneath the train stations of central London. But the more people we invited to see our work, the more we were told “this would be great for little ones” and “kids would love it”. So we decided to give it a go. We created our first piece, a re-telling of Snow White with the help of the EMERGE Project at the Unicorn (because who better to tell you whether or not your work is suitable for kids, right?). The funny thing about this process was that we actually changed very little in the way that we made a piece for children compared with the way that we made work for adults.

We met a fellow theatre maker just the other day, who, instead of saying that he made work for children, said that he made work without the word “fuck” in it. That’s one way of putting it.

The biggest learning curve for us in our transition into a children’s theatre company was the realisation that children and young people don’t want to be patronised. They can grasp much more complex ideas than they are perhaps given credit for by other forms of “children’s entertainment” and can appreciate the magic of the theatre in a way that few adults can.

We have said this before and we’ll say it again: some of the most creative and engaging work we have seen over the past five years has been for children. It’s not all C Beebies and old men on unicycles talking about road safety (yes, we have seen that too). There are entire festivals dedicated to showcasing the best theatre for children and young people from the UK and abroad, for example Imaginate and Take Off, and there are so many companies out there that are creating truly fantastic work for young audiences.

Next week we are taking our show The Feather Catchermto a symposium event at Rose Bruford College, we are also running a workshop for the MA Theatre for Young Audiences students. It’s fantastic to see that there are courses specifically designed to train theatre makers in this area – we can’t wait to get involved.

So why does work for young audiences still not get the recognition it deserves?

In her piece for The Stage, Susan Elkin focuses specifically on the lack of coverage that theatre for young audiences gets in the press. But it’s not just the papers and their reviewers that marginalise this type of work. Indeed when we first told our peers and fellow graduates that we were making work for children we were met with some quizzical looks. We were even asked by one peer “but don’t you ever want to make proper theatre?”. This mentality, that work for young audiences is somehow lesser than other art, is shockingly common.

So, what can we as artists do to change this perception? To be perfectly honest, we don’t know. Perhaps there needs to be some kind of website or publication specifically for young audiences work? Perhaps there already is?

As a start, we put a call out to all artists and companies who currently make work for young people or who are perhaps aspiring performers who want to work with children. We invite you to challenge yourselves to keep on making exceptional theatre… sooner or later everyone else (press included) will want to join the party, we hope.

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

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Review: At The End Of Everything Else, Unicorn Theatre

Posted on 03 April 2014 by Lucy Bishop

At the End of Everything Ever

At The End Of Everything Else is a charming production following the story of a young girl, Icka, who lives with her father and often dreams of her deceased mother. Through the media of shadow puppetry, animation and sound we are taken on a magical journey as Icka searches for her lost best friend Tito, a little yellow bird. In doing so she travels around the world and takes us along for a whimsical ride.

The main point of focus is the screen hanging centre stage, which uses a variety of mixed media to create beautiful imagery such as montages of Icka’s daily routine before and after the adventure, the northern lights, and touching moments between the projected Tito and the shadow puppet Icka. However these gorgeous visuals feel somewhat undermined by the fact that young people are being asked to sit and stare predominately at a large screen in a theatre, which proudly announces that “all our shows are in 3D”.

The whole production is powered by several bikes that are pedalled on the side of the stage, enforcing the eco-friendly message of the piece. It is hugely refreshing to see a company not only preaching about saving the planet, but creatively incorporating ways of doing so. The highlight of the production is when children from the audience are invited on stage to help generate electricity to save Tito. In that moment there is a real connection between the performers and the audience, which creates a magical atmosphere in the theatre. Such effort goes in to ensuring the production itself is eco-friendly, that it is disappointing that the narrative does not echo this more clearly.

The design of At The End Of Everything is very in keeping with the sweet story. John Horabin’s animation is charming and holds the production together, while the puppets have a quality similar to the work of artist Rob Ryan. They are just as delightful as the animation and are well manipulated, particularly a fully-working cardboard bike that becomes Icka’s means of flying round the world. Perspective is used well to keep the images engaging and constantly changing, and the interaction between the animation and puppets is impressive. Around the edges of the space there is a trail of empty water bottles that are lit in different colours, again reinforcing the eco-friendly message as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

Due to the technicality of the production there are some dead moments as puppets, bikes and projections are negotiated: this is somewhat disengaging for younger members of the audience and generally the pace of the piece could have been picked up to keep them hooked. Overall though, The End Of Everything Else is a visually stimulating, charming production with an original take on saving the planet.

At The End Of Everything Else is playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 19 April. For more information and tickets see the Unicorn Theatre website.

Lucy Bishop

Lucy Bishop

Lucy is orginally from Bristol and is currently in her final year studying Physical Theatre at East 15. She is part of a comedy Music duo called "Silly People" and is a lover or scramble egg, Louis Theroux and puppets

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Blog: Filskit Theatre – The only way is out of London. Or is it?

Posted on 26 February 2014 by Filskit Theatre

London

Until recently, every funding application, mission statement and biography we have ever written has begun with the phrase “Filskit Theatre are a London based company…” but as we have grown as a company and our personal circumstances have changed, we have now come to the realisation that two thirds of the original company are actually no longer “Londoners”.

When we were all 18 year old aspiring actors from the shires, the bright lights of the City beckoned and it seemed as though London was the only option if we were going to ‘make it’ in our chosen field (even if we did end up living in Sidcup, which isn’t technically London). It’s a buzzing hub of activity with its lively offerings of the West End, museums, pop-up venues, fringe scene and everything else that a European capital city can offer.

Our time in London has most certainly served us well; the opportunities for young companies are endless and indeed many of our regular supporters such as Stratford Circus and Creative Youth are London based. But as we plan and scheme new ways to make Filskit our fulltime job (and plan our subsequent world domination…) we have realised the importance of expanding the reach of the company outside the Big Smoke.

So last year when we were planning two weeks of R&D for our latest production, we were thrilled to be offered the chance to develop the piece at two different venues: Stratford Circus, which provided our London setting, and The Point in Eastleigh which saw us spending a week on the South Coast.

Having now completed two weeks of R&D at these two very different venues (and writing our evaluation for Arts Council England) we are looking at how geography can affect your creative process. Let’s start with our first week at The Point.

What makes The Point a unique place for artists is its onsite accommodation and ‘Creation Space’ – a “state of the art retreat for creatives from around the globe”. Being able to stay onsite at the venue had a huge impact on our process; it’s amazing how very un-creative a 90 minute commute with your face in a stranger’s armpit can make you feel. But by staying onsite with only a short walk downstairs to the fully equipped theatre, via the kitchen (with teabags aplenty), we completely bypassed all of the stressful day-to-day things that can have a detrimental effect on your creativity.

We must say that up until this week of R&D we were always a little sceptical of how productive it can be to be locked away in a rehearsal room with no outside influences. Ok, so we weren’t staying in a wooden shack in the middle of nowhere, but still we always worried that any kind of isolation could potentially make the work a bit self-indulgent. But the creative retreat at The Point was the perfect balance for us – quiet enough that we made huge developments to our new piece, but we also had the opportunity to meet with staff and engage with a local nursery group which massively helped with our audience development.

After our brilliant week at The Point, we returned to Stratford Circus, which is becoming a bit of a home from home when creating new work. We love Stratford Circus and always receive great support, especially from the technical team. But being back in the city soon began to take its toll on our productivity, all of a sudden we went back to worrying about which train to catch and how long it would take to drive the set over in the morning traffic, – basically we were distracted. It took us a day or two but things soon picked up and we managed to make significant developments to the piece which we then shared with a local school group.

This sharing again highlighted how different locations can affect the work; whilst the first group at The Point were very well behaved and perhaps a little tentative, the group at Stratford Circus were positively raucous. The different audience responses will help us develop our work further, and highlight the importance of still engaging with London venues and audiences as we look to expand into other areas of the country.

Whilst the piece is a little way from being finished, we are already seeing the benefits of creating work in a variety of locations. We hope that this way of working will make the piece more accessible to a broader range of young audiences. It’s not necessarily all about the buzz of the city.

Photo by Flickr user _dChris under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre

Filskit Theatre are an all-female ensemble with a passion for micro-projection. The company, Sarah Gee, Katy Costigan and Victoria Dyson, have been making work together since 2008. As graduates of the European Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford they were brought together by their shared love of projection and cake.

More Posts - Website

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