A to Z

This morning I sang on top of a church tower (video evidence below). It was to celebrate May Day and we (6 of us) sang Madrigals from 6am-6.30am to a remarkably large and wonderfully supportive ground-level audience of around 40 people. I worked out, on emerging from the tower, that I had just performed on my highest stage to date. This, coupled with the 64 Million Artists’ A to Z challenge this week, got me thinking about the range of places I have been lucky enough to make theatre and music.

For the list below, I limited myself to one entry per letter. I was amazed at how many places I had to leave out – and I only struggled on a  small number of letters (J, Q and X). Every one of the places on the list conjures up so many faces and memories for me. (You all know who you are if you are reading this!) Looking forward to adding more places and spaces in future…

A – Archbishop Hutton Primary School

B – Big Top Theatre Tent

C – churches

D – the Dell, Stratford-upon-avon

E – Eden Festival

F – Fun Palace (Lancaster Library)

G – the Grand Theatre

H – Hall, Leighton

I – Inns (pubs!)

J – Just wherever

K – Kendal streets and yards

L – London

M – Moscow

N – National Trust property

O – outdoors

P – prisons

Q – quiet corners

R – the Round (The Dukes, Lancaster)

S – Shire Hall, Lancaster Castle

T – town centres

U – universities

V – village halls

W – Warton

X – eXciting places – on this list and more

Y – Youth clubs

Z – zoo

And here’s evidence of the tower this morning:

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Off We Go Again!

“A change is as good as a rest,” they say – and in many ways, I subscribe to this philosophy, loving my ever-changing work and not often really tiring. However, at least once a year I do try to take a full, proper break to recharge the batteries and this year’s rest was two weeks in the south of England, mostly Cornwall. We spent our time catching up with friends and family and seeing some of the most beautiful countryside and coastline in the world – including the Minack Theatre, a spectacular theatre to which I would love to bring a production…: a great holiday!

So, now it’s back to work time. Lancaster Fun Palace – back for the third year and part of the brilliant national Fun Palaces movement (www.funpalaces.co.uk) is the next major event on the schedule in 3 weeks’ time. It’s looking very exciting already – ukuleles, storytelling, hands-on maths, dance, singing, crafts, juggling  and much, much more… I can’t wait!

elaru xx

Tomorrow…

I’ve been in rather a state of shock since yesterday morning – and I know I’m joined in that by people from every part of the political spectrum. What a strange new world we are living in.

This afternoon, I had the chance to escape into Fairyland for a few hours as I rehearsed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the final time before our first performance tomorrow. I relished it. It was wonderful – helpful – to be in Shakespeare’s Athenian wood, where all kinds meet, share experience, change. It reminded me, again, of the power of theatre; the power of community; the power of laughter; the power of possibility. And I emerged more hopeful and peaceful. We are a complicated, flawed life-form (no-one knew that better than Shakespeare), but I believe we will find a way forward from this divisive time and, though there are certainly many, many challenges ahead I am no longer (quite as) fearful of all our tomorrows…

 

elaru xx

Time For Some Fun!

Drawing for all at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014.

Drawing for all at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014.

There are just 24 days to go until the second ever Fun Palace weekend.

The Reading Robot advertises Lancaster's 2014 Fun Palace

The Reading Robot advertises Lancaster’s 2014 Fun Palace

If you’ve somehow missed the Fun Palace movement, here’s a brief description/history:

” Fun Palaces is an annual, free, nationwide celebration of arts and culture, driven by localism, innovation and engagement, with a core passion to encourage communities to create by and for themselves. Fun Palaces shouts, sings, shimmies, stomps from the rooftops: arts and sciences, all culture, is a crucial part of human life, and they are truly glorious.

Inspired by theatre director Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price’s never-built vision of the Fun Palace; one venue for all arts and sciences, engaging and welcoming for all, Fun Palaces sees Makers across the UK and worldwide creating their own ‘pop-up’ Fun Palaces. 

On 4 & 5 October 2014, 138 venues, communities and locations created Fun Palaces, with over 3000 local people taking on the role of Fun Palace Makers – leading, making, creating in their own communities.

On 3 & 4 October 2015 we welcome even more involvement and engagement from even more people keen to make a difference. Fun Palaces is not just about the weekend, it is about coming together to create, celebrating localism and community in the everyday.”

The above text comes from the national Fun Palace website and lots and lots more information can be found there: http://www.funpalaces.co.uk

Bessie Blue at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014

Bessie Blue at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014

I’m heavily involved in helping to make Lancaster’s Fun Palace, housed in the fantastic Lancaster Library, and am getting excited about the events our Fun Palace will include on the first weekend of October. So far, we have a wide range confirmed, including:

  • – hands-on maths – “Build your own Structures”
  • – a variety of music – percussion, ukuleles, singing (and sing-a-long) and much more
  • – dancing workshops
  • – art and craft of all kinds – making mandalas and lanterns, large scale art, comic flip etc

 – physics and astronomy demonstrations/workshops

 – creative writing workshops

 – spoken word, storytelling and performances, including “Stories from the Souk” and “Portal 2 by 2”

Drawing fun at Lancsaster Fun Palace 2014

Drawing fun at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014

And more is still in the pipeline… Almost all the activities should be suitable for a wide range of ages, from novice to experienced and a timetable for the weekend will be published soon. Look out for it!

ELART productions is providing theatre games for families early on the Saturday afternoon and a little later will be working with anyone who comes along to put together a “Play in an Afternoon”. We’ll perform our play (!) at 6pm on the 3rd of October…

2014FunPalace1

There is still PLENTY of time to get involved. See our facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/LancasterFunPalace?fref=ts – or twitter feed @lancasterfunpal for even more details. Or contact us on lancasterfp@gmail.com – We’re open to all ideas and people!

Ukulele orchestra at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014

Ukulele orchestra at Lancaster Fun Palace 2014

It seems as if Lancaster Fun Palace is growing and growing, which is a fantastic feeling. Please don’t miss it – and tell ALL your friends! And if you’re nowhere near Lancaster, find your nearest Fun Palace on the national website and join them.

Grassroots, community, movements of this kind are vitally important in the current times. Be part of it! And have FUN!

elaru xx

To Kill A ….

“What’s on your mind?” asks wordpress as I move my cursor into the quick draft box.

Well, wordpress, since you ask, today I’ve been thinking a great deal about literature, education and vision (or lack of). As a teacher of English in adult education (my work alongside directing plays), these issues often occupy my thoughts, but rarely quite the way they have today.

I imagine most people reading this, will know what has provoked my contemplation – if you’ve been on twitter you can hardly have missed it: the announcement by the exam board OCR that they are dropping “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “The Crucible” and “Of Mice and Men”, among others, in response to the Department of Education’s desire to make the GCSE in English literature more “focused on tradition”. According to the BBC news website (where all the quotations in this post come from) a spokesperson for the Department of Education says that, “In the past, English Literature GCSEs were not rigorous enough and their content was often far too narrow. We published the new subject content for English Literature in December. It doesn’t ban any authors, books or genres. It does ensure pupils will learn about a wide range of literature, including at least one Shakespeare play, a 19th century novel written anywhere and post-1914 fiction or drama written in the British Isles.
That is only the minimum pupils will be expected to learn.”

Now, I genuinely have no problem with the idea of tradition, or studying British authors for at least part of the course – I can’t imagine any country wouldn’t insist upon some of its own being studied, and rightly so – but it saddens me hugely that the current regime seems to be unaware of the value in studying modern texts and texts which originated in other countries – especially such important ones as “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “The Crucible” (anyone who has been with my blog since the start, will know exactly how I feel about that particular play!). Both have an enormous amount to say to young readers about social injustices and integrity – so important in today’s world.

Additionally, it is all very well for the Department of Education to say they are not banning any authors etc, but by insisting on such a weighty set-text haul (Shakespeare, 2 novels and poetry) there will be very, very little time for teachers to introduce anything else – or, indeed, to work meaningfully and creatively with just the texts that have to be covered. This, to me, feels much narrower than any previous syllabus I have ever taught.

And what about the students in the classroom? Some of the most able will certainly cope with the demands of Victorian novels etc and will, hopefully, enjoy the challenge. But what about the middle and lower ability? Although I myself – with Gove – am a fan of Hardy, Dickens, Eliot etc, it shouldn’t be about me and my taste (or Gove’s). Many teenagers and adult learners will struggle tremendously and I really fear that this may negatively affect how they approach reading of any sort in later life.

By killing off “To Kill A Mockingbird”, Gove and his department may well find they are killing off a great deal more…

elaru

A Riddle

Question: What do a Tibetan singing bowl, a fabric baby, some military mesh, a tree branch and Seikilos Epitaph – the oldest complete piece of music in the world – have in common?

Answer: They’re all being used in The Rose Company’s production of Iphigenia, which opens at Lancaster Castle on Tuesday!

OK. It wasn’t a great riddle. Sorry.

Still, have a look at the rehearsal pictures below – all taken today – and see how many of the aforementioned items you can see…

 

 

Achilles and Clytemnestra
Achilles and Clytemnestra

Achilles and Menelaus
Achilles and Menelaus

Achilles
Achilles

Clytemnestra and Senex
Clytemnestra and Senex

Agamemnon and Clytemnestra
Agamemnon and Clytemnestra

Agamemnon and Menelaus
Agamemnon and Menelaus

Messenger and Agamemnon
Agamemnon and Messenger

Agamemnon's servant
Senex

A wonder!
“A wonder!”

Image

The cast (minus a poorly Iphigenia – get well soon, Catherine!).

 

 

Well, better go. I have to perfect my Tibetan singing bowl technique…

elaru xx

Accessing Shakespeare

I don’t know Sir Nicholas Hytner. (I met him once and babbled incoherently at him through nerves, so I hope he doesn’t remember me.) However, as a theatre director myself, though ever such a lowly one, I can imagine that at the very least he feels irritated by an article that has been feverishly circulating twitter and facebook today.

The article has the sub-heading “National Theatre director Nicholas Hytner admitted he found performances of the Bard’s works confusing – and he’s not alone” (taken from theguardian.com) and goes on to say that much of Shakespeare is essentially incomprehensible to most people and that only via reading it on the page can anyone hope to understand it fully.

Researching a little further, I discovered what I think is the original source used to cite Hytner as being unable to understand Shakespeare. It’s an interview on the Radio Times’ website, which has the excited sub-heading “For the first ten minutes I sit there thinking ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’ and I’m the director of the National Theatre”. It goes on, however, to say:

“Speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Hytner revealed, “For the first ten minutes I sit there thinking ‘I don’t know what they’re talking about’ and I’m the director of the National Theatre. But I think, 15 minutes in, most people have tuned in.”

“Most people have tuned in.” I think that needs repeating. Very different then, from the tone of the article I read earlier today.

To get onto one of my soapboxes, Shakespeare wrote all his plays to be performed, not read. He wrote them using the language of the stage and, as long as the director, cast and crew work hard to understand that language themselves and then perform it truthfully, they will carry an audience with them and understanding will naturally occur. It will. I’ve experienced it countless times on both sides of the fourth wall and with performers and audiences who have had vastly different levels of Shakespearian experience – from complete novice to expert.

I’m going to give the final word to Hytner. This is again taken from The Radio Times interview, but this didn’t merit being highlighted in the sub-heading.

“The best way for anybody being introduced to Shakespeare is to see it well acted. If the actors are alive in it, it gets through.”

Hear hear!

elaru xx