SS Peter and Paul Primary School. Dundee. Scotland
2nd and 3rd November 2015
Aspirations – ‘The Game of Life’
I must thank Colm Molloy, who was in his final year of teacher training at Dundee University and had worked at SS Peter and Paul. So when I was looking to work in Dundee a mutual friend put us in touch and I am very thankful she did, as the experience was incredibly positive and rewarding for everyone involved. The school clearly gained as much from the experience as we hoped they would. Evidence of this was described by the teachers and children alike, which you can read in our ‘Testimonial’ section.
Prior to the workshop taking place I had several email conversations with Debbie Gallagher the head teacher, who described the children from years 4 and 5 that we would be working with as “an enthusiastic wee bunch” and she wasn’t wrong. We were made to feel so welcome by all the staff and the children were a pleasure to work with. They all took to the theme of ‘Aspirations’ with enthusiasm and creativity and the end result was simply fantastic. The icing on the cake was the fact that so many parents came to the final performance and gave such positive feedback; everyone involved felt a huge sense of pride and achievement.
Newburgh Primary School, Warwick.
17th and 18th November 2015
World War 1 – ‘Life in the Trenches’.
It’s always a pleasure to deliver our workshops at home and we have St Mary’s Hall Town Trust to thank for their generous donation which enabled us to deliver one of our two-day Musical workshops focusing on the theme of World War one, at Newburgh Primary School.
I really enjoy this workshop, as unlike many, it is based on factual events. Through sharing real letters from soldiers home to their families, it conjures a huge sense of realism, emotion and understanding, which in turn encourages this young age group to feel empathy and pride for soldiers and their families back then, but also today.
When children work with us, they know immediately that being professional is a requirement and one they all must comply with throughout the process. Due to the poignancy and serious nature of this Musicals message, it is more important then ever that the performers work extra hard to ensure the sensitive subject matter is shown the respect it deserves. I am very happy to report that our cast at Newburgh fully complied and exceeded our expectations when depicting the lives of these soldiers. Both individual and group performances were incredibly moving and inspiring.
After such a productive rehearsal period, it wasn’t surprising that the show quality was exceptionally high and left me feeling incredibly moved, proud and rewarded by the students achievements, a feeling that was echoed by the school staff, great numbers of parents and one of the Governors from the Trust.
Bishops Tawton Primary School. Barnstaple, Devon.
3rd and 4th May 2016
Respect – ‘Cirque Du Respect’
What a great start to a four-day stint in Barnstaple. I was already feeling positive, waking up surrounded by the most beautiful coastal scenery in Devon and driving through such aesthetically beautiful rural landscape to Bishops Tawton Primary School which turned out to be the prettiest little school, surrounded by gorgeous gardens and farm yard smells. The fact that we had perfect blue skies just made it all the more idyllic. On this occasion we would be working with children from years 3, 4 and 5. I agreed to include the younger age group as the school said they were very capable and they weren’t wrong. After a very short space of time, we were feeling very optimistic and excited for what was to come.
I was however a little nervous to deliver this workshop, as it would be the first time that we would perform our popular Musical – Cirque Du Respect as a two-day version. It’s one thing adapting/shortening a script on paper, but you never can 100% tell if it will work until you get the performers to bring it to life. So we were piling on the pressure, in an already very pressurised situation. Luckily the children were all such stars, they worked so hard in and out of the rehearsal room and made the process enjoyable and exciting, I couldn’t have asked for better Guinea Pigs!
We took a risk including year 3 students in this process, as from previous experiences we have ascertained that our high standards and unrelenting expectations and goals, can prove too advanced for the youngest members of KS2. I can confirm, this did not apply here at Bishops Tawton. Not only did the younger pupils keep up with the high standards set by the older students, in one case they surpassed them, which resulted in a year 3 being cast as one of the four principal parts. This was a huge achievement for this individual student and an inspiration to all her peers.
The show was performed to large number of parents and was met with overwhelming praise. I couldn’t have been happier with the show, I feel we all worked hard to create and shape this two-day version which now tours the country and impacts so many children and school communities. Thanks Bishops Tawton, we are so grateful for everything you helped us achieve with this script.
Yeo Valley Primary School. Barnstaple, Devon.
5th and 6th May 2016
Respect – ‘Cirque Du Respect’
Day 3 in Devon and time to meet the next school and see what their take would be on the same show: ‘Cirque Du Respect’. As far as location, Yeo Valley was far bigger than Bishops Tawton and introduced us to the urban side of Barnstaple. The day got off to a great start, as we thoroughly enjoyed walking into the hall and seeing a Yeo Valley yoghurt pot by the piano. I don’t think it was premeditated but it tickled us none the less. But enough of the silliness, it was time to get down to business. We discovered early on when talking to various members of staff, that the children here are very unfamiliar with performing, even in the form of classroom assemblies, performing and the music has a limited role within their children’s education. At first this was quite surprising to me, as I could see very quickly that all the children were thoroughly enjoying themselves and taking the pressures of being outside of their comfort zones extremely well and in some cases actually excelling. As the workshop continued however, it was evident that this unfamiliar way of working and expressing themselves was creating anxiety and this in some cases resulted in unruly negative behaviour, which we rarely see in this environment. To everyone’s testament, these hurdles were overcome and we were able to produce a performance, which was enjoyed by a large audience. It wasn’t completely without mistakes, but it was an excellent starting point and proved to certainly us and the teachers involved how important the creative curriculum is to a child’s development and how it should be part of every child’s education in conjunction with their academic learning.
Ashleigh C of E Primary School. Barnstaple, Devon.
22nd and 23rd May 2016
Respect – ‘Cirque Du Respect’
It was a pleasure to be back in Devon and it was a hat trick in every way as Ashleigh too had chosen our respect themed musical: ‘Cirque Du Respect’. With the help of the two previous schools in Devon, we had fine tuned the new two-day version of the musical and I was excited to see how the cast at Ashleigh would tell this story which focuses on acceptance, celebrating difference and treating others as you would want to be treated yourself.
Like with many of our workshops, if the children follow and use the messages within the show whilst they are working with us, in this case working well as a team and being considerate of others, the end result is much more likely to be a success.
Thankfully the cast at Ashleigh took all of these values on board and they worked really hard over the two days, which resulted in a show everyone was very proud off.
Huge thanks to The Bridge Trust for their generous donation, which enabled us to deliver all three workshops in Devon, we thoroughly enjoyed our time here and experiencing the diversity within the town of Barnstaple.
Woodloes Primary School
7th and 8th June 2016
Aspirations – ‘The Game of Life’
I was so excited for this workshop for several reasons; firstly we were back in Warwick, secondly St Mary’s Hall Town Trust were once again enabling us to work at Woodloes due to their generous donation and thirdly this show would be used as the year 6 leavers production, so the pressure was on, just how we like it!
When we walked into the school on the first day, we were made to feel so welcome, both the year 6 teachers, Mrs Richards-Jones and Mrs Barlow are a credit to the school and were incredibly supportive throughout the process.
The overwhelming feeling after day one was how well behaved the children were, but almost to the point where I felt they were holding back a little. We all believed it was a confidence issue, so with consistent reassurance and encouragement, we were able to build each child’s self-belief and create an environment where they felt safe and supported enough to express themselves.
On day two, it was evident that their confidence and comfort levels had risen, coupled with the commitment each child had put in over night; learning their lines, moves and songs, we all started to believe this was going to work out. By lunchtime we were thrilled at the progress and were confident the show would be success, which it was. That’s usually where the journey ends…but not this time. As I mentioned this show was being used as the year 6 leavers production, which wasn’t taking place until the 20th July. Thankfully, the staff recorded the show, so the children and staff were able to rehearse in the month we would be apart, this was essential, as we would only have just over an hour on the morning of the show to refresh and polish before the audience arrived.
We always strive for perfection with everything we do, but this production carried the added pressure of being the last thing the year 6 students would ever do at Woodloes and would be the parting gift to their parents and teachers to celebrate and be thankful for the six years they spent at primary school. I think if I didn’t feel completely supported by the teachers I would have been more concerned, but it was clear that everyone felt the same and was going to do everything in their power to make the show the best it could be.
The morning rehearsal was intensive, as although everyone had remembered the show, their delivery, perhaps once again due to confidence was only at 50%. Thankfully we weren’t strangers to the children this time around and it didn’t take long for them to step up their game and hit the standards we knew they could achieve. The show went up to incredible praise and was a perfect celebration of their hard work and commitment, not only to the production, but also to their entire school career so far.
We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience and everyone got so much from it, that we are already planning how we can repeat the process next year and hopefully for many years to come.
Winton Primary School. Islington, London
20th - 24th June 2016
Save our Planet – “The Bigfoots V’s The Tinytoes"
It is safe to say our relationship with everyone at Winton Primary School is special, firmly cemented and one we both agree will be nurtured for as long as we are both operating. Going back each year is such a treat and a genuine highlight of my working calendar. It should really be getting easier each year and in some ways it is, as the children know what is expected of them, their singing has continued to improve each year and all the staff know exactly what the production teams need to produce and continue to raise the bar with the quality of the props, costumes and marketing material year on year. (This year particularly had the wow factor).
That said, the pressure for me to continue to write and produce better shows, to surpass the year before and match the quality of the staff and children at Winton, is a huge undertaking and one I take very seriously.
This June saw us return to Winton for the FOURTH year!!!! So, how was I going to be able to improve upon last years spectacular – ‘Cirque Du Respect’? Then it came to me. Why not add a totally new dimension into the mix, in the form of a multi-media production. It seemed ambitious, but everyone who knows me, knows I never shy away from a challenge, so it was settled. This year our show will be a combination of live theatre and film, which would be interspersed throughout the show which this year focused on the subject of our Carbon Footprint and how important it is for everyone to protect our planet by being eco-friendly.
This show took so much planning as we would still only have the normal five-days to produce it, added to which Colin our camera man only had one day to film all 47 scenes in 20 locations to enable him the time to edit the footage ready for Friday’s shows.
I knew if this was going to be successful it would take military precision planning and organisation prior to and on the day, which I did, but it was still one, if not the most challenging days of my career so far. Running around London with Colin and up to 20 children at a time in tow, I likened myself to a modern day ‘Challenge Anneka’. But against all odds we did it, without having to rethink or cut a single scene we filmed all 47 scenes between the school hours of 9:30am and 3:15pm. When I shouted cut at the end of scene 47 on the dot of 3:15pm to say I was relieved, proud and quite astonished was an understatement!
The rest of the week saw familiarity return until the final day, as our open dress rehearsal was going to be the first time anyone, including the cast, would see and in their case work with the film…..nothing like a bit of pressure to start the day. We also had left the operation of the film in the capable hands of a year 6 student, which was a risk, but thankfully it paid off.
I could not be more proud of the hard work and commitment everyone put in to make the show (in my words and everyone else’s) the best yet!!!!
That said there is still definite room for improvement, certainly in the format of the filming schedule and quality of the final cut, but as a pilot project I couldn’t be more reassured and proud and I’m so thankful it was Winton who was able to share and contribute to this latest development within the Arts Insight programme.
Next year is already in the planning stages; it will be another multi-media production, this time returning to the original classic we brought to Winton in year 1 – ‘Captain Health and his Fitness Crusaders’. This revamped version will certainly help get the message of healthy lifestyle choices into the streets of Islington and hopefully beyond!! Here’s to year five, I can’t wait.
Newington Primary School. Newington Green, London.
27th June - 1st July 2016
Respect – ‘Cirque Du Respect’
If you read my write-ups, you will discover that I like to talk about ‘firsts’, well this ‘first’ was a first in it’s own right, as this occurred before the project even started. Due to last minute planning, we had no choice but to produce this show back to back with the Winton five-day event that took place the week before. An incredible challenge and one that I won’t rush to repeat, but it was good to know it can be done (only however after a weekend of vowed silence to ensure I had a voice).
Andrew Rigby, the head teacher at Winton, must be thanked for our introduction to Newington Green and I’m so grateful for it, as everything about the process was inspiring, from the incredibly welcoming and dedicated staff, the unbelievable facilities and of course the children themselves, which all contributed to an exceptionally successful and enjoyable week and one I know positively impacted every single person involved.
The school chose our Respect themed Musical – ‘Cirque Du Respect’. And although this was the first time this school had ever been involved in such a project, it wasn’t obvious. The singing and more importantly focus and commitment from the children in every single morning assembly and afternoon choir rehearsal was second to none. Dan and I were blown away by this, especially as there were so many children in each session. That said this professionalism wasn’t always matched by the cast, they challenged everyone with their spirit, but thankfully we were able to nurture this and use it to our advantage, reminding everyone to listen, observe and follow the message of the piece – to respect themselves, each other and the adults in charge.
It didn’t take long for the team spirit to take hold and professionalism to increase. As with all our five-day projects, as the week progresses so does the creation and therefore arrival of all the props and costumes. This in itself boosts everyone’s team spirit and pride and ensures everyone keeps pushing to achieve their best and create a fantastic production.
As I’ve already mentioned, so many things at Newington Green surpassed my expectations, for a first workshop the props, costumes, photography and marketing were all executed to such a high standard, it really was inspiring for us to witness it.
On the final production day the excitement amongst everyone was palpable. Both shows had more audience members than we had seats for and to add to everyone’s anxiety we had VIP’s attending thanks to the incredible efforts of the marketing department and our ASM’s. In attendance in the morning was the Mayor of Islington, Councillor Kat Fletcher. In the afternoon we were joined by The Hackney Speaker, Councillor Rosemary Sales.
I know everyone at the school echoes my feelings when I say how enjoyable, inspiring, challenging, creative, rewarding and ultimately successful this week was. What makes this strong start even more exciting is the fact that the school have already booked us for next year, so if we have reached this standard in the first year I literally can’t wait to see where this will go next year and hopefully for many years to come.
St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School, Salford.
13th, 14th and 15th July 2016
Respect – ‘Cirque Du Respect”
It’s now a tradition, admittedly a short one, but for the third year in a row our three-day workshop at St Thomas of Canterbury marks the end of our school year. What better way to celebrate our achievements and hard work over the past 12 months, than celebrate all that the year 6’s have achieved during their time at primary school, by producing their leavers production.
Like Winton Primary School in London, St Thomas of Canterbury holds a very special place in my heart, as I was lucky enough to visit this school with the late great Fergal, so it’s a great place to remember him with people and children who met and worked with him. It also really helps that the talent of these children is off the scale. Every year I’m convinced we peaked the year before, but every year the next group of children raise the bar further still, it’s remarkable and something I hope becomes a tradition also.
Like ‘Aspirations’ last year ‘Respect’ this year was such a fitting theme for the leavers production. Not only did we aim to produce a show that everyone involved could be proud of and was a fitting celebration of their time at St Thomas’s. I also hoped they would be able to take with them to secondary school some of the values the show focuses on such as acceptance, team work and the big one; respect.
As always our time here flew by. The rehearsals were both productive and inspiring. This year the quality of the singing and acting was excellent, added to which we saw a huge advancement in the sourcing of props, costumes and makeup. This meant more than ever before, when we got to the time for the final production I was more confident than ever that the show was going to be epic. I wasn’t wrong.
The final show was a fantastic celebration and showed the best of every single child. It’s an honour and a privilege to work with these children at such a poignant time in their lives. I look forward to it every year and look forward to the next one.