Last week, George had ventured to the Farm on his own to start work on our latest children’s theatre piece, the working title of which was ‘Shadow Stories’. Not really knowing what to expect on the farm, I set off from Devon on Sunday 30th August armed with my wellies, jumpers and waterproof jacket. The farm was in a beautiful location, far from civilisation. Upon my arrival, George and I dumped our bags in our Yurt and set straight to work. Our rehearsal space was in the main barn, a lovely little corner of creativity lit by fairy lights. With the space being so isolated, it was easy to work without distraction and so we began to devise straight away, surrounded only by the doves in the rafters.
During week 1, George had written a script for the piece and as is the case with most Devising Processes, we spent the first few hours pulling the script apart and devising new material. We decided that the main story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ would be framed by two clown-like characters John and Sally and so we began to experiment with different scenarios for the two storytellers to be in, experimenting with how they would start telling the story through the medium of shadow puppetry. Together, the two of us then set out on the task of creating our shadow puppets and so we spent many hours with scissors and card experimenting with animal shapes and detailing. After a busy day of making and devising, we sat down to dinner with the other two companies. This was a lovely opportunity to share ideas and experiences and there was a lovely community atmosphere across the camp.
We started day two much like how we ended day one, with the creation of a few more shadow puppets. Once we had made enough shadow puppets to start playing, we set up our backdrop and created the shadow frame for the action. Once we had the materials, it was easy to start devising and playing with the script, ideas flowed freely and we soon came up with the opening section for the piece. There was a real breakthrough in Day Two, when George and I devised some Indian Dance and Chanting to accompany the shadow storytelling. This gave us a stronger feel for the world we were entering into and we soon could plan the structure for the whole piece. The showing was programmed for Day Three and so we spent the evening of Day Two in the space, rehearsing and devising our material as well as preparing our presentation. Sam was also on hand during Day Two to offer his advice and give us some feedback on our piece. This was extremely useful and provided us with even more ideas for the future development of the project.
Day three was showing day and so all three companies were up early and rehearsing in the space. Despite the terrible weather, the moral was high and we were all excited to share our work with one another. We had an industry session in the morning, which gave us the opportunity to pitch our work to a programmer, who gave us some confidence in our idea. The whole process on the farm seemed well supported and everyone was kind and willing to help us in our venture. With help during our industry session we came up with a title for the piece ‘The Ugly Duckling and Other Tales’. The showing was in the afternoon, but the time soon came. Many programmers from venues across the South East were there to watch the performances, this was both exciting and terrifying. Snickleway were first to perform, then us and then All In Productions. What surprised me the most about the showing was how different all three pieces were. All three pieces were innovative and exciting and I was so happy that new work like this was being produced for young audiences. George and I were pleased with how our showing went, we had produced a sample of work in a short space of time and were certainly given encouragement to continue with the idea. After the showing, we had the opportunity to hear feedback on our piece and talk to the programmers about our work, something that I have never had the opportunity to do before. We went to bed on Day 3 rather exhausted but there was a buzz of excitement from all three companies, eager to know what the future held for their projects.
The focus of Day Four was on Marketing. We had another industry session on the Thursday which was the perfect opportunity for George and I to focus on how we will market Above Bounds and our product. George and I really enjoyed thinking about ways of getting our work out to an audience and learnt so much about Data Capture and Press Releases. After our marketing session, we spent a few hours planning our marketing strategy and coming up with ideas for the future development of the piece; where we would develop it next and where we hoped to tour it in the future. These are things that will take time to establish but we no longer felt completely daunted by the prospect of it. We also spoke about the future of the company, developing a website and improving our poster designs.
The final day on the farm and hadn’t the week whizzed by! We packed up in the morning, filming some of our work before taking down our set. It felt strange to take the set down after a week focusing so heavily on it, it had become part of the space! We had a session in the morning with Sam Worboys focused on making an Arts Council Application. Neither George nor I have ever completed an Arts Council Application before but this is something we would like to do before the year is out. We put together a plan of applying for an Arts Council Grant for R&D of our piece, which venues we would approach about collaborating and how we would involve our target audience and the community in the project. After this, I felt rather overwhelmed by the amount of information there was to take in but we made some notes and left the farm feeling prepared for the future.
My week on the farm had been fantastic, never have I had an experience like this before, a space to simply focus on one project with the distraction of other work. It was also a lovely opportunity to meet similar companies who were also producing work for Children. The whole farm was a safe space to explore and learn, under the direction of some fantastic practitioners and industry professionals.
Thank you Sam Worboys for having Above Bounds on your Retreat 2015 and we look forward to working with you again in the future. Here’s to future retreats and providing young companies with a space to develop and learn without fear of failure.