The ‘Beast from the East’ and storm Emma meant that my Friday was an unusual one. Instead of going into College and teaching my Performing Arts degree students I was stuck at home – literally snowed in.
I managed to get several administrative tasks done in connection with the Little Black Fish project and I realised that I am communicating with well over 20 people to make this project come together, from the Tiny Owl Publishing Company, to the Hay Festival, to the Fetch Theatre company, to communicating with at least 4 Course Leaders from various courses, as well as the Marketing team at Hereford College of Arts, to the individual students who are involved in the project and who are currently making the various characters for our performance.
Looking at the character list and who is making which character ‘the neighbour fish’ is one character that has currently not been allocated to anyone. The neighbour fish was envisaged by Purvin and myself as a wool ball that is in the process of being knitted into a black sock. This would make the unfinished sock still have the 3 or 4 knitting needles stuck in it. Given that the neighbour fish isn’t a particularly pleasant character we thought that the knitting needles could make the little black unfinished sock look quite fierce.
My mother is great at knitting socks and currently visiting me from Germany. With the snow also having her stuck in the house what better way of spending your time than knitting a sock?
Sadly I only found a small ball of wool in the house, so I contacted my lovely neighbour and found that she indeed did have some wool available.
A quick visit (after spending a good half an hour wrapping up warm and finding a method of transportation) meant that the work on the ‘neighbour fish’ could begin.
A couple of hours later…here is the first complete character for the Little Black Fish performance.
Today’s task: Making puppets at the Fetch workshop in Leominster.
Due to the snow warnings, today has started later than expected. We have, however, managed to get to the workshop in Leominster and a group of Hereford College of Arts BA(hons) degree Contemporary Design Craft and Performing Arts students have continued the work on the giant puppets that we are creating – a crab and a pelican.
Jess has also started creating the face of the ‘little old lady’ puppet who will be imagining and telling the story of the ‘Little Black Fish‘ throughout the performance.
The day was incredibly productive with the crab now having 8 legs and the pelican having a head and a couple of feet.
We are having to work quick and think on our feet using materials available that are light, so that our giant puppets don’t end up weighing a ton.
We have left the workshop with the glue on our hands that just can’t be scrubbed off and smiles on our faces with the knowledge that our creatures are taking shape.
Today’s production meeting has been super productive. In preparation for the meeting BA(Hons) Performing Arts student Andy Sims had worked through ‘The Little Black Fish’ story and created a draft script that we can work from once rehearsals begin in April.
We also used the script to determine the characters that will need to be created in preparation for our 4-5 week rehearsals.
We discussed how the puppetry will tell the story and how the various characters will come to life and transform throughout. Set design ideas were discussed and a clear list of things we need established.
We spent the first 35 minutes or discussing the two characters that we wanted to work on – a crab and a pelican that are to be created into two very large puppets. Purvin made some quick sketches as a result of the conversation and some pictures of the animals were looked at. Then back to the workshop to commence the task for the students and back to College for me.
A few hours later I returned to the workshop to find these having been made:
…how very exciting is that.
Both the pelican and the crab now have a body structure.
I was struck by how much could be created and made in just a few hours. The students I met on my return to the workshop were equally excited about their creation and very keen to return next week to continue to work on their ‘beasts’.
Today Hereford College of Arts BA(Hons) degree students from Performing Arts, Textiles and Contemporary Design Craft Design came together to be introduced and guided by Andrew Purvin (Artistic Director of the Fetch Theatre Company) to three different forms of puppetry:
Bunraku (a form of Japanese puppetry)
Shadow puppetry and
Throughout the day the students got to operate and play with all three types of puppets to understand how to bring the various puppets to life.
The workshop formed a very important part of the project, as Contemporary Design Craft and Textile students will be creating puppets for the rehearsal and performance of ‘The Little Black Fish’ and therefore need to have an understanding of how puppets work, as this will inform their design decisions.
All students created short puppetry performances in groups that were shared with their peers at the end of the day using all three forms of puppetry.
Playing and experimenting with the puppets
A fantastic first day that has inspired some students to take up the challenge to make puppets for the performance of The Little Black Fish that will be presented at the Hay Festival.
I am now looking forward to having more in-depth meetings with Purvin, James Smith (CDC) and Claire Andreson (Textiles) to see how we can shape this story into a performance.
The Tiny Owl Publishing company has provided us with the story of ‘The Little Black Fish’ by Samad Behrangi, illustrated by Parshid Nesghali. The book was winner of the Hans Christian Anderson Awards for Illustration and was listed under ‘Best Books 2015’ by the Guardian.
The aim of the project is to create a 30 minute performance for children based upon the story that will be performed at the Hay Festival in May 2018.
The story follows the journey of the little black fish who is curious about what lies beyond the stream in which it lives with its fellow fish, who, all advice against leaving the safety of the stream. The little black fish encounters numerous characters along his way, some to be intrigued by, some to be feared.
Performing Art students will be involved in the creation of the performance, with support from Andrew Purvin from The Fetch Theatre Company and myself. We are also being supported by Contemporary Design Craft and Textile students, who are helping with the creation of puppets and set. Music students will be involved in developing the soundscape for the performance. As you can tell this is going to be a major collaborative task that overlaps disciplines and forces students to interact and think beyond their own subject area.
After several planning conversations and emails a time frame for our project has been developed and I look forward to the process of creating a new piece of theatre using puppetry for the Hay Festival.
The last couple of weeks have been busy with preparing for the 3000 chairs performances taking place at the Hay Festival on 28th May and 31st May 2017. Both performances sold out within 6 days! An audio recording from the festival performances can be listened to here.
The collaboration between Director – Claire Coache, Writer – Nicola Davies, Set Designer and Illustrator – Andrew Graham, Costume Designer – Meg Swancott and the Performing Arts students – Annie Grainger, Tommy Ryan, Andy Sims, Molly Glover and Bethan Parry has been a journey of creativity, making something out of nothing, learning and discovery.
Problems arising along the way have been dealt with quickly…such as the technological hitches of not being used to using a Mac-book, and the white screens on which a tree kept on appearing from underneath the paint!
The collaboration has been a very organic process throughout which ideas have developed within the structure found in Nicola’s poem ‘The day war came’.
Movement material was developed using chairs and then big cardboard boxed and overlaid with script and illustrations.
This was followed by the overlay of musical accompaniment.
Andrew Graham also created an animation video, with my very own Ada-Lana voicing over:
Audience members were visibly moved by the performance today and made their way to the ‘Make and Take’ tent to create, sketch and draw pictures of a single chair. These images will be auctioned in 2018, as part of Nicola Davies book launch to raise money for the child refugee crisis – in particular the funds will be directed to educational work in refugee camps to enable children to continue their education.