A bottle of happiness – week 1

This year’s Hay Festival project will again be created in collaboration with Tiny Owl Publishing. The publishing company have shared their book ‘A bottle of happiness’ written by Pippa Goodhart and inspiring illustrations by Ahsan Abdollahi with us to develop a children’s theatre performance that will be performed at the Hay Festival on 29th May 2019 in the Starlight tent (tickets to go on sale soon).

To create the performance the BA Performing Arts team, has teamed up with Artistic Director – Claire Coache – from Open Sky Theatre. Claire will be offering the Performing Arts students advice, feedback and direction throughout the development of the ‘Bottle of happiness’ production.

We have also teamed up with Contemporary Design Craft student Lilly Rishworth-Huppert to create a puppet and Ferel Smith to create the set.

Lilly has already been working hard on her dog puppet design, which will represent Pim in the performance.

Puppet mould


And she has kept us up-to-date with her progress – from the moulding of the head of Pim to the decorating of Pim, which has been heavily inspired by Abdollahi’s illustrations.

Puppet being decorated.jpeg

Music students are also collaborators on the project and we are hoping for live music to be taking place during the performance.

For our first rehearsal and development day we have Frantic Assembly running a full day workshop for movement inspiration that will feed into the project.



Little Black Fish rehearsal Day 7, 8 and 9

With set, puppets, actors and musicians in the rehearsal space our performance based on the Little Black Fish is developing.

The story has been broken down into scenes and after exploring how some of the characters can be created with the props we have now started working through the story chronologically.

There is the up, down and around dance, the river pool grove and we wouldn’t want to forget to mention the metal interlude of the crab.

The material is developing organically between text, musicians, performers and directors.

With less than 30 hours of rehearsals we are working quickly to ensue that everything comes together for our private view on 24th March, a week before it goes to the Hay Festival.

Little Black Fish Rehearsal Day 6

Hereford College of Arts students from the Contemporary Design Craft course with the support from Purvin, Artistic Director from The Fetch have completed two big puppets for our performance at the Hay Festival.

Jess (CDC student) has developed the head of the little old lady puppet, who will be representing the old fish of the little black fish story. Here Purvin is showing Jess the next steps that are needed in the making of her puppet.

The crab and the pelican were operated today by Performing Arts student Tommy Ryan. In this process the costume ideas developed…the puppeteers and performers will be dressed in shipmen outfits from the past.

Spending the morning experimenting and exploring allowed us to find movements for the puppets and develop ideas. Wool is going to play a big role throughout the entire telling of the story. Improvising with the wool has allowed us to develop the little old ladies background story. (The lady puppet in the photo below is a stand-in for now until Jess has completed her puppet).

She wakes to find herself in the midst of wool balls. She is unsure where she is, but soon sees stories in the balls of wool and chooses to tell the story of the black wool ball…that obviously represents the story of the little black fish.

Narration will take place throughout the performance, however where and at what points will be decided and developed throughout the rehearsals in May.

The opening scene was worked on and narration points were identified. It was a joy to welcome four Hereford College of Arts BA(hons) Popular Music students into the process, who straight away created melodies and sound scapes to the opening scene we had been working on. It is always fascinating to me how sound adds so much to the telling of a story.

The music students were then also introduced to the crab and pelican and sound and music ideas were improvised with and discussed and work on these will continue throughout the process. The creation of the sound is a two way conversation between puppeteer who is responding to the sound and the musicians responding to the actions of the puppeteer. Very organic way of working.

Working with Purvin is a joy and his creativity and attention to detail is inspiring. I very much look forward to commencing our rehearsal phase…I just have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime I will be busy sourcing furniture items needed for the set and more wool! (if you have any spare wool that is keen to perform at the Hay Festival please do get in touch!)

Until the next time.


Throughout Autumn 2017 I developed the project ‘James’ for HCA Dance students. The project involved the creation of a promenade performance of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, which was then performed at the Folly Arts Theatre, Hereford in December 2017.

James 2All students received Aerial Dance Training. Each dancer had a specific character to play from the book and developed the characters using Laban’s movement analysis with this, as well as animal study. The dancers were very much involved in the choreographic process and were able to make creative choices throughout.

One dancer created an amazing puppet to represent the grasshopper and Claire Coache from Open Sky Productions worked with the students on their puppetry skills to enhance the performance further.James 1

James was performed 4 times throughout the day in December 2017 to different audiences, including Primary Schools, Art College students and friends and family.

Small is beautiful: the case for working in a small, specialist institution


The dominant conversation around HE tends to take the position that providers are large, research-intensive institutions. Here, Gillian Hipp and Mia Gordon, Performing Arts Course Leaders at Hereford College of Arts argue the case that working for a small, specialist institution has particular advantages, including academic freedoms and a lack of disconnect between practice and scholarship. This argument makes the point that working in a small, specialist institution:

  • Allows you to be a practitioner, as well as an academic
  • Enables you and your students to be flexible and collaborative between disciplines
  • Has an integration with community which larger institutions may lack

When working for a small organisation it is easy to consider bigger HEI’s from a ‘grass is greener’ perspective. However, we feel incredibly fortunate to be working at Hereford College of Arts. The smaller institution enables an ethos of placing emphasis on the individual students that allows for their learning journey to develop into the direction that reflects their ambition. This mirrors the way in which staff are seen as individuals; each having their own ambitions and career journey. Emphasis is placed on us as teaching staff to engage with academia and being academic, but equally we are asked to be practitioners in our own right and in our own discipline. It can be argued that in some larger HEIs there is a perceived disconnect between ‘academic’ and ‘wider community’ .Academics may feel a separation and division between themselves as academics within academic establishments and the non-academic world – the non-academic world even being sometimes referred to as the ‘real world’.

As ‘academics’ ourselves (if a label is necessary) we find this notion of being divided and separate from the real world difficult to comprehend, but is this because we have engagement with our practice on a regular basis?

We are encouraged by the fact that HCA provides a place that combines academia and practice. As members of staff we are given the opportunity and encouragement to research, engage with academia, write papers and speak at conferences. We are equally encouraged to connect with our discipline as practitioners. This allows us to be creative and have an embodied sense of the discipline that we share with our students.

Working for a larger institution might have certain merits,  however conference experiences suggest, firstly, dissatisfaction within HE staff from larger institutions can feel at wanting to set up internal collaborative projects, but unable to find a way to do this. secondly, wanting to give students meaningful ‘real world’ experiences, yet struggling to collaborate with external agencies. This is, of course, not always the case, and some very good and inspiring examples of external collaborations are clearly taking place in some institutions across a range of departments and disciplines.

At HCA we do not have a problem in finding local and regional employers who want to collaborate with us; nor do we have any problem in facilitating cross-discipline collaboration at course level.  In fact, we find ourselves collaborating with multiple courses at the same time on the same project, that allow students to have an ‘in house’ real-world experience…although, of course, it is questionable what the term ‘real world’ actually means.

Our recent conference conversations have suggested that, if anything, collaborations which appear par for the course for HCA are considered fairly radical by staff from larger HEIs.  Such conversations have also caused us to reflect on our students behaviours – our experience at HCA suggests that the students themselves feel empowered and motivated to engage in collaborative projects without staff ‘introductions’ outside their curriculum-based work and within their first year of study. Therefore, whereas some larger HEIs feel that they are not preparing their students for the ‘next step’ of being independent (and perhaps entrepreneurial) individuals, we are giving them a head start with the skills and mind-set that will equip them for this so called ‘real world.’

And, let us critically question this idea of the ‘real world’ anyway. Is this something detached, apart from the institution? We would argue that we already have an integrated ‘real world’ within HCA and  we are proud to be part of this creative, innovative and inspiring environment in which students are given the space to develop their personal creative identity within an academic course and hone their employability skills through engagement.  On a personal level, that same ethos allows us as staff to grow and be who we are, without any labels to limit our academic practice.

One particularly  positive feature of our environment is our close relations with the wider Herefordshire community. In some larger establishments, there appears to be a clear feeling that division exists between ‘town and gown’. Beginning as an FE institution, part of HCA’s identity and close connection with Herefordshire comes from our institution’s roots. The FE provision allows there to be a clear sense of community from locally and regionally recruited students, as well as giving the college a clear value within the community through student success, live briefs and collaborations.  The college is firmly part of a wider community of shared interests, ambitions and aspirations.

Whilst there are clearly many tangible benefits of working within a bigger HEI we feel that there are also many (maybe less tangible) benefits from working within a small institution. HCA certainly allows us to work in a dynamic and responsive way, adapting to the ever shifting ‘real world’ we find ourselves in, which is creative and inspiring most working days. Therefore, we feel that in this instance small is beautiful.

by Dr. Mia Gordon & Gillian Hipp

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