New Project, new process – let the fun begin

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.



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.

The Dancing Floor Project continued…

Dancing floor 6The Dancing Floor project brought  ‘Dancing the world into being’ performances to Brechfa, as the sun set and  The Globe in Hay in Autumn 2017. Both performances were well attended by the local community.Dancing floor 2

What has struck me most about the process of the Dancing Floor project is the commitment of individuals in the local community to the rehearsal and creation process of the dance and how Lyn Webster Wilde has managed to bring so, so many people together to create a magical and very special performance.

Dancing floor 3From performers, to choreographer, to singers, to musicians, to artists (for the masks) to photographers and filmmakers. Lyn brought us altogether to create two very special evenings for performers and audience members alike. Further performance will take place in Spring 2018.

You can read further about the Dancing Floor Project on Lyn Webster Wilde’s blog.Dancing floor 5

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

3000 chairs – performances

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 nothing20170511_102552.jpg, 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.



Research findings into practice

Over the last few weeks I have been working on my literature review, which has involved over 80 hours of reading, thinking and making sense of all that I have read in writing.

A side effect of working on my literature has been to question how what I am reading relates to how I do things. Much of the reading has been around well-being. I am now more aware of what the research says and ways to improve well-being. I am actively trying to implement some of my findings directly into my daily life. The biggest change so far has been around walking.

Research suggests that walking at least 10000 steps a day is good for you. Further research highlights the positive effect the use of Fitbits had on a company. My daughter and I now both own one and in the past 14 days our step count has doubled…in my case tripled from the steps we walked prior to having a fitbit. It helps that my 12 year old daughter and I have a competition going on between us, which results into us walking (or in her case) running from one place to another without necessarily needing to, simply to overtake the others step count. So far we have experienced lots of fun with the fitbit and I feel that my energy levels have improved. This is making me want to be more active….which can only be good for my  well-being. It is as if I have reconnected with my body, after months of not connecting. I am more than ever aware that in order to connect one has to move and change the rhythm and pace.

The other thing that the fitbit has done is to encourage me to set myself goals, and with the quanta time data that it feeds back to me on a daily basis I am able to track my progress. I am now training for the three peaks challenge…which I also feel is a great metaphor for life. If I am able to climb the three highest mountains in the UK in 24 hours, I do think I can do anything that I put my mind to…mentally or physically or both!

More findings will be explored, I am sure, as my research continues….