Villach – Tasha’s first thoughts

June 25, 2010

Have enjoyed reading what the 2 Lizzie’s have written on Villach. I just have to add to their lovely comments about the wonderful company on this trip. It has been such a treat to indulge in more learning and to share the experience with so many talented and wonderful people – part of the experience was definately the learning that comes from hearing of one another’s practice and experience – and that’s before you’ve added the international guests into the arena!

I would like to say that I’ve had plenty of time to reflect – but alas it is chaotic busy, but inbetween I’m trying to mull over stuff and these are a few of my first mullings:

Assetej speech by Gabi – most of this was lost in the translation but what i did find interesting was the way in which the german Assetej selects a ‘canon’ of children’s theatre shows (approx 10 shows) that are held up as being a model of best practice.  Given the changes to arts coucnil recently, there will be new ‘peer’ assesments, and as Ruth and I have both noticed there are frighteningly few new arts council appointed assessors with a background in early years or children’s theatre.  How does this impact on the scene in British theatre?  Would these assessors know quality theatre for children if they came across it?  Some shows might be more straightforward to assess but others, especially those created for the very young might not be assessed within the context of children’s development.  I know the Danish model also uses alot of peer reviews but there, there is an enormous amount of fantastic children’s theatre and plenty of people who do have the experience to review the shows on offer.  Is there a role for TYA-UK in this?  It seems to me that there ought to be some lobbying in this department from them.

The bridge: Lizzie has said alot about this already and I just want to echoe the great observations she has made.  As she mentioned I think we all took away something uniquely our own from that show, not just because the more abstract form allowed us to do this, but also because our varied language knowledge meant that we all understood different parts of the spoken word. I loved the image of Daniella trying to find the 7th colour of the rainbow (there were 6 performers inc musicians in total) and they used the colours of the rainbow to design the visual elements to it, but of course there were only 6 costumes. I realised later it was ‘pink’ that was missing – am not sure what Astrid would make of that!  The colours were beautufully woven though especially through the costume as they weren’t blocks of colour but more shades and variants on the theme of ‘yellow’ or ‘green’ etc.


More thoughts from Liz

May 6, 2010

A huge thank you to Tash and Lizzie for their ponderings.  Isn’t it wonderful that we are discussing theatre for early years.  In so many minds in the UK, theatre is just somewhere the middle class visits – it is a building that programmes the latest smash hit musical with its leading lady cast on the BBC or a programme of work for children highlighting the current trend whether that be Bob The Builder, Thomas or whatever.  I suppose all has its place, and I must admit to having enjoyed the old black and white movies on a wet Saturday afternoon when Judy Garland and Micky Rooney fixed up the old barn, put up a stage and raised money for the orphanage with the famous line “Hey Lets Put On A Show.”  (Here I go again, childhood memories).  Once again I apologise for flitting from one subject to another, but I tend to type as I think. 

I will leave those childhood memories for this morning as I am pondering “play.” I believe that the root of all theatre is “play.”  As a deviser, a huge part of my creative process is through play.  I love it when we have a long devising period when we can bring ourselves to a room with random objects, fabrics, books, poems, music, loads of gaffer tape and just play.  The problem is when so much play creates a huge amount of material and we are only creating an hour long piece – then we have to be generous and “throw the dead wood away.” (Although Ido believe an idea is a gift and will never be thrown away), it will be used one day!   But, as Lizzie quite rightly said,  creating simple, beautiful theatre for little ones  is incredibly difficult and hard work. 

Play – theatre is “play.”  I agree with you Tash.  Just recently I have been delivering the Imaginary Leaps workshop – Mrs Teapot’s transformational objects.  During one session in a Sure Start centre in Rochdale, a child’s imagination made me cry (after the session in the van of course).  After playing with household objects for a while with a group of around 8 early years, I introduced “Mrs Teapot.”  a lovely round silver teapot with large googly eyes in just the right position and a glamorous tea-towel on her head.  The little ones love her.  I began manipulating her, talking to each child in turn.  One little boy gave Mrs Teapot more than the normal amount of attention (around 5 minutes is usual, then they begin to create their own puppets out of the household objects). But this little boy formed a relationship with Mrs Teapot.  He kept asking for “mummy,”  – I thought he was getting fretful and asking for his own mummy.  But no, he believed that Mrs Teapot was “mummy.”  We began to play.  He asked “mummy” if they could go shopping. Off we went.  We “bought” bananas, tomatoes, potatoes from the “shop.”  Then we  went home and had a cup of tea and some cakes, made a stew and had a nap.  Just like the description Tash gave in her blog about children waking their parents – he had great delight in continually waking Mrs Teapot from her sleep. This went on for ages!  The rest of the group were happily creating puppets with their early years practitioners. The child would not let “mummy” go.  So, we continued playing out his story, until a very old battered teapot was given googly eyes and another glamorous tea-towel.  He immediately turned round, saw the pot and began called her “nanny.”  Oh my word, the child was associating the older pot with his grand mother.  He was delighted and full of delight for an hour!  During a discussion after the workshop the early years practitioner said that the child was normally withdrawn, rarely spoke, didn’t really mix with the other children and was very shy. When it was time for me to go, I was worried that he had become attached to “mummy” and “nanny.”  NO – its just “play.”  He was very happy to remove all googly eyes and tea towels and pop the teapots back in the big bag for next time. I am now itching to create a piece of theatre using several teapots, but need to chat to Rachel when she returns.

For me, theatre and play go hand in hand and I love looking after my 2 grand children (aged just 3 and 16 months).  Oliver’s (aged 3) favourite book at the moment is a Dutch wordless book called The yellow Balloon.

Description: This wordless picture book traces the journey of a rogue balloon as it is carried along from scene to scene. Children are challenged to find the tiny balloon, as well as other objects, in action-filled pictures. The aerial views are panoramic and the colours are breathtaking. Depicting many different parts of the world and many unique landscapes, the illustrations are imaginative and elaborate, and brimming with hundreds of captivating miniature details. With the artwork providing a springboard, opportunities for picture-inspired storytelling are unlimited. This stunning offering has broad appeal.”
     —School Library 

It is well worth a look.  Oliver takes an age to get through the book as he discovers more and more characters and strange settings!

I am off now to a Greek Island for 3 weeks, but I am taking lots of reading matter and will probably ponder on creating new work for children and “play” in my head!

See you soon,



Thoughts from Tash

April 30, 2010

I’ve been thinking over what both Lizzie’s have written in their last blogs – since you’ve both provided plenty of food for thought. It was fascinating to read about Liz’s personal journey back to her old home council estate and the questions you raise Liz are so pertinent and also entirely connected to Roberto’s speech at the conference.  Why does quality theatre matter? Lizzie, it was great to read the quotes from your current reading, especially as you only touched on this subject when in Villach but I was tantalizingly left hanging wanting to know more – guess I’ll just have to add it to my reading list!

I’ve been thinking about my impulses and motivations as to why I want to make theatre for children and in particular the very young!  From my point of view I do currently have a very young family which is an inspiration but also a drain on physical and mental energy (you know where I’m coming from on that score I’m sure!).  I have realised that I get a lot of drive and reasoning from direct personal memories of my childhood –which I am always amazing Lars about with how much and what details I can remember!  Like Liz I had very little formal/direct theatre experience in my childhood, but I did have fantastic storytellers and hugely creative personalities in my upbringing. I remember saying to Liz on the plane that the ‘play’ I had as a child was the best training for the theatre I then went in to.  Initially I was excited about making work for adult audiences and the emphasis of the work that I used to make with Isabel was about how we wanted to interpret an existing story. There was plenty of thought about the theatrical presentation and the exploration for us ‘as artists’ but very little thought for the journey of our audiences and what ( if anything) they would take from the show.  Now, working in children’s theatre, the emphasis is very much on the audience and what they understand or how they can be engaged with.  I find this a much more exciting way to make theatre because it involves another ‘partner’ to the creative team. I was really interested to hear Myrto speaking about how she makes work for children – and she stated that she never thinks of the ‘child’ it is intended for – at all!  Of course, she then back tracked a bit and said well obviously you have to think of the idea/concept of the show – is it relevant to young children – but not of the theatrical form.  She applies the same sophisticated theatrical forms to her work for adults or children.  I found this v interesting.  There were many things that personally speaking I don’t agree with in what Myrto has to say, however, I do believe, like Myrto, that children should be presented sophisticated theatrical forms – and I believe if presented appropriately the children will follow them.

Woodbeat entrance

Accompanying music to the entrance to woodbeat

‘Woodbeat’ for example is a highly sophisticated piece of theatre.  It is not linear, and yet there is logic to the events in the show.  Everything is connected by the material explored – wood!  The music is made from wood or wood related materials.  There is beauty in the simplicity of the materials used – but there is nothing simple about the construct of the piece. Here’s that ‘simplicity’ idea again Lizzie – I know exactly what you mean, it’s a sort of distilled simplicity – full of meaning/relevance but it appears to be so effortless and ‘simple’.  I saw this show for the first time at Takeoff, when Astrid saw it with Leli (Marlene’s little boy) and was bowled over then.  This time seeing it again, gave me an opportunity to try to analyse why?  It’s wonderful seeing children’s behaviours & games remodelled but with very simple puppet/objects ie. the little ‘too doo’ who is trying to wake his parent or is stopping them from having a nap. The children immediately identified with the situation in an instinctive way, they giggled and stared, identifying with ‘too doo’ just as the parents were identifying with the sleepy parent creature.  For me the moment, when the children are invited to step into the ‘wood’ by stepping out onto the path, is absolutely, heart breakingly beautiful. It’s so full of emotion – even without seeing my daughter take her first tentative steps on this occasion.  It distils and concentrates those first ‘independent’ steps.  The child’s choices, emotions and reactions are completely open and become so much more symbolic of their steps through life.  Independent steps are taken every day in small ways and on other days in giant leaps, but this ‘performance’ enables you, as a spectator and parent, to somehow experience the emotion of that separation in such a momentous way.  For me it was also a memory of asserting my independence – of those first independent steps away from my parents too.  Am not sure I have the right words to explain the emotion I mean – but I certainly can feel the tears pricking now – just reflecting on it. For me this is ‘art’.

Going deeper into the woods!

It has been such an inspiration to share and indulge in quality theatre – and it really makes you understand why it is so necessary to not only ensure that children have an experience of quality theatre but that they have the opportunity to experience it often! – as Roberto stated in his speech.

I am currently working with a nursery group of children in Leeds and am shocked at their lack of communication and imaginative skills – then when you see their role play corner you see why a little!!!  These are children whose idea of what stories are, is CBeebies.  Noticeably I can pick out the children who are read to at home – it’s so clear that their imagination is so much more developed.  This group of children are the same age as Astrid, but imaginatively they are poles apart. I am not saying this because I want to put my daughter on a pedestal and say how advanced she is, because in many ways she isn’t – but in terms of her imagination, emotional intelligence and communication skills she is light years ahead.  The reason for this is simple – it’s ‘play’ and theatre – the 2 things go hand in hand – and I can see what an impact quality theatre has on her ‘informal’ learning – it makes me value theatre for the young even more.  It seems clear that if you don’t ignite children’s imagination then they can’t function properly as ‘research & developers’ (to quote Lizzie) they need to spark off all sorts of pathways to make meaningful connections in their brains.  It is I guess what helps to make us sensitive beings.  The kind of, ‘sensitive beings’, that Roberto alluded to in his inspiring speech in Villach.

Well, I think I have to sign off here as it is now getting too technical for my brain – and I need to start reading Lizzie’s book – unless she has anymore pearls of wisdom to drop?


Some Ponderings from Lizzie

April 21, 2010

Thanks Liz for a fantastic and personal blog. You can tell you are a storyteller because your memories conjured up so many great images in my head.

And Tash, really interested to read your comments on The Bridge although I feel a little foolish because I didn’t pick up  on the moment when Daniella was looking for the 7th colour of the rainbow (and I saw the production twice!). You’ll have to remind me about this moment. I like to think that it was my lack of language that made me miss it although you’ll probably now tell me it was a non verbal musical moment.

Anyway what with a virus in the last week, a day of computer rage (it took me a whole day to get a new router up and working) and a breakdown (car not mind) in Blackpool where Maddy was dancing at the Winter Gardens – Blackpool reference for Rachel in case you’re reading… it’s taken me a while to get back to this blogging.

Enjoying the sun -only Liz had the foresight to bring sunglasses. Note Villach's 'Thinking Jester' - or has he just got toothache?

Some ponderings

When I was first invited on to the Dandelion project we had to make some statements about what we wanted to learn, what we wanted to find out from participating on this project. My ideas were, if my memory serves me, rather vague (to the extent that I cannot quite remember what they were!) but really I think deep down that I had a question to which I was seeking an answer  but which I was finding it difficult to articulate – a little nagging voice inside me that was still saying what is the point of doing theatre for such young children?  We always hope that people will remember our work even if it is only a moment that lodges in their conscious memory but to set out to make an experience for children who will apparently ‘forget’ it  seems almost a little masochistic. I think I felt embarrassed to say it out loud because I knew that, by now, many people believed passionately in the value of theatre for very small children (under 3s) and I liked the idea instinctively but I was still confused and seeking to settle the matter with my own intellect. Dandelion has given me the time and opportunity to reflect on this matter, to ponder, to listen, to watch, to debate and now, more than a year further on I think that I am much closer to having an understanding of why it is a very important  matter for artists to consider making work for such small children and to share this work both with the children and with the children’s parents and carers. Interestingly it is through science and other research that I am finding answers to some of my questions. Roberto Frabetti touched on this matter in his talk when he referred to some research coming out of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Leipzig – research that is exploring the notion that aesthetics help to develop cognitive awareness through developing our neurological abilities. (He added that, of course, this wasn’t yet entirely proven but he liked to think that it would be.) I have been reading The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik (only half way through at the moment) and much of what I am reading there excites me. I would like to share a few quotes.
‘An animal that depends on imagination has to have some time to exercise it. Childhood is that time.’
‘Children are the R & D department of the human species – the blue sky guys, the brainstormers.’
Although the brain is changeable even into adulthood (from the neuroscience point of view) ‘the visual cortex is much the same at 6 months and 60.’

I am particularly taken by the following notion – the fact that children learn a lot from observation ‘by watching what others do and learning from it, we can go beyond the brief scope of an individual life.’ In other words babies acquire their understanding of the world from both experimentation and observation – they can draw stronger conclusions from experimentation (so handling materials, exploring etc are all powerful moments for a child’s development) but they cannot acquire all their knowledge from direct experience (they don’t have enough time!) so they must do it from observation – next time a small child studies you with those wide eyes and holds you in that stare remember her brain is busy at work, processing everything that she sees.

One chapter also deals with the development of psychological awareness – ‘perhaps most potent of all children can learn about the mind by observing the interactions and interventions of people around them.’ Roberto also highlighted the fact that theatre is important in helping the child to develop sensitivity – the precursor to empathy.

Well, these are just a few moments in the book but I think the more we learn about the developments and needs of the child’s brain from birth the more we will feel that aesthetic and theatrical experiences have a positive and special role to play in a child’s life, particularly in our current computer/TV screen society.

And, at the same time as realising that the child’s mind is open to and ready for these wonderful experiences,then we can also understand why artists are attracted to undertake this work. As Wolfgang Schneider said in his talk, there is a challenge ‘To establish the art of simplicity and to renew the language of theatre.’ Liz, this links to something that you have just said in your first blog ‘As a performer/director, Mother, Grandmother of two little ones and a relative newcomer to the creation of work for early years, I yearn for a simple style of theatre.  For a way of connecting with my audience – just like my Great Grandmother.’ I love that and I think I too share those feelings. A simple style of theatre – that is a statement deceptive in its simplicity. For, as we all know, this simple style of theatre is one of the hardest to achieve – the distillation and effort that goes into making a half hour of theatre for our audience of small folk is one of the hardest forms of theatre to create. And I think that this is why artists are drawn to the work. To accept the challenge and to seek a new language.

Through the Dandelion project I have seen a lot of wonderful work for small children, I have listened to a lot of people sharing their ideas and theories, I have spent time in nurseries and, most important of all, I have opened my eyes to see more keenly the growing lives of the small children with whom I come into contact. The thing is that when you are a parent of very young children you can spend much of your time in a fog – you are tired from lack of sleep and from early mornings, you are frustrated by repetitive activities, you love your children but you are not necessarily the soul of patience! Now I am older and I have a little distance I actually find that my curiosity is growing and part of this growing curiosity is sheer wonder at the extraordinary early life of the baby human. The nagging voice at the back of my mind about the value of theatre for the very young  has dropped to the tiniest whisper and I have lots of new questions and observations.

Thank you Dandelion.

More images from Villach

The congress centre in Villach

You will need to click on this to enlarge it or what I am saying won't make sense. Loved the emergency exit on the confessional in the church in Villach - think the Pope might be interested!!


Tasha’s first Villach blog!

April 20, 2010

Am having real trouble with the website – I have just written a post – which it has now deleted whilst trying to save it to draft!  It didn’t seem to want to upload my images!  Anyway, whinge over and I must now try to remember what I had already written!

Firstly, what a wonderful opportunity to travel and learn with such lovely people. I want to repeat what the 2 Lizzie’s have said about the excellent company – I couldn’t have wished for better companions, and there was already so much learning to be had from hearing about one another’s practice and experience – and that’s before you’ve even added the international guests to the mix!

Hang up your coat before entering the theatre

The English cluster of 4!

I had hoped to add to the blog a while ago but it has been mad busy so have not had as much ‘mulling’ time as I would have liked – hence double frustration when technology fails you! Anyway, here are the fruits albeit small of my initial ‘mullings’:

Assetej Germany – speech by Gabi on first evening!

As Lizzie said, a lot of this was lost in the translation, but I did find it fascinating that they select a ‘canon’ of the best children’s theatre shows (approx 10 shows from all German speaking parts) which they believe show the best practice within their country.  Given the changes to ‘peer reviews’ within England through changes to the arts council system, both Ruth and I find it very worrying that there are frighteningly few new arts council peer assessors from an early years or children’s theatre background.  Would these new assessors recognise good children’s theatre, if they saw it?  Some shows might be more straightforward, but work especially for the younger sector requires an assessor to know at least a little about children’s development and understand the context in which the work is made.  This is something that TYA-UK should be lobbying about – maybe they are – does anyone know?  It is certainly something they should take up.   I know peer assessment happens a lot in the Danish children’s theatre model – but there you have an outstanding amount of children’s theatre companies that do have plenty of experience in this area – and it is largely the practitioners that assess the collective work.  It is probably easier for Denmark to achieve this as they are a smaller country but they also have an enormous festival that every company worth its salt performs at!

The bridge: Lizzie wrote so eloquently on the show that I just want to echo ‘what she said!’ It is true that we will all have taken away different things from the ‘bridge’ partly because our language skills meant that we all understood different parts of the spoken word but also because the content of the show was sufficiently ‘abstract’ or ‘open ended’ to enable this to be the case.  I personally loved the image of Daniella trying to find the 7th colour of the rainbow.  The cast were 6 (inc all the musicians) and of course there are 7 colours to the rainbow, so, one was missing.  Astrid would be interested to know (took me a while to work it out) that it was ‘pink’ that was missing! The design used the colours of the rainbow for the costume which were different variants on the theme of ‘yellow’, or ‘green’ rather than a block of the whole colour.  So, that when the cast stood together each of their colours kind of seeped into each other’s and they made ‘a bridge’ of colour!

The Italian part of the Bridge

Carlotta & Daniella relaxing after the show!

I also loved that they explored parts of their body as a bridge, ie. the elbow is a bridge between my shoulder and my wrist.  We all discussed that it was hard to put an exact age range on the show – although I think Lizzie is right that it is not really suited to the youngest end.  I also loved the rhythm games and the music it gave a real energy to the piece and clearly the teenagers seemed to appreciate it.  All in all it was great to see such a successful and thoughtful end to the collaboration between 2 such different companies.

Well this is where I got to when I lost my 1st draft – so I’ll leave it here and hope to upload some images to provide some light relief to all this text! More thoughts soon – and more ice cream too – if only photos could come to life – I could eat the whole ice becher again!


Villach – April 2010 posted by Liz

April 14, 2010

Well, here I am at 7am on a beautiful Tuesday morning in Beeston, feeling that today is the day  I enter my first blog on the Dandelionroar site.  I will start with an apology, because I know full well that I will go off in many directions before I get to the point. It is worth noting at the very beginning of this blog that I have come in right at the very end of a 2-year programme of work.  This is not a negative comment, but merely a fact that will colour my observations. A huge thank you to Rachel and Adam for giving me such a fantastic opportunity with Imaginary Leaps, Ruth, Susan, Emma and the rest of the team for organising such a great trip.


I met Emma and Natasha at Manchester Airport on Wednesday morning feeling quite nervous being the “new girl”, especially given that Rachel’s shoes are pretty big to step into,  but I needn’t have worried, I was given a very warm welcome and introduction to the Dandelion Project. On a very enjoyable plane  journey Emma and Natasha gave me a lightening tour of the main players in the project, the learners and the important role the Dandelion network plays.


Arriving safely in Villach and being picked up and whisked to Hotel Golden Lambe, I pondered on my role within this already established group of  practitioners and decided to “go with the flow,” and anyway it is not every day that you get the opportunity to visit such a beautiful country. 

Lizzie heard our entry into the foyer of the hotel, and ran downstairs to meet us.  The three musketters and d’Artagnan are now complete.  I want to thank all three for their generosity of spirit and for helping to make my journey and stay in Villach so special.

Bags dropped, 15 minute freshen up then on to grab a quick toastie followed by a pleasant walk to the Reception where I had the pleasure of meeting Gerald Groechenig, Valeria, Hanne, Gabi, Susann, Katharina and Helga and another Helga – our translater.  Then the extraordinary happened – Rebekah Wild – practitioner from New Zealand and Artistic Director of Wild Theatre caught my eye.  I had spent a glorious week with Rebekah on the island of Bornholm in September 2009 as part of a Medieval Festival of work.  Squeals, hugs and “I cannot believe it is you”  & “what are you doing here” continued for a few minutes, until we settled and made introductions all round.

Meeting Ms Wild


Two subjects have stayed with me since my return from Villach, and I will cover just one subject this morning.  The first was during an informal discussion on the first evening.  Valeria said that she was born at a good time.  A time of great opportunity for women.  I became fascinated with her story, the opportunities she grasped and how she became part of the exciting, vibrant world that is La Baracca. I ponder my own place in history.  I was born in the mid 50s;  I remember a time when there was little money, no car, very little TV, lots of radio.  As a child I had an ability to “make myself scarce” and listen and watch the adults around me.  I think I was also born at a “a good time,” when family get together’s were a weekly occurrence, family parties with singing, dancing and storytelling were a natural part of my childhood.  At around 8 years of age we mimicked the grown ups, dressing up, creating little scenarios and having the courage to show them, and then at 10 years eventually spending our six weeks summer holidays rehearsing and putting on a show in someone’s garage – the family was very rich – they had a car!  I was lucky to have my Great Grandmother until I was 13 years of age.  She told me stories of her childhood, told me of being ayoung woman during the turn of the 20th Century, told me of being a young suffragette in Salford,  and of her many adventures through life.  These stories were told simply – using simple words and gestures. She had patience and time to give to her Great Granddaughter and encouraged the development of my imagination and helped me to understand and celebrate who I am, my history, but above all it developed a deep love & respect for this remarkable storyteller.    So, the statement Valeria made “Born at a good Time” has opened a floodgate for me and I will probably continue to bore you all with my ponderings. 

So, what has my experience of childhood to do with theatre for the Early Years?  Well as a performer/director, Mother, Grandmother of two little ones and a relative newcomer to the creation of work for early years, I yearn for a simple style of theatre.  For a way of connecting with my audience – just like my Great Grandmother.  I am constantly concerned about the onslaught of images and sounds children come into contact with particularly from  TV and DVDs.   I was impressed by what  Roberto Frabetti stated during Thursday evening’s discussion about his view on the arts and his work with La Baracca. “Theatre (and by this he says that he means all the arts) is fundemental – it develops sensitivity, helps us to hear, to perceive, to walk together, to feel the world around us. Art is our duty.  Children need sufficient quantities of theatre over a period of years, but it has to be good theatre.  We cannot leave children in the hands of commercial theatre.”

Did I come into contact with Good Theatre as a child?  During my work with Imaginary Leaps, I recently visited the council estate I was brought up on. The place that has so many good memories for me –  it was a terrible shock.  The images are too painful to describe, but there is a great deal of good work being done particularly within early years settings.  So, I need to think some more about Good Theatre and how it can be brought to the chldren. 


Can Children’s Theatre  be anywhere and everywhere – can it happen in the family, happen in the street, can it happen in a nursery setting, in a theatre? During a discussion following THE BRIDGE Valeria  answered the question “what type of actor performs for children?”  Her answer is somewhat paraphrased in my interpretation – “An actor needs to feel immediately what sort of audience you have in front of you – feel the space – feel the people.  This allows you to peform in front of any age and ability.  Performers should have an inbuilt mechanism.  A good performer knows its audience – its a performer’s basic instinct.”

I think this is the end of my first blog – I have lots of thoughts on what Valeria said about being a good performer, I also have thoughts on  Helios Theater Hamm’s HOLZKLOPFEN, Roberto’s fantastic workshop and  informal chats with the girls,  but I will save this for later.   One more photo:

Emma, Lizzie & Natasha on The Bridge


My First Villach Blog – Die Brucke – Il Ponte

April 13, 2010

Have just returned from Villach. As always thanks are owed to so many people – lovely Villach companions, Emma, Tash and Liz, Gerald Groechenig for organising the symposium, Ruth and Susan for all their work behind the scenes in the UK, the warmth and friendliness of the folk from la Baracca and Toihaus, Helga Gruber’s tireless efforts on our behalf, the enthusiasms of Prof Hanne and the learners from Potsdam – really my whole experience of the Dandelion project has been one of human warmth and positivity – and just sorry that Rachel was not with us to share this final symposium but it was a delight to get to know Liz.

And thank you to the blue sky and the sun and the snow topped mountains!

Blue sky and mountainsI was also very grateful to another Helga – who was our tireless translator throughout the symposium. This was a tough job as she was attempting simultaneous translation for the 4 of us and, inevitably, it was not possible to follow everything that was being said as translating on the go like this with no pauses is a tough challenge. As a result I think much was lost in translation which, to some extent, explains the paucity of my notes. Despite this lack of coherent notes I will share my impressions of a few things.

Firstly I was very excited to get to see the outcome of the collaboration between Toihaus and La Baracca on their production the Bridge “Die Brucke – Il Ponte”. As Tash and I had been at some of the rehearsals for this in December – and knowing that the process had not been an easy one (how could it be? two countries, two very different styles of work, an interesting but challenging subject – a piece of work created in this way was never going to pop up fully formed over night) – we were eager to see what had emerged. So it was really exciting to discover how everyone had pushed through all these ‘problems’ to create a coherent but elusive, dream like piece of theatre in which the bridges were many – bridges between two languages, physical bridges, bridges between colours, between hot and cold, between people. As the piece had developed over a period of time in, I suspect, a rather staccato fashion, the task of melding everything into a coherent whole was a challenge and Valeria Frabetti thanked the choreographer who had come in during the final stage and found a physical language for the whole production. The flow that this created was a noticeable and welcome development from the earlier improvisations.

The company made an interesting decision. Accepting that the content of the production was ‘difficult’ they created a back story to place the theatre performance in context. Thus the actor started off with the audience outside the theatre space in the foyer, a blue river of cloth by their feet and told them the story of a river and the two lots of people who lived either side of it, the warm (red/orange) people and the cold (blue/indigo) people  and how they distrusted each other and threw stones across the river which would fall in the water below.

Waiting by the blue river

One day the water receded and the children saw the stones and they built a bridge so that they could visit each other, for the children were not part of the adults arguments. (This is the gist of the story – it was spoken in German and Italian and I speak neither). The man telling this story remembered being told this story when he was a child and every night he dreamed about making bridges. Through this simple storytelling narrative we were given the key to identifying with the more abstract episodic style that followed which was both aurally and visually absorbing.  The company had experimented at different performances, sometimes having the storytelling at the beginning and sometimes doing it without and had, I think, decided that the production benefited from having it . And we watched the production twice – the first time the children were sat on the floor and they really listened to the story and when they went in to the space they were a lively and engaged audience. At the later performance for some reason the audience were all stood up in a crowded bunch and were thus less attentive to the storytelling.  I think this was a mistake as they seemed to be a less absorbed audience but that could also have something to do with performing at 4.00pm when everyone (including me) was a little bit tired.

Anyway I enjoyed the performance. It was intelligent and intriguing and targeted a wide age range though not really, I would say, the very young. There was a group of young adolescents in the first audience and they seemed to really enjoy it. The text of the play was spoken in both languages so some parts were in German  and some in Italian. I was thinking that we were all sat there having different experiences as some spoke both languages, some neither and some just one. Thus I guess we will all have carried away different impressions but this was, in any case, a multi faceted theatrical experience.

I will end my first blog with a photo for Tash!

For Astrid and Otto - so this is what Mummy gets up to!!


Villach – April 2010

March 29, 2010

Hi everyone,

I hope you all have a fantastic time at Villach, and I will miss going with you and seeing everyone again very much.

Im sure Liz will be very welcome with you and have a great time,

Much love from Oz, say a special Hi to Helga,



Bologna Visit by Lizzie

December 30, 2009

Many thanks to everyone who made our visit to Bologna so enjoyable – especially Helga for all the organisation that she undertook on our behalf. It was lovely to meet her again and to meet Professor Dr Hanne Seitz for the first time and Susan, Kati, Marianne and Rica (hope I have all the spelling right) from Potsdam. Thanks also to everyone from La Baracca for making us so welcome at the theatre and to everyone from Toihaus for sharing their thoughts with us.

I had written something about the Pinocchio production which I was going to post but Tash has already written about this eloquently and in detail so I’ll just skip on as I couldn’t have put it better myself!

After watching Pinnocchio  we took a wander through the streets of Bologna, with everything enhanced by a covering of snow – and one of my favourite things was a wonderful Xmas tree in the main square which was surrounded by bicycles – by cycling you powered the electricity to the Xmas tree lights. What a fantastic idea. Both practical and symbolic.

Eco Christmas tree powered by cycling

Returned to the theatre to watch a rehearsal of the Toihaus/Baracca collaborative project on the theme of The Bridge. Two directors, two musicians, four performers. At the moment the performance is spoken in Italian and Austrian German – and as I understand neither language, I focussed on the movement and emotional sense of what was taking place on stage. From conversations that we had the next day with both companies and from what I saw taking place on stage I can see that this bridge is both difficult to build and difficult to cross. But these are both experienced companies and, as Valeria Frabetti said, it is as much about the process as it is about the outcome. The company will embark on another intensive 10 day period in Salzburg in January. As they will be bringing this piece to audiences their next task is to build a bridge to the audience. Which I am sure they will succeed in doing. I pondered on this type of project. How exciting it can be to share a journey and to have exploratory workshops together but, at the point that you need to shape the material into a working piece of theatre, then how do you do this with two directors? My feeling was that the process needed a third party – maybe a writer/dramaturg – who could pull the ideas together and help to give shape.

The following day we, the Dandelion learners, had a meeting with Myrto (Toihaus’s director) and she was very clear that, as a company, Toihaus never consider the age of the children for whom they are going to perform. Never. This was an adamant statement. I have heard this position before from various European directors. I think it arises from some view that we are all artists and that somehow, by admitting that we have considered the age of the children in front of our work, then we are in some way compromising our artistic integrity.  Personally I am not entirely happy with this position. I look at it differently. I think it is wonderful if you take a 3 year old to listen to an orchestral symphony or a 6 year old to a Shakespeare production or your 12 year old decides to read Virginia Woolf. In that sense then I think all art can be available to all ages. However if I say ‘here is a space where you may bring all your two and three year olds and I am going to share something with you’ then surely, contained within this invite, is the notion that I have thought quite hard about the life and development of a 2/3 year old. And there is such wonderful and interesting research ongoing about the developing brain of the very young child. To consider this is exciting. However on one level I am very much in agreement with Myrto in the sense that I think we can be brave and bold and adult in the way we approach theatre for very young children and the truth is that, however much we research and however much scientists scan babies brains, we can only speculate and guess about how our artistic explorations impact upon them. We must bring our adult selves to the work. And, of course, all companies working with children do actually consider the physical needs of their young audiences – with the environment that they make, with the volume of the music, with the length of the show etc. Toihaus included!

On the second day we also had a workshop in the morning with Roberto Frabetti – as always very generous and honest. He told us that he made his own shows very fast ‘because really they are all the same.’ Of course they are not – but I welcomed his frankness and the fact that he did not set himself on a pedestal. It was also interesting hearing him talk about the philosophy behind the company which operates as a co-operative.

Bologna sparkles

We went from asking him a variety of questions to doing a practical workshop – exploring the ‘theatre scribbles’ idea that I described in my blog from my last Bologna visit. Natasha was a wonderful camel. Maybe she was one in a previous life!

And, at the end of the day, I went back to watch the final rehearsal of ‘The Bridge’ – the last one before the Salzburg rehearsals in January. The company had been working through the day and were developing some improvisations with rhythm and music and piecing together the elements that they had worked on up to that point. I don’t really want to write too much about this process in the blog. I respect the fact that the companies had generously invited us in to observe part of their rehearsal process and that the production is at a delicate stage in its development.  I wish them good luck on the next stage of the journey in Salzburg.

Every evening we gathered together – usually about 15 of us around the table – for a meal and these meals were a lovely opportunity to learn a little more about everyone, to exchange ideas, to chat and to share food.

Natasha with Susan, Kati, Rica and Marianne

And then there was the snow – falling through the night on Friday so that by Sat morning it lay like a thick blanket across the city of Bologna. So beautiful. Not sure why the Italians think that marble is a good material for paths but Tash and I slipped and slithered our way to the bus stop without mishap. The journey home was more eventful! Suffice it to say that we survived!!!

Snowy Streets of Bologna


RE: Documentation of Transformational Object Workshop for Early Years Practitioners by Rachel Riggs

December 30, 2009

Here is a video sent to me by Helga from Toihaus of one of the sessions I conducted.