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.




1st day in Bologna – Pinocchio

December 21, 2009

We had a fantastically smooth journey to Bologna – full of chatter & excitement for the trip ahead!  On arrival in Bologna we went straight to the theatre, but as it was locked (we didn’t know which bell to ring) we headed instead for the hotel before a tourist trip into town.  Bologna looked especially beautiful with the light snow (it got heavier later) and xmas lights.  Lizzie was a great guide.  We met with the Potsdam learners, Helga and Prof Hanny for dinner at a local pizzeria and felt we had arrived!



The next morning we had tickets for Pinocchio.  the production had been directed by Bruno, and involved 10 of the La Baracca actors performed on the main stage – a traditional proscenium auditorium with a v high stage.  The show was for 4 + but here were plenty of younger children in the audience.  Lizzie and i wondered how they would cope with the traditional and large sclae aspect.  The show started almost 30 mins late as one of the actors was stcuk in the snow and the show lasted 1 hour 20 mins – no interval – quite a challenge for 3 year olds.  We were amazed though, the children really accepted the conventions and were so attentive.  At times when their attention inevitably began to wander, the director had foreseen this and had created action scenes that took place within the auditorium. ie.

When Pinocchio swims in the sea trying to find Gapetti (who is on the boat).  Gapetti was on a chair with wheels complete with sail, and Pincoccio (played by Carlotta) was held on the shoulders of one of the actors, physiaclly swimming to try to reach him.  this all took place in and amongst the aisles of the auditorium, because the seating was on a rake – without stairs – thismade it possible!

Another lovely moment was when all the children get taken to ‘play land’. Huge ballons were thrown out into the audience – amking us all particpants in the ‘play land’ part of the story – although thankfully we didn’t all turn into donkeys!  The donkey transformation was particularly effective – where pinocchio and his friend are muzzled into a harness with nose muzzle – Lizzie and I both loved the design for this as you couldn’t see Carlotta’s eyes and this somehow made it more dehumanising and the transformation even more effective.  The design was beautiful.  A wooden cube that could become a house, circus, theatre, star, gallows, cart, etc – it was a fantastic example of a more abstract design used incredibly effectively.

the theatrical conventions too were v sophisticated.  Calotta sat on the side of the stage when playing the ‘voice fo the wood’ so that whenever Gapetti hit the wood she would say, ‘Ouch!’ – the children got this game immediately and understood that the wood had a voice even before it became pinocchio.  After the performacne we were welcomed on stage to have a chat with the cast and director.  Several things came out of the conversation:

* Bruno wanted to be true to the original story and keep the darker aspects of the story because its good for children to explore fear.  Some scenes were softened however, to allow for the younger chilkdren ie. having the fox and cat enter to tango music whilst dancing.

* Different ages (they perform to teenagers too) appreciate different things in the show as it is layered and allows different age groups to take away different things.

* The self conscious ‘playing’ of a character used to tell the story ie. the chorus arrive in black and their costume for different characters is added to this basic constume – is v similar to the way children ‘play’ and dress up’  for role play – it is their language and this helps them with accepting some quite spohisticated theatrical conventions.

* The show started with a gift being given – it was the wooden cube (smaller version) wrapped up. The gift was a story, ‘a story about what?’ ‘ a story about a King!?’ – ‘No!  A story about a piece of wood!’ – this is how the show began – and it was a beautiful set up – that the story was contained in the box and the box was then replicated large scale on stage – told by the actors!


It was so inspiring to see how such a large scale show could still give children such a rich theatrical experience.


From Here to there – ‘work in progress showings’

December 21, 2009

Observations from the Performance & Participation sessions



1st showingPlaymates nursery – This was the nursery where we had done the explorative and observation work.  The children were enthralled throughout the performance without exception, although when it came to the ‘free play’ session afterwards – interestingly they repeated what they had done in the workshop session we had done before.  We thought after seeing the ‘mini landscape’ they would be more eager to build things – but they wanted to wear the card and tubes again as clothes.

 Feedback from the staff at the nursery:

  • The children didn’t see the performers as specifically male and female, but they strongly identified with them as adults and with ‘what they did with the objects’.
  • Impressed at how simple things / objects can bring such enjoyment, creativity and music possibilities.
  • The memory of the first workshop meant that the children wanted to repeat the activity.
  • One particular boy, Jia – Jian (who has English as a 2nd language) has been mute whilst at nursery.  Now he is using ‘sounds’ in his play and engaging in parallel play with the other when previously he remained very isolated.
  • In general so much laughter and excitement over the anticipation of what would happen next.
  • Understood the story from the narrative journey and were fascinated by it.
  • One boy came in the next morning and wanted to show how he had brushed his teeth, ‘ding!’
  • They felt the project had made a huge difference to both children and staff – in giving staff ideas for ‘play’ and ‘creativity’ and giving the children a greater confidence and enjoyment.


2nd & 3rd showingSilkstone pre-school – The 2nd show was for 2-3 year olds, and the 3rd show was for 3-4 year olds.  Both shows in the afternoon went really well too.  The staff there reported that they noticed that the younger audience really loved the games with the sound (1st exploration) and the card choreography (2nd exploration) and were actively repeating sounds and laughing at the peek a boo, the older ones were particularly engrossed with the little narrative journey (3rd exploration) – but also enthralled by the earlier sections although they didn’t imitate the sounds like the younger ones had done. 

The ‘free play’ sessions were completely different from the session at ‘Playmates’ and was hugely informative as to how much the children had taken from the showing.  The children used the tubes, boxes and card to construct towers, bridges and flats, as they had seen in the 1st and 2nd explorations.  One little girl got a little lego character to go up and down in the lift – directly imitating the performance.  Some children played on their own making boats/cars out of card & some did 2D pictures on the card using the tape. Two children made a den out of the large card and hid from the others.  There were some lovely moments and interactions – where many of the children worked ‘together’ to construct large towers, adding to one another’s ideas. 

The staff at both nurseries were ‘blown away’ by what was possible with simple card and boxes – they now have lots of ideas that they want to try out.  We left both settings with some card, tubes and cardboard to see how the children continued to use the materials in the following weeks after our visit.


From here to there – R & D continued

December 15, 2009

Explorative Workshops

 On our 2nd day we took 2 mini performances into the nursery to use as a stimulus for the children to play with 2 sets of different objects. We then, in turn, observed their subsequent play.

 1st workshop/performance

The first performance used ‘card’ & involved playing ‘peek a boo’ behind the card and moving the card with abstract sound to create images.  The performance ended with the performer using the card as clothes – trousers and a dress – and dancing to a drum beat. 

Afterwards the children used the card to ‘dress themselves up’ in some cases as ‘super heroes’ or just wrapped themselves entirely in card.  Some children played with the musical instruments to imitate the percussion that the musician had played.

2nd workshop/performance

 The 2nd performance used wooden blocks that we had borrowed from the early year’s unit.  The performer used sound and robotic movements to make a car out of the blocks that he then got in to drive and then transformed the car into an aeroplane.  The children loved guessing what the blocks were becoming!

Afterwards the children played with the blocks individually to recreate cars, planes, skate boards and boats.  Some used other objects to become steering wheels, or cars to race down ramps.  In the end the children had created a long ‘bench’ of blocks where most of the children were using their particular section to drive their individual car or train.  The girls involved the adults in their game of making a boat and enjoyed the shared ‘roleplay’of drawing the adults into their game.

Creating the Performance

 The company then had 2 days to devise a performance piece to take back to Playmates nursery and to an additional nursery – ‘Silkstone preschool’ that had not had access to any of the previous workshops and had no relationship with the artists.

The performance consisted of 3 main ‘elements’ or ‘explorations’:

1st exploration (structured routine): We played with a structured ritual and pushed the scenario to the limit – we did this with very simple and well known daily routines using the wooden boxes – breakfast-time for Noel, and  brushing your teeth for Simone. Their rituals became more and more exaggerated through gesture, vocal play and rhythm until it finally became a percussive musical piece.

 2nd exploration (abstract objects): playing with card as abstract shapes and moving images – a choreography that is born out of competitive play.  This piece used some of the ideas we showed on our ‘workshop’ day at the nursery – but was developed further.

 3rd exploration (narrative scenario): looking at how the wooden boxes and card could be used to make one world!  We created a mini cityscape for this and used puppetry to animate both the scenery and a character within a little story – this was a much less experimental piece and was more narrative driven rather than the first two explorations; but we were interested to see how the children from the full age range connected to the different content and style we gave them within the three varied pieces.

 Participation: At the end of the performance the children were invited to play with the card and wooden boxes that they had seen the performers use.  We deliberately kept this session open ended so as to discover what, if anything, the children had taken from the showing and how that impacted upon their play.


From Here to there – R & D on Natasha’s bridge project

December 15, 2009


 The Research and Development project took place over 6 days between Oct. 22nd  and  Nov. 12th 2009. It included observation and explorative workshops, performative material generation and short theatrical presentations.  The observation and experimental workshops took place at ‘Playmates’ nursery in Huddersfield. The presentations were at the above nursery, Silkstone Preschool nursery and The Takeoff International festival of children’s theatre. The project was supported by The Lawrence Batley Theatre & funded by Arts Council England, Yorkshire.

The company observed how young children (between 2 – 4 years) play both individually and together, and how that ‘shared play’ is negotiated.  The company also studied the differences & similarities between how girls and boys play to determine potential content for a performance targeted at very young children. 

With a five strong artistic team which included two performers, a designer, a musician/percussionist and a director and a group of 12 children from Playmates nursery the ‘play’ could begin.

 Observations of Play

 The artistic team split into 2 groups: ‘director and designer’, ‘performer and musician’.  Both groups had different questions to help focus their observations, ie;

  • What kind of toys/objects are the boys and girls most attracted to?  Are they the same?
  • Do the boys and girls play with the same objects/toys in different or similar ways?  If so how?
  • What is their physical relationship to the objects/toys they are playing with?  And to each other?
  • What patterns/shapes or paths do their games/play make in the physical space (indoors and outside – is it different?)
  • How do they negotiate that play, directly ie you do this!  or indirectly ie. through objects?
  • How do the boys and girls negotiate ‘playing together’ are there any differences?

 The main discoveries made can be summarised as follows:

  • The girls and boys were in the main attracted to different objects in their ‘free play’ session. 
  • The girls tended to negotiate playing together directly, the boys tended to negotiate playing together indirectly through an object or toy that was being played with.
  • Both boys and girls did lots of circling movements or keeping to the outer perimeters of the space when looking for something else to do or when watching someone else’s game and finding a way of joining in.
  • When playing together the leader within the game was the person who had most ‘fun’ with the object.  If someone else introduced another activity with that object, that appeared to be more fun, then they were allowed to become the leader.
  • In general the boys’ play was much more physical, where one boy would become a monster and the others would have to hide, under coats, cushions and cloth.   They would use sounds and vocalisations to enhance their play ie. ‘roar’ for monster, ‘brums’ for the cars they manipulated.
  • The girls particularly enjoyed role play and imitating their carers with copied expressions ie, saying “Good boy!” to one of the boys when he let her have a go on the tricycle.
  • Both boys & girls used ‘imitation, repetition & recognition’ within their play – to push the limit of their activity and the boundaries of either ‘what an object can do’ or the ‘structure of a routine’.