STEP UP Creatives Ensemble: Jenny Crowder (Production Manager)

Jenny Crowder, Production Manager, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble

Jenny Crowder, Production Manager, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble

Only a week ago I was looking forward to my first school dinner (in too many years to mention!) and although I never thought it would be the highlight of the two days I’d spend helping out at a school, I was thrilled with my pudding.

But what a two days …

Being the non-performing / production focused / incognito cheerleader of the STEP UP Creatives Ensemble, I should probably be more organised and consider a more structured and systematic approach to writing this interlude blog about being involved with other New Perspectives activities. So as all good (or uncertain) managers do (or intend to do), I’ll start with a list of what I’ll be covering before descending into nonsense … oh wait.

  1. A Blog (oh no – really?! – Nobody wants to hear my ramblings – I’m supposed to hide in the background quietly)
  2. Why the interlude? (Additional Creatives Ensemble activities)
  3. Planning schools workshops
  4. Storytelling magic
  5. Children resembling wild animals
  6. Props and being French ( yay!)
  7. The amazing people we met

Now I’ve done my list I must actually start writing – but how do I write a blog to compare with my amazing ensemble colleagues? Oh yes, this was why I wrote the list…

2. Why the Interlude?

As a creative ensemble we are having a small pit stop before the home stretch of  rehearsals and performances – reviewing the winning DREAM UP scripts and exploring the themes and what delights us about them – and  although it’s also sad to come to the end of the workshops which we’ve had such an amazing opportunity to be part of,  one of the opportunities of being part of the ensemble has been the chance to get involved in some of New Perspectives core business projects (and for Ollie and I) and the chance to support Tilly with the school workshops that accompany the current co-production of The Butterfly Lion with Curve Theatre, Leicester.

3. Planning Schools Workshops

We managed to squeeze in some beneficial planning time a few weeks ago and after an introduction to the play (which I wasn’t familiar with) we talked through the activities for each workshop. The scheduling gave us a key challenge of devising a session for a group who wouldn’t see the show until afterward the workshop and who would also only be part way through the book, and a session for two groups which would take place the day after the show.

Sessions like the ones we were planning are a great way to build on the excitement of seeing the play and also putting some drama techniques into practice. For a play like this however, I think it’s really special to explore the world of the play. This is a story set in both a not so distant time, in a very distant time and place and in a world many can relate to…  oh and there’s a lion too!

4. Storytelling Magic

I still remember some of my earliest visits to the theatre, and for a story so loved (and these kids seemed to love it) I hoped the play and the workshop would be memorable for them. My favourite moment of being an audience member on the first afternoon was watching some of children (and grown ups) being completely entranced by the show. For me, the story of The Butterfly Lion came completely to life and met all my expectations. The play has some pretty powerful moments both as a story and as a piece of theatre – I can’t pretend to do it justice – but there was plenty for Tilly to explore to make the magic even more so.

5. Children Resembling Wild Animals

We started the session by exploring with the children the world in which Bertie’s story begins – in Africa – and asked them to create a Savannah tableau freeze frame which could then be brought to life. I was genuinely surprised with how quickly some of the children embodied cheetahs, leopards, hippos, alligators and (my personal favourite) giraffes – I was also reminded of how untamed primary school can be – and completely sold by these Savannah creatures.

We then created the world that Bertie would come to know – in England – to show the contrast between the Savannah water hole and the walls, teachers and desks in an English boarding school. Getting the children to transition between these two worlds with an ‘observing Bertie’ was pretty powerful stuff, and the children who had the chance to be Bertie soon caught on and could express their thoughts on this. Acting out and running away from school seemed to be something many of the children had been waiting for.

Tilly also introduced some nice retrospective moments to explore ‘developing friendships’ and ‘staying in touch’ through a letter writing exercise – voicing some of those internal letters was quite poetic.

We closed the sessions with a clever reflection exercise of capturing the thoughts and emotions of the play and the workshop in Tilly’s storybox – to save, respect and pass on.  We asked groups to put together a freeze frame and short scene imagining the world beyond what they had seen or read – this was both powerful and eye opening. Again there were a few reminders of the similarities between children and wild carnivores, but there were also some really special moments and the children seemed to have found great pleasure in delving into this world.

6.Props and French (yay!)

There were  some special moments during the workshop for the pre-show group, as we really played with the emotional journey Bertie goes through and relationships with his parents and with Millie – first to convince grownups (me and Ollie with our props: a hat for him, and a fan for me) that it’s really a fine idea to bring this amazing lion into the home – (I was convinced!) – and that awkward first meeting when you’re found in a place that you know you’re not supposed to be.

The post-show group also had the chance to recreate one of the most memorable and entertaining moments from the play – the French Cafe scene. This gave the group the opportunity to be not so helpful with a communication breakdown. Some of the children’s performance and creative talent came through to create something quite funny and I was a bit jealous not to be taking part myself.

7. The Amazing People We Met

The school was so welcoming and it was really clear the teaching team were enjoying the book. Personally I found it inspiring to be working in an enviroment with such a hive of energy and ideas.  It really made me think what nugget of inspiration you have to play with and set free in a class room, while having to be clear enough to make it safe and also convincing – a bit like our own performance that will soon be coming together (shameful promotion plug here).

Sadly, this little blog can’t begin to convey the power of storytelling with the book or the play so I’m just going to have to encourage you dear reader to go see the show!

Now, I’m off to construct my argument for why a lion would make the perfect security system and to find out if lion fur / saliva can aggravate a cat allergy – or it’s a non-starter.

Jenny Crowder

Follow Lesley on twitter: @JenC_UK  – or the whole STEP UP Creatives training ensemble in one handy list.

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