On Wednesday 22nd February, my group, with the aim of teaching English to Key Stage 1 students, attended Guildhall Feoffment Primary School to perform ‘Olivia and the Disappearing Stories’ to approximately sixty children in reception. This projected started back in September, however, it was a while before I was placed in a group with Emma Croft, Lou Rowe, Jack Taylor-Balls and James Ingram.
We all had individual contributions throughout the project, starting from the initial idea after receiving the theme of English, we decided that we wanted reading to contribute to our piece. The idea from the first meeting on the 8th November was to try to encourage children to keep reading and broaden their imagination. From there, we decided to take notes from the syllabus and when we did, we agreed that we would base our performance on different fairy tale characters. My first contribution to this discussion turned out to have a lasting impact on the script, with different adaptions being made. I first had the idea of different fairy tale characters falling out of their own story and all in one. From there, Lou took main responsibility of creating the script, with each of us writing different scenes. I worked with Lou on the scenes between her character Olivia and mine, which was her mother.
My original character was not Olivia’s mother, instead, except Lou, all of the other characters were going to be in this one story, myself playing the Fairy God Mother. This changed after a meeting after thinking of the negative impacts the children may have, changing it to Olivia dreaming of characters being lost, with the Fairy God Mother becoming my final character, the mother. A challenge that I faced throughout this role was to be the character who reaches out to our young audience to encourage them to read. Therefore, the script had to have scenes which allowed my character to be able to explain why reading is so important, this was important for us as well as we could then meet the syllabus we created. Part of the syllabus we created was to broaden children’s imagination, which I wanted to include in my lines. In order for me to do this, I added a line where my character speaks about the fact that reading can introduce you to many different worlds. These worlds may be descriptive and instead of having them on a television screen, children are able to picture that world and the characters in their mind as they read. Scene three is where this information comes, when Olivia is told by Katie that she can’t read anymore stories. This was a vital point to have this scene, the previous one was Katie discouraging Olivia to read, so a quick pick up was needed for the audience who shouldn’t be influenced by Katie. If we left that impact on them for too long, they could have been more influence due to that staying in their head. If there is one thing I would change about our final script, it would be to have my character re-enforcing that message at the end. We have Katie realising that reading is good, but she doesn’t explain why, like Olivia’s mother did early on.
In terms of Olivia’s mother, I had to make the contribution to expand on her characteristics in the piece. To do this, I had to build a back story which made her passionate about reading because if I didn’t know about or believe in this character, the audience definitely wouldn’t. I therefore created Imogen, a single mother to Olivia who worked on the children’s ward, who would look after her patients and read them stories. I felt that this made a difference in my performances as I could have this information in the back of my head to remember when reading and explaining why reading is important. This part was during the refinement process, although before I had previously had a brief discussion about Imogen, I never fully expanded on her until this point.
Rhyming was used frequently throughout the lines of the fairy tale characters. Although I missed the session on the 21st November when this idea was brought about, I still made contributions to these rhymes. The one I made a contribution to was a rhyme we had for the wolf speaking to Olivia towards the end, which although was not used, we were able to create a scene from it and build from there. The wolf is the enemy throughout the piece because of my suggestion in a session. At that point, we were struggling to keep the piece flowing and was in a meeting about it with a tutor. I suggested that the wolf could be the enemy throughout, which we then developed to be the character stealing story characters. For me, I think this was a breakthrough for our script, previously we were struggling with expanding the script, the performance had to be at least 20 minutes but much of the time, we struggled to reach 10.
Towards the end of the project, we had to work together as a group to get the set completed, we had decided on having a magical forest and Olivia’s bedroom as the painted set. I contributed to this by drawing out part of the magical forest and painting the purple leaves, which would immediately give the impression to our audience that this was special because it was different to ordinary forests. Costume by this point was also something which we had to start deciding on, I always had the idea of Imogen being casual, so I brought in my costume, which was light blue jeans, a peach top and a white cardigan with slippers. This would create a more comfortable feel to the character and add to the vision that the scenes I was involved in were set at her house.
In terms of my growth as a T.I.E performer, I feel that it developed the more the process went on. We had sessions early in the process where we talked about our voice throughout the performance. Because we were performing to young children, this was important due to the fact that if we spoke too fast, they would not understand, leading to them losing concentration. Pace and volume were two things that were constantly mentioned as we need them to focus on us, another factor we mentioned was variety in our voice. We couldn’t speak in the same tone throughout as our audience could get bored, therefore, we had to remember to speak low and high to keep it interesting. I was able to do this, especially when I was telling Olivia and the audience the two stories ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’. I found it easier to slow down when I was speaking directly to the children, I had to keep eye contact with them to know that they were listening to me, looking around slowly to ensure everyone was paying attention. This is something else which I didn’t really develop that much until the refinement process. We had another session about facing the audience when speaking, it was vital that we involve all of the them and loom around to everyone, I believe that I really grew in this aspect, especially towards the end. Because I had rehearsed this many times, I really enjoyed telling these stories and speaking out to the audience when it came to the final performance. There were times when I looked out to the audience when I didn’t need to, especially in short scenes, this made it feel unnatural. Originally, I only noted down when to look at the audience in long speeches, in future, I will do this for the whole script to ensure it feels right.
The work we completed right at the start of the process which looked at practitioner work I felt really helped me through the rest of the process. One which really stood out to me was Uta Hagen and her character questions, this helped with creating Imogen and creating not only her back story, but thinking about where she was at the time and which time of day it is. It created a clear picture of what I wanted her to look like, which really helped in getting her costume and hair sorted easily. A similar practioner I thought of in terms of my character was Stanislavski with his emotion memory, because I had made Imogen a single mother, I was able to think of questions and try to answer them in character to develop this further. For the future as a practitioner, I can keep these two in my mind when creating and developing characters. Another practitioner used which I think can help me in the future as a practioner was Michael Checkov and his focus on putting negative feeling towards anyone away. One thing I have learned is that any feelings towards someone in my group have had to disappear during sessions, otherwise the work or performance will not reach the highest standard.
Finally, when we finally took Olivia and the Disappearing Stories out to a primary school, we were able to make continuous changes over time to make sure it reached the syllabus. Although our workshop was not presented to who we planned to, we were able to have a greater effect on them as they cannot properly read yet. We were able to introduce them to stories which they can read and also help them with spelling, which were able to achieve with the bingo cards. Having descriptions in the performance, especially with Lou’s description of the magical forest and not having all the information drawn onto the set, I felt meant that they had to really imagine it since it wasn’t there. This, along with my character’s contribution to the syllabus of imagination meant that this was reached through all of the performance. All of us, except from James’s wolf had sections which mentioned about the excitement of reading, which meant we met the section where we encouraged them to read, shown in our workshop when they mentioned Peter Pan being a great story.
In conclusion, despite set backs and the long process of having to continually adapt our piece, we were able to create an effective piece which met the English syllabus for primary school children. As a team, we were able to get through the process with little trouble and worked well to decide on ideas, creating the script and refining. Personally, I would have liked to have been involved in the magical world, however, I felt this would have ruined the effect of the mother, who is the only character who does not get to go into the magical forest. Although contributing throughout, I still felt I could go further so in future, I want to be able to push myself further by writing more and having even more ideas.