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Gwilym’s Blog – The Assignment

May 12th, 2017

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How do we move around in our cities, and why? What are the invisible forces that influence our everyday behaviours? How do the local and the global come together in our cities? And what is urban space, and how is it produced?

These are just a few of the questions we’ve been tackling whilst making Cap-a-Pie’s latest show The Assignment. Following successful collaborations with geographer Michael Richardson (Under Us All) and Paul Cowie in Planning and Landscape (The Town Meeting), it’s been fascinating to work Matt Davies, Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at Newcastle University. Matt’s current research looks at how major global events like the football World Cup affect local experiences of people living in the vicinity.

At the heart of The Assignment lie a number of fundamental questions about how we relate to, create, and are created by the places around us. These are issues I’ve been interested in for as long as I can remember, and it feels like a real privilege to get to work with Cap-a-Pie again, and with Matt, on a project like this.

It’s been a varied and thoroughly enjoyable rehearsal process so far. We’ve been getting out and about, playing with ideas and workshopping and testing material around the Ouseburn and along Northumberland Street in Newcastle’s city centre.

Because of the questions that Matt’s research (and the show itself) revolve around, we’ve decided to get our audience experiencing and thinking through their city on their feet. To do this, we’re making an audio piece that audience members listen to individually. During the course of the show, they will effectively be self-directing – making decisions on where to go and carrying out a number of other tasks and activities based on prompts given to them by the audio. It’s been refreshing to work with Katy and Brad in this new way, and in a form that’s new both to me and to Cap-a-Pie. The expertise and experience of Hannah Bruce has been invaluable here, as well as the guidance and support of Coney’s Artistic Director Tassos Stevens.

Ultimately, we hope that audience members attending The Assignment will be prompted to see their city in a new way, and to think again about how – and why – they produce urban space in the way they do.

Six Legs

November 28th, 2016

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Six Legs is a new show for 4-7 year old children and their families that Cap-a-Pie created with Dr Vivek Nityananda, a scientist at Newcastle University. Vivek researches how insects perceive and understand the world and Six Legs used stories about insects to get children thinking about how humans and insects are similar or different to each other. Creating Six Legs was a rewarding and demanding project for Cap-a-Pie. It enabled the company to work with a researcher in a new context and further developed how Cap-a-Pie makes engaging and imaginative theatre for children.

Six Legs was shown at Ouseburn Farm over summer 2016, at Juice Festival in October 2016 and for local primary school children. The show has engaged 467 people including families and young children from the local area in thinking and learning about insects within an imaginary world. The previous summer Cap-a-Pie had worked with 448 people including families and school children to begin creating the show.

Cap-a-Pie were very pleased to work with a talented creative team and Dr Vivek Nityananda who was extremely generous with his time and commitment to the project.

Co-creation

Cap-a-Pie has previously partnered with academic researchers to make theatre together and Six Legs further confirmed that this is an interesting and exciting way to make shows. The material brought by Vivek was so rich and engaging it made it easy to start creating ideas for the show.

Creating Six Legs brought challenges in translating complex ideas for a very young audience. The main tension was creating a piece which was true to the research yet was accessible and engaging for children. The scientific material and the challenges of communicating this meant the artists had to find new ways to speak to and engage with the audience that led to the development of a highly innovative and unusual show.

Imaginative Play

In Six Legs the young audience participate in the show through activities and imaginative play. Prior to the start of the show the actors talk informally with the audience. This helps to create a rapport between the performer and the audience and builds the context for the imaginative world. The show then begins and the actors ask the children to build a garden for insects to inhabit.

The production makes use of recycled, thrown out and everyday objects to create set, props, costume and puppets. This choice further enables the audience to engage in imaginative play. An early part of the show is the “insect parade” where the performers use everyday items such as a brush, cardboard and a phone charger as puppets. The audience often begins shouting out and naming each as the insects they imagine them to be. One performer commented that each section of the show was like a new game that he and the children were playing together, consciously invested in the imaginary world.

Audience Feedback

One audience member commented that she saw a lot of children’s theatre with her children and Six Legs ability to draw the children into the world of the show alongside the performers was particularly exciting. Written feedback from families included

  • “Ingenious use of everyday objects”
  • “Brilliant show, fantastic acting, very imaginative.”
  • “Wonderful narrative. LOVED IT!”
  • “The composition, the actors, the presentation, the wit. It was truly amazing.”

In discussions after the show the children could articulate insect behaviour that they had seen in the show and compare it with how they acted.

The Future

In the future Cap-a-Pie plan to tour Six Legs to schools, community venues and theatres. Get in touch with katy@cap-a-pie.co.uk if you’d like to know more about the show.

Cap-a-Pie & Barbara Priestman Academy at National Theatre

June 13th, 2016

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Image - what are they like

Image - what are they likeA couple of weeks ago, we received some truly exciting news:

Cap-a-Pie is heading to the National Theatre in London!

A show directed by Artistic Director Brad McCormick will be performed at the Dorfman Theatre in late June as part of the NT Connections Festival.

For the past four years, Cap-a-Pie has worked with Barbara Priestman Academy in Sunderland on NT Connections, a nationwide scheme run by the National Theatre that involves over 10,000 young people from around the country.

Each year, the National commissions 12 new plays for young people. Schools and youth theatres from around the country choose one of the plays to rehearse and perform in two locations: first at their home base and then at a partner theatre. So for us, that was Northern Stage in Newcastle.

After that, the National selects one version of each of the 12 plays to be performed in London.

And this year, our play is one of those versions to be selected!

The show we made with the students at Barbara Priestman Academy is called What Are They Like? by Lucinda Coxon. In it, the actors play parents of teenage children who are speaking about their parenting experience. It’s a really clever concept with some incredibly funny and profound moments.

What makes it especially pleasing to have been selected (apart from the fact that we were chosen out of 500 companies participating) is that the production is very simple. It has very few technical elements and relies on the brilliant performances of the actors who have to address the audience in a very open and honest way. They’ve also developed a fantastic sense of ensemble and are always working for and with each other on and off-stage. We’re absolutely over the moon for them to have this opportunity to perform in such a beautiful space. We’ve been told that the actors were over the moon as well and that even a few happy tears were shed when they were told.

We’re back in the rehearsal room in a couple of weeks to get the play back on its feet and ready for London. A few tweaks might be made but overall we’re keen to keep the same honesty and simplicity that got us there in the first place.

What Are They Like? will be performed by Barbara Priestman Academy at Dorfman Theatre on 28th June at 7pm. Tickets – £5 from https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/connections-what-are-they-like

“I’ve tested visual perception in humans, birds and bees. What I’ve found surprising is that, despite the huge differences in brain size and structure, all animal species seem to recognise objects in similar ways.” – Quoc Vuong

October 28th, 2015

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What made you start looking at your research? 

I studied psychology for my undergraduate degree to avoid physics and chemistry. Although the choice of psychology was somewhat by accident, I was happily surprised by the range of topics explored in psychology. I became especially fascinated in how people’s brain make sense of the world around them.

How do you conduct your research?

The main tool I use is a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner that is common now in hospitals. I test volunteers in experiments in which they perform simple tasks with pictures or sounds while their brain is scanned. The scanner is a very strong magnet that allows me to see brain activity going on in different parts of the brain as volunteers perform the tasks. Based on the brain activity, I try to figure out how the brain process the information it gets from the different senses.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found out from your research?

I’ve tested visual perception in humans, birds and bees. What I’ve found surprising is that, despite the huge differences in brain size and structure, all animal species seem to recognise objects in similar ways. This suggests that there are general principles that allow animals to make sense of the world around them. The flip side is that these general principles are difficult to discover.

Why did you sign up for Performing Research?

I think it is important to communicate my research and their implications broadly to students, clinicians, artists and the public. I therefore want to learn performance skills, as it would help me engage this broad audience and make my research accessible beyond the scientific community.

How do you feel about the performance at Northern Stage?

This will be an exciting new challenge for me. Though, of course, I will be a little terrified!

“To see the end result at Northern Stage is equally exciting and terrifying – especially to hear reactions from the audience.” Laura Richards

October 28th, 2015

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Performing Research

Performing ResearchLaura Richards has recently completed a Masters at Newcastle University. She investigated the new campaign This Girl Can by Sport England.

In this blog Laura tells us more about her research, what inspired her to do this project and what she found out.

What made you start looking at your research? 

The year before I started my research I was working for an NGO based in Cambodia, that used football as a tool to tackle gender inequality. One of the challenges we faced was in encouraging rural communities to let girls play football, as there was a genuine belief that playing sport would turn the girls into boys. This ‘change’ wasn’t an abstract idea, rather it was believed to be a bodily change – there was a belief that girls would physically change sex and wouldn’t be able to have children.

This really interested me, as it prompted me to think about my personal experiences of gender and sport: not being allowed to play football in P.E. classes because girls weren’t allowed to play in boys’ leagues, male players at a tennis club being told they were hitting like a girl in front of female players, etc.

Not long after I returned to the UK, Sport England launched their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, to encourage more women and girls to participate in sport. The campaign received widespread positive feedback, but I found the videos and posters jarring. It made me wonder if women were embracing the ‘girl’ identity and if this was actively encouraging them to take up sports.

How do you conduct your research?

My research was carried out through an analysis of social media interactions, surrounding the hashtag #thisgirlcan on Twitter. A big part of Sport England’s campaign relied on social media participation, so it provided an opportunity to observe online conversations as they were happening.

I used a method of analysis which allowed me to pinpoint moments in interactions where social media users moved from being less powerful to more powerful. The method also recognised that gender is one of many competing discourses, which allowed me to analyse how gender was constructed online, in the context of sport and the campaign.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found out from your research?

The most surprising thing I found was probably the individual instances where the This Girl Can social media campaign genuinely seemed to empower social media users. For example, one subject tweeted that they didn’t last long on a run, as a boy had commented on their appearance. By engaging with this user, Sport England successfully encouraged them to continue running. I wasn’t expecting to see such a clear and direct response to the campaign.

Other than that, it was surprising to find that there were three distinct gendered identities that were repeatedly performed by social media users. Of the three, the most interesting was that subjects who embodied the notion of ‘This Girl Can’, were not usually tweeting about sports. Those that tweeted about doing sport actually appeared to actively rejected a ‘girl’ identity.

Why did you sign up for Performing Research?

This is the third time I’ve joined Performing Research. I joined originally to do something a bit outside of my comfort zone and see how drama and research can intersect. This time, I’m looking forward to seeing how other people respond to my research and for the opportunity to explore those responses outside of a classroom setting.

How do you feel about the performance at Northern Stage?

It’ll be really interesting to see how my research develops and grows throughout the course of Performing Research, as others have an imput into it. To see the end result at Northern Stage is equally exciting and terrifying – especially to hear reactions from the audience.

What does it mean to say ‘I rate my happiness as 7 on a scale of 0 to 10’? – Matt Jenkins

October 27th, 2015

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Performing Research

Matt Jenkins is just finishing his PhD at Newcastle University where he looked at how and why statistics are created. One of the statistics he focussed on was the happiness measure. Britain is around 7.2/10 happy and Matt wanted to find out what went into calculating that number. Matt is working with Cap-a-Pie on Performing Research and the show at Northern Stage will feature his research as theatre.

We caught up with Matt to find out more abut his research and how he feels about taking part in Performing Research.

What made you start looking at your research? 

I sort of fell into it – the original plan had been to use a particular government statistic in quite a dry, technical way to help think about inequalities in education and opportunities. The more I looked at that statistic though, the weirder it seemed – I couldn’t understand how the people that made it thought they could count what they were counting. So my question became that really, how do official statisticians count things? I shifted to looking at the ‘Measuring National Well-being’ programme, because it was much easier to access the people who made it and because ‘well-being’ seemed like such a non-numeric thing. What does it mean to say ‘I rate my happiness as 7 on a scale of 0 to 10’? And what does it mean when lots of people say that? Three years on, I still don’t know what it all means, but I do know a little more about how it happens.

How do you conduct your research?

One of the things I wanted to show was that statistics don’t come out purely out of theory or out of reality – it’s not that there is a thing called ‘well-being’ which we’ve identified and understood theoretically and that we then go out and count. Instead, statistics are made by people in social contexts, interacting with each other and the situations they find themselves in. So part of my research involves going through official reports, histories, theoretical texts, press releases and the like to try and get an idea of what those situations are. The rest is looking at meeting minutes and personal accounts of statistic-making and, most importantly, talking to people involved in making statistics to find out what their interactions were.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found out from your research?

There was a load of stuff that I knew intellectually and so sort of expected, but which was a bit of shock when it came out in interviews, mainly around the way that people live their ideas. The statistic you see is a set of numbers which look quite clinical and scientific. But they come out of debates and arguments in which people are passionately involved – in principle all that is going on is a debate about ideas, but it very quickly becomes a debate about the people who hold those ideas. Some of that gets taken quite personally. I’d been hoping to rehumanise statistics by showing some of the people involved in their creation, and I got to see a bit more grit than I’d expected.

Why did you sign up for Performing Research?

I do research because I want to improve the understanding of the world. You can do that by increasing knowledge, and you can do that by spreading knowledge out to more people. We don’t get enough opportunities to do the spreading part, so I was really glad to have the chance.

How do you feel about the performance at Northern Stage?

I’m hoping I’ll get to be light-tech or something.

INSECT BLOG – Post-project

September 7th, 2015

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Insect Drama Workshops

Last week was our final week of workshops for the Ouseburn Farm’s holiday programme.  The last three workshops were spent almost in a state of ‘live rehearsal’ as we looked ahead to the work-in-progress showings that went ahead on the Friday afternoon.Insect Drama Workshops

With over half the show taking place outside we anxiously checked the weather reports to see if the day would be kind to us.  Thankfully it was and the stockpile of umbrellas we’d brought from home weren’t needed.  Of course that is just one day and if we’re going to tour this in outside spaces over the long term, the UK weather is bound to get us at some point so how we cope with inclement weather will be important.

The showings themselves lasted for about an hour and had a story and structure that had evolved over the past couple of weeks.  The challenges were primarily logistical, with just two actors playing a variety of insects with different costumes in different locations it was crucial to figure out a route around the garden for both of them that was easy to follow and meant they had the time to change costume.  The showings were well received with some useful feedback coming from the audience and many things to think about going forward. 

It’s looking likely that we’ll be back in rehearsals in early 2016 to shape what we’ve done into something closer to the actual show the public will see.  We’ve come to really like this way of working – a few periods of concentrated working with time in between for thinking and writing.  it seems to give us space and clarity when making pieces which we find extremely useful.  So until then I’ll be looking over everything we created and figuring out where to go from here.

It’s been a great summer and we’d like to thank the Ouseburn Farm for hosting us, Dr Vivek Nityananda for his insect expertise, our brilliant actors Hannah Goudie and Aron De Casmaker for their limitless energy and invention, Newcastle University and Arts Council England for their support, Byker, Hotspur and St Lawrence’s RC Primary Schools and of course everyone who came along (several hundred of you) to the workshops to explore your inner insect!

Insect Blog – Post-workshop, day 10

August 26th, 2015

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Insect Drama Workshops

Insect Drama WorkshopsA small but very engaged group of children today which meant a really lovely workshop with lots of great things. One participant came along for the third time and her mother said that her daughter had been playing bee games after coming to the workshops and that the science we mention in the workshops had really been staying with her. Result!

I think today’s session puts us in a good position heading into a days rehearsal with the actors tomorrow with a view towards putting together our work-in-progress showing next week.

In past workshops I’ve definitely been guilty of rushing things, of going to far too fast which sometimes seems to shock the kids into silence or shyness. But I was really happy with how it seemed to pan out with the participants, who seemed a bit shy to begin with, slowly coming out of their shells and by the end they were happily getting involved.

Using an easel, a walking stick, a sheet and some tape I’d put together a ‘flat’, which is basically a free-standing wall – something that the actors can be behind and then come out from in character. It means it makes it a bit more magical, the insect characters seem to appear from nowhere and when one actor exits, the audience’s imagination can reset before the next characters comes out.

We spent most of the hour meeting the different insect characters and revisiting some of the scenes and situations we’d created over the past few weeks. Our actors were amazing as usual – I give them a quick rundown of what we’re going to be doing each day but never in much detail so they have to just run with whatever I throw at them, not really knowing what scene they’re going to have to do next. And they jump in every time. 

With just 5 workshops to go before the end of the summer, it feels like the show is starting to take a wee bit of shape which is reassuring and exciting.

Insect Blog – Post-workshop, day 9

August 21st, 2015

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Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

After an hour of workshopping today we came out with a great song, which is what we wanted but it was a tricky session overall.

It started well, with some real live insects in the room (some grasshoppers in a clear plastic box that really grabbed the kid’s interest) and some physicalising of crickets, learning more about them through Vivek’s commentary of their behaviour and then turning them into humans.

We moved into the musical element of the session with some playing of percussion instruments to accompany the cricket’s activity.  So far, so good.

But when we moved into starting to write lyrics we hit a bit of a wall and the session seemed to peter out.  We begun with what we felt was an accessible exercise about where the crickets were, what they did and how they might feel amongst their environment but shyness seemed to take over and it was left to the parents to chip in most of the ideas.

One factor may have been that our participants were very young overall and perhaps this way of working was too complex for them.  Therein lies the challenge for these sessions and one that I’m always grappling with – there is no way of predicting the number or age of the participants from day to day.  So when it comes to planning you have to make an educated guess as to what will appeal to a variety of age groups and then, in the moment, try to change it if it isn’t working.  This is something that isn’t always possible, or at least you don’t feel it’s possible as your brain whirs away trying to think of an alternative. 

So as well as generating material to make a show and connecting with lots of children and their families from within the community, (I hope) these workshops are making me a better facilitator.

Next week is quite an important week as on Wednesday we’re rehearsing with the actors for most of that day, putting together the core of what will be shared at the work-in-progress showing the following week.  The shape of that is coming together, it’s just a matter of taking all the fragments we’ve made and joining the dots between them.  At least, that’s the plan.

Insect Blog – Post-workshop, day 8

August 21st, 2015

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Bee

Bee

After a couple of false starts brought about by plans changing and the weather being awful, we finally made it outside.  We’re lucky having an office at the Ouseburn Farm where there is lots of greenery to be found and also, by default, real live insects.

We took our participants (all 20 of them, including some repeat customers which is encouraging) to the orchard which is away from the main farm building and a bit more secluded.  It was lovely to be outside in such a big space and we were able to use the distance available to good effect as we watched 

Hannah’s bee buzz around from 50 yards away.  A pond with real dragonflies flying around was a real highlight and there was also an abundance of real bumblebees and honey bees.

The challenges are moving a group of that size around, it takes up a fair bit of time which means you can lose the magic somewhat.

But it wasn’t bad for a first effort.  We’re considering the possibilities of a show that starts inside and then moves outside as it did yesterday.  We bring the group together in a more intimate space, set up some conventions, the audience can ‘meet’ the actors and some characters and then, as a team, we can move outside where the lion’s share of the performance takes place.  We’ll see.

Tomorrow is also an exciting ‘first’ for the Insect Drama Workshops as we are going to try and write some songs that will be sung by a ‘cricket choir’!