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Anna Reid’s Woven Bones Blog

May 29th, 2018


On a drizzly Tuesday afternoon the Cap-a-Pie team took the train to Durham. Welcomed into Durham University’s Department of Archaeology we were given an incredible opportunity: a full tour of the human bioarchaeology laboratory and the chance to lay out a skeleton of our own in the pattern of the identification process of the Scottish Soldiers. These weren’t the skeletons of the Scottish Soldiers but others who are part of other research projects being conducted at Durham University. The visit was so we could better understand the archaeology and the science behind the story of the Scottish Soldiers.

We entered the room to find the dry yellow bones/bone fragments laid out with care across the benches. The room was warm and bright, busy but neat. I was reminded of the much loved plastic skeleton in the Biology department at school (Bob) who used to disappear and reappear in ever more unlikely places (the locker room / the roof / the garden) but that complete and anatomically precise cast didn’t come close to the weathered shards on the cushioned table top.

Dr Anwen Caffell of Durham University with some of the remains of the Scottish Soldiers. Credit: Durham University / North News and Pictures.

I’m not a squeamish person, I’m reasonably robust about the ins and outs of the body, and there was nothing gory in what we were looking at. But it was somewhere after the cast of the newborn baby skeleton and just before the detailed discussion of the way abscesses burrow through the jaw bone that my vision began to dim and a gradual, persistent wave of nausea started to build in my body. I realised I was on the verge of passing out and had to sit down with my head between my legs.

For me this was the most surprising thing of the afternoon: the instinctual connection I felt with the bodies (because that’s how I realised I was thinking of them, as bodies not skeletons specifically) and my own sudden awareness of the very real writing of injury, disease and poverty on the human body. Lives so hard and so brief that the pain is written into the skeleton itself.

And that’s what we need to capture in the design: an appropriate and respectful language which can speak not just about the short painful lives of the soldiers themselves, but also about the emotional impact of the dig; reading the story of these men and boys from their final remains. The archaeologists at Durham University are deeply respectful in their work, extending to a firmly worded sign on the door reminding students of the respect due to human remains. It is incredibly moving to see the curved leg bone of a child with rickets, the deep painful cavity a young man had to live with, or the spongey bone texture of a weak and malnourished body: there is so much story in the skeleton alone.

Creating Woven Bones – Brad McCormick

May 11th, 2018


North News & Pictures

Last week we concluded our first two weeks in the rehearsal room for our brand new production ‘Woven Bones’.  We spent the fortnight devising with three actors and writer Laura Lindow, around the stories of the Scottish prisoners of war from the 17th century Battle of Dunbar whose bones were found buried in Durham in 2013.  On hand to help were also academics from Durham University’s Department of Archaeology who conducted the analysis of the skeletons and uncovered their stories.

We’ve worked with academics many times in the past and there are two things that really stand out for me about working in this way:

  1. Having such specific expertise plugged into the work in real-time.  After we show a researcher something we’ve made or complete an improvisation, they can suggest tweaks to better align the theatre with the research which in turn can have incredibly useful outcomes for character and story.

The process here was slightly different in that the Scottish Soldiers Archaeology Project has a small team of researchers attached to it so we were visited by four academics during our time in the rehearsal room, as opposed to just one in previous projects.  Each had their own specific knowledge and were never without some kind of considered and knowledgeable answer to our myriad questions.

I said to the actors at one point that if they were able to pose a question to a researcher that didn’t elicit a response then I would give them £10.

I am yet to pay anything out.

  1. You are opened up to worlds that you didn’t know much or anything about.  Things that help feed you creatively but are also just interesting and useful to know about.  What struck me most about this aspect in this project is that there seemed to be a palpable sense of interest and enthusiasm coming to us about the work that we do.  That is, the researchers themselves, who had little knowledge about making theatre, were fascinated about how we work.

Having such a clear and democratic exchange of expertise was really heartening and bodes well for the rest of the process.

Brad McCormick: The Town Meeting visits Startforth

January 24th, 2018


The Town Meeting
The Town Meeting

Photo credit: Northern Heartlands

Whenever we perform our show ‘The Town Meeting’ we get a good amount of people back for the post-show discussion.  After being involved in an 80 minute immersive show where the stakes are high and emotions can be fraught, we feel like people want to process what has just happened to them.

But after that discussion was over, we had no idea what happened to that energy that was created and whether the show had any lasting residue in the community.

But in the past couple of weeks, we were able to answer that question.

Northern Heartlands (one of 16 Great Place Schemes running across England with funding from HLF & ACE whose aim is to put arts and culture at the heart of their communities) invited us to the village of Startforth in Teesdale to perform ‘The Town Meeting’ one day and on another day run a workshop around planning, community and place.

What was unique about Startforth is that they were on the cusp of developing their Neighbourhood Plan – a potentially daunting and time-consuming process with real-world consequences for the village.  The hope was that this two-pronged approach would allow the community to look at the creation of the Plan more holistically and creatively.

We did wonder about the compatibility of having the fictional show one week and then changing gear for the workshop the next but the production not only allowed the community to become familiar with us but it allowed them to take a step back from the real issues affecting their community and reflect on what was important to them.

Dr Paul Cowie of Newcastle University who co-created ‘the Town Meeting’ and helped to plan and lead the workshop said:

“The workshop was a more constructive process which helped the community think about the vision for the neighbourhood plan and perhaps about the challenges they face along the way. It was great to see so many people turn out for both both events and tackle them with energy and enthusiasm.”

Jill Cole, the Director of Northern Heartlands was very pleased with how the two strands of the project came together:

“‘The Town Meeting’ and following workshop proved to be excellent vehicles for engaging the community, provoking discussion and getting people to think about some of the wider issues they face in their locality in a fun and inspiring way.”

Completing this work provoked us to think about an even bigger question that could be answered sometime in the future:  if planners, artists and communities could work together over a bigger project, what might that look like?

Gwilym’s Blog – The Assignment

May 12th, 2017


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


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.


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 if you’d like to know more about the show.

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

June 13th, 2016


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

“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


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


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


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


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!