“I genuinely did not expect to laugh as much as I did, or be as profoundly moved. That ending was so powerful, and retained its power each time I watched it.“
– Cathy L Shrank – Professor of Tudor and Renaissance Literature at University of Sheffield
If you ask someone ‘have you heard of Thomas Nashe?’, we’ve found that people will probably say ‘no’.
If the name is new to you, Nashe was a writer mostly active in London during the 1590s. After coming out of the Elizabethan version of higher education, he found a total lack of employment opportunities and struggled to be seen, heard and read. His frustration with the world comes through strongly in his very nihilistic and scathing works. He managed to get by with the help of various patrons and work as a ‘hack’ writer (a pen for hire) until his death at 32 while in exile in Norfolk.
Researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield have been looking into Nashe’s writing and making strong connections between his own situation and what young people are facing today – the changing world of work and economic precariousness brought about by the hoarding of wealth and outside factors like pandemics (just as we had Covid, Nashe had to deal with outbreaks of plague).
As part of the wider ‘Penniless’ research project (one of Nashe’s most famous works was called ‘Pierce Penniless’), Cap-a-Pie was asked to devise a piece of theatre that responded to Nashe’s works and looked at those modern-day themes. What was created (a work co-devised by performers Emily Corless, Rachel Stockdale and Mahsa Hammat Bahary) was ‘Propa Penniless’, a mixture of Nashe’s words, our contemporary take on him as well as sections involving the actor’s own experience of work and the difficulty of trying to be an artist.
‘Pierce Penniless’ is a dense and difficult text but the researchers knowledge of it and the world that Nashe lived in was invaluable to us when we were devising. We were really proud of what we made – feedback from the audience showed that the piece both amused them and moved them.
Sections of the piece were filmed to be part of a short documentary about the project that will be released soon.
In June 2022, we delivered a project in partnership with Newcastle University Education Outreach team at the Robinson Library, inspired by some archival material about coal mining disasters that took place in Heaton and Wallsend in the 1800s. In both cases, many men and young children lost their lives.
Over the course of a week, Year 5 and 6 students from both Carville Primary and Chillingham Road visited the University to see some of the historical documents and artefacts, and learn more about coal mining and the local history. After this, they created a performance devised from everything they had learnt and found interesting or fascinating. The students were intrigued and moved by the fact that children as young as 5 were sent down the mines to work. These pieces of theatre were performed outdoors in a beautiful venue in Gateshead, West Hedley Farm. Luckily, the weather was on our side and both schools did really well.
To create a piece of theatre in a week is a huge achievement and to do it outdoors in the round too! Well done to all involved.
“The children were incredibly proud of their achievements, and it was great to see the child-led learning take place.”
In mid-November 2021, Cap-a-Pie headed to COP26 – the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Our filmed theatre show ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ had been chosen to be shown as part of the conference.
We were really excited to share the news with everyone, especially the students who helped us to make the show:
“I think it’s very good that Climate Change Catastrophe! is being shown at COP26 because it’s a better chance that kids ideas are getting out into the world”
– Year 5 student, Hotspur Primary School
Our one-hour slot included a brief introduction by me and our engineer collaborator, Dr Alistair Ford; then the 6 episodes of ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ were screened, followed by a Q&A with people in the live audience and those watching at home.
Despite competing against well-known composer Brian Eno, who was on elsewhere at the same time as us, our screening was almost at capacity and hundreds more were watching a live stream of the event.
We heard and saw loads of positive reactions to the films with some young people in the audience particularly enjoying themselves. We also had some great questions come in including “Why do you think governments don’t listen to children?” and “Can we legislate our way out of the climate crisis?”
Thankfully Alistair was on hand to handle the trickier questions.
Even if the outcomes from the conference don’t seem enough at this point to make a significant difference to the climate crisis, it was a great privilege to be a part of COP26. And as one student put it:
“Maybe most of our ideas can’t happen, but at least they show something can happen”
Find out more about Climate Change Catastrophe! here.
‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ has always been a collaboration between Cap-a-Pie and three groups of people.
In the first phase of the project, we mostly worked with two of those groups: engineers at Newcastle University who are studying climate change; and primary school-aged children.
Through working with these two groups, we were able to generate material for 6 short films that cover a wide range climate change science: the greenhouse effect, carbon capture, heatwaves and more. The research and expertise of the researchers was poured into a series of lesson plans that were brilliantly delivered by teachers in the classroom and parents at home (all of this happened when schools were closed at the beginning of 2021). Students created characters, scripts, scene ideas, drawings and more to help us make the show.
April 2021 is when we started to work intensively with the third group – our amazing creative team of freelance actors, designers, production managers and filmmakers.
Hannah Goudie-Hunter and Liam Scarth will be the two faces you will see on-screen when the films come out – they play all the characters and do a brilliant job of interpreting, enhancing and performing the children’s ideas.
Katie Doherty wrote all the music that you will hear in the show – from jingles to instrumentals to incidental music as well as three unbelievably catchy songs that you will be humming along to in next to no time. One of the songs, ‘Who’s Gonna Stop the Rain?’, includes a rap in the middle and we were very fortunate to have this performed by local rapper Kema Kay.
Verity Quinn designed the sets and costumes. Our set is a beautiful classroom space – the warm colours and sharp geometric lines that you’ll see on the film makes the set great to look at, but what is also brilliant is that the space is also incredibly versatile. We cover a lot of ground in these films – classrooms, newsrooms, arctic landscapes, cities underwater – and the set allows us to do all of those things.
Dan Saggars is the lighting designer – as well as providing lighting on-stage to cater for all our different settings, Dan had the idea to install special lighting panels behind the windows of the set (you’ll see what I mean when you see the film). They were so versatile and allowed us to really use the window space in our classroom set.
Production Manager Rachel Glover is a regular Cap-a-Pie collaborator, making sure everything is running smoothly, keeping us on track and on time – not an easy job when there is so much to be done.
Finally, Lindsay Duncanson, Marek Gabrysch and Dan Wallder were the filmmakers behind capturing all these scenes on film and putting them together – consulting on angles, laying tracks for tracking shots and making sure everything can be seen and heard. They even indulged us with some stop-motion animation!
Now that the films are all finished, we’ll be working with another group of people – our audience – who we’re hoping will watch, learn and even change their behaviours based on the combined work of young people, engineers and creatives who put together ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’
You can watch the show on our website. We’d love to hear what you think. Tag us on social media @capapiecreative on Facebook & Twitter.
I am a Year 2 teacher and Arts Lead at Hotspur Primary School, an inner-city comprehensive school in Newcastle upon Tyne. The school is nationally recognised for its innovative arts projects and high-quality pastoral care for all pupils.
I am also a trustee for Cap-a-Pie theatre company, having enjoyed their work both as a collaborator and audience member since 2016. Cap-a-Pie create child-led theatre based on academic rigour. They play an important role in Newcastle’s cultural landscape. As a theatre company they are excellent at redistributing power for young people; providing a safe space and platform for children to express themselves. This is particularly evident in their most recent project ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’
“We use stories to help us understand the world and therefore the best way to create a better future is to first imagine one.”
‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ saw Cap-a-Pie work with hundreds of children across the North of England as well as scientists and engineers at Newcastle University to create a free six-part online series about climate change. By collaborating with KS2 children, Cap-a-Pie were able to create an emotional narrative that was underpinned by engineering, climate science and academic rigour. We use stories to help us understand the world and therefore the best way to create a better future is to first imagine one. A project like ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’ transforms the challenges of the environmental changes ahead into something that is playful, inquisitive and investigative for children. Consequently, those involved feel empowered about dealing with a subject that could have been overwhelming and intimidating.
The project was rolled out during the second lockdown in which children were accessing the content either online through the school’s platform or, for a small number of children, in the classroom. Some of the feedback from teachers who delivered the content created by Cap-a-Pie included:
“Cap-a-Pie really went above and beyond with the materials that they provided for the online learning because they gave different options. So you could either get your kids to watch the video that they’d recorded or you could go through the slides yourself.” – Christ Church School
“Climate Change Catastrophe project was delivered fantastically under current circumstances. The children were able to engage fully with the videos/tasks delivered as they were clear, effective and enjoyable. This was a brilliant little unit of work to do on climate change. The thing that I took from it was really positive.” – Hotspur Primary School
“The material in the activities was really age appropriate and they were fun activities. I could see from the amount of work that the kids had done that they were interested in it. For example, designing your own microbe and the diary entry – you could tell they were interested in it.” – Cragside Primary School
We had high levels of engagement with the project from those who were home learning which is a testimony to Cap-a-Pie’s ability to inspire young people as home-learning engagement was one of the biggest challenges we faced during the second lockdown.
For those taking part, seeing their suggestions made into a series of films gives them confidence in their ideas and actions. For the audience, the end product gives you hope that this mobilising, mega-modern young generation, who are able to orchestrate political activism on previously unimaginable scale within less than 48 hours, may just be able to succeed where previous generations have failed.
As of 12 of May 2021 episodes will be available to watch on Cap-a-Pie’s YouTube channel. Find out more here. Enjoy!
Cap-a-Pie is so pleased to have been awarded funding from the Culture Recovery Fund. It’s really critical support for us to enable us to continue engaging with schools, communities and audiences.
It will allow us, and our freelancers, to get back into classrooms engaging with schools in our local area. We will be delivering fun and creative theatre workshops for children and teachers. We know schools and teachers have been working exceptionally hard during the past year and this support will allow us to start working with them as soon as possible. Our school partners are particularly keen to start inviting arts organisations into classrooms as soon as safely possible. They recognise the value of these experiences, particularly for children facing disadvantage, and those who might otherwise miss out on cultural activities.
Support from Cultural Recovery Fund will also support Cap-a-Pie’s running costs over the next few months. It will mean we have a bit of space and time to invest in planning future projects with our communities and partners.
We’ve been working hard all through the pandemic to continue creating theatre and engaging with schools digitally and remotely. It’s been fantastic to be able to continue to be useful to our community as well as employ freelancers to work on projects. We’ve been really grateful to our funders and partners for enabling us to change things up and respond to Covid-19. However, planning and delivering all of this changed activity has had a big impact on our ability to plan and fundraise for the future – essential as a project by project funded organisation.
Like for so many people, this pandemic has been a lesson in how to pivot. From the middle of last year we had three schools projects on the horizon. In ‘normal’ times we would be in the classroom for all three projects, working with students and using drama to help them explore big ideas.
The first two, one about the 1831 cholera outbreak in Newcastle and Gateshead and one about the English Civil War, have relied on teachers delivering lesson plans on our behalf. We’ve been exceptionally grateful for the teachers’ willingness to do this and there have been many positives coming out of delivering work in this way.
The third project, a continuation of our 2019 show ‘Climate Change Catastrophe!’, was meant to go the same way. We were crafting lesson plans for teachers to deliver that would give students a foundation in climate change science as well as introducing them to cutting edge research being done right now by engineers at Newcastle University. From there the students would complete creative exercises related to the research and send them back to us – the material that we got back would be used to make the show that would be filmed and distributed later in the year.
But with school closures coming into effect in January, we knew we needed to pivot once more. It was a case of offering the original lesson plans to teachers to deliver to any students still coming into school, as well as repurposing them for students learning at home.
It was an obvious solution and one we were up for, but it did cause a collective intake of breath when thinking about the extra work involved. There were originally 9 traditionally structured lesson plans, in an instant we had to create 9 more – the content would broadly be the same between school and home learning versions but the plans for schools had to become scripts to be filmed by the actors. Some exercises that would work in the classroom had to be rethought for the home versions.
We’d become relatively familiar with setting out lesson plans for classroom learning, but home learning was new to us. What will work in a home lesson plan? How much is too much? Have we adequately explained the science of carbon capture to an 8 year old?
It was pretty challenging and time-consuming to put it all together.
At time of writing, the plans went out to teachers earlier this week and they’ll be delivered in school or completed at home in the fortnight before the February half-term.
In the pilot version of this project in 2019, we were in the classroom for several weeks and were able to tap into the brilliant imaginations of 60 year 4 students. Their input as writers, directors, devisers and dramaturgs was invaluable and brought the show to life. Although this iteration is being delivered remotely, we’re hopeful many students will engage with it, not just for the sake of the show but for their own learning and knowledge of climate change and how they can help to make a difference.
We all want to say a big thank you to the teachers who have talked through our changing plans with us. We’re very grateful they’ve taken the time to speak with us at a time when they are facing so many challenges. Thank you!
By Professor Suzanne Moffatt, Population & Health Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University UK
The early stages of lockdown were chaotic. All of us making major adjustments to our lives, frontline workers struggling to get the equipment needed to do their jobs safely, millions working from home, our entire way of life disintegrating. With the millions forced to move onto Universal Credit, came the wider realisation that this social security system is not fit for purpose.
Research in North East England published in 2019 led by Dr Mandy Cheetham of Teesside and Northumbria Universities (available to read on BMJ Open) demonstrated the ways in which Universal Credit undermines health and wellbeing and offers neither support nor adequate income. Getting research findings to a wider audience is a key part of our work as academics. Partnering with theatre company Cap-a-Pie and award winning writer Laura Lindow was an ideal way to do this. Supported by a series of grants from Newcastle University’s Institute of Social Science, Population & Health Sciences Institute and Catherine Cookson Fund, we developed the project into a fully fledged theatre piece. Further funding from The National Lottery via Arts Council England and Gateshead Council meant the creative team could go ahead with a week’s further research, produce a script, rehearse the play and four live performances of ‘Credit’ were planned in April 2020. Each performance had a brilliant post-show expert panel lined up for a discussion with the audience. The shows sold out in days.
Dismantling our efforts at the start of lockdown was heartbreaking. Not least because of the impact on the creative team and uncertainties about their future, but also because as a result of COVID-19, Universal Credit impacts on many more individuals and families. Giving a voice to those affected is needed now more than ever.
Salvaging ‘Credit’ has been an incredible team effort and a huge accomplishment by the creative team. It’s been tricky at times to work out what could be safely achieved, but we’re going ahead in an altered format. A slightly reduced, but nonetheless hard-hitting and moving script has been completed. Actors Christina Dawson and Cooper McDonough are being directed by Brad McCormick, produced by Katy Vanden and will be filmed in the theatre performing a rehearsed reading. Credit will be livestreamed on 16th September at 2pm and 7pm, each performance followed by a virtual live Q & A with an amazing expert panel including Patrick Butler Guardian Newspaper social affairs editor, Alice Wiseman Gateshead Council Director of Public Health, Alison Dunn Chief Executive Gateshead Citizens Advice Bureau, Clive Davis Welfare Rights Officer, Newcastle Council and Laura Lindow, writer.
Credit is an honest look at how Universal Credit can impact on people’s lives, told through the story of ‘Lisa’. The play is based on the experiences of many people claiming Universal Credit as well as those supporting people caught up in the system, who helped shape the script.
I wasn’t surprised that the original theatre performances sold out in a matter of days. There is now no limit to the number of people who can view the play. I urge you to share information about Credit, view the performance and take part in the Q&A. Help us to inspire people to think about the current state of our social security system, how it affects individuals, families, communities and diminishes our society as a whole and how it could be improved. If the recent months have taught us anything, it’s that things can change, and change quickly.
In April 2020, theatre company Cap-a-Pie was scheduled to begin rehearsals on their brand new production named ‘Credit’, a show about Universal Credit and how that welfare reform was affecting residents of Gateshead and Newcastle. The show aims to ask questions around how we see the benefits system and to lay bare the situation for many people who claim Universal Credit.
With lockdown and social distancing brought about by Covid-19, in-person rehearsals were cancelled and our scheduled performances at Alphabetti Theatre were postponed until further notice.
However, the creative team of Katy Vanden (producer), Brad McCormick (director), Laura Lindow (writer), Cooper McDonough and Christina Dawson (actors), Anna Reid (designer), Roma Yagnik (composer), Rachel Glover (production manager), Mandy Cheetham (Teeside University & Gateshead Council) and Suzanne Moffatt (Newcastle University) resolved to continue working on the production virtually and to do as much work as possible to get us ready for the time that we are able to be in a room together again.
The project received funding from several sources obtained over a period of four months in 2019 – starting with Newcastle University’s Institute for Social Science, then Newcastle University’s Population & Health Sciences Institute, a further grant was obtained from the Catherine Cookson Foundation, Gateshead Council awarded a sum and we then received funds from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
As the amount of funding increased, so did the scope and ambition of the creative work and the collaboration between the creative team, the researchers and experts in Universal Credit. When the lockdown occurred, only six weeks before the scheduled performances, it was heartbreaking to ‘un-invite’ the audience and panel members and postpone the performance.
We’re so grateful to our funders and partners for supporting us at this time. With their support we have been able to use our time in lockdown productively and support our freelance artists.
The following report is a summary of our activities that we were able to complete in that time in regards to the text itself; the sound design and music; and the set design. What has occurred have been some incredibly useful conversations, exercises and explorations that will be invaluable to us when we come to rehearse the play in full (and in person).
We’re so excited to get back to working on Credit as soon as possible.
One 16th September you can watch our actors read a section Credit online. We’ll then host 2 live events with some of the most interesting thinkers on welfare reform.
Read-throughs The process began as many rehearsals do, with a read-through of the play. To begin with it was just the director and the actors on Zoom to get used to reading it aloud over the internet.
The following day a read-through was done for the rest of the creative team.
What was immediately apparent was the challenge of connection between actors when they are not in the same room and how much of a person-to-person medium theatre is. That is not to say that the read-through did not work as the actors did a superb job and it was fantastic to hear the text aloud for the first time.
It also allowed writer Laura Lindow to hear the text aloud in relation to where there may need to be changes and tweaks to the script.
The play is essentially narrated by the two performers playing versions of themselves. When there are no named characters as such, the team talked about who these narrators are, why they are telling this story and because there is a significant amount of direct address, what is their relationship to the audience?
Part of the rehearsal process was an ‘interview’ with the writer, Laura, where the director and actors could ask questions about the script, the reasons and motivations for making certain choices and clarifying story points. This kind of exercise is invaluable to get further insights into the script from the person who conceived it.
Music Initial conversations about music were around something that had the flavour of the 80s New Romantics – it has drive and energy and a sharpness to it; there is also a connection to politics as it was primarily around during the Thatcher years.
Composer Roma Yagnik asked Brad McCormick (director) to source some images related to the movement of the piece that would help her with the compositions.
From the read-through Roma was able to start making sketches of possible compositions as well as some sound design ideas. Based on that excellent work there is now a musical palette to work from in rehearsals. Everything that was made felt like it had a place somewhere in the piece.
One of the forms that is considered is ‘live foley’, that is where sound effects will be created live on-stage by the performers. During rehearsals with the actors sections were identified where foley might come into play.
There have been discussions about having two microphones on-stage to assist in the live foley but to also be used by the actors to deliver text when appropriate.
Design The design process began with conversations between Brad McCormick and designer Anna Reid a few months ago to get a sense of a starting point.
Anna and Brad found themselves drawn to images which spoke to the larger scale of an urban environment, but could also provide a smaller frame for the more personal aspects of the story.
The initial sketches that Anna has done have all included a backdrop with vertical slats – it’s very corporate and generic but also has the feel of cheap rented accommodation that a lot of claimants are forced into. The structure also has the potential to have light shone through it from behind to create a really strong image. There will be a delineated floor of some kind to mark out the story-telling space and some small box-like structures to create levels and help us to create different environments.
It’s become a pretty regular occurrence in the past few days for my friends and I to swap pop culture recommendations. Everyone is looking for something new to read, watch and listen to that will get them through a lockdown at home. I’m going to give you a recommendation of my own, but it’s one that has a lot of parallels to our next scheduled production.
‘Credit’, about Universal Credit and the effects it’s having on people in the North East of England, was going to be performed at the end of April. We’ve had to postpone it due to recent events but we’re committed to having people see it at some point in the future.
In the meantime, the book I’d like to recommend is ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold which tells the story of the five women killed by ‘Jack the Ripper’. Rubenhold has undertaken pain-staking research into the lives of these women to paint an incredibly detailed and very sad portrait of who they were as people with only small mention how they each came to be in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.
Although set in Victorian times, there are so many connections to be made with today and how people are being treated by the DWP under Universal Credit. One of the main takeaways from ‘The Five’ is that in 19th Century Britain it was a challenging life (to say the least) to be a member of the working poor. And we’re confident that the researchers we have been working with on the show would argue that not a great deal has changed.
There’s one particular section in the book that really struck me. In the early 1860s an American financier named George Peabody resolved to make a gift to his adopted city of London to ‘promote the comfort and happiness’ of the ‘poor and needy’. He ended up giving away the equivalent of £45 million in today’s money for a social housing project that lifted thousands of Londoners out of the slums. It’s something to be applauded but what was interesting was that families had to apply to get a flat in these ‘Peabody Buildings’, it was not something decided by need or even through a lottery:
“The Peabody Trustees took pains to ensure that only the ‘most deserving of the working poor’ who displayed an appropriate moral character and means to meet their rent were admitted as residents”.
The idea of the ‘deserving poor’ is something that has come up repeatedly in our conversations around Universal Credit, especially in relation to the government’s attitude to welfare. It’s one of the big questions we’re trying to ask in the show: what do we want the welfare system to be? Who should be ‘entitled’ to welfare?
As I said earlier, we’re hopeful that you’ll be able to see us asking that and many other questions in ‘Credit’ sometime soon. In the meantime, ‘The Five’ by Hallie Rubenhold is available in hardback and paperback now and is a fantastic read.
And on a related note, Cap-a-Pie have started a book club and any recommendations would be much appreciated. Any genre accepted, 400 page limit.
Cap-a-Pie has made ‘Credit’ in collaboration with Newcastle University, Teesside University, Gateshead Council, Newcastle Council, Citizens Advice Gateshead, Your Voice Counts, Oasis Community Housing, Women’s Health in South Tyneside, Changing Lives, Larkspur House and Fuse.
This show has been funded by Newcastle University via the Population and Health Sciences Institute, Institute for Social Science and Catherine Cookson Foundation; Using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England; and Gateshead Council.