…A new piece of festive theatre for 3-8 year olds
…A multidisciplinary team of artists
…An octopus in a shed
Our five artists met for the first time all together in June, when the two venues threw them in a room together and hoped for the best. Luckily, our hopes were rewarded, as the five quickly started to find common ground and identify shared interests.
Our project happened in three phases; first, the artists met for four days of studio based work at the Gulbenkian in Canterbury during August. Happily, there was a new arrival to Nick’s family just before this phase, although it unhappily meant that he wasn’t available to travel to Canterbury at this time. The four remaining artists in the team spent time coming up with loads of ideas around themes of Christmas time, ending up with literal reams of paper filled with inspiration and ideas, as well as the beginnings of characters, choreographic ideas, and sounds.
Shortly following this phase were two weekends at Cornerstone in Didcot, where Nick joined the troupe and the masses of ideas generated at first began to be whittled down. From one moment to the next the story seemed to emerge, about Cyril Potts, a boy who has to stay with his boring old grandmother for two weeks each year, but who smells something fishy when he observes her scuttling down the bottom of the garden each night….
By the final weekend of the project had not only character and plot emerged but quite a lot of set, costumes and props as well. The team was busy preparing a sharing/showing for an invited audience of 50 children aged 3-8 with their parents. Excitedly, the audience gathered in the foyer to be met by be-hatted and be-gloved artists, who led them upstairs. There, they met an old Cyril, who was struggling to remember those distant times with his grandmother, but whose secret could be unlocked with the large cardboard key hanging round his neck.
Once in the theatre, the children were able to examine a mysterious shed on the stage, observing how fish could be fed to SOMETHING inside it, which made odd chomping noises and then spat out the bones.
Together we dressed up grandmother (a willing Matthew) in a flowery dress and purple wig, and started to discover something about the mystery of what was living in the shed at the bottom of the garden… a puppet boy-Cyril performed parkour over seats from the back of the theatre, and eventually we saw the many legs of an octopus performed by the cast as a piece of shadow puppet theatre, as it frantically stamped envelopes and typed out wish list letters. As it turned out, Grandmother was working for the octopus to ensure that all the children’s letters to Santa would get delivered in time for the Christmas presents to be arranged. Audience members learned a sleigh/shed (shled)-ride dance in their seats, after which the shed-roof burst open to reveal the head of the octopus floating up as it took off over the heads of the audience and flew out of the theatre into the blizzard beyond… well, it didn’t quite get off the ground, but the children seemed to get the idea nonetheless.
Our audience members were asked to contribute their ideas about the show and where the story could go in the future (“Fliy thow a tunl and octps head gets popt”). Parents and children alike left the team with lots of thoughts, words and pictures showing how delighted they had been with the sharing. One child’s comment left behind was “Can we come and see it again so I can find out the ending please?”