Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Making work for a younger audience

Photo by Chris Nash
Following on from the observations I made whilst shadowing Enrique Cabrera from Aracaladanza and Full House Theatre Company early in 2013, I have had the opportunity (with support from a Surrey Dance Collective mentoring bursary) to work with choreographic mentor Niki McCretton during the development of my Dancing in Museums project in order to further understand what it means to make work for younger audiences. Niki is a specialist in creating performances for children and families and Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company. She helped me to consider:

•    ways to draw the audience in, and particularly preparing them for seeing something which they had maybe not seen before
•    how to work with the audience as co-collaborators, asking them to help with tasks the characters needed to complete
•    the significance of non-verbal communication: sometimes taking the description/text away, but then dropping it back in where necessary (e.g. in the sound score)
•    the importance of not offering any final answers about what the artefacts could be, or how they could be interpreted, but rather offering possibilities about what they might be
•    which pieces of historical information it might be important to include in The Imagination Museum
•    how to convey the passage of time in a way that a younger audience could relate to
•    how important the overall structure and transitions between sections would be to the audience (compared to how important they seemed to be to me)
•    the importance of presenting The Imagination Museum in a way that the children would potentially not have come across before in formal education, emphasising its playfulness and physicality

Photo by Chris Nash
Details of the full creative team for The Imagination Museum are available on my website here:, and I am indebted to all of these brilliant people for their hard work and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to where we take the Dancing in Museums project next: keep updated by liking our page on Facebook, following us on Twitter (@madebyKG), visiting the museums page on our website and reading the posts on our blog labelled ‘Dancing in Museums’.

What have I learnt during the making of The Imagination Museum?

Photo by Chris Nash
The biggest challenge for the making of The Imagination Museum was that I could not cover every possible kind of museum artefact in one piece, so had to make some decisions about which artefacts to explore in more depth for our initial repertoire of museum objects. Our R&D with primary school children helped me to make these choices, but it seemed that we would need to also explore some overarching themes/questions that museum and heritage sites both raise and address in order to create a work that would contain something for everyone and be adaptable to a range of contexts.

Our designer James Perkins came up with a way of looking at each of our initial repertoire of museum artefacts from three interconnected perspectives: evolutionary, mechanical/technological and decorative/imaginative. We thought that if we could somehow cover each of these perspectives, or were at least informed by all of them in the making of the work, we could create a piece that would cross over into different ideas, contexts and opinions.

In addition there were several key concerns that informed the work:
•    I wanted the work to talk about how people try to make sense of the world around them and how objects can help us to do that (the act of interpretation, or piecing something together from fragmentary clues)
•    I became fascinated by the information objects could give us about the development of the modern human mind, particularly the earliest man-made objects (e.g. the stone tool and first works of art)
•    I wanted to give a sense of the sheer scale of time involved in the history of the world
•    In The Imagination Museum the overall structure of the work is cyclical and returns to the ‘tour-guide’ world where characters Mildred, Henry and Harriet live after almost every artefact-story (with some exceptions to ensure that the rhythm keeps shifting and does not fall into an expected pattern). It is part of my choreographic signature to use this kind of reiterating structure, but in this particular work I have chosen to use it as a reflection of the idea that nothing can be certain in the world except change. The dancers talk about this in the ‘future’ section of the work:

“Mildred: Do things have to end?
Henry: No, they don’t have to end...
Harriet: they just keep changing!”

Working with a writer

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with writer Anna Selby for the first time during this project, and integrating text into The Imagination Museum. The written element of the work has drawn on a broad range of feelings or sensations which have in turn become rich source material for the movement in the piece: as Anna describes, she has tried to incorporate awe/wonder, humour, something scary, something gory, something beautiful, and something sad/poignant.

Photo by Chris Nash
I have learnt about many possibilities for choreographing text alongside movement during the making of The Imagination Museum e.g. speaking or manipulating the sounds of the words whilst moving, mouthing or whispering to confide in the audience, singing, speaking as a group or individually, writing down notes, integrating words into the sound score (in collaboration with composer Max Perryment), using voice as a way of conveying character (we have also worked with particular props to develop characterisation), reciting and improvising. Throughout the rehearsal, Anna has written many fragments of text, developing and editing where appropriate, and the dancers have also been heavily involved in writing and re-writing. Anna’s openness to this collaborative way of working is invaluable, as it enables us to devise text in the same way/at the same time as we devise movement, and therefore the text and movement come together more coherently.

In the case of The Imagination Museum, the integration of text also enables us to draw our audience in to the work, as the characters can address them directly, encourage them to interact or answer back, and, where appropriate, signal to them what they are trying to depict with their movement. This does not mean that the movement or the text have to be literal and it is useful to leave room for ambiguity to allow for the audience’s interpretation of what is happening. However, even a single word or fragment can help to link a movement to its source material, and this may be just enough to give an audience member, particularly someone who is not familiar with dance, confidence about their own way of seeing the work.

What is The Imagination Museum about?

As we go into re-rehearsal of The Imagination Museum for our forthcoming performances at Dance Woking (3rd April, 1pm schools matinee; 6.30pm evening performance) and Northampton Museum & Art Gallery (9th April; 11am, 1.30, 2.30pm), I’m looking over rehearsal/performance footage and old notes, and thought I’d share some more updated information about what the piece has grown into since we started researching it in March 2013. I’m going to put this into several blog posts, as there’s quite a lot of information to share!

What is The Imagination Museum about?

Photo by Chris Nash
Our wonderful writer-collaborator Anna Selby wrote a series of poems and fragments in response to a range of different museum artefacts including a fossil, an Ice Age engraving, a stone tool, Roman armour and an excavated skull. This selection of artefacts was informed by our R&D with members of our target audience. Some of Anna’s writing also speculates about hypothetical future artefacts, which enables the audience to think about what might happen next, what we are at risk of losing, and what will change.

I then worked with the dancers to bring these written pieces to life through solo, duet and trio activity. Additionally, each of the dancers has created an eccentric ‘tour-guide’ character for the transitions between the artefact-stories. These tour-guides are called Mildred (who is in charge), Henry (who likes to cause trouble) and Harriet (who likes to go off into her own world), and they keep the audience entertained with a lot of to-ing, fro-ing, measuring and questioning.

The piece is highly interactive, integrating set choreographic elements as well as improvised sections that are developed in response to the audience. It has been designed so that it can be performed as a complete piece or in extract form, as appropriate to each performance context. So, for example, in a theatre the piece begins with a 10 minute ‘pre-set’ as the audience are entering the auditorium, and then runs for 50 minutes. We can also perform extracts from this full piece as a promenade throughout a museum, and we can introduce new elements as well in response to the input of children local to the museum/heritage site and/or to the particular collection/focus of each museum.

What have people said about the work so far?

Photo by Chris Nash
We’ve been fortunate to receive lots of great feedback on the work from our first young audiences and their teachers/families, which indicates that the children like The Imagination Museum’s physicality, interactivity and the way that it is entertaining but also atmospheric, and gives a little bit of historical information as well. For example:

“It was action packed...Bouncy”
“I liked it when we had to throw the boxes down to Henry and when they put the big box on their head”
“I really liked it when they came into the audience and asked us things”
“It made us think”
“I learnt about fossils and facts I didn’t know”
“I learnt some new history in a fun way!”
“I’d like to see the future, no one really knows what will happen in the future so I’d like to see what other people think will happen”
“Funny, brilliant, gobsmacking”

Kate Thomas: internship with Made By Katie Green, August - December 2013

My three month internship has involved me working alongside Katie and her company, Made By Katie Green, during the rehearsal process, initial performances and associated workshops of her Dancing in Museums project. I primarily applied for the internship because I was passionate about broadening my knowledge and experience of the professional industry that I aspire to work in.

The 5 week intensive rehearsal period was a chance for me to completely immerse myself in Katie’s creative process. I was asked to research different historical information based around the museum artefacts identified. I also took rehearsal notes, photos, interviewed the dancers for the company blog as well as completing various administrative tasks for Katie. Being in rehearsals was important to gain a solid context for the project: I had an insight into Katie’s vision so far and then watched that come to life.

Throughout these rehearsals I got a chance to work closely with the company dancers. My knowledge of being self-employed was limited, so this time gave me a chance to ask lots of questions and gain a real understanding into how they organise their work, as well as all the technical things, such as self assessment for tax and national insurance.

Seeing Katie’s organisation, hard work and passion for the project was inspiring. Her choreographic style encouraged the dancers’ input and creativity. It was interesting to see how the dancers responded to set tasks and how Katie honed their ideas and material. Katie had numerous other strands that ran alongside the creative studio work. She had to be in regular communication with the costume designer, composer, writer, lighting designer and organising marketing throughout, making sure that all aspects of the project were running smoothly. This really gave me an understanding of the time, dedication and motivation that is needed when running your own company.

As part of my internship I spent a day with Morton Bates Arts Services who offer consultancy and areas of management to Made By Katie Green. This time gave me a clear insight into how companies such as Katie’s are supported. I had the chance to observe another artist’s consultancy meeting which helped me to contextualise the role of Morton Bates Arts Services even further. I found this work experience inspiring and I was excited by the work that Joe Bates and Claire Morton do. It gave me a chance to meet someone who is at the top of their field in an area that I aim to work in, and to ask them questions.

As part of my time with Katie, I accompanied her to different events that she goes to as a dance artist. I had the invaluable opportunity to meet a number of professional people working in the industry. I had the chance to network and introduce/conduct myself as a professional, discussing my internship and my future aspirations. This led to getting some fantastic advice about my next steps as well as discussing and learning about other people’s careers and projects. I was also told about job vacancies that I might be interested in.

In conclusion, this internship has given me a chance to get invaluable experience for my future career. It has undoubtedly equipped me with skills and knowledge that I will take forward.

Since completing the internship, I have successfully been appointed as an Arts Engagement Worker of the Transported project based in Boston and South Holland ( Without a doubt, my experience gained over the course of the internship contributed to this appointment.

I would like to thank Katie for giving me this opportunity and for generously sharing her knowledge and time and the University of Lincoln for supporting the internship.
Picture from the website.

Friday, 13 December 2013

New trailer for The Imagination Museum

We can now share our new trailer for The Imagination Museum, filmed onsite at Ipswich Museum by Wigglyline Productions:


You can also see this on our main website here and here, and on the Wigglyline Productions Vimeo page here.

Dancers: Robert Guy, Jessamin Landamore, Lucy Starkey
Writing: Anna Selby
Composer: Max Perryment
Costume design: Berit Laageide
Design: James Perkins
Filming: Wigglyline Productions

With thanks to our funders, partners, Made By All Of Us Patrons and Ipswich Museum.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Video extracts from week 5 of rehearsal for The Imagination Museum

Our intern Kate has put together some video extracts from week 5 of rehearsal for The Imagination Museum. This gives a taster of the huge range of movement material we are including in the theatre version of the piece:


Dancers: Rob Guy, Jessamin Landamore, Lucy Starkey, Hannah Wintie
Music: Max Perryment
Filmed and edited by Kate Thomas

Your first chances to see performances of The Imagination Museum will take place:

at The Collection Museum, Lincoln
23rd October, 1pm and 3pm
Free extract performances, no need to book

at The Terry O'Toole Theatre, North Hykeham
7th November, 1pm and 6.30pm
Contact the Box Office on 01522 883311

Visit for more information.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Pictures from week 5: Dancing in Museums

A few pictures from our final full week of rehearsal for our Dancing in Museums project, taken by intern Kate Thomas: