Category Archives: Creativity

Getting resourceful…

When I did my round up of my mad March I said that I’d write in more detail about my experience working in St Albans and about using open resources in telling stories.

A few years ago I worked at a Primary School in Hemel Hempstead.  I’ll be honest and say that I could only vaguely remember the school but I did remember the teacher who booked me and fortunately they remembered me when they changed jobs.  So it was that I was invited to work with an EYFS/foundation group not far from St Albans but this wouldn’t be a routine booking.  I was given the brief that I could only use open resources to tell the stories.

My immediate question was what is an open resource?  Well, an open resource is something that could be used for anything.  There is a popular drama game in which an object is passed around the circle and the participants explain its function.  The only thing it can’t be is what it actually is.  There are some objects that this is pretty difficult to do this with but there are others that allow the participant to use their imaginations; an empty plastic bottle can easily be imagined to be a telephone, a magnifying glass or a pneumatic drill, its far trickier to do this with a branded toy like a remote control car (although the remote control would probably be a lot of fun!).  Before arriving I was given a list of stories and a photograph of piles of coloured fabric, egg boxes, colanders, pine cones and lollipop sticks.

As a storyteller I am used to using my imagination to turn an object into something else for the benefit of the audience.  When I tell folk tales I often use gloves to represent birds and fabric to represent mountains, the sea or even blood.  In Roald Dahl’s The Twits and The Enormous Crocodile a walking stick becomes a rifle and oven gloves become crocodiles and coconut trees.  When I told Jeremy Strong’s The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog I used a dog lead as a tongue, a steering wheel, a rope and well, a dog lead.  Sometimes these ideas come about because I am on a budget, sometimes its because I’m looking for ways to encourage participation and sometimes because I want to encourage repetition – teachers often tell me that their children have demonstrated the ideas they have seen in a story at their playtimes.  In every case the simplest idea is often the best.

So it was that I visited a nursery without any props or costumes.  I introduced myself and my work before immediately apologising to the children for “forgetting” my work bag.  I asked if they could help me tell the stories using the resources provided by the setting.  Then working in a side room with a small group at a time the children were given a few moments to explore the resources before we told The Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs.  I started each story the same way, by using some of the resources to build a map.  Just to make my task slightly more risky I invited the children to decide on the use of certain resources – Can you choose something to show a river?  Can you make a rickety rackety bridge? – we used pine cones and lollipop sticks and some rudimentary puppetry ideas to create the billy goats and yoghurt pots to create the pigs.  Working on the fly was very liberating and it was wonderful to incorporate the children’s ideas about things like the appearance of the troll into the storytelling.  The whole experience may have been low budget but it was a huge amount of fun.  Here is the feedback from the nursery:

Having seen your work before, I knew that you were a great storyteller, however, it is always a little worrying when you recommend someone to a new school. I need not have worried because you blew both children and staff away with your stories and wonderful energy and enthusiasm. You were able to engage all the children and included them all, even those that were hesitant at first. 

You were not at all phased when I asked you to tell the stories in a different way, using open ended resources (junk) and in fact, embraced the new challenge enthusiastically. You delivered a session, specifically tailored to the needs of our children and they responded beautifully. I loved the way that you gave them the freedom to choose their own resources and add their own ideas, this built their confidence and this was reflected in their own storytelling play after the session. 

Many parents have also approached me and told me that the children could not stop talking about you at home, so, I am sure, that the children would love to work with you again too.

Over the years I have received feedback suggesting I use more hats, more props and more costumes despite the fact I have packed an entire wardrobe into my session (I used to use a rubber glove tied to an alice band in Jack and the Beanstalk; recently used 35 hats to tell The Enormous Turnip!).  Some settings have cupboards full of story bags, dressing up rails and hand puppet sets for their children to tell stories.  Whilst this is brilliant and I appreciate that younger audiences require more resources I also wonder if in enhancing a child’s play with accessories we are sometimes overly prescriptive about how to play and may inadvertently be stifling some children’s imaginations and ability to create.  As I led these sessions I could see that the children got a lot from the experience of stripping things back and I hope to be able to offer similar sessions in the future.

Making secret plans and clever tricks a reality – my week with the Roald Dahl Company

Back in September 2018 I was invited to the central London offices of The Roald Dahl Company to discuss my work with “The Twits”.  Then, after seeing me in action, the company agreed that they would permit me to tell Roald Dahl’s “The Enormous Crocodile”.

“The Enormous Crocodile” is a brilliantly brutal story which is perhaps pitched toward a slightly younger age group than “The Twits”.  It’s all about a greedy crocodile who decides to leave the big, brown, muddy river hoping to find fat, juicy little children to eat.  As he heads to town he meets other jungle creatures who are appalled by his secret plans and clever tricks and set out to stop him.  Once he reaches the town the crocodile takes on all manner of disguises as he tries to fool the children he meets into becoming his lunch but in the end Trunky the Elephant delivers the crocodile’s just desserts as he throws him into the hot, hot sun where the crocodile sizzles up like a sausage.    

I got started on the project in the autumn knowing that I wanted to launch the story around World Book Day and that we were trying to moving house.  Roald Dahl is a master storyteller and my first draft of “The Enormous Crocodile” wrote itself with very little manipulation on my part.  The story’s quite short with quite a simple structure.  Like “The Twits” I feel there are two distinct halves to it; the walk through the jungle and the four clever tricks.  This and the fact the crocodile meets so many different animals would become the biggest challenges to the eventual presentation of the story.

By January I had a draft of the story and a completion date – two days before the start of rehearsals!  So it fell out like this; the Tuesday before we were due to start rehearsing I was in Derby to visit a school and go over the music with Joey, returning to London on Wednesday.  The Thursday was Verity’s birthday (aptly spent at London Zoo) and on the Friday before the Tuesday we moved house.  My first day of rehearsals was my first commute from Sussex and a journey that the previous week had taken 30 minutes took 3 hours because of rail problems.  After a chaotic week I made it to Roald Dahl HQ and entered the wonderful world of Roald Dahl.

Since meeting The Roald Dahl Company, they have been tremendously supportive of my work and offered not just their rehearsal room but paired me with professional director and dramaturg Amy Hodge (literally just back from opening a play at the Manchester Exchange Theatre and scheduled to work with The National Theatre later in the year).  I’m happy to admit that after 10 years of working more or less alone I was a bit nervous about how things might go but I needn’t have worried; in our time together Amy showed herself to be one of the singly most incredible theatre practitioners I have ever met; her input would be as an outside eye, sounding boarding, co-conspirator and confidant and it was such a privilege to breathe air with her for a few days.

So rehearsals started on the Tuesday morning and we had two days (about 12 hours) to create a presentation of the story using the contents of my suitcase.  It was a blissfully creative process, sharing ideas, problem solving and picking apart this much loved tale to produce something highly visual and interactive.  I have already highlighted the major challenges of the piece; it’s a story of two halves with multiple conversing characters.  It was agreed that the two halves of the story would look different.  The first half would be me on my own and the second half would include the audience more.  Amy helped me to re-evaluate my method of storytelling and out of it came a very simple puppetry which means I can bring several characters alive simultaneously without the need for constantly throwing hats on and off.  The end result is clear, playful storytelling.

After two very exciting days we reconvened in Wembley to do a pilot presentation to a public audience.  Unlike the pilot I did for Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief last year, this one was very successful.  The audience were attentive, they laughed in the right places and at the end there were no negative comments.

It was a fantastic week and whilst I am very excited to have had this opportunity I can’t help but feel a little daunted at the task of trying to get the story seen by as many children as possible.  Great storytelling demands to be seen and this really is great storytelling.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be able to quietly consolidate the story before a series of public events and festivals later in the year and by then I am sure I will feel much more confident about the story’s future.

So there you have it, how in a very short space of time secret plans and clever tricks have become a reality of real quality.  I’m eternally grateful to The Roald Dahl Company, Amy Hodge, Joseph Attenborough and Dan White for this wonderful image.  “I love it when a plan comes together” and I look forward to seeing how this plan develops in the coming weeks and months.

The Enormous Crocodile is available to schools, libraries and literature festivals nationwide.  For more information contact me.

My life on the radio

So after my appearance on BBC Radio Kent I was asked by the show to create a short feature on my working day, storytelling and national storytelling week. So on Friday 1st February 2019 I took my stories and a mobile phone voice recording app to Park Way Primary School in Maidstone where I was given the opportunity by the school to talk to some of the children and their teacher about stories, storytelling and their importance. The piece was broadcast the same evening after the host had interviewed no less than Michael Rosen(!).

I’m very pleased with the piece we’ve made for several reasons..

  • I was able to articulate why I believe National Storytelling Week is not only important to storytellers but why it should be important to all of us.
  • The teacher and children I interviewed cut to the absolute heart of why stories are wonderful and why storytelling has a place in all schools.
  • From the piece you get a real sense of how I work and why I love it.

It may be short but to create this piece of audio took a lot of work as I became storyteller/journalist for the day and I am indebted to the children and staff who participated and to Dominic King at BBC Radio Kent who edited it.

I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed making it.

John Kirk is a storyteller working in schools, museums, libraries and at events across the UK. For more information explore this website or get in contact.

Interview with Andy West on BBC Radio Kent (29/1/19)

On Monday 29th January 2019 I appeared on Dominic King’s Arts Show on BBC Radio Kent where I chatted live in the studio with Andy West about my career, stories, storytelling and working with young people as BBC Radio Kent marked the beginning of National Storytelling Week.

As with so many things I do it was all over very quickly but I absolutely loved taking part in the show, meeting the production team and seeing how a live radio programme is made. Having never appeared on the radio before I’ll admit to having been nervous beforehand but Andy West was a lovely host and generous interviewer who made me feel very welcome which helped me relax into the situation. At home I have listened to thousands of radio interviews but the experience is very different when its you giving the answers. I tried very hard to think about the questions and not how I was sounding. The whole thing was so utterly fascinating and exciting and has really got me thinking about the creative possibilities of radio and podcasting for storytellers (nobody can see you waving your hands on radio!) but whilst I’d be thrilled to do something like this again in the future I can tell you without hesitation that on Monday night one microphone was definitely more daunting than an audience of 500 children!

This was also an opportunity to promote the art of storytelling. Storytelling maybe one of the most ancient art forms but its also one of the most underrepresented in mass popular culture with most people associating storytelling with reading and books. The show gave storytelling a platform and me a chance to try to get across to the listeners why I love my job and hopefully enthuse a few people with stories along the way.

My friend Ben Jones, a partner in Preference Studio and responsible for my website intro video, has kindly edited the interview so you can hear it in full without interruptions for the weather and travel.

So here it is, my conversation with Andy West on BBC Radio Kent. If you listen to the whole thing, get in touch and let me know what you think.

John Kirk is a storyteller working in schools, museums, libraries and at events across the UK. For more information explore this website or get in contact.

Look at the picture.  What can you see?

This is the makings of a sensory story.  Using the things you see I told the story of the Prophet Yusuf (some may know it as the story of Joseph) in a 20 minute Religious Education session.  In each session I offered a simple narrative, stopping periodically to share these items through touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste and hopefully enhance the participants experience of the story.  Let me talk you around the table.

1. Spices (green bowl) – at the beginning of the session I placed the story and set the scene by playing some Arabic music and encouraging the participants to smell some Arabian spices to get a sense of a Middle Eastern market.

2. Wool (pink bowl) – Yacub and his sons are shepherds.  I was keen for the participants to have the opportunity to touch sheep’s wool.

3. Stretchy sheet and plastic flashing balls – Yusuf has a dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars all bowed down to him.  I got some stretchy sparkly material (the sky) and encouraged the participants to gently bounce the flashing balls (the sun, moon and stars) on the cloth.

4. Water pistol – Yusuf’s brothers throw home into a well – it was enough of an excuse to spray the participants with water!

5. Cloth – the brothers then return home with Yusuf’s bloodied shirt and tell their father his favourite son is dead.  In reality this is an old towel with red paint on it.  It looks and feels pretty disgusting and got some great reactions from the participants.

6. Chunky chain – In time Yusuf is thrown into prison.  The chunky chain is heavy, cold and makes a great noise when you rattle it.

7. Grape juice – in prison the cupholder dreams of giving Pharoah wine. As this session was in a school we offered the participants grape juice.

8. Bread – in prison the baker dreams that birds steal bread from his basket.  These loaves had a  wonderful aroma and contrasting textures.

9. Cow mask – Pharoah dreams of 7 fats cows being eaten by 7 thin ones.  This mask has a sound effect embedded in the nose.

10. Split peas (yellow bowl) – Yusuf’s brothers come to Egypt to ask for food.  The participants could run their fingers through the split peas (grain).

I hoped that this range of objects offered a real range of sensory experiences.  Touch and sight are the easiest to fulfill with taste and smell in my opinion the hardest.  I’m a little bit nervous about allergies and if I was leading the session alone the logistics of offering a taste of grape juice would bring the story to a grinding halt.

Sensory storytelling is perhaps my biggest challenge.  They require a completely different discipline to my regular repertoire.  I am definitely on learning curve and although I’m becoming more confident sadly I get very few opportunities to lead these sessions.  This is a shame because the inclusive and accessible nature of sensory storytelling would mean they could work with anybody.  I devised this story with a mixed group of young people in mind; some with visual impairment, some with hearing loss, some with physical and learning needs and I was really encouraged by the way they responded to the sessions.  I hope that they begin to appear more regularly in my schedule in museums, libraries and primary schools.

Let me shout from the rooftops “I do school visits!”

I have been working as a performance storyteller for almost ten years but before that I was an actor.  I did a few bits and pieces in theatres and went to Edinburgh a couple of times but generally speaking my work was doing Theatre in Education and Children’s Theatre in schools.  Theatre in Education wasn’t quite what I’d anticipated during my classical drama training but perhaps I went to my first TIE audition thinking of it as a way of getting paid for what I’d trained to do whilst waiting for my “big break”.  The way it worked was that after an intense rehearsal period the cast piled into a van and toured the schools of Britain with either an agenda lead piece of theatre or something more light hearted (ie a panto).  The shows were generally pretty short to fit into the school timetable and were often followed up by workshops lead by the actor-facilitators.  Now, you must remember that at this point I am not a lot older than the “children” I am working with, I have no formal teacher training and I can be an impulsive hothead so facilitating felt like being thrown in at the deep end.  It was steep learning curve.  Sometimes we were offering children their first theatrical experience, sometimes we were enhancing their curriculum.  Sometimes the children liked you, sometimes it was very intimidating.  The production values could vary from a enormous rotating sets to a bit of curtain hanged on some plumbing pipe but the creative energy of some of the companies I was fortunate enough to work with is incredible.  I learned a huge amount about working with young people from Chris Geelan at The Young Shakespeare Company, Bill Davies at Blunderbus and Adrian New at Stopwatch Theatre to name a few and 6 days a week on the road soon became a way of life that I am still passionate about today.

After I met Lauren my life had to change and I stopped the acting but I continued to pick up facilitation work with people like Bromley Mytime and Eastside Educational Arts Trust and I continued to learn from people like Naomi Cortes at Almeida Projects and the brilliant Alison Banham at Act on Info.  16 years later I am a far more confident drama facilitator and have developed my own style of workshop which incorporates storytelling, drama games and role play.  The themes of the sessions have varied from the Aztecs and Evolution to Shakespeare and School Transition but I try to approach every session the same way; enthusiasm, loads of games and fun.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it turns out that when you do 100-150 library presentations a year people forget that you offer school visits.  What once represented 80% of my work now accounts for 35% and in spite of the fact I advertise on websites like findaschoolworkshop.com and schoolworkshops.com I still get asked if I do school work.  I have dropped the ball on what once was my bread and butter and now I’m running to get back into the game.

So let me shout it from the rooftops “I do primary school visits!”.  I offer my assemblies, class group workshops and event day bookings (National Storytelling Week, World Book Month, school fetes, Well Being Days, school library openings etc).  In schools I have worked one to one with children or with as many as 500 children in a sitting!  I have been to schools for an hour I have done residencies.  I can offer traditional tales and published stories including Roald Dahl and Dennis the Menace and I can be as interactive as you like depending on the needs of the group.  I have never written a book but I can guarantee that primary school children will enjoy my sessions and be inspired by my sessions (they may even learn something about writing stories!).

“The whole day was great from start to finish. Working with you has been a pleasure and we were really grateful for how flexible and accommodating you were with both your time and the topics you covered. Speaking to children from across the school after the event itself they thoroughly enjoyed it and are already asking when you will be coming back”.

Literacy coordinator, Wyvil Primary School, May 2018

Schools and school visits have been a big part of my professional life and as the nation goes back to school full of hopes and ambitions for the year ahead it’s my hope that it won’t be long before I’m off to do my first school visits of the new academic year.

For more information about my work please review my FAQs or to make an enquiry contact me.

 

A storyteller in search of a story

Aspects of this blog are superseded by A Twit Update and My adventure with Dennis continues!

So this week it has been confirmed that I can no longer offer Roald Dahl’s “The Twits”.  It’s a sad day but not totally unexpected.  Over the last two years I have presented this marvellous tale on almost 200 occasions across England and then in Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.  It been the most wonderful period and I’ll always be thankful for the opportunities my brief association with the Roald Dahl Estate created.  I will miss sharing what I consider to be a terrific story.

Knowing when to archive a story is as much a part of the creative process as developing the project in the first place.  Telling stories is a lot of fun but the bottom line is that a storyteller is a small business and once a client has seen your entire repertoire the opportunity for a future booking is greatly reduced.  Changing up material helps a storyteller’s repertoire remain fresh and the teller themselves remain energised but it can mean making some tough decisions about old or “well loved” material.

Over the years I have mothballed many projects for many different reasons.  Some decisions were forced upon me because of licencing issues (Private Peaceful and The Twits).  Some stories were very enjoyable to deliver but I found that my style had evolved in a different direction (The Mad Hatters Tea Party!, Dracula and the Unlucky Mummy).  Some stories were shelved because of a lack of demand or, in very rare cases, because what I did with them wasn’t very good.  In some cases when it hasn’t worked or I have been sick to the back teeth of a story I’ve managed to salvage something by finding it a new lease of life.  I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t like Anansi the Spider and the Stories of the World until I significantly altered the way I was telling it so that I was more comfortable with the material and it now sits amongst my favourite projects.  Generally though, if no one’s laughing anymore and the applause is polite rather than enthusiastic it’s probably time to let a story go.  After almost 200 presentations, as much as I love telling The Twits, I think the project has reached and exceeded its end point.

So what next?

My current project Dennis and the Chamber of Mischief will occupy me into the autumn but I am already aware that Beano Studios have another party interested in the book so I have no plans to make it available for schools presentations.  Instead I have been working up two new projects; Band of Brothers: the story of three Lions, which explores The Great War through the stories of three young men who fought it and It’s all Greek to Me!, in which I delve into some of the stories of Greek Mythology’s heroes.  I’m also toying with the idea of bringing Beowulf Sleeps back into my repertoire.  This was a project I did for a school three years ago.  I didn’t take it further at the time because it was at odds with the way I was then telling stories.  This autumn, as I move in a more traditional storytelling direction, I feel that it would sit nicely within my revamped repertoire.  I will of course continue to offer my usual array of folk and fairy tales, myths, legends and Shakespeare but beyond that I am really looking for the next challenge.  What that will be is a mystery right now but I hope that a famous author or publisher will have taken notice of what I do and offer me a title I simply can’t refuse but I’m not holding my breath!  In the meantime I can look forward to Mr Twit’s farewell party to be hosted on Saturday the 20th October 2018 as I take part in one final reading festival in Grantham being hosted by The National Trust.  When one door closes…

Can I tell you a story? Advertising storytelling sessions

I love my job.  I love it because everyday is different and I get to meet literally hundreds of interesting people and visit loads of new and interesting places.  I love it because I work with teachers and library staff to create memorable experiences for young people and in doing so challenge myself and those around me to engage creatively.  I love it because of the responses I get from the children and young people I come into contact with.  I love the moment I hit the brief or when an entire room is really (and I mean truly) listening to, participating in or simply enjoying a story or just the little moments along the way; a thank you or just a smile.  I love my job.  I’m not very good at advertising that fact.

In the main storytelling is a pretty solitary business.  We are like snow leopards, rarely meeting other storytellers unless its at some kind of an event.  What other storytellers contact me most regularly about is work and how to get it.  Whilst I don’t have a magic formula here’s my tuppence worth…

Many years ago I was taught the following mantra about classroom management which goes like this: get them in, get on with them, get on with it.  Here I have adapted the mantra for those looking to sell storytelling projects to potential clients.

Get them in – imagine this as the starting point, the hook, the pitch – call it what you will, the objective is buy in and if you master selling yourself you’ll work.

Get on with them – once you’re in its important to have rapport not just with the group you are working with also with staff.

Get on with it – this is your pay off.  Be it fine art or morris dancing,  if you do whatever it is you do really well you’ve given yourself the best chance of a repeat booking or recommendation.

So how can we promote and achieve buy in to what we are doing?

Leaflets and cold calling

I don’t like leafleting or cold calling.  I think its time consuming and ineffective and I’ll tell you why….  Have you ever consider what it must be like to be a takeaway leaflet?  There you are all fresh from the printers crammed with promises of all the latest tasty deals.  What happens to you?  you are stuffed through someone’s door and promptly put in a recycling bin.  Why does this happen?  because the recipient doesn’t want any Chinese food.

Unsolicited leaflet advertising will only be so effective unless you can afford to bombard what you are doing into the intended target’s consciousness (sending multiple leaflets with the same or similar messages) or you can guarantee your recipient is going to be interested.  To ensure that you’ll need to speak to the right person.  Cold calling schools means speaking to school secretaries; the gatekeepers beyond whom maybe work.  You can save time and pay an agency to provide you with this kind of contact information without having to talk to school secretaries but what if they still don’t want what you are selling?

Making a website

The advantage as I see it of a website is that you are in control of its content and therefore your message.  As a storyteller I am able to display photographs to give site visitors a sense of colour and fun, testimonials that give my work credibility and I can outline projects and answer questions so that potential clients are able to make informed decisions about booking.  This is passive marketing.  I am adopting a policy of “If you can’t find the work, let the work find you”.

The problem is the amount of traffic my website receives.  You spend time developing what you think is a flashy looking website but keyword searches consistently take potential traffic elsewhere.  Search engine optimisation (SEO) is big business and you can pay web designers to boost your web search rankings but there are things even storytellers can do to become a top search result.

Paid listings – advertising will provide you with prominent links to your website and increase your traffic (search engine advertising, specialist advertising).  The problem is if your advertise too broadly some of your newfound traffic may just be lost (using keywords, “children story”, someone looking for a book rather than a storyteller might click on your advertising link).

Free listings – putting your listing into free advertising spaces may yield success.  The following is an example of a free link to my website which was created by another storyteller relating to storytellers working in London.

Find a storyteller in London: a list of storytellers

Keywords and content – if you hit upon a unique phrase or keyword traffic will be directed from a search engine to your website.  Equally filling your site with unique and interesting content may lead to more traffic (I get traffic to my website because of blogs and videos about Tim the Ostler.  Unfortunately these people tend to be studying Alfred Noyes poetry rather than looking for a workshop).

Active social media – An active social media presence will mean people are regularly reminded of the work that you do.  Likes, shares, retweets and follows all help to get the word out there (so when you’ve finished reading this, do me a favour and subscribe to my Youtube channel!).  Some people link their social media to their website content making this process less time consuming.

This leads me to what I believe to be the most powerful form of advertising…

Word of mouth recommendations

A person who watched what you do and how you do it makes a recommendation explaining what made you special and so a chain begins.  Word of mouth recommendations are like gold dust and fortunately in spite of the fact that at times I can be a tongue tied bumbler I’ve received a few over the years.

Reading back over what I’ve written it sounds like marketing a story successfully you’d have about as much chance as a salmon heading up a bear infested river but that’s not at all true.  Some of the best storytellers I ever met don’t have websites or even bother with marketing.  So what am I saying about selling stories?  That there’s no point?  Leaflets and websites are merely a glossy platform for promoting your creative ideas.  To achieve the buy in the interactions with potential clients should be as unique as the story that might be told.  Its about opening a dialogue about creativity; offering imaginative formats and fantastic content all mixed up with a healthy dose of enthusiasm and honesty as in the end no one’s booking a manicured sound byte.  If we place the emphasis on enjoying the experience of working with storytellers the rest will follow because the unique selling point of John Kirk – Storyteller is John Kirk.

 

A story about perseverance, team work and a banana

Christmas time means the return of the world famous Banana Game.

The Banana game features in my version of “A Christmas Carol“.  For those of you unfamiliar with the game its all innocent silliness: players compete in pairs with the aim being to consume a banana as quickly as possible.  The only rules are that the person eating the banana cannot see or touch the banana and that the feeder must stay behind their partner during the game (in essence they become their partner’s hands).  A variation of the game would be to blindfold the feeders but when the players are 5 up the game is already pretty crazy.

On this particular occasion as the audience was made up of a single class, the contest pitted two boys against two girls in a junior school battle of the sexes.  Everything had gone as normal in the build up.  As the task had been explained, the players had giggled and the audience booed and cheered to show their support.

“Ready?  3, 2, 1 Go”.

So the game begins.  On one side of the room the girls locate their banana, remove the peel and begin to eat it, taking a steady, early lead.  On the other side of the room are the boys.  Their feeder is complaining that he can’t peel a banana (he is at least seven years old so this is a little surprising).  He stands waving the fruit in the air unable (or unwilling) to comprehend how he might begin to peel the banana declaring that “he can’t do it”.

The eating player on the girl’s team munches on, her tiny cheeks filled with chunks of undigested banana whilst her partner waits to feed her more.  On the boy’s side of the room “I can’t” has become “I won’t even try”.  Somehow the banana has been partially peeled but the boy has fed his partner the banana peel!

The female eater is a dot of a child.  The banana is clearly more than she can possibly eat but she is focussed and continues doggedly even when told that her team is winning by a country mile, without any complaint.  Frustrated by his partner’s tantrum, the male eater is trying to cheat, using his hands and biting at large chunks of banana.  The crowd let the girls know this and they pick up the pace.  The dot of a child is choking back banana for the sake of the game, for the sake of her team mate and for the audience.  The game is stopped when she can take no more.  The girls are victorious in every sense of the word.

Reading this back it seems a strange story to tell.  The reason I have decided to share this story is because in this silliest of games the girls demonstrated admirable perseverance and a great team ethic.  It was a refreshing reminder of why I love my work and what learning should be about.  I am in no doubt that with these qualities my winners will go far in this world.

My question is this: which team would you have liked to have been playing for and how would you reacted when faced with the challenge of working in a team?

Remember: Determination is not just for Christmas.

NB: No children were significantly harmed in the name of entertainment.  The little girl, although slightly stunned by her experience, was laughing and enjoying herself within moments of the game ending.

April to June: What they said..

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

This year I have seen the amount of work I do swell.  More than ever before I am being asked to travel across the country to work with young people and adults on all manner of projects.  As the school year ends I thought I would share a few of the comments from the past three months.

In March Private Peaceful was perhaps the largest single project I have ever undertaken and the feedback from it was phenomenal but rather than share what you can see on a dedicated page I have picked out testimonials from other workshops that I offer.

“Children from all ages and classes were engaged and buzzing from their work with you.”

Literacy Coordinator, Watling Lower School, Dunstable (Jack and the Beanstalk Workshop and Storytelling Day, May 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.“The staff said you were the best story teller they had ever experienced.”

Inclusive Coordinator, Sauncey Wood Primary School, Harpenden (The Unlucky Mummy Myths and Legends Day, May 2014)

and perhaps my favourite…

“‘I really get it now. Shakespeare was my worst thing before but now I understand that it’s meant to be fun and dramatic.'”

Year Eight, Shenfield High School, Shenfield (Shakespeare’s The Tempest Workshop Sessions, May 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

I’d be lying if I said that everybody adored my style of working and that there haven’t been difficult days along the way but the comments I choose to share here are my mandate for carrying on working into 2014-15.  They demonstrate my value and the difference my storytelling and workshop sessions make to young people and educational professionals.

I am incredibly lucky to have worked with some fantastic people during the current academic year (City Read London, Shrewsbury Children’s BookfestGuilden Morden Primary School and Hackney Museum) and much of my success is because of the wonderful, supportive people who give me such wonderful opportunities.

The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 has already kicked off what’s looking like a very exciting six months.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll be visiting you.

See also feedback from Jan-March