Category Archives: Drama in Education

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.

My work with the children of service families overseas

I have just been updating my calendar for March and as ever my schedule is bonkers. March begins in Warrington in the first 15 days I’ll go to Glasgow, Plymouth and Slough. I’m also heading back to Paderborn for what maybe the last time.

I have been visiting Bishops Park School in Paderborn, Germany for the past three years to work with the children of service families. It has always been a real highlight and privilege to spend time with the military community and I have always been made to feel very welcome by the staff and children.

In a lot of ways it’s just another day at the office but it’s the little differences that make my time in Germany special. For instance, the school day starts and ends earlier than a British school day so having reached my hotel bed at midnight I am in front of the children at what feels like 7.30am! Then there’s the fact that you are quite clearly working in a German building in a German town but as soon as you walk through the door you know you are in a British school whose population reflect the many nationalities who serve in our armed forces. For the children it’s there normal but when you think that whilst I prance about in the school hall the parents of the children I’m entertaining may be in some far flung dangerous corner of the world in the name of our national safety I find it very humbling.

The school has been really supportive and I have been able to do some crazy and ambitious stuff with the children. Some of the sessions were from my regular repertoire (eg The Hundred Mile an Hour Dog and The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party!) but we’ve also done other stuff including a huge narrative poetry workshop and tiny sessions for children with additional needs and through the staff I’ve been introduced to some really high tech ideas. A lot of what I do is about access and exposure to high quality performance and storytelling. It always pleasing to be able to share a story or run a project with a small school but to work with a group of children so far from home who might not otherwise have such an experience is wonderful and I feel that I am a better storyteller and person for having had the opportunity.

The MoD previously announced that Germany is to close in 2019 and that service families were to return home or be redeployed around the world. I recently read that Paderborn may remain open until 2023 but I don’t know if I’ll be a part of the school’s future plans. Would I like to carry on going back? Of course but then, you know, there are schools in other parts of the world too… how does The Enormous Crocodile in The Falkland Islands, Shakespeare in Cyprus or Greek Mythology in Brunei sound to you, because to me it sounds amazing!!

I work in schools, museums and libraries in England, Scotland and Wales and have led storytelling sessions at the Guernsey Literary Festival and Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. If you looking to book a storyteller for an overseas school or festival or for work with international students in here the UK, contact me.

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.

 

My work with museum and heritage services

Back in 2009 my father put me up to writing a show for the National Trust.  So I gave it a go.  I wrote a one man presentation based around the premise of a carnival sideshow quack called Professor Montague Rumpleseed Drake in which I promised to demonstrate to the audience when the best era of history to live was.  In a 30 minute presentation I’d peel back the layers of time until we came to the conclusion “we’ve never had it so good!”.  When I look back on it, this initial piece was by no means perfect (for one thing I used to cart a small cupboard all over London tied to a shopping trolley!) but what I latched onto was the idea that children have short attention spans so I had to be constantly looking for ways to change things up.  The Professor never darkened the door of a National Trust property but he became the first of many attempts to communicate thousands of years of history to young audiences.

The Professor and his time travelling machine allowed me to showcase my ability and led to museums in Hackney, Haringey, Southwark and Bromley inviting me to run workshops for them and to write other presentations.  During the Olympics I worked with Hackney Museum to deliver an outreach presentation to school children about change in the local area.  Ever ambitious in 30 minutes I tore through 30,000 years of history!  I structured this presentation in much the same way that I’d structured the Professor’s shtick three years earlier but without a bowler hat and  lab coat and with added elements of participation.

Spin on again to 2014 and the commemoration of The Great War.  This time it was Redbridge Libraries looking for a way to enhance their pop up library events.  I had done a few bits and pieces with Redbridge and they asked for something for adults and I gave them something for children (oops!).  Again this was borough specific and instead of 30000 years we were looking in detail at just four and this time I incorporated elements of participation and roleplay into 40 minutes exploring Redbridge’s home front.  The Great War didn’t just open doors in Redbridge; in 2014 I developed sessions for Hackney and Vestry House Museum, each time cherry picking what had worked elsewhere and doing it again.

Now to the present day.  I have been working with Vestry House Museum for four years.  We have developed workshops about The Great War, the Walthamstow Workhouse, Crime and Punishment and Roman Waltham Forest.  I have developed a formula that works for the children of Waltham Forest and the feedback on our latest sessions (the Romans) has been beyond my wildest expectations.

As part of my work with the Vestry House I have gone full circle and find myself telling the story of another London borough with a view to building relationships between the museum and schools.  Between now and May I’ll be visiting 16 Waltham Forest Primary Schools, meeting hundreds of children and sharing the story of the place they call home.  My latest dash through history covers 2000 years; from the Romans to the present day.  We interview a Roman, play a multiple choice game with the Anglo Saxons, learn a Tudor inspired dance, debate moral dilemmas in the 18th Century and learn new languages in the 20th Century.  Its a lot of fun and I hope it inspires some more children and schools to visit Vestry House Museum.  For me it represents nearly a decade of work.  I feel comfortable doing it and I am still loving sharing the story of how London has developed after all these years.

Its a strange thing to spend so much of your time working in isolation so whenever I work regularly with museums and libraries I enjoy the feeling of being a part of a team.  I owe London’s museum services a great debt after all had it not been for the staff of the Hackney Museum who encouraged my madness and supported me when I went wrong I’d probably still be working in as an office administrator and these days its the team at Vestry House who put up with my daft ideas.

The person I find that I have to thank the most for my rollercoaster ride into the wild west of heritage services is not Professor Montague Rumpleseed Drake but my Dad.  He and my Mum may not be completely comfortable with some of my life choices but it’s been their faith in me that’s pushed me to be more than a jobbing actor and office temp and for that I am very grateful.  Verity is now a year old and there are likely to be big changes over the next few months and years but if I’ve learned one thing from working in museums and heritage services its that whilst none of us can accurately predict the future you can have an awful lot of fun trying to make sense of it once its in the past!

Merry Christmas! A preview of 2017…

 2016 has been another breakthrough year for me with more presentations in more places to more people than ever before.  My year was dominated by #thetwits2016 and #shakespeare400 (see the report before it goes) but I’ll really remember it for all the people I’ve met and the response they had to what I do.

 

Next year will be a huge year both personally and professionally…

My offer for 2017 includes:
In 2017 I will be presenting Roald Dahl’s “The Twits” at literary events including the Guernsey Literary Festival and I’ll be celebrating World Book Day at North Swindon Library.
 
 

In March and April I’ll be telling tales from Shakespeare as part of Shakespeare Week and St George’s Day celebrations.

May-October 2017 – NEW!! Jeremy Strong’s “One Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”.

To coincide with the Summer Reading Challenge 2017 I will be presenting Jeremy Strong’s “One Hundred Mile an Hour Dog”.  Can Trevor train Streaker the Dog before the end of holidays or will he lose his nasty bet with Charlie Smugg? We’ll find out this summer.  I will also revive Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” as part of my summer offering.
 

My spooky tales sessions will return in time for Halloween.

I’ll be celebrating Christmas by telling traditional pantomime stories.

 

Fairy, folk and traditional tales will remain at the heart of my work but there will be bespoke projects along the way.  2017 will be the 100th anniversary of Rugby League star Jack Harrison’s death during The Great War and my retelling of Tom Palmer’s “The Last Try” will hopefully appear at commemoration events in the Spring.  I’m also looking forward to presenting stories at birthday parties throughout the year.

I’ll do my best to keep my blog and expanding photo gallery up to date so that I can share the highs and lows with you but you can help me too; if any of the above sounds exciting then share it with people you think might be interested, keep an eye on my calendar and come along to events.

All that remains for me to say is a big thank you to my beautiful wife for tolerating another year of chaos (although next year’s definitely going to trump this one for excitement) and my parents who continue to support my lunacy.

Have a very merry Christmas and I hope to see you in 2017.

John xxx

 

Where did September come from?

StickersThis morning I turned around and noticed that a new academic year had crept in whilst I was looking the other way.  Who saw that coming (again)?

Its been a slow start to the school year here at Kirk Towers.  The fact is that as the teachers and pupils find their feet the last thing they need is a storyteller.  Besides I am still recovering from an epic summer of non stop storytelling.  Saying this the snowball is beginning to gather momentum and I have bookings through until December.  As ever I am hoping that this snowball produces an avalanche!

It isn’t just schools finding their feet.  Many of the organisations I worked with over the summer are using the end of summer and beginning of autumn to take stock and reflect before cannonballing into Black History Month and plans for 2016.

In short, with not many people around and a lot of work awaiting the go ahead, I find that today I can relax a little but rest assured I’ll be in Ipswich next week as the show carries on.

I’ve a hat for that…

STORYTELLING 1This morning I wanted to write something meaningful about the state of the nation ahead of the election.  I wanted people to understand what choosing cuts to public services means to arts practitioners like me, who are funded pretty much entirely by schools and local authorities.  In the end I couldn’t find the right words so instead I wrote a poem about my many different hats.

 

For the ‘I-don’t-get-its’

For ‘it-doesn’t-make-sense’

For ‘schools-dead-boring’

and sometimes parents.

For learning about stories

For learning about the past

For learning you’ve a future

if you give yourself a chance.

For moments you’ll remember

For memories you will make

For adding joy and inspiration

for someone else’s sake.

For a light bulb or a penny

For a different point of view

For an experience or something fun

I’ve a hat for that, have you?

1000 up for Time the Ostler (and counting)!

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

A year ago I made a video inspired by “The Highwayman” in which Tim the Ostler confesses what he did to betray Bess and The Highwayman.  Twelve months on its just had its thousandth viewing.  Yah!

I’m thrilled that so many people have watched it (admittedly it’s not millions of bods but I’m not a pop star or a puppy/baby doing anything cute).  As with most things though the devil is in the detail – How many people watched the video because they were looking for it?  How is this short clip being used?  Do people like it?  I wish I could tell you but the truth is I have no idea.  For all the views, my video has received very little feedback.

It’d be lovely to know that this little film is being used as a study tool rather than just accidentally clicked on.  So do me a favour, if you’ve watch and enjoy any of my Youtube videos don’t forget to leave a comment or click “like”.

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Rave reviews

The Hungry CaterpillarHere are a selection of the rave reviews I have received between January and March 2015 from schools and libraries about my work:

“Absolutely brilliant performance, totally engaging all the children and staff.” Librarian, Swansea, March 2015

“You brought the stories to life and enticed even the most reluctant of readers.” Deputy Head, Primary School, St Albans, March 2015

“You do exactly what you say you’ll do… your standard remains consistently high and polished.”  Shrewsbury Children’s Bookfest, March 2015

“A great day and very inspirational for the children.”  Teacher, Primary School, Lewes, February 2015

Its easy to suggest that I am universally loved.  My way of working isn’t to every taste but having said this I am regularly wowed by the response my stories receive.  Perhaps the best comment I received over the past three months (those of you who reached this blog via my homepage may recognise it) is this one…

“It is always worrying when we invite someone new into school, as you never know which way it will go.  However, you really motivated and inspired the children and it was a joy to welcome you into the school.”  Assistant Head Teacher, Salford, February 2015.

Provided people continue to put their faith in me then I  hope to carry on taking my work around the country motivating, inspiring, enthusing and entertaining for as long as I can.

The Great Fire of Guilden Morden (Part Three)

Going on a Bear HuntThe project in Guilden Morden may be over but if you visit South Cambridgeshire you’ll find the story trail the children created.  It is now possible to discover the fateful events of 1881 by downloading the walking tour onto a mobile phone.

The Village Trail

This short but information packed narrative walk is a great way to explore a very pretty part of our countryside at the weekend or during the school holidays.

Well done to the staff and pupils of Guilden Morden Primary School and all those who helped to make the trail a reality (Cambridgeshire IT Services and GM History Society).