Tag Archives: creativity

My contribution to a year of culture in Waltham Forest

In January 2019 the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) became the first London Borough of Culture and so began a year-long celebration of the arts and creativity across the whole authority.  Cultural activities in different sizes, shapes and forms have been planned and led by professionals, community groups and enthusiasts and people have been coming together to share their artistic interests.  Until recently I lived in Walthamstow and I’ve been working in Waltham Forest for a number of years as a storyteller and facilitator at The Vestry House Museum and William Morris Gallery most recently devising and delivering  an outreach assembly charting the story of the area.  When it was announced that LBWF was to be London’s first Borough of Culture I was very keen to be involved and despite moving to Sussex I am really excited to have been asked to deliver another outreach project, this time promoting fun through art.

If you looked at my calendar it gives the impression that this storyteller isn’t doing that much at the moment.  In fact this summer I am working as a presentation facilitator, visiting 37 primary schools in Waltham Forest to work with over 2500 children and enabling the young people I encounter to create mass art pieces based on their cultural identity and interests.  The way we work is that the children are each given a piece of coloured card.  They are then asked a question relating to who they are (their favourite foods, the languages they speak at home and their artistic interests).  To answer the questions the children move around the room.  It’s a bit like what would happen if one of those mosaics you see crowds make at international football matches was achieved by playing an enormous multiple choice game or what happens to a pallet of paint as the brush moves, blending and mixing the colours.  As the children move new patterns emerge which are as unique as the children in the room. We take photographs of the process at different stages which become the artwork.

This is a very ambitious project which relies upon a massive amount of team work between myself, the school staff and the children involved and so far the sessions have been received enthusiastically.  The images that we are capturing are very striking but what’s also striking is the eagerness of the children. Waltham Forest is a very vibrant and diverse place and our sessions are as much about creating a forum to discuss identity as they are about making art. As the children make their choices there is invariably a positive buzz around the assemblies and when asked for feedback, everybody wants to share things about their families and their interests.  The children aren’t the only ones who are enjoying themselves. As a storyteller I am fascinated by family stories and how they are valued so being a part of the discussions has been a wonderful experience.

The project is not without its practical challenges.  Whenever you ask 120 children to move at the same time you risk a certain amount of chaos but by far the biggest challenge of the project has been communicating the outcome to schools.  Holding up pieces of card in front of a camera to make an art piece is a fairly abstract idea.  To make it even more confusing, we instruct the children to use their cards to cover their eyes, nose and mouth so their faces cannot be seen – this means they have no idea of the bigger pictures that they are making.  It’s been my job to keep the sessions bouncing along, to try to keep some very large groups engaged and to assure them (and the schools) that the pictures we are making look great.

At the time of writing we are about a third of the way through the project which will run until the end of the school year.  I think it’s fantastic that the Borough of Culture have tried to engage children from every part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest with arts, creativity and culture and it has been a privilege to be invited into so many schools to take a glimpse into the worlds of the children.  Waltham Forest has undoubtedly shaped me as a storyteller and I hope that for some young people this kind of experience and the opportunities arising from a year of culture on their doorstep might also have a long lasting legacy.

John Kirk is a professional storyteller working in schools, libraries and museums as well as literature festivals and events. For more information about his work or to make a booking use the contact form.

Resilience and Creativity

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.‏Human beings are incredibly resilient creatures.  So too are creative people.  When I work with BTEC and A Level students I share my observation that often the difference between being great and being successful is resilience and that resilience isn’t easily taught.  I think that this is best summed up in the following tweet.

@boltcity Creative process: 1) This is going to be awesome 2) This is hard 3) This is terrible 4) I’m terrible 5) Hey, not bad 6) That was awesome

The sentiment of this tweet could apply to anybody undertaking a creative journey so I’m not going to dwell on the hardships of professional arts practice.  The difficulties of making a living in the arts are well documented and in some quarters gain limited sympathy.  It might be argued that being an artist is a choice and that any need for resilience to cope with rejection is self inflicted.

Resilience rears its head in many ways when you talk about creativity.  For instance there are artists who continue to express themselves in the face of restriction and sometimes oppression (eg. Ai Weiwei, Pussy Riot, The Belarus Free Theatre and The Moustache Brothers).  Perhaps some of those I have listed might be viewed by some as troublemakers but their refusal to be silenced demonstrates their own resilience and in turn offers strength to their audiences.  It is this resilience that is offered to the participants and audiences of creativity which I wish to highlight here.

At the beginning of 2014 Britain was hit by some of the worst storms in living memory.  I got first hand experience of lashing rain and wild winds when I visited the South West in February.  I was there to lead Stories of the World and Brecht workshops.  At one point during the workshop the Fire Door blew through and dumped the overflowing gutter into the studio where we were working!  Despite their town being sodden and local roads being impassable all the students who could attend did so.  Despite miserable conditions outside, inside the groups laughed and joked about the weather and participated excellently in the workshop.  Why?  Well this could have been for any reason really; interest in the subject being presented, an awareness of impending assessment or just a desire to carry on as normal.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Some would say that the flooding was a once in a lifetime weather event and that this is just an example of a very British storm in a tea cup (excuse the pun).  What if the storm is a metaphor?  How much resilience must it take for a family to carry on at moments of crisis (long term illness, family breakdown or bereavement) and what does the ability to feel normal mean to them?

The world can be a hard place but its through creativity many of us find our resilience.  Creativity can be many things to many people: escapism, hope or just routine.

What of creativity itself?  Can creativity survive the uncertainty of funding cuts, policy changes, fashions and tastes?  Of course it can.

“It was so much better than German!”

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.At the beginning of January I was in Essex to help inspire a group of young writers.  I wanted to present a workshop in which the participants didn’t feel they were really doing any work.  As absurd as this may sound – I ran a creative writing workshop without doing any writing!

As a trained actor my strength is in the spoken word and its delivery.  Through games and activities I helped the group explore short stories and the work of Edgar Allan Poe.  Here are some of the games we played:

Exploring quality of their content and how we can manipulate atmosphere.

Person A sets up a simple mime.  Person B questions it.  Person A tells a lie about their action and that lie becomes Person B’s truth.  The quality of A’s lie will effect the quality of B’s mime (I’m eating a spicy chilli is far easier to demonstrate than I’m eating).  The game then develops as Person B informs Person A what they are doing.  Whatever B says A accepts as truth.  It is in B’s power to manipulate the scene (A is sitting on a chair watching television and B begins an interrogation).

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

A small group is challenged to tell a story.  Each person in the group is responsible for a section of that story which must have a clear beginning, middle and end.  A character, a location and object are offered as a starter to the group).  As the group build their story ideas about tense (how does “I” rather than “he” effect a story?), sentence structure and vocabulary are introduced before the story is presented to the rest of the group.

Eventually my success will be qualified by how the participants take the ideas they explored on their feet into their written work.  For now though my success is qualified by their words…

“It was better than any day at school… Changed my view of storytelling.”

“Today was really good!  It was so much better than German!  I learnt a lot about building tension and suspense and I have learnt how to use it in my own work.”

“This experience was such a great learning curve for anyone invited and I will take skills with me.”

I really enjoyed today… everyone got involved with acting and storytelling.  It was lots of fun!”

“Thank you to John Kirk for a great experience toady, we learnt a lot of new things and had a really enjoyable morning.”

 

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.
A letter from a student after a secondary school workshop exploring short stories and Edgar Allan Poe.
John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.
A display of Tweets after a Secondary School Workshop exploring short stories and Edgar Allan Poe.