Tag Archives: feedback

Partying into 2019!

Happy New Year! I hope you had a peaceful festive period and that the post Christmas blues haven’t set in just yet. This Christmas I had a run of children’s birthday parties. They were all so much fun and I’m just bursting with excitement to tell you more about them..

I started with a 1st birthday party in a play cafe in Islington. It was a bit of a tight fit but with shuffling tables (and parents) about we managed to create an adhoc performance space where I led a song, rhyme and storytime similar to the work I do for nurseries and libraries. I did a 30 minute set and tacted on some of my favourite global folk tales (Indian and Turkish) due to the wide age range at the party. Here’s the host feedback:

“I was a bit apprehensive as I had not seen John live however he was brilliant! and most of all the kids loved it just as much as the parents.”

Whilst the first party was fairly straight forward the second party was an absolutely bespoke project as I retold Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express for a book loving six year old in Greenwich. For reasons to do with preparation time and the difficulties I can have getting performance rights I decided quite early on that this would be a narrative storytelling (an abridged but interactive version of a far more elaborate story). Rather than just more drama roleplay activities, as it was a party I interspersed the storytelling elements with traditional party games like Follow my Leader, Blind Man’s Buff and Pass the Parcel. Here’s the hosts feedback:

“John managed to take a story we’ve read 1000 times and turn it in to a new and exciting adventure for my son and 20 of is friends. He held the audience of 3-6 year olds throughout and was energetic, innovative and entertaining throughout”.

For the last party I did something really quite exciting and at the same time really quite terrifying; I presented a who dunnit? for nine year olds. The party was held in a Pizzeria in Chingford and the eight guests were seated at a table. I shared a scenario about a missing birthday cake and then cast the guests as characters in the story. And do you know what? The children really got into it. They enjoyed playing the game of detectives and just as importantly I didn’t get thrown out of the restaurant for being a rabble rousing nuisance!

So three parties in two weeks. A very special first birthday, a retelling a family’s favourite story and a risky concept in a restaurant. Each had its challenges but they were a lot of fun and now the parties are over I want to do them all over again.

If you know somebody celebrating a birthday or are looking for party entertainment at affordable rates contact me to discuss how a storyteller can help deliver a unique and memorable event.

The (Birthday) Party season

At this time of the year I have usually downed tools for the festive period but with birthday party bookings to prepare for the Christmas week this year is a little bit different.  My usual feeling of triumphant relief at reaching the end of another year sane and solvent is still there but I can’t afford to get too demob happy as there’s still work to be done.

For me it seems birthday party bookings are like buses; you do none for ages and then three come along at once.  The three parties I’ll be entertaining at couldn’t be more different.  The first is a first birthday and will consist of songs, rhymes and stories, the second is for a six year old where I’m doing a narrative version of “The Polar Express” and the final one is for a nine year old and is to take place in a Pizzeria (I hope somebody warns the other customers!).

With every passing year I become more confident within my repertoire.  I know which stories will be winners and I understand the combinations to tell them in so that a set will be successful even if this means telling the same stories again and again but every so often I get a bespoke project; a new challenge, an excuse to develop new material.  Some bespoke projects will be more work than they are worth but just recently I worked up Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin, Beauty and the Beast and reworked the Elves and the Shoemaker for some traditional tales and Christmas storytelling sessions.  I have previously blogged about the session I ran retelling the story of the Prophet Yusuf but I also had the opportunity to work up some Russian folktales for a school in Hampshire.  Here is their feedback on what we got up to…

“The visit was brilliant. We all enjoyed the stories which were perfect for our topic. We felt that it was pitched perfectly and the participation of children made it memorable and thoroughly enjoyable. Our children went on to tell and write their own stories based on this experience.A huge thank you and assurance that we would be keen to book John again and recommend him to others schools”.

Teacher, Fareham, November 2018I 

Whenever I do a visit, whether it be to a school, a library or a literature festival the aim is to do the very best work possible and in recent years there has been a very definite correlation between the calibre of what I showcase and the plaudits I receive.  When I do a bespoke project I often only get one shot at getting it right and in the case of a birthday party there’s the added pressure of really not wanting to spoil the special day.  Making a good impression at a library may have more obvious rewards than making a good impression at a birthday party but you never know who is watching or where an encounter may lead so although it may be a private booking its as important as anything else I do (the last birthday party I did lead to two days of work at a school).  So this Christmas as I digest my turkey I’ll also be carefully chewing these projects over and thinking about how I can make them memorable, enjoyable and above all fun.

If you’re interested in a bespoke storytelling experience or are looking for a storyteller contact me.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous new year.

Festival list 2018

Last year I visited a couple of festivals.  This summer I’m visiting a few more…

28th April 2018 – Arts 4 All 2018 (Henley in Arden)

13th May 2018 – Barnes Kids Lit Fest 2018 (Barnes, London)

9th June 2018 – Eye Open Gardens (Eye, Suffolk)

14th June 2018 – Broadway Arts Festival 2018 (Broadway, Cotswolds)

24th June 2018 – The Big Marlarkey 2018 (Hull)

30th June 2018 – Bradford Literature Festival 2018

24th July 2018 – Brentwood Children’s Literary Festival 2018

Some of these events I’ve done before some of them are completely new to me.  Some are very local affairs, some are regional if not national events.  I’m very excited to be included in all of them.

I hope to see you there!

My work in special educational needs (SEN) environments

The first time I really worked with young people who were considered to have special educational needs (SEN) was through a theatre company in London.  We worked with a very small group for 6 weeks before the participants delivered their project at a local theatre.  I don’t mind admitting that this was a very steep learning curve and at times I was out of my depth but by watching the other tutors and facilitators and by working with rather than against the children I got through it.

Since then I have been privileged enough to share stories with young people with profound physical, learning and behaviourial needs in places like Andover, Bridlington, Chelmsford, Harlow, Milton Keynes and Newcastle.  Each time the experience has been hugely challenging and deeply moving.

I have had some really rewarding experiences in special educational needs environments and often find that the staff and children greet me with a warmth and openness which is refreshing.  Sometimes the work I’ve delivered has been more or less what I’d deliver anywhere else and sometimes I have planned and delivered sensory stories (a story in which the individual engages with a story through their senses – smell, touch and taste as well as the more usual sight and sound).  Preparing a sensory story really challenges me.  Its very stimulating to reevaluate even the most simple story in terms of sensual opportunities and accessibility.

I think that my success (if I have been at all successful) in SEN environments can be put down to a few things:

  • I do a lot of preparation work (particularly if I am delivering a sensory story).
  • I have a highly visual, energetic style of delivery.
  • I place a lot of importance on striking a rapport with the group so that everybody feels welcome, safe and included.
  • I try to be adaptable and always expecting the unexpected.
  • I treat everybody the same irrespective of their perceived disadvantage.

I just wanted to explain what my last point means.  Some of the young people I meet have things going on that many of us could not imagine living with but they don’t need or want my pity.  I try to work with the young person not their condition; yes, of course I respect their conditions but if I don’t respect them as individuals then my delivery will fall flat.

Equal opportunities and accessibility is something we should be conscious of when we run sessions.  Be it allowing blind or autistic children to feel the props before or after a story to enhance their understanding or simply wearing a transmitter so a deaf child can hear or making it possible for a wheel chair user to volunteer I have seen how small adjustments can make big differences.  I am still learning a lot and I pick up new techniques all the time but my experiences mean that I certainly I feel a lot more confident when I deliver work for children with special educational needs.

In some ways “special educational needs” is a very cold one-size-fits-all term for a group of people with a wide range of talents and abilities.  Some of my favourite days have been working in SEN environments.  I would thoroughly recommend the experience to any arts practitioner and it is definitely work I’ll be looking to do more of in the future.

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!

A perfect storm..

Sometimes everything just comes together perfectly – the audience, the environment, the stories – it’s almost like everybody wants it to be really good and last week it really was.  This is the feedback I received from one of my National Storytelling Week sessions:

“A sensational performance delivered to nearly 400 children. They were engaged, enthralled and completely overwhelmed by the experience. They loved it!”

It was a genuinely lovely morning that will live long in my memory.  I told a ghost story (A GHOST story!)  to nearly 250 children and you could have heard a pin drop.  Why do I tell stories?  For moments like that.

Mad March is over for another year

Every year March is my busiest month.This year I was working with two other storytellers but still found myself working all across the country (Birmingham, Manchester, South Yorkshire to name but a few destinations).

I’m really enjoying working with audiences at the moment and before we March into April (see what I did?) I thought I’d share some of the feedback I’ve received from schools.

It was wonderful to see the students captivated by the tale (The Twits), listening to every word and suspending disbelief for the duration of the event. The fact that so many students and staff have since commented on how much they enjoyed themselves, is confirmation of the success of each session and their value in terms of exposing the children to the power of storytelling.

Librarian, William Hulme’s Grammar School, March 2017

 

The children took a lot from the session and they were enthralled when John was acting out scenes from Shakespeare on his own. The children were still talking about it when we returned after the weekend.

Teacher, St Augustines, March 2017

 

From the moment the children entered the hall you had their attention and kept it for a full 45 minutes – unheard of with 5 – 7 year olds! 

Teacher, St James’ Primary School Colchester, March 2017

The second two of these three schools also told me that their children had been spotted using ideas and games from my workshops in their classroom learning and their play.  What a result!

Its a privilege to work in any school but I have been very lucky to work in some really lovely, supportive schools and with some really great teachers and children so far this year.  Its nice to review this feedback and to look at the pictures I’ve been sent (I’ve shared a few new ones here).  However, whilst there may be room for a short break with the family before I start my April sessions I won’t allow space for complacency.

 

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.

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

Qualifying my contribution to children’s learning

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.This week I am using my blog to qualify my impact on learning by sharing some of the testimony I have received in the past 3 months.

“The day was absolutely fantastic and the feedback from children and parents was brilliant. It was lovely to see the children echoing the language you used when writing stories the next day. They all thoroughly enjoyed the day so thank you!!”  Teacher, Wychwood Primary School, Shipton Under Wychwood (Traditional Storytelling and Presentation Day, January 2014)

“I can honestly say that this was one of our most successful days!
John totally engaged the children and especially a group of boys who usually show very little interest in drama, storytelling or writing! The next day the children were still talking about John’s visit and the tips he had given them for story writing. I call that money well spent!” Headteacher, Gillibrand Primary School, Chorley (Classic Storytelling and Workshop Day, February 2014)

“Again, a fabulous day much enjoyed and talked about by the children all week… They have also been inspired to write their own poems and stories – ” Teacher, South Malling Primary School, Lewes (Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman“, February 2014)

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Each of these teachers work in very different social, economic and geographic settings and yet their feedback demonstrates that my stories and workshops manage to transcend such obstacles, appealing to young people nationwide.  They also point to a lasting impact and legacy.

Positive and constructive feedback is always appreciated but I’d like to finish this piece by sharing a lovely comment I received from a school in Liverpool.  Leaving London at 5.30am I made it to Anfield for a 10.45am start.  I led a story and workshop session and was back in the big smoke by 7.45pm.  The children were wonderful to work with but getting this comment from their teacher made an epic trip to Merseyside more than worthwhile.

“The children got a lot out of the workshop! Thank you.”  Teacher, Whitefield Primary School, Liverpool

Related blogs

Fairy Tale Stepmothers do ave’em! – my thoughts on female Fairy tale villains

See also A Tale of Two Newspapers – a piece about performing in Chorley (my home town)

See also “The Highwayman” from an Ostler’s point of view – my thoughts on rewriting Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”

See also Why Mickey Flanagan isn’t joking – my thoughts on quality