Tag Archives: role play

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

Subtext: Stories in Silence

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Subtext is a term which is often associated with the work of Constantin Stanislavski.  Stanislavski was a director and drama theorist who developed a system of acting in Russia in the early part of the 20th Century.  Stanislavski’s work was a reaction to the shallow, melodramatic performances of his time.  He believed in a naturalistic style of performance, challenging performers to bring truth to the stage.

Stanislavski advocated techniques, including the “Magic If”, in which performers attempt to recreate their character’s truth by asking how they themselves might respond in similar circumstances to the scene (“What if I were in this position?”).

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Subtext refers to the unspoken thoughts of a character during a story and can help a performer to sustain their role.

I recently saw “Slava’s Snow Show” (Royal Festival Hall/International), a renowned clowning piece set to music with almost no vocal communication.  The absence of words did not make the piece less engaging because the clowns were telling their stories with their facial expressions and their bodies.  Every move and gesture was carefully played so that the audience could see the character’s unspoken intentions.  Okay, perhaps a clown isn’t the greatest example of naturalistic performance (they are prone to exaggerating and demonstrating their unspoken thoughts) but for 90 minutes they communicated their character’s truth quite beautifully and almost entirely non-verbally.

In Primary Schools I might introduce subtext through a thought tracking exercise in which I ask the participants what their character is thinking within a prescribed frozen picture or I might ask them to think of a line that their character might say to themselves in the bathroom mirror each morning and then challenge them to repeat the line to themselves as they walk about the room.  At the end of the exercise I am interested in how these techniques change the way the participant thinks about their character and the way they inhabit their role.

In Secondary Schools and with older groups a way of exploring subtext is for the performers to act out a scene.  At a given signal the performers must act out their subtext.  In acting out the subtext the performer should feel free to express themselves physically, vocally or verbally, exaggerating and demonstrating their character’s feelings (like Slava’s clowns!).  As the signal is repeated the performers return to their scene with a heightened awareness of their subtext.

I recently lead a play study in which we considered “An Inspector Calls” by JB Priestley.  The story is set against the back drop of a family gathering and is concerned with issues of class, sex and social responsibility.  Throughout the story characters listen to lengthy monologues relating to an incident that has happened.  The performer must respond to the information contained within each monologue as their character might if they were hearing the news for the first time.  Then, as each character is lead to reveal their own secrets do their unspoken thoughts belie their words?

During the play we must believe that Gerald and Eric are uncomfortable long before they are asked to give their accounts.  Equally, Mr Birling’s indignation and Sheila’s shame should be apparent even when they aren’t talking.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In building a subtext for the character, the performer becomes a more active listener and responds more truthfully to the circumstances of the story.  In our study we physicalized our character’s sin.  Taking the seven deadly sins (Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Wrath, Lust and Envy) I challenged the group to demonstrate their character’s main vice and then to sustain that vice as the inner life of their character during the scene.  Rather than thinking about the lines or what they might be having for dinner, even the simplest of subtexts will help the performer to remain animated when at rest and to respond more appropriately to the story.

In its simplest application subtext can be very liberating.  The performer has free rein to imagine and consolidate a world for their character with a web of unspoken thoughts and opinions.  For some subtext can help their ability to concentrate whilst for others, sustaining a subtext helps them bring truth to the mechanics of a story (why do I move at that moment?).

The skill of the storyteller is in repetition and in my opinion this can only really be achieved through rehearsal and fully understanding the story and a character’s objectives.  It is important to treat subtext as a tool in a larger kit to avoid unspecific and generalised performance.

Storytelling and Code Breaking

Can you crack the code to continue the story?John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

1911 1955 1912 1916     1937 1972    1920 1981 1951!

Where A is 1908, Z is 2000 CODE IS FUN!

You might be thinking, what has code breaking to do with storytelling? Well, my work is nothing if not varied and I was recently invited to launch a Homework Club at a Library.

The challenges of storytelling for informal settings are numerous: who will attend, how old will the participants be, how can we best use the time to deliver something which will be engaging and not patronising?

On this occasion I came up with the idea of creating a story around a fictional counter terrorism agency to meet the client’s brief.  The agents were told at an initial briefing that the unit had been infiltrated by an enemy agent.  It would be the task of the group to crack the clues and root out the villain before the unit was destroyed.  Jack Bower meets Cluedo – the game was afoot!

As well as the date cipher above, I used the Dewey system and the characteristics of books to disguise information (page numbers, line numbers, even the number of characters into a line!)

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.

Allowing the participants to approach the narrative in a free form way is a risky venture but attempting to crack my ciphers was an important part of the session.  Like homework, the ciphers required the young people to work for their reward using problem solving and research skills.  The pay off for the young people was revealing their role in the narrative which they were then able to use to complete the story, taking part in a further game of conspiracy and intrigue at the end of the session.

It was encouraging that the group saw the session through to its conclusion.  It would be quite easy to struggle with the puzzles and drift away from the exercise but the group persevered and the final game was a hail of accusations, bluff and enthusiastic double bluff based on what they knew about themselves from the previous games.

In the end the enemy agent was brought to justice and everybody seemed happy with my deviously vexing games.

As I basked in a job well done one thing was clear – I wouldn’t have got away with it without those pesky kids!

An Unbirthday Party

A Birthday Party is a very special thing.  When a child reaches the age when there is innocent pleasure in parlour games and jelly and ice cream its up to you to take advantage before this briefest of windows closes and they become too cynical for pinning tails on donkeys.

In the planning and execution of a Birthday Party its worth remembering that you are creating an indelible memory which will effect the child’s relationship with birthdays forever.  Some of my clearest childhood memories are from such parties: the joy of presents, the disappointment at losing party games, the sickness caused by too many sweets and too much excitement.

DSC03063Organisation shouldn’t be taken lightly.  There’s the cake, the birthday tea and of course the party bag and prizes.  The song says “it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”; whilst it wasn’t necessarily referring to the party organiser, in an age of competition between parents the pressure to find an edge will drive you to distraction.

A storyteller offers a party just that edge.

It has been my pleasure to offer my experience to both children’s and adult birthday parties where “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was an overarching theme.  For a children’s party I appear as The Mad Hatter, weaving Lewis Carroll’s poetry into an afternoon of games and activities ranging from group storytelling to decorating paper hats.  In the case of adults I work as coordinator and consultant, bringing a team of performers to mingle at the party.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.For any age group a storyteller adds value to the celebrations.  Storytellers will delight and entertain guests whilst a strong sense of the narrative can define and guide a party purposefully with energy, colour and imagination.  The ability to collaborate with a storyteller means that the party organiser is able to request personal touches as your wildest dreams are brought to life.

The legacy of great storytelling at a Birthday Party isn’t difficult to quantify and will make all the hard work seem worth it.

“That was the best birthday party ever!”

“That was brilliant!”

… or sometimes – “thank you”.

The Victorian Classroom Experience

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.I had just marched out of the hall, my cane tucked under my arm, the children quivering with fear.  In the quiet of the staffroom I reviewed my morning as a Victorian School Master.

The session had come about after I was contacted to provide an authentic Victorian Classroom experience.

About three years ago I was commissioned to write a School Room session for The Bruce Castle in Haringey.  This would be a fabulous opportunity to revisit the piece.

The Bruce Castle School in Tottenham was run by the Hill family during the 19th Century (Rowland Hill gave us the Penny Black).  The school was renowned for its progressive approach to discipline.  Rather than using corporal punishment, The Bruce Castle School introduced a system of points and rewards which was administered by the pupils themselves.  It had many supporters including Charles Dickens who is known to have visited the school.

Unfortunately The Bruce Castle is something of an exception to the rule in the period.  It was only late in the reign of Queen Victoria that education became compulsory and then only for the very young.  Many children found school either voluntarily or via the workhouses.  With sometimes eye watering class sizes order was maintained through fear.

Having reworked the piece to incorporate references to potential punishments I have tried to communicate the importance of the credibility of the session to the school.  If the children don’t buy into the experience then the experience is liable to collapse (he’s not really a teacher/he isn’t really going to cane us etc) 150 years ago it was acceptable to hurl board rubbers at pupil’s heads – 150 years is clearly a very long time!  When I arrive, the school has excelled.  They have a free standing white board and arranged rows of benches in their hall.  There is even a lectern for the register.  With my bell and my cane we have created a pop up Victorian Classroom!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust before 9.05 I go to get the class.  They are ready.  We head to the hall where the boys and the girls stand in front of separate benches.  The atmosphere is nervous.

“No speaking, Eyes front”.

I register the class, addressing them by surname.  As I stumble through the register I am reminded of how far removed the Victorian world is from the present day.

“Sit down”.

The lesson today is divided into reading, writing and mental arithmetic.  It begins however with physical drill.

Whilst researching for the original piece I discovered that quite often PE would take place in the classroom because the school didn’t have outdoor facilities.  The children would take part in physical drills at their desks!  We often take public parks for granted but at this time open spaces in urban areas must have been truly oases.

Drill over its into learning by repetition.

“Sit up straight!  Eyes front!  No slouching!”

Victims are selected.

“What is 4×5?”

Pressure can make the most intelligent child look very silly.

“What is the superlative in the passage?”

The point of this isn’t simply to intimidate or make a child feel silly.  The point is to demonstrate a method of learning.  This isn’t the learning of compromise this is the learning of fear – my way or the highway.  if a girl hesitates on an answer its also an opportunity to reinforce attitudes towards educating young ladies with a jibe about needlework.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lesson moves onto a writing exercise.  Today as substitutes for slates we have portable whiteboards.

“Why are you writing with your left hand?  You will write with your right hand”.

As School Master I maintain an unsympathetic air to the teachers and pupils and the lesson continues in silence.  What rapport there is between class and instructor is cold and dangerously sharp.

“Sit up straight!  Eyes front!  No slouching!”

The lesson concludes with three cheers for Queen Victoria.

Afterwards there is time to discuss the experience with the class.  The feedback on the session is interesting.  Words like “unfair”, “shocking”, “mean” and even “rude” are used.  Comparisons are made (everybody prefers their class teacher to my incarnation!).  There is general relief that I am not the monster of the Victorian classroom.

Sitting in the staffroom I can’t help but smile.  As the children return to their classroom and life gets back to normal there is legacy in their participation.  Undoubtedly this morning’s interaction will provide context to their learning, stimulus for their writing and renewed enthusiasm for their study but you only need to listen to hear them recalling moments from the session to know that this has affected them.

It has been an unforgettable experience.