Tag Archives: schools workshops

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!!

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

A Story? Really? A blog about managing innocence in storytelling

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.As a storyteller I rely upon two presentation models: narrating events and being the character.  My relationship with the audience will change depending how I present the story.  If I am narrating events I inform the audience of our relationship.  I allow them to understand that the story and its events are a fiction and that they are watching a presentation.  I do this by introducing myself, talking about the story and clearly demonstrating different characters.  When I become a character my audience must do much more of the work themselves.

“So what?”, I hear you cry.  Well, when I present a session as a Victorian School Teacher the participants are briefly starring in a drama devised to expose them to the way education might have been in the 19th Century.  If the participants don’t respect the threat of caning then the session is less effective.  Equally, when I present a Detective investigating a crime the participants must be convinced that the scenario is credible.  A lack of investment in the world of the story can be a session’s undoing.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Cynicism can bedevil creativity as we grow up and the examples above relate to characters and sessions devised for pre-teens but what about when we are very young?  What are the dangers of investing too heavily in stories?  Can there be any harm in believing that you just met the Gruffalo?  I suppose that very much depends on the experience.  For a young child, meeting a creature with terrible tusks, terrible claws and terrible teeth in terrible jaws etc. will either be the best or worst day of their life.

Clearly telling a very young participant that what is happening (or about to happen) isn’t real can impact their experience.  You could go as far as to say that intentionally breaking the illusion robs them of an innocent experience.  There is unquestionable security in the truth and I think it is the storyteller’s responsibility to offer that security through the narrative by ensuring audiences see that the wicked get there just desserts.  If the participant absolutely believes is this more memorable or just confusing?  Is Miss Trunchbull scary if you know its an act or is the Mad Hatter as wonderful if you know its in some way false?  How a situation is managed will hinge on lots of factors including the sensitivity of the participant and the circumstances and legacy of the meeting.

From my point of view it isn’t easy to maintain the reality of being a character rather than a person for an extended period of time.  It can involve a lot of planning with a school or organisation ahead of the day.  Trying to think like a character at all times and allowing everybody to believe you are a character can be exhausting (once I spent an entire day in a Headteacher’s study in role pretending to work at her desk!).  I have however found that the legacy of this approach is huge and the feedback on such sessions is generally very positive.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.“When you came in to work with the children during world book week, they were completely gripped!  The story narrative you came up with to engage the children was phenomenal, the children completely believed the 3 Little Pigs had been eaten!  You stayed in role all day and as a result the children played along too, the quality of writing and language we got from them was fantastic.   I have no doubt in my mind that we would use you again… as we are still talking about it a year later!!” (Teacher, St Wulstans and St Edmunds Primary School, Fleetwood)

I suppose that to some extent the purpose of the story will determine whether the participants are allowed to believe in the character.  After presenting the Victorian Classroom I will appear to participants as myself and discuss their experiences.  This is partly to assure groups that the monstrous school master is imaginary but also so that the group can articulate how my lesson and their lessons compare.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.The real world can be a hard place and sometimes we grow up too fast.  Its a sad day when a child becomes inhibited by doubt.  I was recently at a school and a little girl took me to one side and asked whether I really was Willy Wonka.  I told her that in life we can choose to believe or we can choose not to believe but that decision was ultimately hers.  She skipped away satisfied with my answer, having just chatted with the world’s greatest chocolate maker!

There are times when I wish I was a little more innocent.  As an adult and a storyteller I have an important role to play in maintaining the innocence of my youngest audiences for as long as possible.

The Merits of a Narrative Poem

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.When I was younger I didn’t think that I liked poetry.  Outside Shakespeare I rarely read verse for pleasure.  Last year though, I was introduced to Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” and it changed my view of poetry completely.  Since then I have been reading other narrative poems including the “The Ballad of the Fleet” (Tennyson) and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (Carroll) and incorporating them into my work.

A narrative poem tells us a story but it is set out in stanzas with the rhythms and rhyming patterns familiar in other types of poem.  It will contain a skilfully woven story packed with wonderful imagery and metaphors which compels its audience.

In my opinion the narrative poem offers so much that I have even used them in pieces for Birthday Parties!  Here are what I see as the merits of working with narrative poetry.

The narrative poem is perhaps one of the most ancient form of storytelling (The Iliad and Beowulf are both story poems).  As a Drama Facilitator I believe they are a fantastic way of introducing complex text to young audiences which demonstrates the breadth and depth of our literary heritage beyond Shakespeare.

It offers a whole story.  A chapter of a book or a scene from a play wouldn’t offer the beginning middle and end in this way.  If I want to guarantee that a group have heard the material a narrative poem is a concise way of quickly offering an entire story.

The narrative poem will capture the imaginations of boys and girls as it often recalls and romanticises some kind of adventure.

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Investigating narrative poetry through drama is a lot of fun and once a group has a story they are better positioned to explore the author’s imagery and language choices.  The poems I am talking about were mostly written in the 19th and 20th Century and whilst the language is certainly complex it is not impenetrable.  Accessing it allows young  participants to make their own judgements about themes, events and characters (perhaps physically characterising or hot seating characters about their decisions in the story or making up scenes based upon their deductions).

I have also found that exploring a narrative poem can become a catalyst for exploring rhythm, rhyme and meter and getting groups to write in poetry.

_ _ _ _

“The wind was a rushing train, dodging every tree

The moon was a shiny banana ripe and ready for me.

The road was a lonely wanderer, under an ongoing spell

and Mr Highwayman came riding, riding, riding

Josh Highwayman came riding, up to the Grand Hotel.”

_ _ _ _

“The snow was a breeze of coldness coating the leafy bush,

The sun was a ball of fire, gleaming upon rushing waves

The field was a soft green carpet, over the earthy road

And the Highwayman came skating, skating, skating

The Highwayman came skating up to the big mansion’s door.”

_ _ _ _

As well as getting excited about narrative poetry I have discovered narrative songs.  My taste in story song is eclectic ranging from Benny Hill (The Fastest Milkman in the West) to Charles Daniels (The Devil Went Down to Georgia) and Chris Wood (Hollow Point).  You could easily laugh some narrative songs off as being novelties but constructing an effective narrative within a poem or a song is a great skill.  Tennyson and Noyes might not be matched for their poetry’s beautiful imagery  but Hollow Point particularly is (in my view) a powerful piece of modern verse based storytelling.

Up to now narrative poems have formed the basis of workshops or featured within other work that I have presented but this summer to coincide with The Summer Reading Challenge 2014 I am taking my new found love of the narrative poem to a whole new level as I reinterpret Homer’s “Odyssey” for a young audience.

My final reinterpretation is unlikely to be a narrative poem but one thing is certain – it’s going to be epic!

Special thanks to the children of South Malling Primary School for sharing their “modern” takes on “The Highwayman”.

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

“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.

 

“The Highwayman” from an Ostler’s Point of View

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Highwaymen are often referred to as “Gentlemen of the Road” but they were in fact nothing more than common thieves.  “Stand and Deliver!” (the command rather than the song), was last uttered by a Highwayman in Britain in 1831 but their exploits were (and are) popularly romanticised.  Alfred Noyes’ epic poem chronicles the night time adventures of one such rogue and the Landlord’s daughter, who tragically meet their ends in the cobbled inn yard.  Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman” is a brilliant story of love that has been reinterpreted by artists, film makers and musicians around the world.

As part of a workshop exploring Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman”, I was challenged to reinterpret the poem for a group of Primary School children.  This video is a part of the result and this blog came about as more and more people watched it online.

PLEASE VISIT 1000 UP! TO VIEW THE VIDEO

Rather than tell the Highwayman’s story I wanted to explore the world of the other characters mentioned in the poem.  I wanted the tone to be quite serious so taking Bess’ perspective was out.  The Landlord and the King’s Guards presented possibilities but the most interesting character seemed to be Tim the Ostler.  In the original poem Tim is mentioned by name but appears in just one stanza:

“And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
    His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
    But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter,
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—”

Who was this man?  Why was he there?  What was his role in events and what was his story beyond the inn yard?

What follows is the transcript of the above video.  My version is actually longer than this as I introduce the Captain of the Guard and explain what happens to Tim (I reserve those verses for live presentations).

What was most striking for me in Noyes’ poem was his rhythm and rhyming structure.  When I listen to the poem I always think about a horses hooves and I wanted my poem also to respect a regular meter (which it loosely does).  I also love his imagery and try to include some bold similes and metaphors.  Like Noyes I was drawn to his original themes of love, jealousy and violence but I have chosen for Tim the Ostler to recount his bitter betrayal rather than a third party.

 

Tim the Ostler

Now the landlord he has a daughter, whose lips are as red as a fire

Her hair is a perfumed cascade you couldn’t fail to admire

Oh how I longed for this young girl, who goes by the name of Bess

My master’s black eyed daughter

She smiled at me, his daughter

I dreamt that this sweetest lady would someday be my Princess….

I also offer a “Highwayman” workshop!!

Tale of Two Newspapers

I am originally from Chorley in Central Lancashire but live in North London.  I had learned about an event which was to take place called Chorley Live through Twitter.  The event was all about showcasing local talent so I was keen to support it.  I got in touch with the organisers and arranged to bring my work home to Chorley.  Knowing that I would probably struggle to publicise myself at a festival 200 miles away I phoned the local paper (The Chorley Guardian) in order to get a bit of publicity for my performance of Dracula at Chorley Library.  What I got was an amazing two page spread!

Chorley Guardian Interview

As you’ll imagine the piece meant that quite a crowd of people attended my performance.  It went really well and it seemed that everybody enjoyed themselves with many people taking away business cards.

Now, whenever I give out business cards I notice spikes in activity on my Youtube and Facebook pages.  That evening I noted such spikes with  audience members from the library going online to follow, like and comment on my performance but I thought nothing more of it than that.

A few weeks passed and I was contacted via Facebook by somebody who’d seen my October performance.  She had been so impressed by my work that she had recommended me to her children’s school!  Before I knew it I was back in Chorley in front of 300 children, opening the school’s library with my Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  I had a fabulous day at school and it was an immense privilege to be asked to cut the ribbon and officially open the school’s library.

Once again my adventures made it into the local paper.

Chorley Guardian St Gregorys

This story proves two things: that work truly does breed work and that I wouldn’t be anywhere without the support of my many friends, family and supporters across the United Kingdom.

Thank you for continuing to spread the good word!

An INSET Epiphany!

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.In 2011 I worked on a Creative Partnerships project in Lincolnshire.  The project was massively successful and attracted plaudits from educational professionals across the region.  That Autumn I was invited to share my ideas with a conference of new Headteachers in Lincolnshire.  I was then asked to lead a training event for four of the Head’s schools relating to creativity and the Summer Olympics.  18 months I was invited to lead another training event.  The theme of the session would be Mental Maths.  I was set the challenge of offering creative ideas for engaging children (foundation to key stage two) with Mental Maths.

So it came to pass that at Epiphany in the year 2014 I followed the A1(M) and came upon an inn in Lincoln (well, a Best Western anyway).  Now, it is a well known fact that this Wise Man is diabolical at Mathematics.  The people who know me best would confirm that the idea of me teaching anybody else about maths is hilarious.  Why then did I get such positive feedback on the INSET?

“Thank you so much for the training, staff said it was the best training they have ever had!”

In the first part of the session I presented a series of games.  The participants then applied their specific need (to consolidate or introduce Mathematical concepts) using my selection of games.  The learning was not restricted to Maths as Sciences, Languages and Humanity subjects entered the discussion.  In the second part of the session we explored how we might use narrative and storytelling technique to include our groups in Maths based storytelling.  The participants created wonderful stories which considered number bonds, using money and addition as well as other aspects of learning (literacy).  It seemed to me that the participants found a lot of energy and freedom in our exercises.

John Kirk specialises in drama workshops and theatre for young people.The epiphany’s of my INSET days aren’t as shiny as The Three Kings gifts but they are things which all of us need sometimes:

A Different Perspective – I am an outsider to the group.  When I work with a group I will have little knowledge of individuals or circumstances.  I will offer constructive criticism based on my experience and will respond to what I am presented.  This is very useful when problem solving or in team work exercises.

Fresh Ideas – I have a unique base of games and ideas which I have developed over a decade of working in a range of environments.  I love sharing my knowledge with other professionals because its in this way that young people are offered a better deal.

Fun – Most people who teach or who have ever been taught will agree that fun is important.  I believe in the valuing the contribution of individuals and collaborating to achieve goals together.  It always important that the atmosphere is friendly and that the participants feel comfortable.

So why was my INSET successful?  It was a success because I am not a teacher, I am a facilitator.  Often the results are within the room before I arrive.  I help the participants to find them.

Why Micky Flanagan isn’t joking

008A few weeks ago I was thumbing through a copy of “The Metro” Newspaper when I came across an interview with comedian Micky Flanagan.  Flanagan’s comedy may not be to everybody’s taste but one of his answers resonated with me that morning.

(Interviewer) What lessons has your career in showbiz taught you?

(Flanagan) Just the same lessons I’ve learned in every other job I’ve done – try to surround yourself with decent, honest people, work as hard as you can and keep asking yourself: ‘Do you really want to do this and can you do it well?’ It’s a serious business and you have to take it seriously. What’s presented is a lot of fun but behind the scenes it’s a difficult job, which takes a lot of hard work to get right.

How right you are Micky.

What’s presented is a lot of fun but behind the scenes it’s a difficult job, which takes a lot of hard work to get right.

Okay, I’m not a top comedian, promoting a book or an arena tour but I, like Mr Flanagan and many other people out there, care about what I do.

Picture 001If a school were to book me what they’d see is the storytelling session.  It would be polished, entertaining, it might even enhance their curriculum.  What they wouldn’t see is the time put into writing the material and refining its delivery, time spent sourcing the props and costume and ensuring the session was of a high standard.  What they wouldn’t see is 3 years of training, 12 years of working with young people and a life devoted to ensuring the session was of a high standard.  They wouldn’t see it but I hope they would expect it.

Imagine my disappointment therefore when I found the following job advert…

“We are looking for performers who can entertain children aged 3 upwards…  No previous experience required …”

…it went on…

“Also wanted members to join our Theatre In Education team, various performances in primary and secondary schools.”

Did I misread a lazily written advert?  No experience required to work in Primary and Secondary Schools?!

John Kirk is a storyteller and drama facilitator specialising in drama workshops and theatre for young people.Perhaps I’m being unfair but I believe in the value, power and legacy of high quality storytelling.  It should be an immense privilege to share any kind of story with a young person particularly, as is so often the case, if your presentation is that young person’s first experience of live performance.  Too often young people are under estimated and “fobbed off” by unscrupulous organisations trying to make a quick buck.  Of course in this instance I have no evidence that this is the case but the idea of sending somebody with no training or experience to take up a position is scandalous.   What is the impact of a poor experience on the children, the school and other creative practitioners?  If a school is burned by poor delivery they may not be prepared to take a similar risk again.

The other disturbing aspect of my discovery was how little the group who’d posted the ad charged bookers for their work.  I’d like to think schools are wary of low prices.  In the past I have been prepared to negotiate with groups over my charges but have found little success in offering heavy discounts.  Unfortunately though in austere times, a flashy leaflet and a tantalising price tag mean that some will substitute Gucci for Primani.

You might say I’m talking about two separate issues: quality of delivery and value of delivery but there is a probable correlation: if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

Like Micky says, entertainment is a serious business; if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well and you should expect to pay a fair price.