Writing a Story the Babbling Vagabonds Way

Writing a Story

So now we are starting to develop the story for our next family Christmas show, The Dinosaur who came for Christmas. As a company we devise our shows – which means that we don’t start with a script – we begin with an idea, actually, nowadays we begin with a title. So where do we start in writing a story? We have a ‘process’ for creating our work. This has evolved as we have over the past eighteen years and although I don’t think we have ‘rules’ as to how we do it, we have some guidelines.

Firstly – What’s it about?

Well, I find lots of the conversations we have at this stage start with me saying:

“At the moment… it’s about this kid who finds a dinosaur egg!”

There’s not too much in that sentence to commit ourselves to something that we might get rid of at a later stage. Maybe there’s just enough to trigger a sense of excitement and anticipation.

A writers sketchbook
A sketchbook of ideas when writing a story

We’ve learnt a few things along the way particularly about story types. We start to chat about the type of story we think this might be. Is it a quest story? A transformation story? Journey and return? It’s nothing too detailed, we just let ideas play in our heads for a while. Hang about in our imaginations, think through a few ‘what ifs’ and ‘how about’.  I tend to go for long walks on my own, that helps my process. From someone finding a dinosaur egg, and it hatching… well, what could happen? What would be fun to see? What trouble would that bring about? Where is that going to take the characters? ‘what if this happened?’ 

 

Let’s start at the beginning…or at the end…or in the middle!

Sometimes we think about ‘the end’, or a significant moment that might happen ten minutes into the story. It can be really fun to think, how could that happen?

 

We can plot out several storylines, and try those out. What is interesting to us might not be that interesting to a four-year-old, or a seventy-year-old.

We watch films, read books, look at pictures and paintings, listen to music. Adding ingredients to our collective stew. Whether they will end up in the final show, we don’t know yet but they might trigger something somewhere.

Storyboard ideas
writing a story

 

What’s essential!

Eventually, we will arrive at a plot. Nine or ten chapter headings. These are the things that have to happen for the story to work. We call this our ‘Essences’. These are the things that have to happen for the story to progress.

Then we will storyboard ideas. Like a film. Sketch out ideas – how they might look onstage. Sometimes we will bring some actors in to play with rough ideas too. All the time shaping the story, defining characters and events. Adding the ‘groovy bits’. The pieces of the story that adds to the essences, bring the fun, the danger, the excitement.

 

All this will take place over the first few months of the year. We will share our ideas with the producers, they will pitch in ideas. Nobody ‘owns’ the story – we are all onboard adding suggestions to the journey.

It’s really fun. It helps create a very organic show, that grows and twists and turns with the additions brought by the collaborators.

But if you ask me now…

It’s about this Kid, who finds a dinosaur egg.

writing a story

Written by Phil Coggins

Outdoor Theatre For Families And How We Create It

Creating Outdoor Theatre for Families

How do we create outdoor theatre for families? There are a lot of things you have to think about, especially with a show that tours to lots of different places. A big one is the set, the backbone to any production is the scenery, but, with outdoor theatre, it needs to be able to adapt to its surroundings such as rocky terrain, or a hilly area. On top of all that, you have to create something that can survive the weather. So this job is left in the more than capable hands of Babbling Vagabonds Artistic team Tara and Mark who – in my opinion – have created something magical! 

babbling vagabonds rehearsal
Outdoor Theatre for families – Rehearsal for The Golden Thief

The Rehearsal Process

Now rehearsing the show, whilst it is hard work, is also bundles of fun! Creating children’s theatre is all about playing, so we start each rehearsal by playing a few games, having a laugh and helping unleash our creativity. Each individual character within the story is stripped down to the very basics. How do they walk? How do they talk? How do they move their body? This can be very challenging when most of us play more than one character in the show! The characters need to be completely different and larger than life.

Making sure that our characters are big is very important in an outdoor show, as you never know what will happen when you get into the space. You may have people who can’t see as much as others, you may have someone right next to you, or even behind you! So by creating these comically large and exaggerated characters, you’re ensuring every audience member has a good experience.

Rehearsal with babbling vagabonds
Outdoor Theatre for Families – The Royal Scene of The Golden Thief

Story Development

After we’ve spent some time developing our characters, we then leap right into the story. We take each scene at a time and create some freeze frames! These are little snapshots of what happens in the scene, they help us stay on track and have a good idea of what we need to accomplish by the end of the scene. From there we then start adding more detail, bit by bit, until we can start improvising. We’ll make up lines and do the scenes multiple times until we’re happy we have a decently structured scene.

Rehearsal of A Wild Walk the Golden Thief
Outdoor Theatre for Families – Phil and James rehearsing a song

In front of an Audience

What’s lovely about this show is that there is a lot of freedom to play. The show is highly interactive, so no two shows will be the same. We react to what the audience says and does which is why we don’t script the show too heavily. It’s much more fun to adapt the show to the audience we have (and we hope they find it fun too!) This way, I think everyone that comes to see us, will leave having had a completely unique experience.

The Nest Keeper Scene from A Wild Walk
Outdoor Theatre for Families – The Nest Keeper Scene

That’s it for now, but I hope to see you at one of our venues this summer. Come and say hello, and make sure you stay for a photo after the show!

Writer – Company Actor, Emily Jane Vinnicombe