New Year, New Adventures

As we start the new year things still feel a bit tentative. We are waiting on funding bids for projects to take flight so find ourselves with enough time to take stock and find focus. We strive to build partnerships, seek out new ones and make new friendships along the way. So although the start to this year looks quiet we will look to the horizon with hopeful hearts and find ways to conjure stories and share spine tingling new adventures with you all.

View of the hills looking out towards the leek road from Solomen's temple

Adventure Shack

Now this seedling of an idea has been brewing and bubbling for way too long so we hope that this year will give us the opportunity to unleash a story of epic proportion. We have funding bids in and on the side lines to help realise our ideas. We are hoping for good fortune and if all goes to plan we can make this production our summer offer. So keep an eye on our social channels and keep opening our newsletters to see the developments that are taking place.

Female circus performer hangs in a crucifix position from red silks

Christmas: Plan B

It was always a risk. As covid cases soared in November and December we saw our ticket sales drop dramatically. We weren’t even sure if we would end up finishing the run of “The Hungry Troll’s Christmas Dinner” but our determination to provide a heart warming production for families shone through. That was no more apparent than when one of our actors tested positive on Christmas Eve. We are a small company and often don’t have a stage manager let alone an understudy, but this year we knew we needed a Plan B. I decided to step into the role of stage manager and as a last resort the understudy.  (You might have seen my posts on social media “Day in the life of a Stage Manager”) After performing in the last 8 shows of the run I can confirm that I definately know where I feel most comfortable. At the side of the stage and not on it!

If you came to see us in Derby thank you for trusting us to create a fun show for your family. We will continue to do our best to create memory making moments for all.

The hungry troll is disgusted when they taste sausages

Warm Festive Wishes

As I write this, productions up and down the country are being cancelled due to performers and crew coming down Covid. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? We are just praying we get to finish our run with DerbyLive and we all stay fit and healthy so we can bring some festive cheer to families.

So although there still feels great uncertainty in what lies ahead we are choosing to stay positive and find gratitude in the small things, like a sunrise on the commute to Derby. 

If we pause for a moment of reflection and look back at 2021 we can see marvellous achievements. We have managed to create and perform 6 different theatre shows this year, work through an R&D project during the covid restrictions and platform a digital projection, so we definitely feel like there’s a reason to celebrate.  

Our audiences, partners and funders make all of what we do possible, so it we want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and wish you and your families  a very merry Christmas.

The Warmest  of Festive Wishes,
Tara, Mark and Phil

 A sunrise through trees along the A515 to Ashbourne

Our Hungry Troll Serves Up a Festive Treat

It’s been a joy to share this story with our audiences. What a privilege it’s been to be asked back by DerbyLive for another year of festive fun. The #DerbyLovesYou venue in the market place feels airy and spacious for  our story of The Hungry Troll’s Christmas Dinner.

We have had such great feedback from everyone attending and hearing the reactions from some members during the show makes our hearts sings and affirms this is what it is all about. Sharing a heart warming story that then becomes a positive lasting family memory. 

Photo taken from behind the set. Looking through the window of the oven door we see two actors making beany banger bonanza!

Festive Beginnings

As we see out November and feel a cold chill in the air, we have one more treat in store to share.

Light switch ons, Christmas markets, may get us in the christmassy mood, but surely nothing says Christmas like a trip to the theatre to see our latest festive creation. The kitchen table has been covered for weeks as we design, make and craft the costumes and props for “The Hungry Trolls Christmas Dinner”… we’ve even got the kids involved!

The Hungry Trolls Christmas Dinner

Come and see us this Christmas in Derby Market Place. In a purpose built indoor theatre space we will share with you a heart warming story for all the family to remember. A tale of trolls, dinner ladies, and  yummy scrummy food. 

When a strange new dinner lady turns up to school the kids are going to get served up more than a plateful of trouble. Wait until they discover what’s really on the menu for their school Christmas dinner!

The origins of this tale comes from the ideas of school children. We held a workshop several years ago and one class came up with such a good story we knew that we had to retell it some day. We had to tame down some of the ideas as they were far too gruesome, but if you can make it to the show, you can sit and watch knowing that the seeds of ideas came from a bunch of nine year olds.

Flyer image for the show of a cartoon drawing of a Troll in a kitchen setting

The Lost Tales Of Grinlow Woods

What a fabulous time we had in Grin Low Woods. We delighted audiences and gave hearts a warm glow with our three stories. The glorious colours of the changing leaves gave an dramatic backdrop to our performances. The idea of following little tree sprites and discovering fairy doors along the pathways to find the next story have given inspiration to our friends at BCA. They are now talking about making an ever changing route around the woods for children to seek out.

Three characters dressed in hats and clothing with a woodland theme stand together and smile at the camera

Bogtastic!

Two fairies fly above a peaty bog character while 2 chiclren walk above them on a moorland

Thank You

We know some of you couldn’t make it for numerous reasons but it means a lot when families show an interest in our work.

We had a fabulous four days presenting our story and we know the weather was a bit of a shocker at times but we were bowled over by everyone’s enthusiasm come rain or shine. It was a pleasure to work alongside Moors For The Future Partnership in creating this informative piece on the important role our moorlands play in fighting climate change.

The photo is taken behind the audience. There is bunting a stage and a backdrop of greenleafed trees

Make a Bog Fairy

Don’t forget to visit our YouTube channel so you can see how to make your very own bog fairy.

If you want another resource head to our website and download a fun booklet that has been designed by Moors For The Future Partnership that gets you all thinking about the themes within our production.

Bilberry the bog fairy shows Cottongrass her family as little puppets
Bilberry the bog fairy sits next to a giant big eyed puppet called Peat

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

For a long time now We’ve all been yearning for a summer adventure. We have been adapting and making ourselves flexible to deal with changing restrictions and adjusting to different working patterns and this month has been no exception. I write this newsletter in isolation as my children have tested positive for Covid. (6 days apart!) Luckily no one is very ill, and for that, I am very grateful.

We should be reworking “Here Be Dragons”, instead it is line runs over video calls and getting Phil to drop off various materials in our front garden. Distractions are plenty and focus is difficult but there are deadlines to meet and you just adapt to another way of working like everyone else. So I raise a glass of homemade lemonade to all of you and celebrate the coming of a new summer adventure.

A glass jug of homemade lemonade

Here Be Dragons

Come and seek out Mark and Phil at Markeaton Park on Wed 21-Sun 25 July. Brighten their day and spark your family’s first summer adventure. Check out DerbyLIVE’s website for times and book your tickets here. 

Join the brave zoologists, the ‘Monster Menders’ as they take care of strange and peculiar creatures. 

If you have a big imagination and are brave enough to take a step into the unknown, then this wild walk is just what your family needs. Every time you find the Monster Menders a different story is made, each tale a unique experience.

Phil and Mark dressed as the monster menders holding a suitcase which has the words "useful Stuff" written on it

Rosie Red Boots at Buxton Opera House

This has turned into such a lovely story and has been a very fun project to be involved in. Mark has been putting together the audio for this and it’s been fun recording with our kids too as they have taken on some of the voices of the characters. We had a rehearsal in June and got to grips with the soundtrack and shadows so now we can’t wait to share it with you.

Workshop : Aug 12 at 1.30pm & 3pm
Want to know how we create the magical shadow puppets in our productions? Get up close and explore behind the screen and find out exactly how we create the visual effects. Book your FREE tickets here

Performance: Aug 13 at 10.30, 1pm, 2pm
Is Rosie brave enough to save the day? Can she help her forest friends and bring calm once more to her home? With a little help from her cat, Rosie sets off on an adventure where she discovers that even when you are small you can make a big difference. 

Join us on this mini shadow play summer adventure. Watch in wonder as shadows dance across a specially created screen to a captivating audio soundtrack. Book your FREE tickets here 

a black and white image of Mark  behind a table operating shadows and lights

A Real Awakening For Students

We are always grateful for new opportunities, and none more so than working with students at Sheffield Hallam University. It was an intense 2-week process called “Awakenings” whereby a show would be presented at the end of it. A tall order considering everything students have been through these past 18 months. Using an old folktale as a starting point we transformed the Old Post Office courtyard into a theatre space. 

In a high walled courtyard, performers dressed in black carry boxes as an audience watch on

They didn’t disappoint and showed us just how willing they were to undertake the challenge. Working with students from various courses across the university they came together and devised a script, composed music, made masks, sculpted a huge puppet, and performed in it too.

A close up of a student sculpting a clay face which has over the top features of a large nose and wrinkly forehead

Adhering to the Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have a large audience but the piece definitely bought smiles to everyone’s faces. (especially the young child on the front row who shouted out after the performance “That show was awesome!”)

A close up of a giant blue water dragon puppet behind a sea of blue fabric

Tough Decisions on a Wobbly Road

Things are certainly getting busy for us. May has been full of meetings, funding applications, webinars, and getting creative in an actual rehearsal space.

As we look to those warmer months we have been forced into making tough decisions about how we program our summer. Tentative steps on a wobbly road map should mean we can take huge strides later in the year and find hope at the end of the rainbow.

Double rainbow over buxton buildings

Rosie Red Boots

The date has been set for sharing our shadow show of Rosie Red Boots. The wonderful story that we created with our online community will premiere on August Friday 13th in the Studio at Buxton Opera House. We are so looking forward to presenting it and we will let you know how to book your tickets nearer the time. 

It’s been fun designing the characters for the story. We always fill pages of a sketchbook and can often draw a character many times before we are happy with the result. It’s incredibly time-consuming and often takes longer to work out the mechanics of a puppet than the design. Sometimes you need multiple puppets of the same character as they need to do different actions. 

Shadow characters of a girl, a cat and an ostrich

Getting Back And It Feels Good

So this month we found ourselves able to get in a rehearsal space for a few days to explore circus skills with actual people! A project that has been trying to emerge since 2018 and with various set backs along the way it felt so good to realise some of the ideas surrounding this project.

We were looking into ways to combine storytelling and circus and learnt so much in a few days from our wonderful artists. So a big thank you to Claire Crook, Owen Gaynor and Alex Anderson for their patience and adaptability. There’s a good few milestones still yet to go but we hope to be able to explore this story for an adventure next summer.

A circus performer in a cross position hanging from red silks

Newsletter #13

Here Be Dragons!

We are so excited to be performing at a brand new venue this summer. We are setting our Here Be Dragons family outdoor experience against the incredible backdrop of Heage Windmill near Belper. This unique historic building is the only working six-sailed stone tower windmill in England. Be sure to check out their website to find out about some of the events they put on there and the guided tours around the windmill itself via this link.

Heage Windmill
Heage Windmill

We’d love to see you this summer and share more memory making moments with you and your family. To get your tickets click on the links below. Hope you can make it. Tell your friends too. The tickets for these events are very limited as we wan to keep it intimate and personal, so do book ahead.

Seek us out in Grin Low Woods (Pooles Cavern), as part of Buxton Fringe, from Sat 20- Wed 24 July.  Tickets on sale from 1st June
Set sail with us at Heage Windmill Tue 30 July & Thur 1-2 Aug Book Now
Find us in Markeaton Park Craft Village with DerbyLIVE Mon 5- Sat 10  Aug. Book Now

Here Be dragons

Carnival of the Animals

This month sees us working with year 5 pupils across Buxton schools to create carnival inspired animals for the annual parade in Buxton on the 13th July.

Working in partnership with Buxton International Festival and Buxton Fringe Festival and using Saint-Sans as inspiration we hope to turn some heads this summer.

Don’t forget to follow us on the usual social media channels to see more of what we are up too. Facebook has changed their algorithms for business pages so be sure to click on our page as we might not be showing in your news feed.

Turtle made using willow and painted fabric
Turtle

Mask Making

Buxton International Festival would like as many families as possible to come dressed up for their Carnival of Animals performance on Saturday 20th July. If you fancy having a go at making a mask follow this “How To” video. They’d love to see your creations.

Head to our YouTube Channel and you will find videos to make a simple lion mask and bird mask. Happy dabbling!

"How to" mask making tutorial
“How to” mask making tutorial

Our Creative Process

New blog posts in the pipeline! I will let you know via our newsletter of the developments.
Ever wondered how we create our work. Head to our website and read our blogs.  Under the heading, ‘ Our Process’ there are posts about how we write the story, design for the stage, puppet making and songwriting.

Fun Finds This Month

Fleet Arts

A community arts charity delivering visual arts and music projects.
Check out the events they hold at their venue in Belper.

Fleet Arts logo

The Artful Parent

A great resource for creative ideas to make and do with your children.

The Artful Parent

Missing Link

A charming and beautiful stop-motion animated adventure film

Missing link

Spread the Word

Know anyone who would enjoy reading about our work, please feel free to forward on our newsletter and invite them to join the Tribe.

Newsletter #11

Here Be Dragons

This summer we are creating a unique experience for families titled “Here Be Dragons!” For this new adventure, we are drawing inspiration from those unchartered areas of maps where beasts and serpents may dwell.

Ever tangled with a five-headed Hottle-Spottle with a toothache? Or soothed a silver-tongued slimp-slatherer with a drooling problem? Meet the secretive ‘Monster Menders’ and help them to conjure a story to becalm a bewildered beastie.
We will let you know the full details of the tour as it develops.

Old Map

Our Theatre Adventures Reaching New Heights

Last month we spent time at Greentop Community Circus working out and formulating ideas for a new project. With the help of Claire Crook, circus artist AKA Madam Mango, and Teo Greenstreet from Greentop Circus Centre in Sheffield and Ian Morley at Barnsley Civic Theatre we have been working on a new project idea with the aim to produce a circus production suitable for families which will premiere in 2020. Next will be the task of teasing out the story from our initial ideas and seeking out the funds to realise this shared creative adventure.

Greentop Circus Sheffield

Our Creative Process

Ever wondered how we create our work. Head to our website and read our blogs.  Under the heading, ‘ Our Process’ there are posts about how we write the story, design for the stage, puppet making and songwriting.

Fun Finds This Month

Meet The Storytellers Of Sound

It’s amazing the mundane everyday objects these people use to create the sound effects for films

Sound Desk

Wow! It’s Night Time

Touring nationally, if this comes to a theatre near you it would be worth a visit. Puppetry for 2-5 year olds

Wow its night time

Nurture Store – Creative and delightful learning

Head to this website and sign up for the newsletter if ever you need a bit of inspiration when it comes to entertaining the kids with art, play and sensory learning

Nurture Store

Making Music – Our Process

Finding the Rhythm To The Music

When we compose our music for our productions, the process starts around our kitchen table. Not highly technical I know, but all we need is a space to be creative and the kitchen table seems to work well enough for the germination of ideas. Our musical friends come together and we give ourselves a day to do most of the groundwork for the songwriting. This has to be one of my favourite days on our calendar.

Musicians playing their instruments
Playing Out Ideas With Music

Playing with Ideas

Within the story, we will look for the scenes that would benefit from a song or music. Often a song can take you on a journey, explain more of the storyline and convey emotion in a different way than just dialogue. Once we have figured that out and talked about what the song needs to do within that scene we will start playing with ideas. I see it as a bit like writing poetry, looking for rhyming words and finding flow within music and the words on the page. Sometimes a melody will come first and the words are written to fit the tune. Other times words just tumble out and a rhythm is then found to accompany the words.

Writing the songs
Writing The Songs

It’s about listening to one another. Responding to the moment and not being afraid of putting an idea forward for it to be used or rejected. Some songs I find spine-tingling straight from the off. That excites me, wondering how it will feel when it’s sung out into an auditorium of people.

Guitar and playing chords
Music Making – Playing Chords

Some songs compose themselves quicker than others while some songs need more time to develop. This is after all only the beginning of the process. Matt Vale, our musical Director will then develop the musical score into something even more magical. In rehearsals, the actors put their own creativity into the songs so it then transforms into very much a shared collaborative process.

The music making process couldn’t happen without the creative input of Matt Vale, Rob Vale, James Swinburn and Bob Rushton and to them, I feel indebted.

Songwriting
Keyboard and keypad working together

Puppet Making – Our Process

First Steps In Puppet Making

Where do we start in puppet making? In our process, it starts with the story. Everything starts with a story! Once we have that we start to imagine what, where and when the puppet(s) may add to the visual storytelling. Can we add a puppet to help tell a section of the story? Take us on an otherwise impossible journey? Fly through the air, fight a deep sea monster or fall from an enchanted tower.

Types of Puppets We Use

Once those questions have been answered, then we have to decide what style of puppet we need. We tend to enjoy the use of shadow puppetry, tabletop puppetry and object manipulation.

Shadow puppets are just as it suggests, puppets that block light casting a shadow onto a screen or wall. We sometimes add colour and use 3D landscapes to give depth to a shadow sequence. Tabletop puppets are handheld. They need a platform to be seen by the audience, hence the name. Object manipulation is just that, using the same techniques as we use with a table top puppet but using found objects. A suitcase becomes a mouth of a crocodile or a screwed up sheet of paper an old grannies face.

Designing When Puppet Making

Sketches are drawn, ideas are gathered and once we have the feel for the puppet we make further drawings before we start to construct it.

Dinosaur Sketch
Initial Dinosaur Sketch

From these sketches, we develop the puppet into mock-up made of screwed up brown paper and cardboard. If you ever want to try this always add eyes (we have a drawer full of ping pong balls) as it makes everything come alive. This quick 3D version gives us a greater understanding of size and movability.

Initial mock up of a dinosaur puppet
Puppet Making In Its Roughest Form

Next Stages of Puppet Making

In this production, we have come to the conclusion that we need more than one puppet for the same character. This is because the puppet needs to do different things in different scenes.

We use clay to sculpt a version of our final idea from all the sketches we have made.

From this, we create a pattern. The clay version is covered in cling film and then masking tape. When its all covered, we cut it off and make a flat pattern. The finished pieces work in the same way as a  dress makers pattern. Using an Over Head Projector we can scale up the pattern to any size.

The pattern is then cut from closed cell foam, it is just like camping mats, only more robust. All the pieces are glued together and the form can come together quickly.

Pattern Making When Puppet Making
Pattern Making When Puppet Making

Any fiddly bits are sculpted from larger blocks of foam and then we piece it all together.  We work out the jointing system for the legs and head and figure out the mechanism needed to make any moving parts. It always takes longer than we think and is a challenge to make it move right but when it’s finished it is lightweight, strong and will hopefully stand up to the physical use within the run of the production.

Dinosaur puppet in its construction stage
Working Out The Moving Parts

Last Steps in Puppet Making

Once we are happy with the overall look and construction the last job is to paint it. Various sealants, primers and paints are used to create the finished puppet. Often perceptions of how it will be painted changes as the puppet forms and its character emerges. But working the way we do means we have the flexibility to make changes all the time. Many mistakes are made along the way, but its all about working together and solving the challenges that arise when puppet making.

Dinosaur puppet
One Of The Finished Puppets

Designing this puppet has been fun, but it has been a difficult process. Problem-solving has rated highly on this project. Mark has been the real brains behind all the working out and I’ve taken the lead on the fabrication and painting element of this puppet making process. Our budgets are never grand and we are always thinking of ways to make things cheaper. We reuse as much material as we can and always look at what we have in stock before buying any materials.

Time is another great factor. It’s a longer process than you might imagine. Many of our puppets are priceless due to the simple fact of the number of hours it has taken to produce a puppet which may only be onstage for a few minutes. When the puppets are finished you can always see room for improvement and what you would do differently next time. But that’s the great thing about puppet making. You are always learning.