BUBBLES, LYCRA AND A SPOTTY EGG…

Beth Hamilton-Cardus writes a guest blog exploring her time at the Lochgelly Expecting Something Project. 

 As the parent of a three-year-old, I know how it feels to take a young child into an arts setting. There’s anxiety – what if my child is the one who cries or screams or just looks at the well-meaning actors with total disgust? And there can be pure joy – watching their fascination as they see a puppet magically dash across the stage, seeing their excitement as a giant balloon stuffed with confetti bounces towards them. When performance for the very young works, it really works (you aren’t left with a massive amount of doubt when you have critics who tend not to filter). And as a storyteller, often working with primary age children, I thought I fancied taking on that challenge. Many believe that storytelling for babies may not work – how can they follow a narrative, for example? Well, given that we read picture books to kids from birth, we must think they’re capable of taking something in. Plus, maybe we should think about how to tailor that narrative to our audience’s needs, telling the story in the way that’s best for them, even if it challenges the teller.

13925154_1786183631621269_7979843248270238681_n

That’s where Starcatchers and Expecting Something comes in. I’d loved Blue Block Studio at the Imaginate Festival – the fact that everything could be played with safely and without fear of breakage really appealed to the parent in me. And I’d have quite happily played in there for hours myself, despite being thirty-two. The idea of transforming a space, of being within the piece really appealed to me. I wanted to see if I could make a story into a similar, collective experience, one that allowed even very young children to participate in the telling. With the Starcatcher Expecting Something Emerging Artists Bursary, and the support of Claire, Maria and the brilliant Lochgelly group, I’ve been able to test out these ideas.

14264130_1797344767171822_3789984296231193871_nI decided to use a native American story, The Spotty Egg, as the basis of my session – it features a pair of siblings, an underwater swim and yes, a giant spotty egg. My concept of storytelling is, arguably, a bit loose for the traditionalists out there. I use puppetry (a rainbow sea serpent sock puppet in this case), games, theatre skills, even the bits and pieces I can remember from my days in student comedy – whatever I think will work for the audience. And with this group, I learnt that nothing beats a decent illustrative prop (all those hours covering that polystyrene egg in tissue paper was worth it!). Well, except bubble – bubbles provide a level of entertainment that transcends everything, and they will feature in all my future work. Props, including those all important bubbles, turned out to be a great way of getting both the parents and their children to participate – we made party bags (filled with paper fish, crepe paper reeds etc) together, and used these to create our underwater scene. I’d definitely use this idea again – it gave us all a chance to play together, as did the four metres of blue lycra that served as our river.

It may sound obvious, but I’d never really thought about creating a piece for both parents
and children – with their parents’ support, children can participate so much more in the experience, enhancing the enjoyment for both. There were some lovely moments during the session that have taught me a lot for moving forward, such as when the parents started to sing water themed songs. As it was a very relaxed session, with lots of opportunity for 13920809_1786183704954595_2807061385662289286_naction, it was great that the children had a chance to be active, playing with the fabric and the bubbles, rather than just having to sit and listen. The kids who like to run (I have one of those at home myself!) can be engaged if they get a chance to do something, and I’ve concluded that by giving them the chance to “do”, all young children stand a better chance of understanding a narrative. I’ll never forget how, totally spontaneously, one wee boy tried to help me to catch fish in the blue lycra river – that moment has had a big impact on my future plans for this piece and my work in general.

14264965_1797345173838448_7975150589641372_n

So what’s next for The Spotty Egg? The key learning for me was to do more in terms of the props (which is good because I love making props), with the aim of transforming whatever space we use into a river bank that can be fully explored by the children and their caregivers. I’ll use the party bags again to get the parents and children participating together, but will work on how to have more play and less language throughout – it’s a challenge, but I like a challenge. I’m looking at how to work with other practitioners on the piece, as well as groups working with parents and children in my local community. Fundamentally, I think I’ve begun to learn how to tell stories to the very young and their caregivers, thanks to the fantastic support from Maria, Claire and everyone at the Lochgelly Expecting Something group.

 

 

 

 

 

Expecting Something reflections

I’ve been putting off writing a ‘final’ reflective blog for some time, I think it’s because I don’t want this project to be finished… hopefully it isn’t. But it will change. The group met a few times before Christmas and, seeing the babies less regularly, I was surprised how fast they all grew. Sleepy babes in arms trying out their first smiles, easily engaged in peekaboo, gazing amazed at other babies, soon became tottering walkers, explorers, holders, shakers, takers and breakers with big laughs, funny songs and great ideas. And it somehow makes you appreciate time more.

 

Quality time

Time together

Making time

Taking your time

Time off

Time out

The right time

 

The joy of this project is that we will never stop learning from and being surprised by the participants. But we have figured out some things along the way, which should help us with the next stage: things about creating the right environment for creative play, building trust, sharing new artistic experiences, listening to and encouraging artistic collaboration, and being flexible, adapting and changing. We have so many exciting ideas about the possibilities for growing and developing this project, over time.

 

A while ago I asked participants to write what Expecting Something has meant to them on a postcard, to send to each other. Before putting them in the post box I took a quick snap:

 

Celebrating Great Expectations

   es4

To celebrate the end of this pilot project all the participants, the babies, the nurses, the artists, our friends, supporters and guests including Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, came together for an event at Out of the Blue Drill Hall last week. What better celebration than to sing, play, craft and eat together and watch the short film that has been made about the last 9 months?

EXPECTING SOMETHING004       es1

One of the musicians, Jed Milroy, who has been working on the project with me, is soon to be a dad, so he asked the group for some tips. The participants had plenty of heartfelt and witty advice, which he has put together in a song called ‘Cherish the Moment.’ We taught everyone the chorus and got them to sing along.

 EXPECTING SOMETHING326       es2

My favorite part of this event was near the end, when the mums, mums to be and babies stayed just a little longer than the other guests. Jed played a few quieter tunes for some sleepy babies and there was a genuine feeling of a happy group, who were connected with each other and quietly (quite rightly) proud of the project and their own achievements within it. They had been dressed up and centre stage at the party- on film and in the pictures, and it had gone very well. They asked for copies of the film on DVD to keep. There was a lull for a moment, with everyone reflecting on this ending- the project becoming a disc in a memory box. Then Belinda suggested that we should make a music video of the song we wrote. The group got quite excited about this idea and there was a bit of a buzz in the room- some chat about costumes, hats and cowboy boots. Jed wants to help and we both started to have ideas about other artists we might work with and what it might be like. In this moment I could feel that the project has it’s own momentum. In Belinda’s idea it was as if everything that we have learned from this pilot project was being packed into a seed that we can grow next time. It was a hopeful ending and full of high expectations!

EXPECTING SOMETHING264es3

WATCH THE EXPECTING SOMETHING SHORT FILM

Having a (beach) ball

Picture the scene: you are lounging on a LILO tossing a beach ball back and forth while someone plays live Beach Boys classics on the keyboard.     Photo 12-06-2014 11 50 41
Then I want you to imagine hugging a drum the same size as you and feeling it vibrate while someone plays a cool beat.
Photo 12-06-2014 11 48 40
And can you conjure up what it would be like to have a homemade wave drum filled with beads to keep as a souvenir?
Transported on a summer holiday? Actually, I wanted to give you a flavour of the experiences at this weeks beach themed Expecting Something session with musician Abi Sinar. It to was drums for all and all for drums!
Photo 12-06-2014 11 49 23
This has emerged from the conversation a blog before last about having a bit of beach time, a very cool session on a very warm day in Scotland.
Photo 12-06-2014 11 50 21

In stitches

What am I?

You can waft me

Hang me from a clothes line

Dress up in me

Sew a quilt from me

Make a tunnel with me

Make waves with me

Peekaboo behind me

Shine a torch through me

 I might be furry

Or soft

I can be shiny

Or even see through

I could have patterns

And holes

Or even sequins

And I might even stretch

Answer: I am fabric! And the theme of this week’s session.

_DSC0024 _DSC0055 _DSC0043

The babies played in a paddling pool filled with fabric- all different textures, weights and styles of cloth. We played with a parachute, cloth stretched on a hoop and fabric hammocks. The mothers each stitched a design on a square of fabric, which our visiting artist, Cathy, is going to make into a quilt that we can lay out to play on next week. It’s a simple idea, but yards of fun, and this little outfit had us in stitches!

Down under

_DSC0002

I have promised there will be cake.  We are over half way through this block of Expecting Something sessions and we have shifted a gear. We are now thinking about how we will celebrate the end of this stage of the project.

_DSC0037_DSC0051_DSC0005

 After a sensory play session today (pictured) the group had a think about the event that will mark the end of this stage of the project. Imagine us gathered around a big sheet of paper. I have tried to capture a flavour of the conversation as I remember it.

_DSC0062 _DSC0039

 If you could do anything to celebrate Expecting Something, and money was no barrier, what would you want to do?

I dunno, anything is fine.

I’m sure you can think of something.

Go to Australia on holiday?

That would be good.

Yeah, can we all go to Australia?

I’m going to write it down.

Let’s all go on a holiday where we all relax on the beach in Australia.

We probably can’t go to Australia, maybe we could create Australia here?

Yeah we could get a kangaroo from Ikea. They have these really big cuddly kangaroos.

And koala bears?

Nah just a kangaroo, I don’t like koalas, they’re weird.

We could make an Australian beach here.

But how would we make a beach? We couldn’t have water.

We could in a paddling pool.

We could have fabric as water?

Can we get one of those instruments that sound like waves?

A wave drum.

And a didgeridoo?

Where are we going to get a didgeridoo from?

And shells.

The babies would eat the shells though…

What if they were really big shells?

They would eat the sand.

Yeah, no sand.

What about yellow carpet?

What about one of those carpets like fake grass, but fake sand?

And cake.

That’s not Australian.

I know but I really want cake…

How about one of those hats with the corks on it?

Chocolate cake.

Would there be spiders? We could get tarantulas maybe?

No! No spiders! The babies would eat the spiders.

A really big chocolate cake, have you put that down?

I think real spiders and creepy crawlies is a good idea. It’s Australian.

We could have lamington cakes, they are Australian.

Nah, chocolate cake would be better.

Can we have a bouncy castle?

A bouncy sand castle?

Oh yeah, a bouncy castle would be good.

Can you put babies on bouncy castles?

Yeah everyone can go on a bouncy castle.

I can’t draw cake, can someone draw cake on here?

Saved for a Painty Day

       Photo 22-05-2014 11 39 12

It was suggested by one of the group that we try painting on canvas. There was initially concern from some mothers about messiness, but we prepared ourselves, and this week we fully embraced creative painty chaos!

If only I could still paint with the freedom and sense of wonder a baby has. Imagine the scene: all wearing just nappies, the babies are lying and crawling on a roll of wallpaper. They mix colours with their bodies, collaborating with their mothers, focused, constantly experimenting and discovering, finding joy in the process and not worrying about the end result. A messy mix of crayons, big paint brushes, blue splatters, bright coloured fingers and tiny purple footprints. We play together and then capture some of the day on canvasses to take home. Getting clean is as much fun and as sensory and playful as the painting, altogether in a paddling pool with a bucket of ducks.

The bright coloured buzz of the morning is followed by a calm group of expecting mothers painting together in a relaxing session. Conversation over the canvasses is about the future, names, having scans and random surges of strong emotion. Playing and experimenting with the paints creates some beautiful images which are like time capsules, they are meant for the future.