A secret story in a tiny tent for Belfast-based babies in the world’s first BABY DAY

 

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Tiny Tents for the Sea of Stories (Photos by Simon Hutchinson & Grant Jones)
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Tiny Tents for the Sea of Stories (Photos by Simon Hutchinson & Grant Jones)

BABY DAY is the brainchild of Anna Newell, director of Reassembled, Slightly Askew, in her role as Artistic Director of Replay Theatre Company. You can see a video of the day’s events (the first in the world!), here, courtesy of video artist Conan McIvor.
I was delighted to be one of many writers for the ‘Sea of Stories‘ event who wrote special stories to be read by parents/guardians to their babies in little tents littered throughout Belfast City Hall and Ulster Museum last September. The title we were given to write from was ‘On the Night You Were Born’. Revisiting what I explored in Wiggle Giggle and my training in early childhood pedagogy, I focused on repetition and the sounds of words to animate the story between the reader and baby to write my story:

‘On the Night You Were Born’ by Shannon Yee

(Instructions: To read this story to your baby, there are things that you say and things that you do. It’s up to you if you want to say and do them at the same time or not.)

Do:             Sit down with your knees up and feet flat on the floor. Lay your baby on your thighs, facing you.

Say:             On the night you were born…

My world rocked, rocked, rocked

Do:            (Rock your legs together [and hence, your baby] side to side)

Say:            And …

Do:             (Keep your legs still)

Say:             Ruummmmmmmmbllllllllledddddddd

Do:             (quickly bounce your legs [and hence, your baby] one at a time)

Say:             And…Roll—roll-rolllllllled

Do:             (slowly lift one leg at a time)

Say:             And…

Do:             (separate your knees slightly so your baby drops a little)           

Say:             POPPED!

Do:             (pull your baby up quickly to land on your knees again)

(Go back to the beginning and repeat all again two or three more times from “My world rocked, rocked, rocked… “)

Say:             (hold your baby close and whisper) On the night you were born, my world changed forever.

And March marched out the door…

I can’t believe I’m sitting here at the tail end of March, a month that at its outset was full of carefully laid out plans, including many a blog post about what I’ve been working on. I’ve assembled them into one single blog post here; my apologies about its haste…

1) WIGGLEGIGGLE  with Replay Productions, co-produced by Nottingham Playhouse,

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‘WIGGLEGIGGLE’ at Nottingham Playhouse, keeping company with Anish Kapoor’s ‘Sky Mirror’ sculpture

IMG_5996had its UK tour in Nottingham, The Egg Theatre in Bath, and finished at The MAC in Belfast this March as part of the Young At Art’s Belfast Children’s Festival 2015.

(if you’re wondering how on earth a poetry slam show for 3-5 year olds gets made, check my ‘Early years, cognitive schema and poetry slams‘ blog post)

 

 

 

2) The Lost Martini, with Accidental Theatre.

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‘The Lost Martini’ cast and director discuss story, structure, and character development via endless post-its that are moved (and moved back)

 

My official title was ‘writer/co-devisor’, but as the play was set in an underground jazz cafe in Belfast and immersed the audience in a whirlwind of the 5 characters’ stories at once, and they could hop between stories as they like, at times I felt writing the script was more like herding cats on multi-lane highway. The process was refreshingly democratic, with the cast creating text through improvisations and the creative team creating narrative shared within the 10 room set. There’s more about the process and creatives involved on “Post It Walls and Guitars” on the Accidental website.

3) I’m mid-way through an Arts Council NI-supported residency with music and dance company, Assault Events in Cardiff,  grappling with how oncurrent development of text, movement and music in devised work can be developed concurrently, rather than one or two of the disciplines leading the process with the others being tacked on. It’s been fascinating, challenging, thought-provoking and exciting, with a wonderful group of dancers to work with (courtesy of Arts Council Wales).

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Sophy Smith (composer) shares character theme tunes she’s written while watching the dancers, based on each dancer’s specific movement improvisations.

 

4) …and finally, I’m gearing up for the biggest project of my career to date, Reassembled, Slightly Askew. You may have read a thing or two about it on this blog already…

Here’s to spring!

Early years, cognitive schema and poetry slams

When I was in college, I loved poetry slams and their poets. The diversity of the performers and the topics they voiced contrasted what I has studied in the traditional English curriculum from my mainly white, suburban Boston high school. The way the poets, such as Sarah Jones, Stayceyann Chin, Saul WilliamsJessica Care MooreBeau Si, and Taylor Mali made the language come alive and vibrant as they summon a ferocity greater than themselves.

Years later, I’m in Northern Ireland, writing a poetry slam show for 3-5 year olds. WIGGLEGIGGLE is the vision of Anna Newell of Replay Productions, co-produced by Nottingham Playhouse, with original music by David Goodall and choreography by Stevie Prickett. A ‘Dr Seuss meets hip-hop’ creation, WIGGLEGIGGLE aims to excite its audiences with its silly sounds, bouncing rhythms, fun free-styling, word-smithery, and tricky tongues. It’s been in development since Feb 2014, with periods of creative consultation with 3-5 year olds in the Belfast area.

(L to R) Cathy Walsh, Stephen Clarke, Doireann McKenna warm up with Dr. Seuss

(L to R) Cathy Walsh, Stephen Clarke, Doireann McKenna warm up with a Dr. Seuss freestyle

(L to R) Cathy Walsh, Stephen Clarke, Doireann McKenna warm up with Dr. Seussphoto 3The process of creating WIGGLEGIGGLE has been incredibly intricate, where the artistic team has constructed a show based on patterns–the building blocks of  communication, movement, and language development.  Without being conscious of it, we are moving all the time to internal patterns and rhythms, such as our heartbeat. These cadences of the brain and nervous system appear to play an important role in everything from walking to thinking, as Jon Hamilton covers in the June 2014 NPR article, Your Brain’s Got Rhythm, And Syncs When You Think.

We’ve also integrated the cognitive processes of learning–termed as ‘schema’ by the well-known child developmental theorist, Jean Piaget– and how our brains build relationships between information we know and new information. These underpin the linguistic progression of the show, how the text moves from aspirated ‘Pppfff’ sounds to whole phrases and poems.

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Stevie Prickett (choreographer) and Anna Newell (director) work out movement with the actors

In creating WIGGLEGIGGLE, we also integrated traditional poetic conventions, such as alliteration (a fantastic example of which is Daniel Radcliffe, yes Harry Potter, on Jimmy Fallon doing Blackalicious’ ‘Alphabet Aerobics’:

And onomatopoeia–an excellent example is The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak:

WIGGLEGIGGLE is currently on tour in Nottingham, courtesy of Nottingham Playhouse, and will return for a run in Belfast as part of the Children’s Festival in Spring 2015. Already we’re hearing feedback that during the performances the children are engrossed, mesmerized, mimicking movement, and having a fantastic time!