Monday, 28 November 2016

Preparing for a Tudor Workshop - Melissa Waldron

Last week I was very lucky in being able to attend a talk by Lucy Worsley at Hampton Court Palace. A new BBC series will be launched soon exploring the roles of Henry VIII's wives and the talk focused on the role of each of the women in Tudor England. It was an entertaining and inspirational event.

We will set our Living History workshop in Elizabethan England. But the talk on Henry has really set the scene especially in considering the fate of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's ill fated mother.

Work is now being carried out to prepare a lively and interactive workshop for young people in schools. Set in a stately home outside Stratford-Upon Avon, we ask how the household will prepare for the arrival of the Queen...and Mr Shakespeare who is showing off his new play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. We are very excited about launching this hour and a half workshop at a primary school next week.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Puppetry For Sensitive People.

Recently, I’ve been working with sensitive children and young people. In fact, all of us are sensitive in some ways, but when children are sick, or going through trauma, their sensitivity is much more visible.

Puppetry is a lovely medium to use where laughter, silliness and care are wanted. The energy being focused on the puppet takes away the emphasis that this is about the participant’s needs and issues. Instead, it is the puppet that has our attention. It is similar to giving yourself permission to do something enjoyable such as eat cake or watch a good film. A puppet can give the same light relief with the added bonus that it is something we can enjoy together. If there is an issue to be discussed, we can make the puppet into a coat hanger, of sorts, by putting the issue onto the character and trying to help him/her. We use our brains differently when we focus outside ourselves, and this opens up options and solutions that are harder to come by when the process just remains in our heads!
The emotions that can be provoked through puppetry are perfect for sensitive people. It is possible to play around with feeling safe or threatened by creating an environment where both can be expressed openly. Finding solutions for difficult scenarios in real life can be acted out through make believe with truly effective results.

Take this example for younger children. A dragon flies into a story session and roars at the group while threatening to hurt them all, but he quickly is spluttering and coughing because he has run out of fire. He asks the group where he can go and get fire in order to breathe it all over them. It is up to the children to decide if they will tell him, help or trick him. For the puppeteer, it is a fine line between scaring the children and appearing too harmless. The aim is to take their power away initially, through being a bit scary, and then to judge when the fear becomes too much for any member of the group. At this point, the dragon’s body posture changes and his voice becomes whiny and softer as he asks them for help. The group gain their power back as they decide what to do. The puppeteer can use the dragon’s body and voice to diminish the fear and to provoke either empathy or humour (depending on the aim of the story). If the puppeteer can interject with the initial scary voice and body language to again threaten coming back and breathing fire, this can help keep the energy fresh and exciting. The fear is still there, but the group are keeping on top of it through decision making. Depending on the group’s decisions, the puppeteer can help implement the action of running away or tricking the dragon or maybe the group will decide to try and help him be kind and stop his behaviour. The puppeteer can lead the story forward, but the participants can be empowered to make the decision. When the dragon is dispensed with, the group can reflect on their decisions. How can this be used in everyday life when something is scary? Was working as a group helpful? If you have fearful feelings in real life, who can you tell? Are there dragons in real life? Why was the dragon being unkind? What else do we find scary? And so on.

Puppetry can be gentle, humorous, encouraging or unnerving, but all these emotions and more can be expressed in a safe environment. It allows us all to reflect on how we will deal with various scenarios in everyday life and helps us find solutions to problems. For the sensitive souls among us, that can only be a good thing.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Ancient Egyptians - Melissa Waldron.

When I was young, my mum insisted we visited museums and art galleries in the school holidays. She thought it would be good for me. And she was right when it came to The British Museum and the Egyptian rooms. The artifacts were interesting, but it was the mummies in glass cases that were truly fascinating. A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Egypt and I headed straight to The Valley of The Kings. I rode a camel and visited the Pyramids. My interest in the Ancient Egyptians, their culture and fantastical beliefs in the After Life, is still as strong today as it was when I was a child.

This is the first era I have tackled in exploring the history workshops. It's chronologically the first civilisation in our new repertoire.

The grisly and the bizarre is a great starting point for the content of this workshop. I am currently becoming a bit of an expert on mummification and dramatic rituals. I'm going to have the opportunity to wear lavish make up and play an intriguing character. I am really looking forward to finalising the details of the new workshop for Primary Schools.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Bringing our new Living History Workshops to life.

Launching the new one woman history workshops is Melissa Waldron -  lead facilitator at The Hands-On Company. do I feel?

It's very exciting and a bit daunting. We have been in negotiation with Gill Whitten for nearly a year, concerning taking over her wonderful primary workshops for exploring specific historical eras. And  now it is real.

Gill has been an inspirational presence in schools for the past 25 years. I have shadowed her and witnessed her impact on young people. There is a real sense of occasion and excitement when she arrives in a school from children and teachers. Can I fill her shoes?

I have spent a lot of time with Gill and her generosity in sharing her philosophy on interactive learning and her creative approach to history has been impressive. I know I'm gushing about Gill, but she is a force to be reckoned with.

This summer I've researched different eras, visited museums and made new artifacts. I am anticipating an awfully big adventure when I take on this work.

Back to the books.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Puppy Play

To follow the doggy themed photo from July, we have welcomed a little rescue dog to our team. He has enjoyed the summer holidays settling in and begins modelling for new dog puppets on Thursday. If I can manage to recreate his fluffy ears, I'll be onto a winner I'm sure. We are training him using a dog listening system which suits our work ethos perfectly. Learning happens through play at a level that he innately recognises. We are taking the cues from him in the same way we do with the children we work with. We ignore the behaviour that doesn't work in this environment and congratulate the good stuff. As with children, we believe it is impossible to say - "well done" too often. With the new term approaching fast, we are all excited to share new workshops and puppets with our customers. In the meantime, Alfie needs a little snooze after such perfect photo posing.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Things to try, that put you in a good place within yourself.

When we try and make changes to feel happy, we often read pieces of wisdom that resonate and make us want to live in a new way. For example, to be kind and authentic is a lovely way to live life and if it was a switch we could turn on in each person, the world may be a very different place to live in now. How can a person become kind and authentic all the time? We can carry the intention around with us, but when something goes wrong, or an internal button is pressed from a past blockage, we revert back to the behaviour that we don’t feel so proud of, or that harms us. 

I think most people are lovely, but if you fancy trying something, this is what I'm doing. When you start the day, decide how it will go – don’t control it, just decide you will be kind and true to you, no matter what happens in the outside world. Get up with this frame of mind and then dress kindly to yourself. Smile in the mirror and tell yourself you are worthy of a good day. Imagine in your mind’s eye a kind and authentic day – what would that look like? Then walk around kind and authentic. 

If something or someone comes along that challenge these two feelings, take a deep breath and see the humour in the situation – here you are being kind and authentic and this person/situation has arisen to challenge you. Take the challenge to deal with it through being kind and authentic. If you feel the kindness takes away your authenticity, remember that who you truly are is kind and a part of you that isn’t kind is a habit or response to an earlier hurt. You can be kind and strong. Trying to make your point without hurting anyone is no problem if you consider their feelings during an exchange. 

Be fair and kind and  then you will feel authentic. It really is that simple. Don’t see it as hard work. It is like coming home to a part of you that is your friend and has your best interests at heart. You can still be cheeky and have fun, but not at another person’s expense. You will discover a whole side of yourself that is curious about the world around you and that is non-judgemental and can see the good in most situations. It will feel like coming home. 

As play is always at the heart of this blog - play with it and don't take yourself  too seriously. Try being kind with a twinkle in your eye and a light step. It has definitely worked for me today. How strange that people respond with kindness too  - I think I'm on to something!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Magical Moments.

At all ages we use play to learn about ourselves. I first wrote about this fundamental aspect of my work when I was training to be a teacher, twenty five years ago. I am still passionate about it now and that is why I run The Hands-On Company, where we play through interactive puppetry and drama. Our small team of teachers and puppeteer/actors run workshops for all ages, and between us we focus on social education topics and storytelling. 

On the road we work in a wide range of establishments, from nursery schools all the way up to care homes for the elderly and each session is led by the participants within a planned framework. It is an inclusive, exciting and thought-provoking way of working where we are often surprised and deeply moved by the personal stories we encounter.

Part of the reason why I love puppetry, is because of the magical moments I have experienced through its application. I use puppetry as a safe way for others to express and explore feelings, where the puppet becomes a coat hanger for any issues or situations. It is a playful space where we can reflect on the world around us and our place in it.

I remember a session I ran with a group of parents who needed ideas on how to improve their play with their children. We were surrounded by social workers, but even within this slightly uptight structure, we were able to enjoy 
light-hearted fun the minute the puppets were unpacked. One boy within this group was labelled a selective mute. Imagine the shock of all gathered when he began to converse through the puppet he had created with his mum. It was a truly touching moment to hear his puppet voice explain exactly what his puppet likes to do. Three years later, a member of another family group got in touch and told me they were still using their family puppet to discuss personal changes and issues.

Another recollection is of a workshop about friendship issues, where each child had a puppet to create different types of friends. A nine-year-old girl called her dog puppet Meatballs. She decided he looked like a meatball and that this was his favourite food. We had great fun building up his character and deciding that he was a true friend as he was caring, but needed lots of meatballs to keep his energy up. Within the evaluation feedback for this session, the leader subsequently told me that this girl's parents had been thrilled that she had asked for meatballs for dinner that evening and excitedly had described the session. Her younger brother was very ill with leukemia and she had not been eating properly because she felt so out of control of the situation. Naming and playing with the puppet seemed to be a turning point for her. I still have that dog puppet and, to this day, his name is Meatballs.

In another session I encountered a thirteen-year-old boy who was brave enough to share a bullying incident through the voice of a large monster puppet. Elsewhere in my work, through dramatic scenarios, numerous teenagers have understood that considering these three statements: where you are, who you are with and how you feel, can make a big difference in making informed choices around sex and drug usage. Moments like these happen whenever we interact with people - from a senior manager becoming overly attached to a hairy puppet, simply because of shared conflict management scenarios, to an elderly gentleman living with dementia suddenly waltzing with a human-sized puppet and a flustered puppeteer trying to keep up!

Something special happens with play. Put a puppet in the mix and watch the sparks fly. There is no pressure to be someone other than the part of yourself that enjoys being expressed in this way. Give puppetry a go for your own magical moments.