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Summer School 2014

“The Smell of the Greasepaint the Roar of the Crowd”

Berkeley Summer School 2014 started with an idea: “Time Travel and Secret Agents”. That was it; everything else would come from the children. So on Monday 22nd July 2014, Berkeley pupils from years 4 and 5 landed at Cranford Community College to begin Summer School 2014. This is the second year we have run a summer school after the hugely successful programme in 2013 and I was thrilled to be invited by Kevin Prunty, Executive Headteacher, to once again lead the programme.

As I walked into year 4 and 5 assemblies in May 2014, I was greeted with squeals of anticipation and I could hear the children whispering excitedly, “Do you think there is going to be a Summer School?” I knew immediately this was going to be another very special journey of discovery. One boy said,

I would highly recommend Summer School to everyone. It is brilliant and I am definitely going again this year

We were all delighted the majority of the 2013 Summer School team was able to return. When I invited them back it was the fastest response I think I have ever had to an email. Angeline and Jerome returned to work on the dance, Niamh for the drama and Luke, Kerry and Emma for the music.

Joining the team from Bounce Theatre was Apryl, a highly skilled drama practitioner to lead the project, and two visual artists, Rachel and Zoe, who brought to the process something really special with their dynamic and visually creative designs and puppet constructions.

At the start of June 2014, the team met together to plan how the summer school would work. Our aim this year was to make a more holistic and polished performance and to do this we would become a Theatre Company. Creating the ‘Berkeley Adventure Time Theatre Company’, named by the children, gave them an identity and a sense of team with a unified goal.

The idea of secret agents travelling through time gave us the opportunity to really push the boundaries and challenge ourselves as arts practitioners. Four time zones were chosen; “The Future”, “The 1980’s”, “World War 1” and “The Jurassic Era”.

We learnt a lot from our experience in 2013, in particular, the way to get the best from the children. With this in mind, we gave them greater control of the process and content and trusted in their wonderful imaginations to make the story come to life. We reduced the number of days they worked in each arts discipline to increase the time bringing the performance together in the last week. Changing the rotation timings put pressure on the children to work faster and smarter, but it also proved the more we challenged them, the more they achieved. They didn’t disappoint us and as one child said, “Well Miss, we are outstanding”.

The children worked in four groups and in keeping with the theme, we named the groups after the planets: Mars, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The children loved the idea.

On day one and two, all the children worked in each arts discipline for half a day and began the devising process. In art they made their own secret agent file and created a character profile and name. In drama they began to build a team ethos as they considered what they would miss most in the future if they didn’t have it. In dance they considered the same question but through physical interpretation and in music they worked with keyboards creating soundscapes and character themes. By the end of day two, we had the skeleton of a storyline and some key characters emerged.

Literacy and numeracy were once again a key factor of the work produced and this year we incorporated these skills and learning opportunities within the body of the project and through their designated roles as a theatre company. They designed, measured, calculated quantities and chose material to make the huge human and dinosaur puppets. They improvised ideas and situations which stimulated creative writing, storyboards and character studies, leading to an amazing storyline and script. They wrote poetry and experimented with dance techniques, incorporating modern and classical moves into their routines with mime. They wrote song lyrics in different music genres with difficult rhythms and rehearsed as an ensemble. They made wonderful junk percussion to create atmospheric music for different time zones and link sounds to depict time travel. Every child contributed and worked in every aspect and at the end of each rotation, they would share with the rest of the company their ideas, giving a real sense of being part of something special and, ultimately, ownership of the show. Secret agent certificates were awarded to celebrate individual achievements which were motivational and very popular.

By the end of week 3 the characters and storyline were fixed. The script was ready to learn and casting had been completed. Now the hard work really began as the various elements in rehearsal and preparation had to come together to create a whole piece.

At the start of week 4, the theatre company came alive and there was an excited buzz in the air. The concert hall was changed in to a theatre venue and production week got underway. The excitement grew each day in rehearsal as the production elements came together. Lighting, costumes, props and scenery transformed an idea into a reality and the magic of theatre began. They sang, danced, swapped roles, learnt lines, played instruments always focussing on the performance elements. The narrators became more confident which helped increase the pace and energy; the characters became more 3-dimensional which helped the actors to work on their voice projection and stage presence. The songs became upbeat, rhythmic and dynamic and the dance routines became more polished and fluid. They were having so much fun whilst taking their task seriously.

Finally the performance day arrived. Pre-show nerves set in for some (including the staff) but there was no doubt; the Berkeley Adventure Time Theatre Company was proud to present “Pic Poc in Paradox”.

They performed to an audience of 100+ staff, parents and guests. As the lights went down the magic began. All the children appeared with florescent painted space ships moving in and out of the audience. A pre-recorded poem, “Dark IMG_7587Jupiter”, written and recited by individual children as “talking heads” appears on the screen. “Here I am in the future, there is nothing here to be recognised...” A large fluorescent painted puppet of a Cyborg Queen with long extending arms mimics the lights from the space ship. Her skirt is the portal for time travel to other lands and we are transported to the future world of Paradox.

Paradox is a world in darkness and turmoil. Bob, the Super Villain, has kidnapped “Pic Poc” the Cyborg Queen Elizabeth V’s magical dog. Super-secret agents; “Half”, “Eyegore” “Rick Roll” and “Gibberish Wisher” are sent on a mission to capture the villain and rescue “Pic Poc” which will save the world and create a brighter future. The agents land first in No Man’s Land during World War 1 on the day of the Christmas football truce, where they find clues in a box of chocolates given by one of the British soldiers to a German solider. This sends them to the Jurassic Era where we are introduced to “gingersaurs”, with children costumed as IMG_7564small dinosaurs with “Here I am in the future there is nothing to be recognised. The sun is letting down less heat it’s getting darker in the day.  Planes have been crushed down to make flying cars. No humans are to be seen on the footpath.  Different to the past it’s all so different”. Amazing headdresses and “Urvogel birds and “Beno Bees”. We meet a very large green dinosaur named Dave whose eggs give them their next clue. Then it is onto the 1980’s and we are in a Super MarIMG_7594io game. We meet Princess Peach, the Mario brothers and friends. A large rubrics cube provides more clues which help to capture Bob and rescue “Pic Poc”. We finally return to Paradox and the Queen promotes the agents to the highest honour of the elite MOI Squad. The future is safe.

Each zone’s story is punctuated with songs performed by the company: “Space City”, “World War Blues”, “O Tannenbaum”,”War! What Is It Good For?”. The”Pic Poc” song. “Everybody Walk the Dinosaur” with drums and junk percussion to create the Jurassic sounds. The song, “Born in the 80’s” is accompanied by a boy playing a jazz style riff on the keyboard.

The whole production ends with a company rendition of “Happy”. Children once again join the audience and encourage them to join in. On stage the staff join the routine with the children. They feel real pride in their achievements. The finale is a well-deserved dance in celebration.

The children’s new found self-belief and confidence really changed their perception of themselves and what they could achieve. This brought huge rewards for the arts practitioners who were stunned by the change in individuals from the year before. The younger children learnt from the older children who were really keen to mentor them on what was required to give a good performance.

Everything about this process and the final performance celebrates the wonderful opportunities this summer school offers children. The storyline, characters, songs, art work, scenery, props, costumes etc. all created from the children’s wonderful imagination, hard work and determination and the belief that they could create an original piece of theatre good enough to share with an audience.

There is no doubt these children have learnt so much from this experience, not just about how and what goes into putting on a production, but also about themselves and what they can achieve in a short space of time with a skilled team to guide them. Summer school is a journey of discovery, of possibilities and of achievements. There are no barriers to learning or achievement and every single person involved leaves the experience having learnt something new.

We have been amazed by the quality of work the children produced. They were a joy to work with. The whole experience has been full of fun and laughter resulting in a production of which they are really proud. Roll on Summer School 2015.

Jessica Joyce

(Summer School Organiser)