Tales of a Commonwealth
SIX WOMEN: Arupa Lahiry, Shivanee N. Ramlochan, Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa, Ailsa Dixon, Simone Gilliatt, Amy Douglas
SIX ARTFORMS: poetry, spoken word; storytelling; dance; biographical narrative and creative writing
SIX COUNTRIES: Trinidad, India, South Africa, Uganda, Scotland, England
ONE PIECE, ONE MOMENT IN TIME, ONE COMMONWEALTH
What a journey this has been! Throughout June, I met with women from the Commonwealth to share experiences, artforms and the importance of the Queen’s Jubilee and the Commonwealth. We came together as women to explore life under the female figurehead of the Queen. We began as strangers and ended as sisters. It’s been an inspirational, challenging, emotional month. I’m so grateful to have been given this space for honest conversation, to meet and work with these exceptionally talented women from different countries. We felt our way slowly at first, but we all came willing to have the difficult conversations… quite quickly we began hiding elephants for each zoom conversation, so we all had our personal elephant in the room! Once again I have been amazed at the depth of relationship it is possible to create without sharing physical space. We layered our relationship through different ways of communication, through zoom, WhatsApp, email and post to establish genuine trust, friendship and deep respect.
This piece is the culmination of our conversations – our reaching out to each other over the oceans of the world. We explore the cultures of our homelands; think about what it is to be royal; the Queens of our own communities and our Grandmothers, the strong women who came before and whose influence echoes in our ears and into the future.
Thank you so much to The Community Foundation for Staffordshire and the ‘ACE – Let’s Create Jubilee Fund’ and, of course, Get A Word In Edgeways, for enabling this rich collaboration to take place.
You can find out more about the other artists here: Arupa Lahiry; Shivanee Ramlochan; Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa: Ailsa Dixon; Simone Gilliatt
“Loved this. For me the content far surpassed the context of the Queen’s Jubilee and gave us some real queens. So glad I suspended my prejudice against royalty to see this. I wish Elizabeth had meant half as much to me as those you gave us in this film. And so good to hear stories of revolt against the oppression and the exploitation of colonialism which sadly is, after all, what the Commonwealth actually represents. So thanks for the immersion in the Common Wealth that we all share with the maidens, the mothers and the wise women. Some fabulous stories and wonderful telling. I was very moved. Amy Douglas pulls off another blinder.” E. Mendoza
Rivers of Story – Storytelling in Virtual Reality, March 2022
I’m launching into a brave new world! I’ve received a commission from Rural Media and the Independent Arts Network to develop a VR storytelling piece which will be showcased at The Borderlines Film Festival on Sunday 20th March. I’m working with Reality Boffins to create a CGI storytelling space.
I’ll be telling river stories about and from communities in the Welsh Marches. You’ll join me to sit by the fire and I’ll tell you stories with shadows and firelight.
Narrating the Future, 2021
During the first half of 2021, I have been working on an Arts Council England R&D project with Lucy Wells.
We have been finding out what technologies are out there that we might use in storytelling projects in the future – both in-person and online.
We have explored 360° projection; 3D projecton; virtual reality; augmented reality; new online spaces like Mozilla Hubs and Facebook Horizons and social media apps. We had huge amounts of fun creating The Prometheus Chronicles for TikTok – the challenge to tell a story in videos of a minute of less!
We collaborated and learned with established technology artists, Leon Trimble, Andy McKeown, Rob Spaull and Shadowgrapher, Drew Colby… and you can see a vlog of some of the ideas we explored and things we got up to here:
The Black Lives Matter campaign had a big effect on me. I live in a rural white area and while I like to think that I am liberal, open-minded and certainly not racist, I’ve never got into the race debate before – it never felt like my place. However, BLM changed that and felt like an invitation – a recognition that everyone needs to come together to have difficult conversations and to move forward as a society. A large part of this project has been recording a short series of podcasts with black artists and exploring ideas of black and white, light and shadow. I have been re-examining the traditional motifs and phrases with the stories I tell – trying to take out language that reinforces the ideas of black is bad and white is good – phrases like ‘black-hearted’, ‘pot calling the kettle black’ etc.
The ideas and techniques explored over the past six months have come together in a film, ‘Shadows on the Road’, created with film-maker, Rob Spaull. Lucy is a wonderful artist – and among many other things, creates shadows, sings and plays the accordion. The story told in the film is a story I heard from Scottish Traveller storyteller, Duncan Williamson and it the first version of the film incorporates one of his own songs about being on the road. But over this project we have experimented with different types of music and sound, so here are two more versions of the film – exactly the same story, but with a different sound track – see which you like best – and if you respond to them in different ways. As always, I love to hear what you think – let me know!
THE ENCHANTED WOOD – MONTGOMERYSHIRE FOLK TALES December 2018-February 2020
In 1947, Newtown High School History Department realised that children didn’t know their local heritage – they didn’t know the stories of the land under their feet and so they published a book of folk tales and gave it to every school in the county.
70 years later, children are once again in danger of losing their heritage and so Mythstories Museum of Myth and Legend, with Heritage Lottery Funding carried out a year long project to work with young people, in Welsh and English to teach them the stories and the skills to pass the stories on.
I worked with artist, Helen Kozich, in primary schools in and around Newtown and at Newtown High School. We led a year long storytelling and art after-school club and held ‘story in a day’ workshops and performances. All our work fed into an online resource held on Mythstories website, where you can find all the stories; videos of children telling the stories in a variety of ways and examples of lots of ways of working with young people and stories. We used games, art, drama, shadow puppets and traditional storytelling techniques such as kamashabai and story scrolls. Have a look and get inspired!
LEAD CREATIVE SCHOOLS – LADYWELL GREEN INFANTS How can we help our Year 1 & 2 pupils to engage enthusiastically with writing and develop imagination, self-expression and fine motor skills?
Lead Creative Schools (LCS) is a wonderful scheme throughout Wales to bring artists into schools to work alongside teachers to develop creative approaches to teaching literacy, numeracy and digital competency. In Ladywell Green, I got to collaborate with a fabulous teacher, 16 children who thought they didn’t like writing and we had a fabulous time playing!
Throughout the project we went on adventures, treasure hunts and set challenges for each other. The children built up core and finger strength through dancing and pretending to be animals. We made and played in and with storyworlds; held a character fair and created atmosphere orchestras. We used the idea of ‘story in the palm of your hand’ to create lots of stories and each child wrote their own book. The children were selected from three different classes and at the end of the project, they spent a day being teachers in their own classrooms, passing on some of the skills they had learned.
THE STORY GARDEN – BISHOPS CASTLE PRIMARY SCHOOL
This was a wonderful collaboration with Bishops Castle Primary School, visual artist, Michelle O’Connor, all made possible by a grant from the Earnest Cooke Trust. The challenge was to transform an unused piece of land behind a demountable classroom into a storygarden – an inspiring space to support creating narrative. The garden went from this:
For a description of how we did it, how fantastic the children were and how the children designed and created the garden please click here: Project report for Earnest Cook with pics.
SUNDORNE INFANT SCHOOL – A WRITING ADVENTURE
I loved this project. Working in collaboration with fabulous artists and a wonderful, truly child-led school, we journeyed together on fantastical adventures and created a beeping, flashing, whirring word machine!
To read a write up of the project, please click Sundorne Infant School Writing Adventure
FACEBOOK – AMY DOUGLAS STORYTELLER
I have finally succumbed and joined Facebook. I have a page there which has more regular updates than my website. I am very aware that this website needs a revamp! Hopefully you will find the information on here useful, though the site itself needs a bit of work – and always feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
EFDSS – The Full English
I’ve been working the English Folk Dance and Song Society as part of their project, The Full English. They have recently completely digitising their huge archive and now it is all online – an amazing resource! The Full English includes all sorts of projects in a wide variety of educational settings to celebrate the access and explore different ways of working with the material.
My project was a collaboration with Queensbridge School, musician John Kirkpatrick and mentee, Beth Gifford. All of Year 7 went off timetable for a week to create a performance based on a ballad printed in Birmingham. Six classes concentrated on different aspects of the performance to create an extravaganza including morris dancing, singing, music, storytelling and drama.
If you would like to read a write-up of the project, please click here. Photos coming soon.
Descriptions of the exercises and games used are here
Story Safaris, Spring 2010
Once again I teamed up with the marvellous Fiona Collins and Wrexham Country Parks. We played, jumped, ran, skipped and danced in six of the country parks with children from local schools, to create a book of new active stories for the parks.
‘Harry Potter Fan Trips’ 2003-2018
In 2003 I was approached by American tour company, Beyond Boundaries, to be part of Harry Potter inspired trips. I was already a fan of the series (then in its infancy) and was delighted to be part of the team and have continued to contribute to the trips ever since.
My role within the trips is to celebrate the wealth of British, Norse and Irish folklore and tradition that J. K, Rowling used as the bedrock of her series, rather than to retell any of her material. It has been a delight to explore the themes touched upon in the Harry Potter books and my respect and admiration for the author have continued to increase with each book and trip as I’ve discovered how deeply researched and tied in even the most casual throwaway line can be!
The trips have taken me all over England and Scotland to have a huge amount of fun: banqueting in Oxford colleges and Edinburgh Castle; pushing the sweet trolley on the steam train used in the films for the Hogwarts Express; visiting a hand of glory in Whitby Museum; playing land based quidditch at Alnwick Castle; visiting lakes in caves at Wookey Hole…the list goes on and on!
Their are a variety of trips available, visiting London, Oxford, Edinburgh and Glencoe. There are also wizard school castle based holidays where you can experience student life living in a castle and attend a variety of magical lessons.
The HP fan trips have been an opportunity to introduce fans to the British ballad and storytelling tradition, telling the stories of Britain in the landscape where they are so deeply rooted.
For more information visit: http://www.hpfantours.com
Young Storyteller of the Year 2010
During the spring term Fiona Collins and I mentored a group of year 9/10 students at Selly Park Technology College preparing them for their Bronze Arts Award. Over a period of weeks the students explored a variety of storytelling techniques and organised a performance of stories and riddles within school. The students all came to the Young Storyteller of the Year Competition on 13th March in Birmingham and either performed in the competition or assisted the judges and took part in the deliberation process. The whole day was brilliant – an excellent opportunity to hear professional storytellers, perform stories in a professional theatres and meet other young people interested in storytelling. All our students have now successfully acheived their Bronze Arts Award.
Laura’s Adventure – Storytelling and Visual Arts at the Bridge School
This project took place at the Bridge School with a core group of 14-18 year old students with moderate to severe learning difficulties. The aim was to create and deliver a project to support students on a creative journey. One week was used to introduce us as artists and our artforms, to introduce the idea of art as a way to explore and question as well as self-expression, to learn and experiment with a variety of artforms and skills, all through the key media of storytelling and visual art. A second week focused on our students giving a storytelling performance developed during the first week to groups of primary school children (with a variety of special needs) and mentoring the primary school children on a one to one basis to pass on some of the visual art techniques learned.
This project was a wonderful success according to artists, staff and pupils. As our key contact, Mandy James, Business and Enterprise Co-ordinator put it:
‘The journey our pupils went on through this project was fantastic. They were provided with strategies to develop confidence, develop their communication skills and become teachers themselves. These young people will remember this project for a long time.’
For more details about this project please click here
‘Ghosts, Ghouls and Gargoyles’
Newport is a town layered with story and memory. The canal remembers busier days crowded with boatmen, Chocolate Charlie bringing pocketfuls of sweets back from Cadburys for the local children and harsh winters of frozen barges. Three fish swim on gates, walls and flags, heading towards the King, leaving prosperity in their wake. You may still catch a glimpse in a window of Elizabeth Parker in her wedding dress, waiting all her life and beyond for her fiancee. When night falls, Madam Pigott haunts the roads and lanes watchful of her chance to take revenge on any young men out alone.
Throughout September and October I worked with dancer Rose Gordon and choreographer Bettina Strickler on a fantastic ‘Find Your Talent’ and DanceXchange collaboration to celebrate the history, folklore and people of Newport.
We collaborated with several schools and community groups in Newport to gather, combine, retell and celebrate stories of Newport. The project culminated in a fantastic Hallowe’en performances with two marvellous young storytelling tour guides leading audiences around the Madam Piggott exhibition and a school haunted by ghostly dancers.
‘Find Your Talent – Telford Creativity Project’ November 2008 – March 2009
This project was a collaboration between DanceXchange, Telford and Wrekin Libraries, and High Ercall and Crudgington Primary Schools. I worked with dancers Emma Burns and Laura Dredger using Shropshire myths and legends to inspire dance with KS2 children.
Working with dance was a new and inspiring process for me. Our sessions were full of experimentation, using rhythms and patterns of words to evoke different atmospheres and tempos that were then interpreted through movement.
The project culminated in a performance at Charlton Secondary School where students from both schools shared their work with each other and a very big and supportive audience!
This project was designed to enhance a sense of community in Craven Arms and to encourage participants to share their ideas for the future of their area.
I teamed up with Fiona Collins to work with KS2 children interviewing local elders about their memories, hopes and fears for the community with the aid of ‘fantastic faces’: faces made from vegetables with paper features on which were scribed local sights, sounds, smells, tastes and memories. The sessions were non-threatening, empowering and filled with laughter. Through preparatory sessions with both the schools and groups of elderly people we were able to match children with interviewees so that all had a positive experience. Leaving the traditional clipboard of questions behind led to more active conversations, while using writing in an unusual and interesting context led to the children gaining new understanding and increased confidence in using the medium, as well as some wonderful cross-generational communication.
Our project was to create a nine metre square wall mural with the The Bridge School at their old site to welcome them to their new school as part of the Hadley Learning Community.
We worked with14 – 17 year old students with a wide range of physical and educational special needs for a week. The theme chosen by the school was the story of the Wrekin Giant. This story was told every morning with the aid of a specially made storysack, the students telling more and more of the story each time. Each day focused on a different aspect of the story and included a large number of wide-ranging activities to keep attention, enthusiasm and to allow opportunity for all children to shine.
For example, one day focused on water. I told a local flood story, and we re-created the flood using lengths of shimmering blue and green material. We then talked about different types of water – puddles, rain, streams, rivers, lakes. With the students inside we threw buckets of water at the window so they could watch the shapes the water made. We went outside and played with trays of water – sketching the shapes the water made when it had a stone dropped in. We added oils to water and made reflective imprints by laying paper on the top. Using wire hoops we made large bubbles and drew the shapes of them. We headed off on a walk to a local pool and looked at all the plants growing around the water and the wildlife in and around the pool. The sketches produced were taken the next day to Jackfield tile museum and used for ideas as our stundents painted tiles which were fired and used in the Welcome Wall.
This was an exciting, successful project helped greatly by the enthusiasm of all the teachers and support staff at the Bridge. The staff led by example, supported us in our ideas and extended the project by follow on work after we had gone.
Voices around the Aqueduct 2004-2005
This was a reminiscence residency lasting nine months, which celebrated the lives and memories of people living around the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. We included local primary schools at all stages of the process, using our work to inspire the children and empower them to influence the rest of the project. Throughout the project we built up a memory box, which slowly filled with more and more objects, each associated with at least one story. We used the following activities with the children, with great success:
Story detectives: children listened to stories from the memory box and played conversational games. We introduced them to methods of interview technique. Children interviewed each other and members of their families. They brought stories back into class and added new objects to the memory box.
Storyseeds: children chose stories from a selection told from the memory box and we used these as seeds to create a ‘play in a day’: performances of storytelling, dance, drama and music for children, parents, governors and community members at the end of the day.
Storywalks: we took various community groups including the Country Park Junior Rangers Club on walks around the area, telling stories gathered from the community in sites associated with the stories.
‘Pontcysyllte Memories’: the project concluded in a book of reminiscences published by Tempus Publishing. We held a grand book launch next to the aqueduct with the mayor of Wrexham presenting each contributor with a copy of the book. The youngest contributor to the book was nine years old. As part of the celebration, children told stories with the aid of the memory box to audiences including the mayor.
A Fairy Tale Feast, Stafford and District Early Years Forum
In November, 2003 Fiona Collins and I gave a storytelling workshop to the Stafford and District Early Years Forum.
This session was an exciting opportunity to play and have fun! We have been experimenting with new ideas in the way we approach storytelling to under fives and our biggest discovery has been the use of fruit and vegetables. With the state of the nation’s health and the English aversion to healthy eating constantly in the news we have been aiming to promote fruit and vegetables and how much fun they can be.
We have been positively encouraging children to play with their food and using edible puppets as the focus for stories and now it was turn of the adults.
23 early years practitioners fell upon a rather large fruit bowl and set to work to create an amazing display of characters including a pumpkin cat with pomegranate ears, Surfing Spud, Lucy Leek the scary fairy, a courgette crocodile and a very cool Caribbean coconut.