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We are a group of friends/parents that run a not-for-profit cultural association in Spain.
This is our (bilingual!) blog about our theatre workshops for kids...

jueves, 29 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from Scratch VI. The Set

For me, when I think about how you would go about creating a stage set for a production of “The Ugly Bug Ball”, the most important factor would have to be the scale. The play is set in the insect world, so we’re obviously looking at roots, foliage, undergrowth, flowers... and we obviously need to go big.

In fact, I think you could have a lot of fun with the stage design. So some ideas:
  •  Painted backdrops (perhaps thin gauze, strung on taut wire, to make it easy to change scenes) showing large roots or foliage. Use colour/different images to reflect the mood of a given scene: brown (sad) roots at the beginning and an explosion of colourful flowers for the ball scene perhaps. Ideas for the kind of mural that could be used:

  •   Use the kids themselves to: 
    • Wear large flowers, garlands of leaves, twigs and branches round their neck
    • Hold up silhouettes of rocks, bushes, branches etc to create instant, temporary atmosphere
    • Wave real branches & foliage

  • Create a sense of perspective by making rocks and bushes to ‘layer’ in front of the backdrop. Make out of card (propped up or held), papier mache (over chicken wire) or polystyrene. Use hinged cut outs at the front of the stage to pull up and down at will like a pop up card:
  • Hang real (or plastic) foliage at the front of the stage to frame the scene and add detail or use throughout
  • Cut out leaf and petal shapes from cheap household sponges and dip into paint to create quick but effective background foliage
  • Alternatively, experiment with projections of foliage and flowers to create a mood instantly

sábado, 17 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from Scratch V. The Costumes: capes and masks

Wenceslas Hollar - A dragonfly, ladybirds, and...Image via Wikipedia
Here are some other ideas for costumes for a stage play about insects (in this case for an adaptation of the children's song "Ugly Bug Ball")... I would suggest basic costumes - leggings and a long-sleeved top in black, brown or green (depending on the bug) - with all creative energy poured into a couple of dramatic, colourful additional elements (like wings, antennas, extra legs or whatever feature is characteristc of any given bug ). These elements could be worn as hats (as discussed in my last post) or as masks, tunics or masks. Old tights can be stuffed and sewn to the back of the basic costume as extra (spider, grasshopper or centipede legs). Use wire to make flamboyant antennas. Use simple bin bag (or cloth) tunics with spots, stripes and patterns glued on. The possibilities are endless!

Some inspiration for moth/butterfly capes (which could be easily adapted to ladybirds, dragonflies, bees and wasps):

This theme is also perfect for masks. And masks are a simple solution:
English: Various Balinese Topeng (dance masks)...Image via Wikipedia
  • for limited budgets, 
  • plays where actors need to double up and make quick costume changes 
  • if you're into minimalism.

miércoles, 14 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from Scratch IV. The Costumes: hats

In recent weeks, I have been looking at the children's song "The Ugly Bug Ball" and showing how it might be turned into a children's play. One thing has become very clear as time has gone on - the variety of characters (bugs of all shapes and sizes) and the glamour of the setting (a ball!) means colour and flamboyance are paramount.  This is going to be particularly pertinent when thinking about the costumes.

When I think about the idea of insect costumes, immediately I think: hats, masks, capes. All three of these elements are relatively simple to make and easy for kids to wear. Let's look at hats first.

In order to come up with ideas, I first find an image of what I want to create. For example, the earthworm:

Then, I scour the internet, magazines, books, photos.... looking for ideas. These are some I came up with when i was thinking about making a worm hat:

The idea can come from anywhere (a straw basket?!) but you start to slowly get an idea. In this case, I'm leaning towards a tall, coiled hat (think Madge Simpson's hair, perhaps?). The black and red of the original photo would make a very striking worm hat or we could use earthy colours and weave in a few reds and greens.

Here are some ideas for hats for other creepy crawlies from the song which I got largely from looking at Ascot hats (what better place to look for flamboyance?). No offense to the original wearers!

Materials for making hats: netting, foam backed material, papier maché, felt, tubing, bubble wrap, bin bags... You don't always need a whole hat. Sometimes a headband will do and you can always think about adding elements to existing woolly, sun or base ball hats.

Some costume-making resources:

sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from scratch III. From lyrics to plot

A song can be an excellent place to start when you're looking to write a theatre script for kids. Songs that tell stories (eg. ballads, traditional children's songs) are particularly good, as most of the work - at least in terms of the plot - has been done for you (!) and the structure of most songs - separated neatly into verses as they are - lends itself to breaking up the plot into scenes. We're in the process of looking at how we might turn "The Ugly Bug Ball" into a theatre production for kids, and  - using the song to give a rough, overall 'shape' to our script - is precisely what we need to do next.

The first step is to analyse our material, so we get the lyrics and we see what we've got. We need to focus on:
  • its potential for characters (is it suitable for our group?)
  • any clues or ideas we can glean  from the language to help us with mood/atmosphere/dramatisation
  • the bare bones of the narrative (does the song give us the whole plot or is it just a starting point?) 

So what do the lyrics of "The Ugly Bug Ball" tell us?

Fire antsImage via Wikipedia In terms of characters, it's clear that there's huge scope for any number of creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes, over and above the named "characters" in the song (caterpillar, beetle, dragon fly, fleas, worms etc). This, for me, is a major point in its favour. The sheer range of characters makes it ideal for larger groups (but flexible for smaller ones) and means character choice can be easily tailored to children's taste (not everyone finds spiders appealing, after all). I love the possibilities for costumes that this gives rise to. It's immediately obvious that there's scope for vibrant, colourful and varied costumes. The sky is really the limit (sign of a good song choice!).

From the lyrics, we also get clues that can help us set the tone of the overall play - providing us with a kind of verbal moodboard, if you like. In this case, we have words like "glorious", "happy", "glad" (so we've already got a great feel-good vibe going). Also, phrases like "crickets clicked their tricky melodies" or "the ants were fancy-dancing with the fleas" can give us useful staging ideas. We might have a trio of crickets with castañetas perhaps? Or is this the perfect opportunity for any budding tap dancers in the group?? We may have the ants and the fleas dance in some kind if unusual way: a jig perhaps? Or a spontaneous street dance (depending on the talents and tastes of our group).

In terms of plot, we certainly get the 'bare bones' of a narrative: a lonely caterpillar gets taken to a ball by his sympathetic friends where he meets the love of his life and lives happily ever after. It would be perfectly possible to develop a script entirely around this narrative, but, in my opinion at least, I think it will make a more interesting play with a bit of tweaking. As such, for me it's a song that falls into the second category - it makes a great starting point for a script but doesn't provide us with an off-the-peg plot. (An example of a song in this category would be "Puff The Magic Dragon" where it is possible to base a scene on every verse and you've got a play).
206/365 Ugly-Bug BallImage by david anderson : da-photography via Flickr
In terms of how we would develop the storyline, off the top of my head, I would say it lends itself to an ugly duckling scenario (especially as caterpillars - as future butterflies - undergo a similar transformation as a baby swan). Perhaps we will have the caterpillar suffer a series of rejections as he tries to befriend various 'glamourous' bugs before getting invited to the ball? Or maybe we can dramatise his loneliness at the beginning in some way. A choreography or scene that shows his lonely lifestyle perhaps? Once we get to part about the ball, our story can slot neatly into the song's narrative (dancing, boy meets girl, happily ever after) but we can draw this out, enjoy the details, as it were: a lively dance scene is surely a must? And we might want some kind of presentation scene (perhaps the insects arriving at the ball?) to showcase all our gorgeous costumes? There is also scope for a feel good finale once we get safely to the happy ending.

There are obviously any number of other ways that the plot of this song could be developed into a storyline for a theatre production - I've just touched on one possibility - but for the time being at least, we know that if we use "The Ugly Bug Ball" as as starting point for a play, we're going to have plenty to get our theatrical teeth into!

miércoles, 7 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from scratch II. Getting into the mood

We're in the process of transforming the song "Ugly Bug Ball" into a children's stage play. Having already decided that the song might indeed be an interesting project for kids and that it has enough dramatic potential to inspire us, it's time to get a real feel for the possibilities it offers. We need to be really sure that this is the right project (as I said before, it's better, in the long run, to take the time to make the right decision, rather than embark on a play that runs out of steam further down the line).So now is the time to start defining the 'feel' of our future play

I do this with moodboards. I scour the internet, magazines, books... for images, colours, details that in some way represent something about the atmosphere that I'd like to achieve as a whole... or that give an idea of the feel of the costumes... or the staging.

In the case of  "The Ugly Bug Ball", I start by collecting all sorts of pictures of bugs in general as a starting point:

I choose the ones that 'talk' to me in some way - in this case, it soon becomes apparent that the vibrancy of the colours is going to be fundamental to my play - and I try to communicate this into a whole collage of other images that also show the same idea:

A moodboard is a very effective way to get the creative juices going and at the same time to pin down sensations, feelings and ideas that might otherwise be difficult to put into words. This makes them ideal if you're working in a team as it is a tangible way of communicating less than tangible concepts to other team members. They can also contribute to the process with their sensations and ideas. 
They're also a great way of expressing many concepts at once. My colour moodboard, for example, might represent the palate of colours I'd like to use across the production as a whole (in the set and costumes etc) but at the same time, it also manages to convey a sense of the 'explosion' of colour that I'd like to create and, in turn, communicates a sense of energy, vibrancy and dynamism that I'd like the play as a whole to present. It is starting to become clear that I'd like this play to be a 'carnival' of colours.

To help define the look of the costumes, again I turn first to nature:

And then try to represent the elements that have inspired me in a moodboard. In this case, I'm focusing on textures (silky sheens, fur, velvet) as well as the swirling, almost metallic patterns of petrol or tie dye:

Sites like are a great way to develop mood boards - collect all your inspiring images together and share the link with anyone else you are working with. They can also add their own images, comment on photos, and it gives everyone a common focus.

lunes, 5 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from scratch. Turning a song into a play

All this thinking about inspiration and finding the right idea recently has got me thinking about the "Ugly Bug Ball". The more I think about this song, the more perfect I think it would be as a starting point for a children's play - and I thought I'd use it over the next few weeks to show how I would go about transforming the song into a theatre production.

The first thing we need to do is look hard at (or in our case, listen to) our material to make sure:
  • it inspires us
  • it has enough potential (we need enough 'room to manoeuvre': does it have scope to take themes further? does it have enough theatrical potential?)
  • it has appeal (will the kids enjoy working on the project? will the audience relate to it?)
So, for anyone who needs a refresher, here's the song. Have a listen and see whether it fits the bill for you:

At first glance, as a base for a play, it would seem to have a lot going for it:
  •  the central theme is appealing to kids - all those creepy crawlies! (and there are always the butterflies to satisfy any would-be princesses in the group)
  • there is an underlying theme that can be developed - think an insect world take on the age-old story of the ugly duckling - which should appeal to a wider audience and also gives you something to 'get your teeth into' educationally during the workshop
  • it has loads of dramatic potential - vibrant costumes, dancing (it's a ball after all!)...
So far so good. But it's really important to choose the right idea - you're going to be living and breathing this song for the next goodness knows how long, so it's better to take a bit longer over choosing the central theme - and be 100% certain - than dive straight in and repent at your leisure.

So, just to make absolutely sure this song really does have enough potential, I always spend a few days on google, testing out various ideas and seeing how it stands the test.

The questions: does a play about creepy crawlies have enough dramatic - and visual - potential? Is there enough scope for costumes, for example?

The results:

As soon as I see these images, visions of insect masks, satin capes, bright colours, gigantic, larger-than-life flowers start racing through my mind and I know, deep down, I can do something with this song. First step done and dusted. We're on  our way!

What do you think? Is this song a good choice for a children's play? Does it inspire you?

jueves, 1 de diciembre de 2011

De una imagen... al escenario II

Para transformar una imagen evocadora en una idea para la puesta en escena de una secuencia, primero se necesita saber qué es lo que te inspira de la foto. Puede que sea algo concreto, algún objeto que se ve, o algo bastante más subjetivo. Cuando estuvimos desarrollando "El Dragón Mágico", por ejemplo, utilizamos fotos para fijar el diseño de las espadas.

Y las utilizamos también para crear la 'atmósfera' de las diversas escenas. Por ejemplo, para el baile de los piratas. No teníamos acceso a efectos especiales (así que nada de niebla o humo) y nuestros actores no iban a llevar un vestuario espectacular (como se ve en muchas imágenes) sino un negro básico con simples elementos añadidos (un pañuelo, un parche de ojo). Pero las fotos nos ayudaron definir las ideas principales - las ideas claves - que queríamos comunicar.

En la secuencia de los piratas en "El Dragón", la idea clave fue crear una sensación de energía y agresividad entre los piratas cuando 'luchan'. Nos dimos cuenta que la coreografía tenía que ser dinámica y feroz, así que nos centramos más en coreografiar una especie de 'pelea musical' que un baile.

Las obras de teatro que hacemos con los niños en nuestro talleres suelen ser muy visuales pero no usamos ni decorado fijo ni vestuario muy elaborado. Los niños manipulan elementos visuales de atrezzo o decorado para crear una escena o se ponen algún elemento clave de vestuario (como los pañuelos de pirata), creando, de esta manera, el ambiente o la sensación de una escena en cuestión de momentos. Muchas de las ideas detrás de la puesta en escena de cada secuencia nacen de imágenes evocadoras. Para explicarlo mejor, aquí hay tres fotos que me inspiran de alguna manera y mis ideas para un posible desarrollo para una obra de teatro. Las he elegido porque me vienen ideas a la cabeza nada más mirarlas.  Por ninguna otra razón.

Esta foto me sugiere altitud, inmensidad, el vació, el frio, la soledad y por otro lado, belleza espectacular. Así que cualquier idea para la puesta en escena iría anclada a estos conceptos claves. A pesar de ser una imagen de la cima de una montaña, igual la utilizaría para crear una escena completamente distinta. Un mar tormentoso, por ejemplo, o el Ártico. También me sugiere el humo.

En términos de trasladarlo físicamente al escenario, me viene a la cabeza la gasa, el chiffon o la tela de forro en blanco, plata y grises claros. También, bolsas de basura en tiras largas (o sea, sin separarlas) o cortadas en tiras y formando  pompones gigantes. Láminas grandes de plástico de pintor estiradas y agitadas para crear olas o humo o nubes. Remolinos de tul en blanco o plata atados a las cabezas de los niños para crear una nube o un mar en movimiento. Creamos el mar tormentoso en 'El Dragón Mágico' así:

 This photo depicts a late evening at the beach but for me, the colours are suggestive of autumn and there is an unsettling ominousness in the gathering clouds in the background that would lend itself to a storm scene of some kind. In terms of staging, with the right kind of music, I can see children wearing beige tunics ('organics' bin bags even?) wafting strips of material or plastic in browns, reds and ochres; older (taller) children advancing ominously with cardboard storm clouds held up high in a layered effect. I can also imagine using this photo for a scene involving fire or a rushing river, even perhaps a volcano.

Está claro que esta foto muestra una atardecer en la playa, pero los colores me hablan del otoño y hay algo amenazador en las nubes tormentosas del fondo. Así que igual serviría de inspiración para alguna escena de tormenta. También para un fuego, un rio turbulento o quizás incluso un volcán. Para la puesta en escena, se me viene a la mente niños vestidos de túnicas de color beige (hechos incluso de bolsas de basura), moviendo tiras de tela o plástico en marrón, rojo y ocre. Los niños más altos podrían sujetar nubes de tormenta hechas de cartón al fondo.

Me encantan los colores de esta foto. Me recuerdan las películas en tecnicolor de los años 50 y la luz difusa le añade la sensación de que se trata de un sueño. Utilizaría una foto como esta para alguna escena de fantasía, para crear una 'chuchilandia' por ejemplo (arboles de regaliz y flores de algodón?) o como el entorno de un cuento de hadas. Para mi, la foto tiene que ver más con 'ambiente' (sueños, fantasías) que un lugar físico y el resultado sería algo como esta secuencia de "El Dragón Mágico", cuando el dragón y el niño 'se enamoran':

Encontré estas 3 fotos en:

De una imagen... al escenario - trasformando fotos en ideas

Una vez que tengo la idea central de una obra, paso mucho tiempo navegando por el internet en búsqueda de imágenes. Es una manera de hacer fluir las ideas (para el decorado, el atrezzo, el vestuario, la puesta en escena, lo que sea). Me imagino que funciona tanto porque alguien ya me ha hecho el trabajo duro - ¿quién no va a estar inspirado por una imagen evocadora, con colores llamativos, una composición equilibrada o una luz bonita..? Lo único que me queda por hacer es esperar sentada a que me lleguen las ideas!...
Así que, por si andas en búsqueda de ideas, estos son buenas fuentes de imágenes:
  • Google Images: una manera muy sencilla de encontrar imágenes relacionado con un tema o idea - mete un par de palabras claves y a ver lo que te sale.
  •  Steve McCurry

  • The Photo Argus Nunca se sabe lo que te vas a encontrar en esta página ya que hay colecciones de fotos de lo más originales ('25 imágenes del café, por ejemplo)...
  • ffffound No se pueden colgar fotos en este sitio sin invitación pero se puede navegar por la colección
  • National Geographic  una de mis páginas favoritas para buscar imágenes espectaculares   
  •  Otras colecciones de fotos:

¡Cuéntanos si sabes de alguna página más!

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