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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...

viernes, 28 de septiembre de 2012

Astronaut helmets... and spray foam!

Helmets, helmets, helmets! We needed 2 space helmets for our two lead actors in this year's summer workshop. Having tried to beg, borrow and buy (!) second hand bike helmets (can't see the actor's face properly) and tried to make a papoer maché version (life's too short!), we thought we'd try the fast-lane: instant space helmets using expanding spray foam and an upturned bucket!
 My thoughts on this method:
  • Having first tried (and failed dismally!) to cover a blown up beach ball (we were going to pop it and have an instant lining), definitely use something solid as a mold. Pull the bucket out carefully when dry.
  • Do NOT make the mistake I made of not bothering with gloves - it is very, very easy to end up with horrible, sticky hands that will NOT come clean (!! actually, white spirit will do it, but it's not a nice experience)
  • Even with the bucket technique (which was successful), the foam often falls off/away from the sides of the bucket. Get round this by going slowly and building up in rings round the bucket. You don't need to wait for the first layer to dry completely, but if you wait until it is slightly tacky, the next layer has more to grip onto.
  • When dry, you will still need to patch up holes and craters. Your helmet will be huge at this stage (especially when it has expanded) but it's the only way to get a solid end result. I used about 2 cans on each helmet, but you might get away with less if you are more patient and allow to dry more thoroughly between each ring?
  • Cut away the excess foam once thoroughly dry with a cutter. You can sand if you want (I didn't!) and carefully ease out the bucket. Make sure the delicate bridge over the forehead doesn't get broken in the process and reinforce if necessary with masking tape on the inside.
 The basic helmet is still quite large, but this means there is room for mics and even tap lights in the side to light the actors' faces! It will wobble a lot too at this stage!
To finish the helmets, we covered them with strips of white paper and runny white glue (because we wanted them to react under black light). Otherwise, paint would have done or tin foil. Sand for a smoother surface or add more layers of paper and varnish. We were happy with a slightly homespun finish (because that was our planned look for the rocket) and the oversized helmets had great comic appeal. We finished them off with foam piping round the neck and velcro ties and added tap lights to the sides for extra glamour!

jueves, 27 de septiembre de 2012

Putting on a play: a glimpse backstage....

Like any play, what goes on on stage is only half the story. Behind the scenes is usually a frenzy of hidden activity and this summer's play was no exception. Our productions focus on colour, music and movement (as opposed to dialogue) and generally involve a large cast of kids, so they inevitably end up relying heavily on props.

The props for a cast of 22 kids take up a LOT of space - think 20 space pistols, 20 light sabres, 8 UFOs, a heap of galactic guns, 12 love hearts, 24 shiny pom poms, 22 shower caps and alien glasses and you'll get an idea (we were basically only missing the partridge in a pear tree and the kitchen sink). Add into the mix the 22 kids themselves, a space rocket, 2 astronauts, 5 hula hoops, puppets for the black light scene, and 6 backstage helpers and life gets decidedly overcrowded.

Needless to say we have learnt over the years the importance of a well-run backstage area!

 So, a few pointers for anyone finding themselves in danger of being drowned in backstage prop chaos!

1. Get a good backstage team together
I can't stress this enough. You need enough helpers backstage (but not so many it adds to the confusion -  I suggest starting with 2 and gradually training people up). Get them involved as early as possible in the process, even if it seems pointless at the beginning - it gives you time to gel and become that "well-oiled machine" and it gives your helpers time to get familiar with the play. Have regular meetings; make sure they feel involved.

2. Be organised!
Encourage the backstage team to work out a system for organising the props and get it going as early as possible in the process.
Team members should be given specific tasks to be in charge of. This helps the kids enormously as they know who is doing what and will also help you spot when extra helpers are needed.
Cheat sheets with cues and props/scene changes summarised and stuck to the wall are a great help - and mean that if someone has to step in at the last minute for some reason, they will know more or less what they should be doing.

3. Get working props together as soon as possible
It is very important to start working with props as early as possible in the process, especially if you are working with children. They can be stand-in props if you want to save the real thing for the performance (this is sometimes a very good idea, especially when you are working with kids, as props take a lot of wear and tear) but should be as close as possible in weight and dimensions to give a clear idea of how it will work in the performance. It will also help the backstage team work out a strategy for dealing with the props. They need to work out who will receive and who will hand out which props? Where they will be stored? Whether there are any difficult changeovers that need special attention etc...

4. Practise the backstage routine as part of the rehearsal process
Get helpers used to taking rehearsals seriously (it can be tempting to "coast" through the early rehearsals ) and practise any tricky moments/changeovers that are causing trouble as they happen. If necessary, stop the rehearsal and talk the team through who is doing what.

5. Cultivate a responsible attitude in the children when they are backstage
This takes a concerted effort by the group leader and needs to be backed up by the backstage team.  
- insist on silence backstage: this can be hard for kids to understand especially if they are young or they have never been in a play before; even "experienced" young actors can find long stretches behind the scenes tedious.
Some tricks for encouraging silence:
  • encourage a little healthy competition to see which student or group is quietest during any given scene. We tend to have half the cast at each side of the stage during our productions, so we encourage them to try and beat the opposite team. We plot "progress" on a magnetic board and whichever team wins the most points temporarily wins the Silence Trophy... until the other team wins it back etc. (In reality, they spend weeks fighting over a spray painted yogurt pot!)
  • if the problem persists, make a CD of a quiet part of the sound track of the play and add background noise of children talking, then play the CD at the start of a rehearsal (as if you have recorded them) to show them what it sounds like to the audience when they all talk backstage
  • as a back-up plan on The Night, have a packet of chewy sweets on hand to keep their jaws occupied... but watch out if they have dialogue looming!
- encourage a responsible attitude to props
Kids have boundless enthusiasm, energy and curiosity, a combination that lends itself well to doing theatre... but which can wreak havoc on your props if left unchecked. Adopt a zero-tolerance to silliness when the kids are handling props. "Talk up" the arrival of any new prop as a big event and treat props as a reward they have earned through good behaviour. By the same token remove props immediately from anyone who messes around with them and explain how they can "win" them back again. We often use a particularly attractive prop (this year it was the light sabre, for example) as the "carrot" for treating all the props well (anyone who breaks their glasses on purpose will have a bendy balloon instead of a light sabre"). This technique is also very useful for teaching responsible handling of potentially dangerous props (again, like the light sabres). We reminded the children every time we got them out that anyone misusing their prop would not be allowed to use it.

- wherever possible delegate small tasks and responsibilities to the more able kids
Kids have great memories and often know exactly what should be happening next in a play. If any of your group seem to be consistently good at anticipating upcoming moments in the play, then don't be afraid entrust tasks to them (but use your discretion!). This can work very well for moments that happen on stage (and so are out-of-your-reach), helping little ones find their places, for example, or pushing a certain prop on or off.

miércoles, 26 de septiembre de 2012

Prop-making IV: lava!

For the play we were preparing in this summer's workshop, we needed to represent a lava-filled planet as part of a journey through space. We wanted to find something the children could hold and move in time to Holst's "Mars the bringer of war" but we had to take into account the limited stage space we had available (with 22 kids taking part in the workshop). We looked at many different possibilities: giant flags, pool noodles, fans... and decided to use strips of lining material in different shades of red, orange and yellow.

We used a big black bin as a recipient for the "lava". Having drilled holes in the side,  we threaded strips of silky, shiny cloth through the holes:

The older kids took turns to slowly pull out the lava strips:

The smaller kids stood round the edges with lava flags, swirled in time to the music:
The lava strips were flapped up and down in time to the music. The children also moved round in a circle.
The scene really needed the outer circle of kids moving round the inner "volcano". The music (and the setting - a swirling, volatile lava planet) seemed to cry out for more movement, but the scene worked (if not completely perfectly) and, if nothing else, there was a lot of visual impact in having 22 kids of all ages on stage at once.

See the whole play here.

lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Prop-making III: light sabres!

No play about aliens and space travel would be complete without a light sabre or two. And if you are doing a play with 22 kids, you are obviously not going to get away with just a couple of them, either! So, this year we had to come up with 20 light sabers. And naturally, since we had access to black lights, they were going to have to glow in the dark!

First thing to remember about black light: normal white paper reacts incredibly well! So, all we had to do was to wrap our light sabers in white paper and keep the lights on during the battle scene.

We wrapped lengths of irrigation tubing in foam (for safety!), leaving a handle length at the end. Then we glued on strips of white paper (papier maché style) with runny white glue.And voilà!

Rehearsing with the light sabres:

To make the light sabres glow, we had the black lights on throughout the whole performance. The paper reacted even with the other lights on, giving the sabres a very "realistic" glow.

We turned the lighting on and off during the alien battle scene (like a very slow strobe effect) and the children assumed different fight poses every time the lights went off. In these moments, all you could see were the sabres glowing spookily:

See the whole play here.

viernes, 21 de septiembre de 2012

Making props: getting everyone involved!

This blog is essentially about the theatre workshops we run for kids in the Alpujarra mountains in southern Spain. The workshops themselves are all about helping the kids work as a team and encouraging them to see things through to the (bitter!) end; to see theatre as something they can relate to (and take part in) and to get them thinking visually and relating to music emotionally...

However, slowly over the years, a growing number of adults have been getting involved in the plays we put on. Many of them are parents of the kids taking part and others enjoy the plays we put on and just want to get involved. As far as I'm concerned, this is great news! It has made the whole project much more of a community thing - and it has opened people's eyes a bit to just how much work is involved behind the scenes (which is never a bad thing!).

So, prop making has become quite a social affair. We get together at the weekends during the six weeks of the workshop and mass produce props with impressive gusto. If you are planning a prop-making session with a group of volunteers, it's worth bearing a few things in mind:
  • not everyone considers themselves "artistic" (and can sometimes feel intimidated by the idea of getting "creative") so:
    • give clear instructions and think through strategies beforehand (stencils, pictures as examples etc.)
    • save the basic jobs (painting base coats, cutting, sticking) for these people
    • find creative ways of getting people involved (for example, someone may feel happier kicking a ball round with the kids outside, which is a great way of helping out but doesn't involve paint)
  • make an extensive list of props needed several days before the first workshop (this is your chance to make some serious progress with the props, so get the most out of your help!)
  • make sure you have enough scissors, paint brushes, hammers, glue... etc. for lots of volunteers to get involved
  • divide up the list into jobs and if you know who is coming, think about who can do which job
  • make sure you have all the necessary basic materials
  • it will help your "morale" considerably to feel you are making progress with the props, so use your prop sessions (and helpers!) to tackle the bigger (or more time consuming) projects (and save easy snipping jobs for in front of the telly!)
  • if your volunteers are bringing kids with them (as is often the case) think through some entertainment options - having pens and paper on hand will cut down on the number of extra volunteers pestering you to help (unless you are planning on getting the kids involved); a ball or hula hoops if there is an outside space; is there someone who would volunteer to help keep them occupied? -  and perhaps have a few teatime snacks to hand for later.

jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

La galaxia, los hula hop y la luz negra

La obra del taller de teatro de este verano fue ambientada en el espacio. Como el año pasado, utilizamos la luz negra para realzar las escenas "galácticas". Después de la obra del año pasado, nos había quedado el gusanillo de utilizar la luz negra con colores vivos: El año pasado experimentamos mucho con el color blanco (qué remedio, ya que la obra se trataba de fantasmas) y este año, el universo, las estrellas, los planetas parecían igual de idóneos para la representación con luz negra... ¡pero igual de blancos! Así que, buscamos la manera de meter un poco de color en esta escena, que hace homenaje a la icónica serie de televisión americano, "Star Trek":


Para los saturnos psicodélicos, forramos unos hula hop con chaquetas reflectantes y pegamos un circulo de la misma tela (pero en otro color) a los cuerpos de los niños.

Normalmente al trabajar con la luz negra, se enfoca la energía en conseguir la perfección (en tapar, esconder, ocultar las mecanismos detrás de la ilusión) ya que la magia para el espectador está precisamente en no saber como se ha conseguido los efectos visuales que se está viendo. Sin embargo, esta escena gana mucho con las "imperfecciones" de los niños. Cuando se cae un hula hop, y se nos ve "el plumero", la magia para el espectador se aumenta (curiosamente)... Por esta razón decidimos no esconder a los niños al terminar la escena y de encender las luces un pelín antes, para romper (ligeramente) la ilusión... ¿Funciona?¿Qué opinas?

La obra entera se puede ver aquí.

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