#TinyDance comes to Fenland and Forest Heath

Casson & Friends, an award-winning dance company based in London spent early Summer 2021 bringing their own unique style of dance and ‘people powered performance’ to our area. The goal? To speak to as many people as possible to create a dance inspired by what people love about where they live.

Dancers engaging with community members, especially young people, to create a bespoke dance for their towns and districts resulting in a Collaborative Choreography

The Community Producer POV

We asked Jodie Hicks, our Community Producer, to give her point of view about her summer worling with Casson & Friends.

Events in March, Wisbech, Brandon and Newmarket

Across four events in Fenland and West Suffolk two teams of dancers had the chance to engage with people of all ages, to dig deep and mine their thoughts and memories for choreography ideas and inspiration. It was a real joy to observe someone, with great animation, describe a cherished memory about their town or a certain place within it, and then to see the dancers transform these words into fluid movements. 

A moment which stood out for me was at National Play Day at The Spinney Adventure Playground in Wisbech. Not only did the parents and children speak to the dancers, but they actually got involved physically to help create these moves alongside them.

On a couple of occasions, some of the children would correct the dancers and suggest their own alterations to more accurately capture what they loved about their hometown. The connections and collaborative process was a truly wonderful watch after we have all spent the past two years keeping distance from each other.

Slowly but surely, as each day would draw to a close, singular movements would grow into short sequences and in turn develop into a dance performance lasting a few minutes long. Alongside this, MarketPlace was  on hand to invite people to also write down thoughts, feelings and also  provide some suggestions for filming locations for the final stage of the project, producing a dance film. 

Bringing the moves together…

After our days in March, Wisbech, Brandon and Newmarket the dance teams went away and explored all of the information they’d gathered, narrowed down the filming locations to just three in each town, (no easy task) and put all of the choreographed motions together to create two distinct dances for Fenland and Forest Heath. 

All that was left to do was film it. Our travels took us to all sorts of places from racetracks to mausoleums, and even a castle. The #TinyDance teams accomplished the astonishing feat of filming in 6 locations per day and performing the Tiny Dances a staggering 18 times over the course of each day!

It was exhausting just watching them! Not only this, but in true East Anglia fashion, the dancers and filmmakers had to compete with weather ranging from sunshine to wind and rain and back again and often in the space of an hour (which could be a little detail to look out for in the Forest Heath film). 

Clips from the Casson & Friends performers creating the final video on location in Brandon, Suffolk (Forest Heath).

What was never lost was the sense of fun and wonder from the Casson & Friends team. They had the chance to visit all of these little gems we have in our towns, and really experience for themselves; what we are proud of and what is distinctively unique about living in Fenland and Forest Heath.

The #TinyDance films will be ready very soon so be sure to keep an out on our social media pages or sign up for our newsletter to have it sent direct to your inbox. 

With all that said, where’s my popcorn…?

Written by MarketPlace Young Producer, Jodie Hicks.

Read about Casson & Friends’ Tiny Dance project and watch the final videos here.

To stay up to date with all our project news sign up for our newsletter.

Exploring with Escape from Fort Lagoon

Members of Brandon Creative Forum, the MarketPlace team and Submersion Productions stand together for a photo in Brandon town centre.

Read about the Escape From Fort Lagoon R&D project here.

On Thursday 10th and Friday 11th June 2021, I had the pleasure of accompanying the team behind the immersive theatre game Escape from Fort Lagoon, by Adam McGuigan (Wake the Beast) and Jude Jagger (Submersion Productions), around several towns in West Suffolk and Fenland. They were scouting out possible locations where they could produce their water-based immersive theatre game experience as part of their Research & Development. Alongside this, they were testing out an app which audience members would use during the performance, experimenting with original songs with a choir and meeting lots of local people who would be able to advise and assist them on this journey. 

We started in Brandon and were guided around the town and their local riverside walk by members of Brandon Creative Forum who had some valuable insights into the town and the people who populate it. As the company would need access to a body of water to perform in, they could specify which places of the river were safe to swim in and where performers and audiences could enter the river. We discovered a series of jetty’s which could be ideal for little pockets of performance spaces. 

Next, it was onto Mildenhall where the team met Imogen Radford, a regular ‘wild swimmer’ in the River Lark. She went into great depth about the different safety considerations for swimming in rivers. Safety tips such as wearing waterproof protective footwear and getting into the water slowly to ease your body in gently to the sudden change in temperature and prevent performers and audience members losing their breath. 

Finally, we arrived in March and I helped Godfrey Smith show the team around the area surrounding the River Nene before meeting up with the March Can’t Sing Choir. I have lived and grown up in March my whole life and it was interesting to see it through the theatre company’s eyes. I think I forget to appreciate how green it is and how many open spaces we have on our doorstep. Coming from Manchester and London, they were amazed at just how far you can see and how many wide-open spaces we have.

When we met up with the choir, we split into two groups; one group was trialling the app which Jack Hardiker had designed to test if the choir members could learn some short phrases to sing from their mobile devices, and one group to be taught these singing parts by the choir master Sally Rose. Speaking with Jude and Jack who led the app group, I think they found this exercise especially enlightening as they realised that learning these short songs from an app was no replacement for a choir master who could correct things as she went along, and practise blending these different parts together to make a really beautiful sound. 

On the second day, we met with David Johnson at the Empress Pool in Chatteris where the team experimented with the acoustics of indoor pools and used the time to reflect on what they had learned and brainstorm new ideas for how the show would need to adapt to what they now know. After this, David gave us a walking tour of Chatteris town centre. He provided  the team with information on his experiences of how to organise events and arts projects in Chatteris.

From there we drove to Gildenburgh Water in Whittlesey where the team swam in the lake and learnt about the different safety measures that the owners would insist upon should performers and audience members need to go into the water. We walked around the area and found some quite interesting little patches of field which could be suitable for performance spaces. 

At all of the places that we visited, the team were taking pictures of everything and making notes on what would work and what wouldn’t work at each location. They were taking into consideration factors like how accessible it would be for members of the public, how far people would have to walk, how loud the noise in the surrounding area would be, how enclosed it is and what (if any) access they would have to the water. I believe that actually trying out wild swimming for themselves and learning how they would need to adapt the show to take into consideration what they now know has been a crucial step towards putting on a show here. 

Jodie, Colin and Buster the dog from MarketPlace stand together for a photo in Chatteris town centre with David Johnson, a film maker based in Chatteris, Jude and Adam from Submersion Productions, digital artist & app designer Jack and theatre designer & costume maker Abby.

Also, testing the capabilities of the app they are developing with members of the public and learning what tweaks would need to be made, would not have been achievable without this Research and Development stage, supported by the Arts Council of England with National Lottery funding. 

The project has the potential to be unlike anything Fenland and Suffolk have seen before, so now more than ever I have learnt how important this stage in the creative process is, and how it will now go on to inform so many decisions – both creatively and logistically in the future when Submersion Productions take the plunge and perform it. 

Written by MarketPlace Young Producer, Jodie Hicks.

Read about the Escape From Fort Lagoon R&D project here.

To stay up to date with all our project news sign up for our newsletter.

Crossing the Bridge of One Hair

Making interactive stories online

Marion Leeper reflects on her experience as a storyteller during the period of lockdown, and how she adapted the interactive fun and learning of storytelling in a playgroup setting and transferring it to online, as part of MarketPlace’s commissions programme.

Read about Marion’s project The Molly Whuppie Troubles here.

The Challenge

The folktale heroine Molly Whuppie succeeds in her quest because she is small: she can hide in the giant’s castle without him noticing, and she can get away from him because she is light enough to cross the Bridge of One Hair. As I embarked on the lockdown journey of bringing stories to a virtual audience, I had to take a leaf out of Mollie Whuppie’s book, and make a virtue of a small screen.

The Bridge of One Hair that I’ve had to cross, with help from MarketPlace as part of their Creative Conversations in Isolation commissions, was the big move to telling stories online: how to develop appropriate work that young children can engage with through a screen: finding out what was possible for a technically limited storyteller to offer as an online experience.

A photo of Marion in a glittering tent telling a story to a group of children.

Live storytelling in the early years is a conversation. Young children respond to stories with their whole bodies: not just joining in with actions and rhymes, but pointing, laughing, moving the props around, deciding how the characters are feeling and what they had for breakfast.  

If I wanted to offer young children a valuable storytelling experience, I needed to design a story that gets children moving, away from the screen.  Perhaps they could be more independent, more active, than in a live session.

Developing An Idea

I planned a story in short episodes, with a challenge or adventure to explore between each session. For instance, Molly Whuppie runs away from the giant’s castle through trees, over rocks and across a bridge. I invited the children to make their own obstacle course through, under and across. The volunteer families who tried it out found that the game kept them busy outdoors all day.

I also wanted to offer children chances to play independently – to give locked-down children and adults a break from each other. I asked the children to find treasures and put them in a ‘treasure box’ for a guessing game: some of them carried on making their own collections for days.

Getting Started

I worked with the Oasis nursery in Wisbech to try out the show using a live video call. I was pleased that the children joined in with the story and enjoyed the guessing game with the ‘treasures’ they’d brought. One child who joined from home loved seeing her nursery friends.

A screenshot image of Marion Leeper in her adventure series "Molly Whuppie and the Bridge of One Hair."
A screenshot image of Marion Leeper in her adventure series “Molly Whuppie and the Bridge of One Hair.”

But it was harder work keeping the children engaged and looking at a screen than live storytelling has ever been. It was also hard for families to watch live from home at a fixed time, so I set about making another change – filming a video of the story. 

This was harder than it seemed. The production values that were fine for live sessions were not good enough for recorded film. Young children, used to incredibly talented film-making, from Sarah and Duck to Disney’s Frozen have such great visual literacy now, the language of close-up and long shot, soundtrack and image: they aren’t impressed by a talking head on a screen.

I struggled to learn so many skills – lighting, set-building, framing. Then my film-buddy and mentor, Inés Alvarez Villa, came on the scene. Working remotely, she patiently taught me how to focus a shot, how to film close-up sequences of props and many other skills

She edited the story, which we are launching into the world for families once more in lockdown. Perhaps it will offer them, like Molly Whuppie, a chance for a while to escape their Covid castle.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been developing my early years practice in storytelling for half a lifetime. Learning ways of telling stories online has been particularly hard for me because it felt like starting again from the beginning. But it has been a worthwhile journey. I know that online work is here to stay, I can do more things online, and they don’t take me so long, I know the limits of what I can and can’t do on my own. I’ve had to forge new ways of working with children and their parents too: what will be realistic for parents to do at home? What will make their time with their children easier and more fun, without making too much work for them?

Mollie Whuppie has gone out to many nurseries in the Fenland area, and children all over the place have been busy filling treasure boxes and building obstacle courses. One educator said: ‘The story was amazing, perfectly paced and the interactive parts just made it all the more special – so much learning available in each one!

I feel like I’ve got safely across the bridge with my box of treasure. Now, like Molly Whuppie, I need to put on my adventure shoes and set off on the next part of the story.

Written by storyteller, Marion Leeper.

Read about Marion’s project The Molly Whuppie Troubles here.