Look back July-October 2017

As this month comes to a close I thought it would be appropriate to look back on some of the larger or more unusual projects I have delivered over the past few months.

 Beltane Annual Gathering: Photo Credit Chris Scott

Back in June I performed two role for the Beltane Annual Gathering. The first was consultation and project management for the design of the space, the second was delivering two training sessions and compeering part of the evening. This year’s annual gathering took place in Chesser House and welcomed those from universities working public engagement, educational organisations as well as those working in community practice. The theme was responding and reusing and as the site was a disused office building it was a fun challenge to convert long, sparse rooms into inviting spaces. A personal highlight for me was the U.V room which matched the overall neon outlined spaces in the rest of the building.

The training sessions I delivered were on Snappy Storytelling and Thinking Creatively for Engagement Success. I really enjoyed working with a wide variety of people to explore how creative skills and imaginative facilitation can transform public engagement projects. Participants of the Snappy Storytelling workshop were also invited to deliver stand-up comedy style versions of their work, many of whom used their sock puppet partners to help deliver this. It is always a real pleasure to create an environment where people feel supported enough and enthused enough to share their work with a wider audience.

July brought me back into focus with my theatre roots as Volunteer Coordinator for the National Festival of Youth Theatre in Ayr. Interviewing, training and supporting four young artists to develop over the festival and reflect on their practice was a huge highlight within the role. The festival itself was a storm of activity from the young performers, youth theatre tutors and invited artists to share a weekend of performance, workshops and social activities.

I was also able to work with young performers at Whale Arts Centre, Wester Hailes to create a performance from scratch in three days. As the culmination of the project was to then see a production of At A Stretch at the Scottish Storytelling Centre I was keen to make a link between my work at that of director Caitlin Skinner’s. After speaking to Caitlin and receiving her full support I began to introduce physical theatre to a group of 5-10 year olds, some of whom were new to drama altogether. To say they rose to the challenge was an understatement. Although we learned that some moves were harder than others the resulting piece was one of my favourites I have been a part of this year. Using At A Stretch’s themes of non-verbal storytelling and connections between people the group at Whale created a strong sharing which was so good that after seeing the professional production one participant said ‘I liked it but they basically stole all of our ideas’. A beautiful misinterpretation of which show was created first but I was glad that my performers saw At A Stretch from the perspective of theatre-makers not just audience members. Other feedback included ‘That show was a little bit magic’ and I couldn’t agree more.

Curiosity Forest photo credit: Chris Scott (iphone shots by me)

August and September were both devoted mainly to creating the Curiosity Forest. Beginning with training sessions for researchers in storytelling and gamification as well as one-to-one sessions to help develop their work I was pleased to see the diversity of content created. I also delivered similar training for researchers at Napier University who were having their own Explorathon in Whale Arts Centre. The feedback from that event was brilliant and is a great example of Napier’s public engagement work. The Curiosity Forest was split into two events: an evening for adults including activities and story-telling versions of research and a family day of activities. I think the decorations this year were the best I have done, the only downside is now that I have my own house I have to store those mushrooms in my attic rather than leaving them at my parent’s house. Ah the unlikely downsides of homeownership.

October has largely been about preparing for Christmas. As a true Halloween fan this has been unusual for me but a separate post will explain my plans for December. Smaller but still very exciting projects this month have taken me outside in the open air. Street Arts is now running in Broomhouse as well as Wester Hailes and so I got to make my Broomhouse debut which included creating mini performances with flying bikes and zombies. Ideal at this time of year. I also got to spread my performance wings a little again by convincing the general public visiting the haunted forest in Kelburn to enter the haunted house. The event itself was a massive success and was really well planned out. Walking through winding paths, through buildings and being scared at every possible opportunity – it really was brilliant fun to be part of the team for a few days.

I have purposely left out my largest project this summer Small Stories for the Institute of Physics which has its own dedicated post here.

For more information about my plans for December check out this post, clue it includes two castles and one Santa Claus.

Winter Projects

This winter could not be more exciting for me. Normally I slightly dread the creep of dark mornings and cold toes but with so much to look forward to this year I cannot wait.

Panto presents: Jack and the Beansprouts rehearsal 2016

Panto presents: Jack and the Beansprouts rehearsal 2016

My first Christmas show this year takes place in Glenskirlie Castle which for those who don’t know is Santa’s Scottish Distribution Centre. Guests will be invited in to the real elves workshop in Scotland and get to taste our favourite foods as well as meeting Santa. Touring the Logistics and Operations room means seeing how we plan Santa’s route and find out the science behind getting Santa down chimneys. The elves are on hand to entertain families through breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Everyone gets to meet Santa too. Performances run every weekend from the 3rd-24th of December and tickets sold out back in September. I am sure I will have plenty stories to tell once we are up and running too.

My second Christmas show of the year takes place in another castle! Inside Stirling Castle’s Great Hall no less. Guests will be invited to meet Cinderella and Buttons before hearing their story. Buttons is worried that Cinderella doesn’t remember her Happily Ever After and it might just be all his fault. Can you help Buttons save Cinders? Or is it Cinderella who is right all along. This interactive two-hander pantomime is designed to delight families while making use of its incredible surroundings. Don’t be surprised to see our heroes wandering the halls, making friends before the show even begins. Meet Cinderella and Buttons on Sunday 3rd of December at Stirling Castle.

Finally no December for me could be complete for me without a trip to the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh. Bringing a touch of pantomime to the wards again in the form of storytelling which is always a favourite in the calendar for me.

 

Small Stories and the Festival of Physics

Small Stories has been the longest project for me in 2017. Working for the Institute of Physics to create and deliver stories and workshops for under 5’s and their grownups around science concepts.

Creating work for this age group is brilliant and the project has allowed me to trial ideas – toddlers simply walk off if they are bored, you get some pretty direct feedback. Working with multiple groups from young parents, dad-focused groups and parent-run organisations and art groups across Edinburgh, Easterhouse and Fife I have learned a lot and developed my ideas.

As the project trial I wrote four stories and accompanying workshops:

The Falling Down Question – Bella wants to know why acorns fall and sycamore seeds whirl through the air. Inspired by a squirrel and with the help of her friends (that’s you!) she explores gravity and tests paper helicopters.

Ali Noise Maker – Ali’s house is a noisy house, there are lots of sounds around. But Ali doesn’t like loud noises, besides, he doesn’t even know what sound is or how it reaches our ears. An exploration of sounds and vibrations.

Three Little Ducks and the Great Bath Experiment – The Three Little Ducks have a very sensible bath routine and one Great Splashy Visitor who plays with them. Until one day the toys that float meet toys who sink…can this exploration of buoyancy end well?

The Day the Sun didn’t come to breakfast – Callum is a colour-catcher and spends his days finding new colours for his collection. But when the sun doesn’t come up one morning he realises how important light is in colour, will the sun ever come back?

Over the past few months I have enjoyed exploring these stories many groups who have invited me in to their weekly lives. I am very excited to announce that Small Stories will be available to the public as well on the 4th and 5th of November as part of the first ever Festival of Physics taking place in Edinburgh.

This weekend only I am handing over to the delightful Beth Godfrey who will be telling these stories and experimenting with 2-5 year olds. There is something quite exciting about handing over a project to another artist, even for a little while. Small Stories has potential to reach a huge audience and inviting another storyteller to help deliver the sessions is a brilliant sign of growth.

 

Curiosity Forest 2017

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As unlikely as it sounds the festival I dreamt up and created in a three week time-line with no funding in 2015 is about to return for its third year.

The 29th of September 2017 will see the Curiosity Forest open its doors for the third time, and will be the second year that the festival will run as part of Explorathon. At the end of September Universities across the continent take part in 24 hours of its most creative public engagement as part of European Researchers Night; Explorathon is Scotland’s coordinated effort.

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This year the content is entirely from PhD research teams from Scottish universities and will be free for the public to attend and interact with bespoke-designed games and challenges. Friday night will contain all the brilliant activities on display across the weekend as well as tales from our Research Raconteurs who will spins yarns about rare languages, systems of trust and question why we question things. The Lates event will allow adults to grab a glass of wine under a tree canopy (indoors, of course) and get hands-on with cutting-edge research from 6pm til 9pm.

Doors open on Saturday’s family event at 10am and will allow audiences to fire lasers using their voice, make blueprints of the natural world and learn how to fly a drone in the Arctic and that’s just for starters! With no tickets required and the event being free of charge, families can come and go as it suits them until 5pm. The Curiosity Forest will transport you from the centre of town to a woodland where science and art are at your fingertips.

Audiences will also be able to pick up a free copy of EU:Sci magazine on both days. The new issue is about the future of science, not to be missed.

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The Curiosity Forest will take place in the Charteris Centre, 138/140 The Pleasance, Edinburgh EH8 9RR.

Friday 29th September 6pm until 9pm - research activities and storytelling, bring your ID for the bar.

Saturday 30th September 10am until 5pm - research activities for families.

Photo credit: Chris Scott

Explorathon 2016 - reflections

This year for me has been building up to producing a Curiosity Forest that has a legacy. Working with Beltane Public Engagement to connect researchers, provide training opportunities and invite them to take part in public engagement events.

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Having worked with a range of researchers over three training sessions in the run up to this years event I really felt that the Curiosity Forest was building a community. The researchers I worked with were diverse in their respective fields of study but united in their enthusiasm and creativity. I couldn't have been happier with the process when I realised a room full of PhD candidates were throwing themselves fully into making sock puppets for our public speaking training. It really was a sight for sore eyes.

Widening training opportunities meant that volunteers for the event also included masters and undergrad students as well as a retired scientist and storyteller. It was fanstatic to have a huge range of talent present across the weekend.

The partnership with Beltane and Explorathon came from my reaslisation that adults could benefit directly from the Curiosity Forest without needing to bring children. Watching parents interact with activities last year reminded me that outside-the-box-thinking events should not be solely for children and their grown-ups. Friday 30th September included all the researchers you could have asked for, snappy storytelling, hands-on activities, colouring-in and event a science ceilidh.

Saturday and Sunday reverted back to a family-friendly audience while still encouraging adults to engage in science and art. As the weekend progressed from an Explorathon (European researcher based) event into a Fun Palace (community arts and science) we saw more activities from non-researchers including storytellers, our own illustrator, Blair Drummond Safari park, Glasgow Science Centre and the RSPB. Blending current research with more familiar scientific outreach worked well and provided a nice balance to the day.

Over the course of the weekend five hundred and eighty eight people took part - which was brilliant of course. Though I know next year we can get even more people involved in the event and I look forward to welcoming back this years exhibitors, meeting news ones and continuing to provide training opportunities that encourage us all to play with science.

An enormous thank you goes out to everyone who helped over the past few months, visited, exhibited or helped make a woodland.

 

Photo credit: Chris Scott

European Researchers and the Curiosity Forest

What have an indoor woodland, Edinburgh's most engaging researchers and I got in common?

We are all part of European Researchers Night 2016.

This year I am delighted to announce that the Curiosity Forest will not only cater for families as it did last year but also provide an night for adults to see the forefront of current research.

The Curiosity Forest is part of three confirmed events for Explorathon - Scotland's addition to ERN. As well as research in the woodland there will be events in Ocean Terminal for Leith Labs and at WHALE in Wester Hailes.

On Friday 30th September between 5pm and 9pm audiences are invited to Edinburgh Methodist Chuch, Nicholson Square for a chance to explore and learn. Researchers will be providing the full programme of events that evening including short-snappy story-telling, games and hands-on activities all relating to their work.

As part of the preparations for this event I will be running training sessions for researchers to help them develop activities, stories and talks tailored to the Curiosity audience. I am thrilled to be working with such a diverse group of participants in a truly creative way and look forward to updating you all on our progress together.

If you are a researcher and would like to take part but havent registered a note of interest yet please do so here

The Curiosity Forest 2015

"Everyone is an artist, everyone is a scientist" 

Highlights from the Curiosity Foreston 3rd October 2015 as filmed by Straightcut Media. This is the project I came up with as a response to the UK wide Fun Palace events by creating an indoor woodland full of free arts and science events for families in Edinburgh.

The moto of Fun Palaces mirrors my gloriously mixed career path. As a facilitator, theatre-maker and science communicator I have engaged communities across Scotland and abroad. When I was introduced to the concept of creating a free community event celebrating art and science for my local community it felt right for me to make my own event under the Fun Palaces UK banner.

Inspired by other Fun Palace makers in Edinburgh I created a miniature festival in just three weeks. Turning Tech Cube, Summerhall place into an indoor woodland and filling it with art and science activites for families. Even with a limited capacity we had families queuing (and waiting patiently, thank you) out the door. Over three hundred members of the community came to take part. The Story Glen offered poetry, animal stories, music therapy and a science ceilidh workshop. Across from the Glen families could; make their own Lush bath bombs, help Heriot Watt map the grey squirrel population with their craft skills, make masks with the Ecology Centre, Find out about fossils with the Cockburn Geology Museum, perfect pocket puppets with the Festival Theatre, play in the shadow forest or chill over colouring-in with illustrations from artist Gemma Valentine.

 

This year the festival will be bigger than ever. Spanning two days, in a larger venue and more content than ever before. On the 1st and 2nd of October 2016 the Curiosity Forest will open its doors once more to let families inside the outside; celebrating art, science and culture. If you would like to be involved running one of the activities, have an idea for a story-session or other creative element then get in touch.

 

wordcloud of audience feedback from the 2015 curiosity forest

wordcloud of audience feedback from the 2015 curiosity forest