PaperZooTheatreCompany

PaperZooTheatreCompany

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dentists, Humbugs and a Suitcase

We never seem to have enough time to do anything these days. I suppose it is a symptom of a busy life, pressures of a full-time job, or maybe it is just that we are getting older. All I do know is that it is almost exactly a year since we updated this production blog. Unbelievable, I know, but true nonetheless.

Have we been idly sitting by, gazing at our collective navels? Not on your nelly! We have packed the last twelve months full of theatrical shenanigans.

Firstly, there was the tour of The Dentist a new commedia by David Griffiths. We toured this to several venues in Yorkshire between February and April 2015. The project was a departure for the company as it was the first time that we have worked with an outside director. David Griffiths is a world renowned mask maker, and an authority on Commedia dell'Arte, and he made sure that we were as true to the style as possible. Our clever, collapsible set was designed by an HND Production Arts student, Aamta Waheed, and the cast included several alumni fromThe Northern School of Creative Industries. It was great to work with Josh Fyson, Sophia Kelly, Steve Normandale, and Dominic Scott on this project.



Photos by Danielle Turner for Paige Turner Productions

An extract from the production was chosen to be performed at a Higher Education conference in July 2015 as an example of staff and student collaboration in practical research.

In September 2015, as part of British Science Week, Paper Zoo were commissioned to work with educational writer, Kate Brennan from Act the Facts, on a new piece of theatre-in-education called Humbug Billy. The play, set in 1858, tells the story of Bradford sweet seller, William Hardaker - 'Humbug Billy' to his friends and customers - who unwittingly sold a batch of humbugs laced with arsenic leading to the death of 20 people. His case prompted new legislation pertaining to the labeling and sale of poisons. The issue of food adulteration has not gone away as recent news stories have shown.


For this project the company was augmented with current HND Performing Arts students, Jason Rankin and Ryan Buck; alumni Sophia Kelly, Steve Normandale, and Richard Orange; lecturer Andy May; and a couple of the O'Keeffe kids! The performances also included live science experiments that invited the audience to try out various tests to identify mystery white powders.




The project has now taken on a life of its own as it has been adapted for touring into Secondary schools. A successful tour was organised and the HND Performing Arts students from The Northern School of Creative Industries took the production into four local schools.

The latest project that we are working on is a production of Claire McIntyre's 1990 play, My Heart Is A Suitcase. Stuart Davies is directing, and we welcome back to the Company Rachel Greiff who last worked with the Zoo on Hard Times. Other cast members are Julia O'Keeffe, Kate Shackleton, Dominic Scott, and Sophia Kelly. We have lots to tell you about this play, and we promise that it won't be so long before we do. Keep an eye out on our website for details of the tour. We will update it as we confirm the venues.

As ever, thanks for stopping by and supporting Paper Zoo Theatre Company. We really appreciate it.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Playing

We have been rehearsing The Dentist, a piece of pure, classic Commedia Dell'arte by David Griffiths, for the past few months. It has been an interesting and challenging journey beset by so many personal hurdles for many members of the cast, but we have constantly reassembled ourselves and pulled together as a group in the true spirit of ensemble. This has demonstrated everything that is so wonderful about being part of a theatre company. There is love, support, humour, and understanding. We are truly blessed to have these experiences in our lives; they are food for the soul, creating memories and knowledge that will feed us through our lives wherever our paths may take us afterwards.
I have found it immensely difficult to give myself to creating these roles at this time. I am struggling to come to terms with my mother's dementia and ill health, being her carer whilst holding down a job, and running a family. But it is the dementia that has shaken me to the core. To see someone changing before your eyes, to see the negative aspects of their personality become magnified is truly horrible. To hold on to the fact that this is not the person we know is bloody hard!
It has been the searching for Arlecchino that has given me something to focus on. To be in the rehearsal studio where I have to focus and take control of my emotions, putting them on one side whilst I concentrate solely on finding this character has not been an easy task. The character is far removed from me.
Now that I have seen that written down, I wonder how far from any of us Arlecchino actually is. He is, I suppose, one aspect of our own character; one of the archetypal parts that make up our whole consciousness. He represents the baser parts of our humanity; he is hunger and gratification, but not greed. He is the innocent, naive part, the child-like part of our psyche. He follows his instincts and desires but unlike the more sinister and aggressive character  Brighella, Arlecchino knows contentment until the next hunger pang strikes! He lives in his senses, and makes decisions based on his 'sense life'. You could say that he is driven by the desire for comfort. There is no sense of him being able to put himself outside his own sense of "what I need" and feel any empathy for another person. There is little chance of him demonstrating any kind of self sacrifice for someone else. He is totally self-centred.
This then led me to design and make his coat. In the play he is described as a "patchwork quilt" and as I was arranging the harlequin patches the discussion arose whether they should be placed in a logical, regular pattern, or in a random sequence. This, I thought, was a very interesting point as Arlecchino's thinking is not random, it is energised by his instincts and he is able to put this energised thinking into practice. He is not like the character of Dottore who is all theory and rambling sentences but little substance. So I decided that there should be a logical pattern to the coat but not symmetrical as this would suggest a balance in his thinking, borne out of an ability to reflect on his actions whereas he is more about action and practice born of need /desire without any reflection to balance it.
Arlecchino is very human. He has humour, friendship, love and relationships. He is not cut off from others or isolated in his misery like the egotistical Pantalone. Neither is he completely self-sacrificing - he likes his comforts too much! He is not 'free' like Flávio who has compassion, kindness, and, despite the best efforts of his father, achieves a kind of balance and resolution at the end of the play. Arlecchino aspires to true freedom but is not quite there yet.

Julia O'Keeffe is a founding member of Paper Zoo Theatre Company and can be seen in several guises in The Dentist.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Julia's Learning Partnerships

As if keeping all of the Zoo Creatures in check, teaching on the HND Performing Arts course at Bradford College, and raising three growing children were not enough to keep a person busy, Company founder member and one-woman engine room, Julia has found time to take on another challenge.

Working in conjunction with The Royal Shakespeare Company and Bradford Theatres, Julia is the Learning Performance Network co-ordinator for the Bradford area. Her role is to provide the artistic and creative input into the LPN which links secondary schools, primary schools, and special schools with the RSC to provide a living, active approach to the teaching of Shakespeare's texts.

The first cohort was set up in September 2013 with Bingley Grammar School, in Bradford, acting as the hub school, and has four further schools all benefitting from regular practical workshops from Julia and other practitioners from the RSC. As well as the students, staff also get to learn the techniques used in the rehearsal room to bring to their teaching; techniques that can be used across all subjects in the curriculum. Students get to grips with Shakespeare's language and imagery in ways that make it accessible and fun. Regular trips to Startford-upon-Avon, as well as visiting productions allow the students to experience the excitement of a full-scale production. The three-year project builds upon the learning undertaking in year one and leads to a Shakespeare festival in year three.

The practice of the LPN is backed up by years of active research into learning and play, and has been written about in many books and articles. There is also a link with the education department at The University of Warwick where Julia has been studying for a post-graduate award in teaching Shakespeare.

The second cohort has now been set up with Samuel Lister Academy taking the lead, and things are all set for work towards a series of performances linked to the RSC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in 2016.

As Julia says,

"This is a wonderful project that empowers students and teachers, parents and communities to get involved and be part of active learning. Shakespeare features even more in our school curriculum now, and if it is to be enjoyed, and for its wisdom to endure, it needs to be brought to life in an active arena. This is what is being given back to education through the LPN, taking active rehearsal room techniques straight from the heart of Stratford and into a classroom near you." 

Friday, 14 March 2014

Welcome to our newest associate artists

We are very pleased to welcome our newest associate artists to the Zoo. Sophia Kelly and Danni Shepherd have joined us recently to be part of the cast for our Spring/Summer 2014 tour of Hard Times. As well as being weavers in the production, Danni will take over the role of Louisa Gradgrind, and Sophia is playing Mrs Pegler and Stephen Blackpool's wife. Both Danni and Sophia are currently studying Performing Arts at Bradford College, and have shown themselves to be very talented and reliable members of the course.

Sophia Kelly

Sophia is in the final year of her HND in Performing Arts, and has been at the College for almost five years. In that time she has taken part in numerous productions both on stage and on screen with the British Youth Film Academy. Her youthful appearance means that she has often been cast to play parts younger than her actual age, for instance, Sophia has appeared with The Touring Consortium's productions of 'Kes' in 2009, and 'To Sir, With Love' at The Alhambra Theatre as part of the national tours of those shows. Sophia has been involved in feature-length and short films with the BYFA, including 'Richard II', 'Faust's Growth', 'The Rochdale Pioneers', and 'Cache' (due to be premiered at The National Media Museum in April) Sophia has just completed her first directing project in which she staged an extract from Tennessee Williams' play 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. We are sure that she will continue to develop her artistic and theatrical vision, and we are delighted to be working with her on Hard Times.

Danni Shepherd


Danni is about to complete her Level 3 Extended Diploma in Performing Arts with the maximum marks of D*D*D* and has impressed everyone with her natural ability and dedication throughout the two years she has been at Bradford College. Danni is much in demand as an actress, and has gained a lot of experience over the last year or so, performing in numerous productions and short-films. Danni is in the process of auditioning for drama school and other training opportunities. She has an audition coming up with the excellent Fourth Monkey Theatre Company ensemble, and we wish her the best of luck with this. Hopefully, Sophia and Danni will enjoy working with us on Hard Times and we may even be able to encourage them to write a post or two about the production process.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Catching Up With The Zoo Creatures

Things may have gone quiet on here for a while, for too long probably, but don't be deceived, the Zoo creatures have not been in hibernation. Whilst the Company as a whole took a rest from mid-September once the Hard Times tour was over, the individual members of the Company have been keeping busy with other projects and activities. The next couple of blog posts will be dedicated to catching up with what people have been up to. After that, we will be bringing you news and views from the Zoo about current productions. Thanks for your patience so far...

The first of the catch up pieces concerns Paper Zoo founder member, David Peel, and the very busy time he has had in the last few months.

After his cameo appearance in Clio Barnard's brilliant British film, The Selfish Giant, Dave was recently cast as a BT engineer in the forthcoming feature film, Altar, which was shot on location in the village of Minskip near Knaresborough. The film, which has a supernatural theme, was written and directed by Nick Willing, and features Olivia Williams (best known for her role opposite Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Birdy etc.)
Apparently, Dave's audition tape caught the attention of the film's producer who immediately saw the charisma and character that Paper Zoo audiences have known and loved in all of his stage appearances. So much so that Dave was offered the role in a matter of days! Dave was not so sure that it had all gone so well,

"To be honest, when I left the audition, I thought I'd blown it because I was rabbiting on at Nick Willing and the others in the room (among them the film's editor, and renowned casting agent Amy Hubbard) I called my agent and said so but within days I had the part! I was so overjoyed at the news. Whatever it was that I did, I must do again!"

Dave has since been on to take on a rather different role, this time that of First Assistant Director on the shoot of a pilot for a new sit-com called 'School on Report'. The project which was directed and co-written by Bradford actor Lee Otway, is aiming to be commissioned for a full series. The four-day shoot took place in two local schools. The first, Thornhill Community School, was used to having cameras on site as it recently featured in the recent hit Channel 4 series, 'Educating Yorkshire'. The second school was Ralph Thoresby in Leeds. The cast is made up of some impressive names given that this is Lee's first directing project. Well-known character actors John Henshaw and Mark Benton were both involved, along with a young cast of talented local teenagers.

"When Lee asked me to help out, my first thought was 'do I want to?' I'm an actor and I know nothing about being an AD. But as soon as the project began I utterly, utterly loved it! It has to be said that it was made easier by everyone on set being just brilliant and understanding of my mistakes. It is another string to my bow, and now all fingers and toes are crossed for Lee and his co-writer Ross Marshall for them to get the commission that they truly deserve and have earned."



As if this were not enough, Dave has also been working with Bradford-based Freedom Studios again. He had previously been part of the small group of actors who had performed the new works in the Street Voices 4 season last year. The company's artistic director, Deborah Dickinson, asked Dave to come and read, along with other local actors, a script by local writer Chris Wilson. The play is about the famous Batley Variety Club and has the makings of a brilliant play. Chris is a talented writer and Freedom Studios are very generous with their time and support for local writers, directors and performers.

You can find out more about Freedom Studios here

Monday, 11 November 2013

David and The Selfish Giant

Founder member of Paper Zoo Theatre Company, David J Peel, has built a reputation for himself as a fine character actor with a flair for both comic and dramatic roles. with memorable turns on-stage with the Zoo as Dogberry in 'Much Ado About Nothing'; Jacob Marley in 'A Christmas Carol'; and a menacing Squealer in 'Animal Farm' amongst many others, David has also taken roles on screen. He has worked on short films with students from the Northern Film School; on television in two of the major soaps; and appeared as a harrassed bus driver in the movie Wild Child.

His most recent screen credit, though, is as Mega Scrap Yard Man in Clio Barnard's acclaimed new movie, 'The Selfish Giant'.

"I play a cold-hearted scrap merchant who refuses to let young Arbor Fenton through the gates with his horse despite him having come to Huddersfield all the way from Bradford."

Although only a small role, David's portrayal of the character raises one of the few laughs in the whole movie, providing some welcome light relief.

"I think that the role represents the colder side of life when things just aren't going for you at all" he adds.

The film tells the story of two Bradford lads, Arbor and Swifty, who are both excluded from school and  get involved in the shady world of 'scrapping' - acquiring items of scrap metal and selling them on to the big scrap dealers.

"It was only a small cameo role but I feel proud to have been involved in such a brilliant and powerful film...it was a fantastic experience for me, and one that I hope to repeat"

The film was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label as Best European film at The Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and has had rave reviews since its general release.


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Eight Years in the Zoo

Paper Zoo Theatre Company will be eight years old in September 2013. Hard Times is our sixteenth production. Not a bad work rate to say that most of us are either in full-time employment, full-time students, semi-retired or, in the case of Julia, a part-time lecturer, full-time mum and home educator of two lively girls. 

The company was formed by the students of a BTEC National Award in Acting course that ran, one evening a week, at Bradford College. The initial intake on the course was twenty two; by the end of the course there were eighteen students, and of those eight had formed the core group that became Paper Zoo. During the course, those Thursday evening sessions became a really special time in the week. The students - most of whom were in their twenties or thirties - came with varying levels of experience, confidence, and knowledge of theatre and acting, but we all learned together and had a great time doing so. 

It seems unlikely that such a group could form in the current climate. The cutting back of adult and community education means that many of the courses like ours have been axed. The fees for those courses that do remain are beyond the financial capabilities of the people who might benefit most from the chance to express themselves, discover their talents and find a voice. We were lucky; the right people got together in the right place at the right time. I think that is one of the reasons that Paper Zoo Theatre Company is so special to us. Working together, in various combinations, is built on the trust and comfort of working with people who have shared the journey so far, and for whom the Company is an emotional investment.

So, we were founded in an educational context. Four of the active company members are teachers with a passion for theatre and the arts. Several of us have had relevant professional experience as actors, directors, dancers, and workshop leaders. We know the industry and have lots of links with people who work regularly in it  we also know, from experience, how difficult it is to get that first job, to gain the initial practical experience, to get your foot onto the ladder.

The Company ethos is one of giving young (and not so young) people the opportunity to gain the experience, and to take some risks at the beginning of their careers. Each of our productions has students involved in some capacity. It may be as associate actors, stage management, technicians or designers, but they work as our colleagues, to a professional standard. In the eight years since 2005 we have worked with more than twenty students. We receive no funding for this (we are totally self-funded) but we have great support from Bradford College, The Bradford Branch of the National Union of Teachers, and, in the past, The National Media Museum. Some of our associates have gone on to drama school: Laura Milnes completed her degree in Contemporary Theatre Practice from The Central School of Speech and Drama in 2010; Emily Thornton has just finished her first year at Italia Conti. Others work in theatres, or have gone on to study at Universities such as Huddersfield, Manchester Metropolitan, and Salford. 

For those of us who teach this is hugely rewarding. The Company gives us the opportunity to develop our own creative practice, to keep up with current issues in the performing arts, and to put theory into practice. To share a stage with our students enriches both parties - per-show nerves are a great leveller - we get to see them develop as performers and the students get to see that we do not ask them to do anything that we are not prepared to do ourselves. 

So that is why, eight years in, the Zoo is still going strong.