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 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. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Director's Notes

Here, Stuart Davies, the director of our show, offers an insight into how and why we chose to work on Hard Times

At the beginning of our adaptation of Hard Times, Sarah, a weaver, invites the audience into Josiah Bounderby’s cotton mill in Coketown.

“Coketown, 1850. In the dark heart of the industrial north-west of England. Halifax (or Bradford, or Leeds, or Bury, or Settle) 2013. Things have changed a lot in 160 years haven’t they? The relations between the classes, the gulf between rich and poor, ideas about education, they’ve altered out of all recognition haven’t they? Well haven’t they? And in 1850 the government was made up entirely of very rich men. That must be different in your day”.

People sometimes ask how we choose which plays to do.
Last summer Paper Zoo was doing just that. We call it planning the future programme and the process largely involves sitting in someone’s front room and saying “What shall we do next?” Then we fix the date of the next meeting and go home.  But somewhere in between the seed of creating a play linking past and present lives had been planted.

It was during this period of reflection that I found myself shouting at the radio. Do you ever do that? I do it quite often. I should probably see someone about it. I was doing it one evening after listening to a politician explaining why it was necessary for poor people to pay for the deficit. Then later that night I was playing music (to calm down!) and by chance put on an old Steeleye Span album when I was struck by the title of a traditional song, Hard Times of Old England. The politician on the radio came back to mind - Hard Times for some, but not for the likes of you, mate.

And of course, Hard Times is a novel by Dickens. It’s about an educational philosophy which concentrates on factual knowledge and crushes imagination. Secretary of State Michael Gove has obviously read it and got the wrong end of the stick. It’s also about economic hardship and working people forever paying the price. The link between past and present lives.

The next step was to write a script, based on the book. Dickens provided one or two quite good lines. Our play is an adaptation so if you know the book you will spot the differences. We hope you enjoy it.

Thanks, Stu

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Hard Times at the Saltaire Festival

We are pleased to announce that we will be performing Hard Times as part of this year's Saltaire Festival.

The show is pencilled in for the 19th of September and will be performed at the Caroline Street Social Club.

Further details, ticket prices and box office contacts will be confirmed as soon as possible.

Until then, many thanks to the organisers of this great local festival for inviting us to take part.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Times Seem To Be Getting Harder

As we move into the final six weeks or so of our rehearsal period, the underlying themes of Hard Times seem to be ever more apposite. In the last week we have heard several speeches from Government ministers on the current state of our nation. Each of them have used 'facts' to demonise those members of society who rely on welfare and state benefits.

Chancellor George Osborne delivered such a speech to workers at a branch of Morrison's in which he explicitly equated those who work as doing 'the right thing' and those who do not work as doing 'the wrong thing'!

There is evidently no understanding of the challenges that ordinary people face in daily life. But what can we expect from someone who has never faced those challenges? An inherited fortune must take the sting out of being poor!

With the welfare 'reforms' being pushed through Parliament with indecent haste, it won't be long before the harsh realities of life for people in 2013 are the same as those of the mill workers and weavers in Bounderby's mill. How's that for progress?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

You mean we have to sing and move at the same time?

Last week, we ran the whole show for a couple of guests who haven't been involved so far. This was so that we could get some feedback on the flow of the action, and whether it all hangs together.
Their presence certainly added to our nerves but also upped the energy. Thankfully, their criticism was all positive and the comments have been very helpful in pinpointing some of the places where we need to look at the pacing of the scenes. With adapting Dickens the problem is not what to leave in but what we can afford to take out. The descriptions are so rich and the characterisations so detailed that we could just recite the book!
So today, in rehearsal we have been taking the feedback on board and reworking a couple of the longer scenes. Finding the gear changes that follow the characters' thought processes is helpful. It is quite a luxury to have time to do this as we usually only have a couple of hours to rehearse in (one of the challenges of not being able to do this full time!) on our two, weekly sessions.
We have also worked on properly choreographing the section where we show the millworkers at their looms. It is at this point that we have a song; "Poverty Knock" and we have enjoyed singing this as a warm-up at the start of rehearsals.
In the run-through the other night we attempted to fit the singing and movement together. The resultant clash of discordant sounds and flailing limbs was not quite what we had envisaged for that section of the play!
Today we watched the video evidence through our fingers (or at least I did!) and agreed that the sequence should be simplified, choreographed and drilled. So, for the first hour of the session we worked on a new sequence that, hopefully, will capture the essence of manual labour at a steam powered loom, accompanied by characterful and tuneful singing!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Dave's blog about Freedom and other things

Hello  everyone!

Just a quick update from some of my time away from the 'mother ship' that is Paper Zoo.

After finishing a tour of Black Beauty with PEEL Heritage last year, followed by a small part in a film shot in Bradford, then a play with one of our other Paper Zoo colleagues, Martin Knowles, I ended up  at the end of January hooking up with the people at Freedom Studios, a well-established, and well-respected Bradford company. 

Basically, Freedom Studios had cast their net far and wide to find, and then promote new writers. 
This process is carried out and then showcased with an event called 'Street Voices'. I was involved in the fourth one of these.

Many hundreds of writers sent their work in, and many were invited to expand on that initial work, and talk  about the process involved in getting to their end result. 

There were, I'm led to  believe, some extremely well written pieces but ultimately it had to come down to just four writers, (as excellent as they all were, but can you imagine the cost of putting on and performing  everybody's work? It would be colossal) 

The writers chosen were Chris Wilson, Emma Hill, Eamon Rooney, with help from Mark Catley, Paulette Edwards and Rav Sanghera. The plays were directed by Mark Catley, Tom Wright and Shakera Ahad. This was a gang of extremely talented people all working out of Freedom Studios.

We put on four shows, over a two hour period, for three nights, at 'The Hub' in Leeds, 'Kala Sangam' here in Bradford, and 'Barnsley Civic Hall'.

 It was, I have to say, a fantastic experience; different styles of direction, different types of actors all offering their own uniqueness.  In my opinion, a constant learning curve was experienced by all.
All three venues practically sold out (thanks to those of you reading this who came) 

I think the most important aspect of the Freedom Studios project was the finding and the showcasing of new, talented writers, who were thrilled to see their work brought to life. 
One of the shows, 'The Bridge' will be performed once more in Centenary Square in Bradford later in March. 
I'm delighted to be playing my support role as 'Harry' again.  

Companies like Freedom Studios are vital for writers to be able to introduce themselves, as it were, to the public, giving them a platform to show people their talents. It’s a shame that there are not more companies like Freedom Studios around.

Right, I'm back to another script now, 'The Lost Special', an Arthur Conan Doyle story adapted by another Bradford writer, Jonathon Hall, and once again directed by our Martin Knowles. The shows will be performed at the now reopened New Bradford Playhouse from the 5th to the 9th March. All ticket monies will go directly to the upkeep and continued running of the New Bradford Playhouse. I hope to see some of you there.

One last plug, (sorry) but don't forget the Zoo’s, 'Hard Times' the Charles Dickens tale, adapted by Stuart Davies. The show is on at various theatres from May 23rd.

Thanks people, big hugs and thanks for supporting / watching.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

The One Thing Needful

"Now what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of service to them."

So says Charles Dickens in the opening lines of his novel 'Hard Times'. Mr Gradgrind, the school master, professes this to be the sole purpose of education. The eradication of any imagination or sense of wonder in children, to be replaced only with simple fact; even for his own children.

It would appear that this has been adopted by the current Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, as his credo in the crusade to remove any form of creativity from the curriculum.

In 'Hard Times', Gradgrind comes to regret the neglect of his charges' artistic and imaginative sides. Indeed, he is left a changed and humble man when his daughter, Louisa, returns to him after escaping her loveless marriage to Josiah Bounderby.

She has no emotional understanding or heart-warmth to deal with her situation; neither have been cultivated in her. "Let me fall", she says, "Your philosophy will not save me."

The one thing most needful in education in particular, and life in general, is the ability to wonder, to imagine, and to empathise with other human beings.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Hard Times Photo Blog Project

We are very pleased to be working with photographer, Michael Laprocina, who is documenting the rehearsal and production process for Hard Times.

Michael is studying for his BA (Hons) in Photography at Bradford College and approached us with the idea of documenting the production process. He will then develop a further body of work based on some of the themes raised by the production as a major project for his final year. We have given him open access to the rehearsal rooms so that he can really become part of the team and capture the whole creative journey. 

Michael has been at two rehearsals so far, either side of the Christmas break, and the first of his photos have been posted on his personal blog. Click HERE to see them. We have also posted a selection of the photos on our website. Michael also very kindly agreed to shoot an image for publicity purposes. 

We hope to have more of Michael's great images, as well as a brief interview with him, soon.