How Paul Climbed Into The Moon

By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15

For me, The Boy Who Climbed Into The Moon was one of the highlights of the exetreme imagination festival. The heart-warming story, full of adventure and limitless imagination was the perfect excuse to relive childhood’s boundless excitement.

Walking into the theatre, I was very aware that I was the oldest person there, barring the parents, dragged along by their very excited children. It was only the second time I had been in a theatre by myself and I was very nervous.

As soon as the play started, my nerves drained away. I enjoyed it as much as the children – maybe a little more …

The play was an adaptation of David Almond’s children’s book about a boy named Paul, who one day decides he wants to touch the sky. On the highest floor of his tower block, he meets Mable, who might be called Molly, and they embark on a wonderful adventure. With a lot of help from the community, Paul climbs a wobbling ladder up into the sky to see if the Moon is simply a hole in the sky.

Theatre Alibi brought the story to life with a perfect contrast of bizarre moments (flying, talking dogs, for instance) and beautiful moments, which really reminded you of the good in humanity.

Although Theatre Alibi often create productions from original scripts dreamt up by their Associate Writer, Daniel Jamieson, they decided to go with a well-known book.

“It’s something familiar – plus they are great stories full of drama and imagination,” said Ruth Weyman, the Executive Producer of Theatre Alibi. “Dan and Nikki (our Artistic Director) went and read lots of books that were aimed at the right age group (5 – 11s) and really fell in love with David’s story … They were drawn to the idea that anything is possible, and also that the characters in the story are very supportive of each other. There’s a lot of love there.”

The production grew from a first draft, that included as much action as possible and was followed by some testing of props – attempting to work out the scale (the moon is very big!). Lots of different instruments were experimented with to underpin the emotions of the play. Finally, an accordion was chosen, inspired by the folk music of Northumberland, where David Almond is from.

The music gave the performance an extra layer. As Paul was running up the stairs, it was an excited jig, that made you feel as though you were panting up the stairs with him (although I wasn’t because I’m not fit enough to run up any set of stairs, any time soon).

All of the hard work came together brilliantly and Paul’s journey was laid out before us. He bounces up the stairs of his tower block, wanting to touch the sky. Exhausted, he reaches the very highest floor and sneaks his hand out of the window.

That was very poignant for me. There’s nothing like putting your hand out of a window and feeling the air brush your skin, like it’s shaking your hand, still slightly damp with water vapour. Maybe I’m the only person who’s ever done that, but watching Paul reach out into the wide expanse of the sky, I felt that sensation of cold air brushing through fingers again.

“My favourite bit is when Paul puts his hands out of the window, and his imaginative description of what the sky feels like,” said Jordan, who played Mabel and Fortuna.

The whole play was very emotive, exploring themes such as family, war and loss. There were some very sincere moments amongst the laughter that stuck with me, as I left the theatre. The emotions were relatable to like with Benjamin, who lives with his head in a bag as he is too scared to come out. I think we all have days when we want to walk around with our head in a bag, but adventurous little Paul, with his dream of reaching the Moon encourages him to be brave.

The production focussed on helping each other, from Paul helping Benjamin to come out of his garden to the whole tower block lift the ladder up the side of the building for Paul to use to reach the moon.

“I think my favourite bit of the show is the sequence from ‘Friends and Neighbours’ up to us lifting the ladder and the lights going on. The set looks so beautiful in that moment and it always has such a lovely reaction from the crowd,” said Sian, who played Paul and his mother.

There’s an amazing moment when Benjamin suddenly realises he couldn’t be happier and starts dancing around. We all spend so much time focussing on all of the bad things, that sometimes it’s good to see someone just dance around like that.

One of the things that made this event stand out so boldly was the extraordinary set, full of colours and shapes, pieced together to form a city skyline. It was very small, so the idea of the city-scape opening up to reveal the Moon was perfect.

“Scale is a key image – Paul is physically small in relation to the others and is often, from a perspective low to the ground, looking up above him,” said Ruth.

During the creative process, it was quickly decided that Paul would be played by a puppet. I have worked with a lot of puppets (I know it’s a weird thing to have done as a child), but only ever from behind a rather shaky screen made from drainpipe and curtain. It always seemed quite claustrophobic and shut out the audience. As a puppeteer, you couldn’t see the audience without peeping through gaps in the curtain.

So, the idea of the puppet being brought into the foreground really intrigued me. I’m afraid I think of myself as a bit of a puppet connoisseur (I’ve been to one class!) and the interaction between human and puppet was heart-warming. It made Paul real.

From my puppetry days, I know how hard it is to work a puppet. They have to be constantly kept moving, even if the spotlight isn’t on them. Not only this, but you can never show the workings of the puppet to the audience, so everything had to be properly placed and planned.

“You don’t often see the protagonist in a play like this played by a puppet. So, that’s a lot of movement to choreograph,” said Ruth.

It gave a sense of scale between the children and the adults. It also meant that the children, Paul and Fortuna, had a creative edge that the adults didn’t have. They could literally do anything.

The production didn’t come without its challenges. Three people, three puppets and a musician meant that some of the book’s characters had to be left out. The play had to be around an hour long in order to keep the audience’s interest. But it all came together to create a magical story that I’ll never forget.

 

Theatre Alibi are hoping to tour The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon in the spring of 2018, taking it to larger theatres across the UK. By Christmas, over 13,000 children will have seen the show in their school.

Founded by graduates of the Exeter University Drama course, Theatre Alibi has been in Exeter for over 30 years, creating plays for children and adults. Their next production Fish Eye, by Daniel Jamieson, will be at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter in February 2017.

Michael Morpurgo: Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time!

A comfy chair, a bag of books, and Michael Morpurgo.

It sounds oddly like a book itself, doesn’t it?

Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time! was a talk celebrating Morpurgo’s newest book of the same name. The book is based on real events in his and his wife Clare’s charity, Farms for City Children, formed in 1976. After giving some background on what the charity provides, Michael started to read to us from his book, which surrounded a silent boy working on the farm. The story was incredibly heartwarming, and dealt with a serious theme that remains very relevant today: the child was one of the “Vietnamese Boat People”.

The Vietnamese Boat People were refugees fleeing from Vietnam after the Vietnamese War. We’ve come a long way since the Vietnamese War, but refugees are becoming more and more widespread by the day. Refugees who have lost their entire families to war; refugees who have no choice but to flee to a foreign country and try and survive. Mothers and fathers still have to put their children on boats and sent them away, hoping for the best; children still have to watch their parents disappear as they leave the warzone, probably wondering if and when they will ever see them again.

The stories we often hear in the news – stories of children who have come to another country, waiting for their parents, unwilling to accept that their parents will never come – are heartbreaking. It really puts life into perspective to turn on the news and see families being torn apart.

Our response to these refugees, however, is to treat them like something sub-human. I’ll never forget the news story about the people holidaying, approached by starving refugees begging for food, only to be turned away. The people holidaying were in the news complaining. Saying their holidays had been ruined. There is a reason these refugees are fleeing their own countries. They don’t come to other countries because they want to face the peoples’ disgusting prejudice. They come because they have no other choice. They come because they’re desperate.

So of course, the fact that the protagonist of Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time! is a small Vietnamese refugee who either can’t or won’t speak immediately struck a chord with me.

As its author read out the story, I felt a profound sense of sorrow, despite the beautiful story and the obvious love that’s been poured into it. It was amazing, and surprising, to hear someone actually viewing a refugee, not just as a person, but a person whose plight is pitied, and boundaries are respected. Nobody tries to make the boy speak in Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time! There are some points when other characters in the book wonder about his past, but they never force an answer.

After reading half of the story, Michael described the reasons he began writing children’s fiction. When he and his wife were both teachers, he told us that he observed how bored and tired the children always were. They didn’t enjoy literacy; they were too tired to enjoy it. One of Mopurgo’s fellow teachers, however, was determined to change this, and decided to allow reading time within the lessons for the children. Michael told us how amazing it was to him, that all of these children, who were usually so indifferent and so exhausted by everyday school life, could get so excited and enthralled with books. They loved stories – that much was clear. He found himself inspired by this new idea, and decided to dedicate his time to writing, to try and inspire children to fall in love with stories again.

It was absolutely fascinating to get an insight into how Michael Morpurgo’s mind works in the writing process. When asked where he gets his ideas, he simply said, “From people.” He went on to describe how often he might hear an inspiring conversation, or see an interesting person, and be inspired to write an entire story about it. When asked how he turns ideas into stories, he introduced a new way of writing.

Inspired by Ted Hughes, Morpurgo’s method of writing focuses almost entirely on thought. He told us that he will never write a story as soon as he gets the idea; sometimes, he’ll leave the idea to simmer for weeks in his brain, until it’s completely formed in his head. Only then will he write it down. If he ever gets “Writer’s Block”, Michael told us that the idea is almost never formed properly, and instead of forcing the story to come, he will return to his mind for what he calls “Dream Time”.

I’d never considered this method of writing before. I’ve always used Stephen King’s method – instead of staring at a blank screen, I just write whatever comes into my head, never forcing it, but allowing it to flow in “free-writing”. Dream Time is a whole new ball game, and I was surprised to hear that Morpurgo took twenty minutes to write the short-story version of The Fox and the Ghost King. It completely changed my perspective, and inspired me to start listening to conversations, and giving ideas time to develop in my mind rather than forcing it out.

Speaking of The Fox and the Ghost King, Michael discussing this book in particular was the highlight of the talk. When BBC Radio called him and asked him to write a fairytale inspired by Leicester City Football Club, Morpurgo was reportedly baffled. He’s not a football fan, he told us; what was he supposed to do with this? What followed was a perfect illustration of how fantastical an imagination this best-selling author appears to have.

First, he examined Leicester itself. What exciting things had happened in Leicester, he thought? What major thing had happened recently, involving a dead king and a car park?

Of course! King Richard III had recently been found buried under a car park. This got his mind thinking (Michael’s, not Richard’s). He could use this. But it wasn’t enough.

Leicester City Football Club, he told us, is called “The Foxes”. He began to put two and two together, and pondered what it is foxes like to do most. And then it struck him.

Foxes like to dig.

And so came The Fox and the Ghost King, a story involving a family of foxes, who also happen to be football fans, and the ghost of King Richard III. It’s such a wonderful, bizarre concept – definitely not what I expected. It’s brilliant that someone could be told to write a fairytale about Leicester City Football Club, and write one about literal foxes and ghosts of dead kings. It’s definitely not the first thought that would come into most people’s minds, which really highlights the creativity behind it.

The talk ended with questions. A lot of them were the same questions you hear all the time, but there was one that really caught my attention. What inspired you to write Kensuke’s Kingdom? From that question arose an entire story about a letter from a young boy, who wrote to Michael Morpurgo requesting a story. This boy spoke highly of Michael’s other books, praising them to the point of telling him that they were the best books in the entire world, much better than Harry Potter. There was, of course, a but. The boy criticised the female protagonist in one of his favourite Michael Morpurgo books, because the boy was a boy, you see, and was not a girl, so could Michael please write a book with a boy in it? Thus, Kensuke’s Kingdom was created.

The talk was, overall, heartwarming, humorous, and even exciting. Having Michael Morpurgo read to you makes you feel like a child again, but in a sunny, nostalgic way. A lot of people say you should never meet your childhood heroes. I think I speak for everyone in the theatre when I say that in cases such as this, that just isn’t true.

 

A special thank you to Michael Morpurgo. You can find out more about him here: https://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/

You can learn more about Farms for City Children here: http://farmsforcitychildren.org/

 

An Interview with Meg Rosoff

Explicit content: is it becoming too prominent in fiction classed as “young adult”?

We don’t ask the same of adult books. Why is fiction for young adults any different, especially since “young adult” fiction is often enjoyed by actual adults? And what about writing: are writers being criticised for expressing creative freedom through the medium of fiction?

I interviewed author Meg Rosoff about this and more, and her answers have given me a lot of food for thought.

Learning British Sign Language in Tiger! Tiger!

By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15

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As part of the session, I acted out a tree. It was a well-timed photo!

 

I went into the session knowing two words in BSL.

I came out realising BSL is far more than words.

The session was led in sign language and was translated into spoken English for those who couldn’t read BSL. As I watched the exuberant signs and facial expressions, I found that, although I needed an interpreter, the visual jimw-exetreme-imagination-friday-044impact of BSL translated much of the meaning of the words.

The session was all about tigers. We learn two different signs for tiger: one where we made our hands into vicious claws and another where we ran our hands along imagined horizontal stripes on our bodies.

But it was more than just what we did with our hands. I always thougjimw-exetreme-imagination-friday-028ht BSL was simply signed with hands, but we used our facial expressions as well. Through our expressions, we showed what sort of tiger we were, with fearsome snarls for scary tigers and placid smiles for sweet ones.

We started off by saying our names and then our favourite animals became our signed names. We had dogs, djimw-exetreme-imagination-friday-041olphins, rabbits and monkeys. I, of course, chose a turtle, the sign for which is one hand flat on top of the other and wiggling my thumbs around to look like flippers.

 

Then we acted out different emotions, happy, angry and tearful. It was amazing how easy it was to read other people’s expressions simply from how they looked at you.

Using this, we created and acted out our own little stories, using expression and actions, but absolutely no words. It was very hard to think of the right facial expression, but it really made me think about how we all communicate in ways other than our words.

As we grew better and more confident with our wordless acting, we added different elements to our stories. It started off with a story that was simply about tigers. Then we had to add another animal and finally add a human. The last one was hardest as it also required us to use size. We had to show large jimw-exetreme-imagination-friday-047and small characters and act out both.

I’ve done a lot of things as part of this festival, but never did I think I would be acting on my hands and knees, pretending to be a tiger. I had to act a tiger with its tail being pulled, a tree and a ship’s captain thrown overboard because she lost control of the ship when a mouse bit her foot.

There were some brilliant stories created in very little time, including tigers scared of chickens and tigers having a snowball fight.

We finished with a narrated story, acted out in BSL. Everything we had learnt explained the performance as Matt signed a tiny, sweet kitten and a ferocious, big tiger. Everything from changing from a sweet to a snarling face and a change from soft, flowing movements to sharp angles in his hands told the story.

It was a really fun, as well as being a very important lesson. From the oldest to the youngest, we all learnt something about BSL.

 

Afterwards I interviewed one of the leaders, Matt, on the workshop and the importance of BSL.

How important is it for children to attend these sessions?

I think it’s really important because they’re attitude for the future, if they see deaf people out in the streets, it’s going to be normalised to them – like in Wales they speak Welsh, in Scotland Gaelic, in Britain and England, English, and really British sign language is part of British culture. It’s part of the citizens that we have here today, so really I think it’s very important for their future attitude towards deaf people.

I think we should encourage children in school more, [make BSL] a part of the curriculum to make it more immersive and just future where they meet deaf people. Maybe children might have this workshop and they encourage more people to come and then they know in the future how to have that initial first step with building relationships with deaf people because it could be that they look back and think, “Hang on I had that workshop and actually it was absolutely fine” and, if that happens, then I feel the aim’s been achieved.

What sort of thinking went into this workshop?

Really, the workshop was lovely. It went really well today. It was sort of a taster because it was something that it’s the first time it’s ever happened and also for a lot of people maybe they don’t know any sign language, so it was just for them to have a fun way of learning the language and learning how we do things in terms of body language, facial expression and just for them to pick it up. And at the end having a story and thinking “Oh, so that’s what it’s about” in terms of the grammatical structure, how we use our facial expressions to express certain words in English into sign language and it was just like really for a taster for them.

I grew up in Wales, so there were a lot of Welsh speaking people and I wasn’t really privy to that because I’m deaf, but the structure I was able to recognise and it became normalised for me, so I was part of that culture and part of that language and that’s what I wanted here for people to pick up, “Okay that’s how sign language is represented, that’s how they represented it in words, so that’s what I wanted.”

What was your favourite part of today?

Okay so really to see them create their stories at the end – I loved that. You know they had the animal, they had the other animal and the person and just looking at it, it grew and grew. They had their facial expressions. They were more confident. They moved about more. Obviously for children it’s very normal for them to be very active, but it was just nice how they learnt the grammar, the different words. Obviously English we’ve got past and future tense whereas in BSL, sign language, you move about and have facial expressions to show those tenses and it was just great to see it all come together at the end, so that was my favourite part and that’s a skill that hopefully they’ll take home and use in the future.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

No, I just think it’s important that children are aware – well adults and children – to see BSL and I want to see it grow and become more popular in the media, so more people become more intrigued, they want to be more involved and think “What is that? I want more of that.” And I would encourage more people in the future to see something accessible –maybe meeting more deaf people, maybe having more workshops with deaf people running the workshops because obviously as you know we’ve had more equality for women and gender, before it would be a man that would teach, now it’s more women that are teaching and leading. And that’s what we want. We want hearing and deaf people to have more equal opportunities and have more equal opportunities to do things like this and to have that attitude that actually deaf people can. Hearing and deaf they’re equal and they’re the same and they’re role models for the future.

 

Moose Allain Workshop

Moose’s fully-booked workshops certainly delivered great success. He his audience of keen young artists was completely transfixed by what he had to show, providing creative input into a collective narrative. Moose started by introducing himself and his work. I was surprised to see his incredible scope of work from doodled cartoons to realistic watercolour landscapes. His work for the Tate Gallery L.S. Lowry exhibition and Evolver magazine cover were also impressive.

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He then went on to reveal a white sheet of paper with two coloured dots as an antidote for artist’s block. Rather that fearing a blank piece of paper he showed how the artist can respond to the organic forms of random paint marks. This way, the story comes from the art rather than vice versa. This method worked extremely well and it was a pleasure to see Moose drawing in front of an audience. In particular, the children responded well to his requests for narratives ideas -the names of characters and what they were saying to each other. At the end of the exercise the group had created Bertie Bean and Donald D’uque engaging in a tense confrontation with a sword and a leaf.

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The audience were then given the chance to try Moose’s method themselves and work from a few coloured paint splatters. His mode of working proved extremely successful and many children produced exciting illustrations with a quirky story. Moose was always there to encourage and question, nurturing a broad range of narratives.

The feedback was very positive from both children and parents, with Freya saying “Just by seeing spots on a piece of paper can make everything more exciting.” And it really was an exciting experience. If you are interested in hearing more about his work and background, read the interview in the link below.

https://exetremeimagination.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/moose-allain-interview/

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Moose Allain Interview

I am very excited about Moose Allain being a guest of the exetreme imagination festival. His fusion of art and narrative results in wonderfully quirky style that cannot be defined as just cartoon, illustration or satire. It is this undefinable nature of his work that makes him so exciting and relevant, while his use of twitter gives his artistic musings a sense of immediacy. Come along to Exeter Library at 10 am on 26th October to meet the man himself and take part in a drawing workshop. Read more about the event and book tickets here: https://exeternorthcott.co.uk/calendar/moose-allain-drawing-workshop/

How has your use of social media changed the way you work?

It’s had a huge influence. It took me a while to realise that I wasn’t ‘spending too much time’ on Twitter, I was writing jokes, writing stories, drawing cartoons, and when Vine came along I started animating. I realised that rather than distracting me from work twitter was inspiring me. The immediacy of an audience reaction is compelling. But I was also meeting all sorts of interesting people, some of whom wanted to buy my work, others to commission me. Twitter can be a kind of portfolio/showreel/shop window where you can show off to an appreciative audience. As an artist of course you want an audience. Where is that audience, traditionally? I suppose galleries. If you’re successful, maybe in books. Suddenly social media means that you can have that audience and build it. This is where your art takes place, where your ideas reach other people. Lots of artists don’t get that direct contact with people who like their work.

Of course it can  also be a fun place to socialise and be silly. I’ve made lots of real life friends through Twitter.

Why are you drawn to a ‘childish’ style when dealing with adult themes?

The short answer is that’s all I’m capable of! The thing you’re trying to do is communicate ideas or tell stories in the best way you can. I love people like Modern Toss and David Shrigley who make a virtue of crude drawing styles. But I think cartoons, comic strips etc have long been ta primary medium for dealing with very serious issues, as witnessed by recent awful events in France. They allow you to look at things from a different angle, but also to leaven unpalatable events with humour, and they are quick, to the point. They can be throwaway, or stay with you long after. To be fair though, most of my work isn’t that serious, I’m not really a satirist or topical cartoonist. However, I do think playfulness and comedy are deadly serious pursuits.

Your work could be described as illustration, cartoon or satire. What are the advantages of producing indefinable art?

I always struggle when people ask what my work’s like because I do lots of different things. Recently I’ve taken to describing myself as a professional doodler as I think this best describes my creative processes. The advantages are that I can try all sorts of things – I’ve even done a couple of bits of stand up – and it still falls within the general heading of ‘artist’. It’s very liberating and has lead to some experiences I would never have had if I’d stuck to painting landscapes.

Is it the idea of storytelling that inspires your cartoons or do you find the act of creating art leads to the formation of stories?

It is both. I have discovered that you don’t have to have a story in your head to make stories. I often start literally with a blob on a piece of paper and ask myself what – or more often who – is this? This is the doodling element, just allowing your mind to wander, to play, to react, to imagine. The workshops I run are all about this idea – through a series of simple steps you can start from nothing and create stories you didn’t know were inside you.

Other times of course ideas pop into your head that you want to turn into something. Treating twitter as a medium certainly inspired me to write short stories, allowing nebulous thoughts to harden into an idea for a story that I would then write directly into tweets. It felt a bit like performance, improv, where you know roughly where you’re going, but not how you get there or how it ends. It’s exciting because you know people are watching.

How do you use words and captions in your art?

I’ve always loved cartoons, comic strips, graphic novels, maps, diagrams and so on, so adding words to pictures, or rather seeing them as integral is natural to me. Adding a caption to a doodle can transform a pleasant but inconsequential drawing into something thought provoking, funny or suggestive of a story which hopefully sets the viewer off on their own imaginative trail. I think it’s also an interesting by-product of drawing – I often find my mind goes off on all sorts of thought trails while my hand is occupied. Playing around with words in my mind while drawing was how I started tweeting. It’s almost as if you’re capable of two types of thinking, your hand is busy thinking about shapes, your mind is free to wander. One enables the other. It’s not just drawing that has this effect: washing up, mowing the lawn, walking the dog are often creative times for me.

How have your past experiences in theatre and architecture informed your current subject matter? Do they influence your wonderful variation in style?

That’s an interesting question. Yes, I think they both have in different ways, the architecture more obviously in terms of subject matter, but also in giving me a grounding in design disciplines. I don’t come from an art school background where I get the impression education tends to be about self expression (judging from many of the ‘artist statements’ I’ve seen). Architecture is much more client oriented and a legacy of the kind of work I was involved in as an architect was that I love participatory work, getting other people involved in contributing to pieces, such as the Pet Names & Favourite Words project. I also taught architecture for several years and realised how important the ‘crit’ system where you regularly present your projects is. Talking about your work, putting thoughts into words, can lead you to a clarity about your ideas but also to capture elements that are otherwise nebulous – just as with the story-telling process I described earlier you discover ideas you didn’t know you had! The drama experience is something I have carried with me throughout my working life. It helped me to realise the value of performance, of couching your ideas within a construct for an audience. It also teaches you the value of ‘projecting’ – speaking clearly to the back of the room. This is I realise only now that you’ve asked me the question is a great metaphor for the relationship between my work and social media.

Stan Toohey Caricature Fun

During the six hours of constant caricature drawing, Moose showed amazing skill and stamina. There was a constant line of subjects yet he was able to approach every drawing with incredible freshness and talent. Each person was given the choice of a list of literary characters, from Winnie the Pooh to the Gruffalo. While the Harry Potter and Hermione characters were most popular, Stan adapted each caricature with amazing individuality.

The feedback was incredibly positive with many subjects delighted by his ability to capture their character in such a short space of time.

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