Finally found a good time to write about what could be the most exciting opportunity Creative Arts Practice has thrown my way – getting commissioned by Seven Stories National Centre for Children’s Books! The whole cohort was invited to send proposals for Seven Stories’ night at the Late Shows, and mine was one of the ones that got accepted!
The Late Shows is a ‘culture crawl’ that takes place on Friday 19th and Saturday 20th of May in Newcastle, with a kinds of cultural venues opening late and putting on all kinds of awesome free events. Seven Stories will be playing host to storytelling in the Attic, plus an installation in the Studio (put on by fellow CAP-er Michael Hirst) as well as pop-performances of music and poetry throughout the building (organised by yours truly). People will be wandering in and out and around as part of their general quest to absorb beer and culture and acquire glowsticks.
You can find out more specifics about the event itself here. The rest of this post will be about how it came about, for the purposes of documentation (and a tiny bit for self congratulation as well, gotta blow my own trumpet sometimes).
The idea has evolved substantially since the class brainstorming session we had in March. It began as a ‘grown-up storytelling’ event set in the Attic (aka the room with the STORY THRONE) with a small line-up of artists telling stories and then handing the mic over to the visitors, potentially to a theme or prompt related to the venue. Stories from childhood, perhaps relating to childhood toys or pets.
Note: at a very early stage a line was drawn between ‘grown-up storytelling’ (which sounds fun, whimsical, playful and all those nice fluffy words) and ‘adult storytelling’ (which sounds distinctly more X-rated).
This idea gradually split into two parts – the volunteer storytelling component, which was essentially an open mic event, and the professional performances. The performers I had in mind were primarily the kinds I had performed with in Edinburgh and Newcastle – performance poets (like myself) folk singers and comedians. All kinds of artists generally well-practiced in weaving narratives through their performances, which seemed appropriate.
It was these two ideas that I ended up sending to Seven Stories as a joint proposal. After a while, I got back a detailed set of questions, which was encouraging and gave me an idea of what parts of my proposal they liked and which parts they didn’t, or which had logistical issues. Ultimately the volunteer performers part got axed, because it made quality control and producing a cohesive event much harder, and the professional performances became the focus.
All this came with a set of unique challenges. The venue itself is aimed primarily towards children/families and adults interested in children’s literature (they have a really good archive), but the Late Shows is one of the times when it broadens its appeal. So, the material shouldn’t be aimed AT children, but must still be appropriate FOR children, at least as far as explicit language and content are concerned.
Plus the venue itself was such a great opportunity to try to bring adults into the feeling of creativity and discovery that Seven Stories is so great at, as well as the specific themes of the different exhibits. This all required me to be more selective in terms of the performers I asked to get involved, and for me to involve myself in choosing their material more closely than would be normal for a spoken word or variety night.
For those interested, here are some clips of performers that were on my long-list, to give an idea of the kinds of performances I wanted to curate:
Folk Music (Will Finn and Rosie Calvert)
Performance Poetry (Douglas Garry)
The event space was also a big part of the process, since Seven Stories is a large and unique venue. I was initially very excited to host performances (and perform) in the Attic, given the oversized furniture and decoration, and the dedicated performance setup. However, through discussion with the venue this changed to pop-performance throughout the venue. The main logistical reason for this was so as to not to fill up the Attic too much, but since I started looking at the Cafe, the Bookshop and the Exhibition Floors as potential performance spaces, I think its actually going to improve the performances significantly. Rather than trying (and failing) to get wandering visitors to stay and watch in one place, there will be performances wherever they go, hopefully adding a little fun discovery to the event, which seems fitting.
I’ll probably be rushed off my feet during the event itself, but I’m going to make some attempts at documentation, so expect another post after Friday!