The Knights Templar School

The Knights Templar School

The Knights Templar School images

Artist in Residence 2018

Knights Templar AIR scheme

Over 7 weeks in the Autumn term, I was truly privileged to work with 20 Year 8 students from Knights Templar School as part of the Artist in Residence scheme. I’m not a visual artist – though I’m quite experienced in making simple shadow-play images. I’m a classically trained professional musician with a doctorate in composition. I previously worked for 15 years in academia and I’m also a writer and presenter for BBC Radio 3. So with this mixed-up artistic background, I now head up Goldfield Productions, creating cross-arts touring shows in collaboration with wonderful composers, writers, poets, inventors, puppeteers…. Goldfield make ‘adventures in sound’ often in the form of storytelling with music and images and it was this idea that I brought to the Artist-in-Residence scheme.

The project

The 20 students were split into in 4 groups. The plan was to make miniature 5-minute pop-up storytelling shows - from zero to performance in just 12 hours over 6 weeks. The students learned how to create shadow-puppet images with black paper and coloured lighting gels which were projected onto a fabric screen illustrating the story which one member from each team narrated. Others in the team provided the music  / sound effects and operated the images. In these little productions, there are roles for everyone. You can be on the stage or behind the scenes; you can be a storyteller, a puppeteer, a sound maker, a writer, a paper-snipper, a designer. You can do what you enjoy and know or try something new.

The Images

I was impressed by the way that these young people gradually started
to work as teams and pull together to create the images for the shows. I am forever amazed at how we can be so fascinated by bits of black paper and coloured gels! In our digital world, I still can’t quite fathom out why a bit of cut black paper moving across a fabric screen seems to captivate, yet it does. I think its the transformation - something that looks rough and ready and amateurish (we made them from cereal boxes, sticky tape etc.) turns into something that looks quite magical, clean and professional.

Its easy to underestimate how tricky it can be to represent your visual ideas in flat black and white. Some of the early experiments that the year 8s tried didn’t work; they were putting colour on them, drawing detail in pen etc. Then realising that none of that mattered once you put a light behind it - all you see is the outline. So they learned to re-think how to portray ideas very simply and what it takes to get a message across - usually ‘less is more’. Some ideas were very hard; how to show open doors, ascending steps, a rock concert, a forest at night, a desert scene, dancing chicken nuggets (yes!) These students have come a long way in their visual and representational thinking and the work was very high quality. Many of them invested a lot of time on the drawing and cutting with an admirable persistence beyond their years to ‘get it right’.

The Stories

The stories were the greatest challenges: my initial idea for the AIR project was to use very short pre-existing stories so that the focus of the 6 weeks would be on the images and music making (i.e. how to retell a story in your own way). But the students were adamant that they wanted to write their own stories - so we went for it! It took a lot of time, and I think that they found it much harder than they thought they would. It resulted in some disagreement amongst the groups which stalled their progress a little; it’s hard to work with so many ideas and to debate each one in great detail. And groups tended to fall out quite quickly if left on their own! To fix this, we split the weeks (3 and 4) so that I could spend much longer with the groups to shape the stories. Some of the students wrote very well - Maiya, Tanaka, Savannah, Flo. All of them had strong ideas that they were very willing to share. One week we had some spontaneous story telling; it was off-topic, but all the better for it.  Creativity ignites creativity.

I helped structure the ideas and added in the phrases that came out of group conversations so that everyone had scripts to work to. I found that the students were generally more fluent when speaking than writing and some of the nicest material came out of the conversations with a few leading questions (what did the moon look like? Can you describe the desert to me? Does the spider bite hurt? Is it like this... or like this? etc.) 

Creating an atmosphere

The students were very good on creating atmosphere - what colour / light / sound will convey what mood? I think that with more time, we could have extended this even more to the music. There were some really good ideas: for example, Holly came up with the suggestion to do a very effective ‘tick tock’ on the cow bells every time the riddle was posed followed by a tambourine rattle when the answer was found - those sort of simple ideas can be particularly dramatic and help the narrative. Bailey’s glissandi on the toy piano every time the scene changed was inspired! 

Summary

All of the children impressed me. They all seemed to find a role that suited them and their strengths as I hoped they would with this project. Some found that role quickly, others took a little more time. These tiny shows demand a huge amount of ‘transferable skills' to make them work and so often this can be sadly overlooked because the focus for the parents is on the final product, not the process. But for the record, I think they have:

  • developed their creativity and independent thinking; these shows are entirely their own work, their ideas, their expression of what is important to them and how it is portrayed and communicated
  • learned how to work as teams, recognising and using each other’s strengths and interests for the greater good, delegated and stepped up when jobs needed doing
  • developed critical decision-making skills (debated ideas- what will work and what won’t, when to move on, when to fix an idea, best route forwards etc.) 
  • developed public speaking, communication and presentation skills / language development 
  • shown real persistence in a trial-and-error approach to making the artwork
  • worked to tight deadlines and a professional performance standard
  • developed fine motor / coordination skills (paper cutting is hard!)  
  • an awareness of the wider context:  live theatre (some came to see Goldfield’s Hansel & Gretel show), history of shadow puppetry etc. (I brought in two paper theatres for them to see / play with)                                                                    

True creativity is messy! It's not painting-by-numbers. There aren’t rules and there isn’t a formula. It’s usually a case of 2-steps-forwards-and-3-backwards as you work towards an often-changing goal which gradually becomes more refined as you move onwards. It can be frustrating and you need to try a lot of things out before you find the idea that works. It also takes a lot of time and a supportive framework for all this messiness to take place in. That is why I value the AIR scheme so much - there is time and a framework to try out something truly creative, ambitious, and bold. I think that’s really important for young people and hugely rewarding. Thank you again for this great opportunity. It’s always a pleasure to work with KTS and the students. 

Kate Romano