Story Jam: Why do we need happy endings?

Everyone knows how the fairy tales end: They all lived happily ever after.

Yeah, right. But why should the princess marry the boring prince and not go off on an adventure of her own? The witch probably had a good point to make. And the youngest son had the advantage of learning from his siblings’ mistakes – he’s hardly a hero.  Happy ever afters are a lie.

In our cynical, post-post-modern world isn’t needing happy endings in stories twee, or childish or – worst of all possible crimes – naïve? But we do need them, and the darker the world gets, the more important they become.

We live in unsettled, upsetting times. Trump, Brexit, trigger fingers near nuclear buttons, glaciers sliding into warming oceans, big business triumphing over the communal good. The voices that are heard are not ours. We do not prevail. And it’s not just that there’s an orange maniac with his finger on the button, or the jumpiness that comes with the reality of being in a big city in anxious times. There are all the other things that shake us and shape us – our own private losses and worries. It all makes us sore at heart.

A story probes our sore hearts – does it hurt here? Here? How about here? – and then reminds our hearts how to feel whole and good.

So there are big, frightening things in the old stories. Everything fractures – parents do not love, home is far away, lovers betray, rulers rule badly, brothers and sisters are separated –all peace is stripped away. And then, after you’ve gone there, after you’ve felt how bad it can get, there is a climb back to justice, love and wholeness. They all live happily ever after.

But happy endings aren’t about sentimentality or some sickly-sweet Disney version of reality; the stories we tell – they’re about us. And the people in them,  they’re us. So we need to know that when the two older sons have failed, the third will succeed. In stories the world gets dismantled and the suspense and excitement comes from understanding it will be rebuilt. If it isn’t, then it’s not just unsatisfying, it’s unfair, unjust and makes us unhappy because we’ve lost all power to make things better.

The storytelling we do uses traditional, old stories. Not old-fashioned, old. And they’ve survived for all this time because they are important and relevant and they tell us things about ourselves and about ourselves in the world. They might be angry Kings instead of insane Presidents, or curses instead of man-made famines but they threaten the world and the people in it, just the same.

Cliff-hangers and shock endings are great, of course. A cliff hanger, a shock-horror screamer of a non-ending that leaves you yelping and gawping, is a lot of fun, and powerful. But only if everyone is in on the game. Then it’s a rewarding, tingling delight. And it can be an alarm rung close to your ear, a wake-up call to arms that says ‘it’ll only be OK if things change, if we do things differently from this.’

But a cliff hanger only works if the happy ending, that satisfying tying up, the breath of relief, is the rule that the cliff-hanger breaks.

Let’s have stories – legends, folktales, wonder tales, old stuff, new stuff-  with happy endings. Let us give ourselves the strength and courage to live and love and make our voices heard.

Of course, there’s a lot to be gained from a tragic ending too, but that, as they say, is another story…

Alys Torrance and Lucy Lill

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Story Jam is south London’s popular longstanding storytelling night. You can catch top tellers and songsters at Canada Water Theatre on Thursday 19th October and Thursday 7th December at 7.30pm and at the Albany on Thursday 7th November at 7.30pm. Each show features a different line-up and tales from every corner of the world.

 

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Canada Water Theatre meets Strictly Arts to talk about Freeman

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We are so excited to have Freeman with us at Canada Water Theatre. Can you tell us what it means to you as a piece of theatre?

We have been working on Freeman for close to two years now so it’s very important to us and it’s simply amazing the level of responses we have had from the audiences so far. We ventured in to making theatre to start conversations on topics that we felt were overlooked and were important to us. Freeman seems to be doing that and we couldn’t be prouder.

 

Why is it important to tell William Freeman’s story?

William Freeman’s story was a very clear point for us in the history of justice and race. A lot of what happens today has its roots in how people like William were treated in the 1800’s. It’s also a very important part of the history of mental health and its relationship with the justice system as he was the first American defendant to plead insanity in court.

 

If you could change one thing about the theatre industry, what would it be?

We would make it more diverse. If there were a greater number of playwrights, composers and directors from every sort of background we believe there would be a greater diversity at every level of the theatre, and no one would feel like it is an elitist pastime or something that they couldn’t connect to.

 

Can you describe Freeman in three words?

That’s a tough one… Our audiences have described it as: Provocative, Powerful and Poignant.

 

Why should audiences come and see it?

Because there’s no other show tackling the relationship between race, mental health and the justice system in the same way.

 

Freeman is on at Canada Water Theatre on Wednesday 18th October at 7.30pm.

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Not Bound Within – my journey so far by Naomi Cortes

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The Albany has continued to support my work as a Black female playwright and my latest work Not Bound Within will have its play reading in October for Black History Month.

Why be a writer?

I want to amplify, loud hail, create a battle cry for the unheard and the unseen. Those invisible beings who society has forgotten or overlooked. Those like me.

I look at the world around me and wonder how do women of colour continue? Every day is a battle to hold ourselves upright in a society that’s trying to push us over, flatten us and extinguish our fires. The world never tires of telling us we are irrelevant, unimportant and have no value. But we continue to blaze.

And I hear the fires of those women, their pain, their cries of anger when they are threatened, their frustration at being marginalised – and their endurance. And all of this I devote to my work. To my voice.

So, the story of Not Bound Within is about Venus, a young Black woman, in the middle of a crisis. She is fighting with the world and feels she is losing. She is in the darkest of places and we can all relate to this, because at some time in our lives we have been there. Those feelings of helplessness, vulnerability and loneliness are overwhelming. And in Venus’s intense state of mind, the Hottentot Venus – Saartjie Baartman appears. An African woman who was exhibited as a ’freak’ in the early 1800’s and who is an important historical character from Black British History whose legacy still resonates today.

What follows is a story of sexual degradation and economic exploitation, as these two women Venus and Saartjie battle with their pasts, present and their unknown futures.

Why choose theatre?

It chose me. As a mixed race child growing up in Gravesend, Kent with my devout church-going Jamaican mother I was painfully shy. I didn’t speak to anybody, didn’t look anybody in the eye and never spoke up. My mother took me to a Saturday morning drama class – hoping that I would find a little confidence, I suppose. When she came to collect me, she asked the tutor how I’d been. He explained that I hadn’t moved from the safety spot of hiding behind the red curtains for the whole of the class!

I discovered the world of theatre as a shy bully-fodder teenager, who tried to fit in and to my embarrassment and subsequent shame, didn’t succeed. My mother had moved us to London and when I was at Eltham Green School I began to find my voice. I was invited to join the Bob Hope Theatre, now known as Eltham Little Theatre, and performed in Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle with Jude Law. We were as shy as each other. And I remember choosing drama as one of my GCSE options because I was fed up of being bullied, having very little confidence and wanting more. I guess I became fed up of hiding behind the red velvet curtains.

Finding an outlet for my voice is a huge part of this journey and my writing is central. Not Bound Within is a multi-layered encounter which demands to be placed centre stage. It is layered with intricate characters that delight and frustrate, poetic language which absorbs its audience into its cosmos and reveals fascinating themes which entertain, disturb and affect.

I write who I am and place it on stage. Reflected in my writing you see me, a complex and fascinating woman who chooses to exposes her vulnerabilities initially on the page and through collaboration onto the stage.

And then I sit back and watch my magic unfurl. The spell of an actor as she wrestles with the intricacies of poetry and decides to reveal the character’s vulnerabilities, the director’s conjuring as they imbue the themes with their knowledge and decide to take a chance.

And finally the audience. Who have chosen to not have an easy night of nice and gentle theatre but have entered into an agreement, a pact of exchanging, to sit for the duration and see where this fun fair ride takes them.

A genuine voice?

My writing has begun to develop a responsive audience who share with me their feeling of empowerment, seeing stories about Black women, written by a Black woman and performed by Black women in the theatre.

Over the years, I have heard the Black community say to me theatre is not for them and it’s so disheartening. Before she died, I took my mother to see James Baldwin’s, the Amen Corner at the National Theatre and she looked around at the audience and commented, saying how it was full of white people. I smiled and reassured her, saying there will be more on stage but welcome to my world. She loved the show. She joined in with the scripture quotations, the hymns and the Amen’s. But she was right, it was full of white people.

Many Black women feel alienated from the Arts and believe theatre is not for them. So, my work has to continue engaging all women of colour because they have told me they are desperate to see themselves on stage – desperate to see women from their own backgrounds telling their stories, desperate to be a voice which is heard in the theatre.

Our history is either erased or told by others and yet theatre is made for telling everybody’s story. That’s what I’m told and I believe it. My route to the stage was not conventional and for that, I feel slightly behind in the race. I was never any good at sports! We all know the cross-country stories. But I’m in this race forever. Theatre is my world. It is a craft I have developed and continue to share with others. As a writer and actor, a young actors director and drama educational specialist.

So, I must tell these stories because the audiences are there and are just waiting for my invitation!

Not Bound Within is at Canada Water Theatre on Wednesday 11 October, 7.30pm

Tickets are £5 and can be bought here.

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Story Jam: The tale of Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective

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A man in a furry suit lead to October’s Story Jam. It’s not often you can say that! Earlier this year, alongside Kate and Ben from the Crick Crack Club, we made a Wild Concert at the Wellcome Collection. Choirs, storytellers, clanging bells, strange creatures roaming the audience – it was quite a night!

When one of the men performing that night as a (very) Wild Man told us he also sings in a shanty choir, our ears pricked up. And when the Albany asked us to do something for Black History Month we knew we could do something unique, right at the heart of our Reel & Unravel Season. We’ve invited Welsh Nigerian storyteller Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective to tell the stories and sing the songs from our shared history: those who were bought, sold and sailed across the ocean, and the truth that binds us all. Let’s go to deep places together.

We hope you will come, we hope you will spread the word, tell your friends and bring them along to Canada Water. Please note Canada Water Theatre is in the modern Library building right beside Canada Water tube. Book Here

 

ROUGH CROSSINGS

Phil Okwedy and The London Shanty Collective

Thursday 19 October | 7.30pm

Canada Water Theatre, Canada Water Library

In the passage from life to death, it is seldom plain sailing and often the final destination is not what was bargained for. In stories of empire, the terrifying experience of the passage on the slave ship is known but largely ignored. Imagine, then, a story in which the suffering of the middle passage leads to the triumph of a final return home. A profound, reflective and powerful night of tales that are particular and universal.

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GOLDFISH BOWL: An interview with Illustrator Olivia Twist

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Goldfish Bowl is a collaboration between The Paper Birds theatre company and Caleb Femi. With live music from DJ / music producer Lex Amor and illustrations by Olivia Twist, Goldfish Bowl is based on the life & works of Young People’s Laureate Caleb Femi, and interrogates the many small, but defining moments that make up a life. It’s a thrilling combination of spoken word, theatre, music and breath-taking visuals. Find out more on our website here.

You’re creating the illustrations for Goldfish Bowl. How did you get involved with the project? 

Me, Caleb and Alexis are mates. We are part of the SXSWKS collective and we are all fans of each others work. Caleb brought me in. What’s better than working with you mates?

You’ve collaborated with Celeb Femi and Lex Amor before. How is this process similar / different to other projects you’ve worked together on? 

I guess this is something none of us have done before so we are constantly learning together. Our arts forms are all very different so it have been interesting finding the perfect concoction of all the elements.

What can people expect from your illustrations and how are they being used within the performance? What themes / elements did you want to bring out in your drawings?

People can expect to see our London, proper London.

I wanted my work to be as honest as possible. No frills.

The work is punchy, the work will get you feeling nostalgic and the images are crafted with love.

My illustrations enable the audience to see what Caleb saw in another way. The work is very esoteric. The work is gonna make you smile.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to do what you do?

Be a self starter, grab a couple friends and make things happen. If you don’t enjoy it don’t do it.

Don’t get so caught up that you are no longer able to see the beauty in the mundane.

The show previews at Canada Water Theatre on 5 & 6 October, what are you most excited about seeing come to life and who needs to come and see this show and why?

I can’t wait to see the ‘just coming to London’ scene, I love the poem Caleb does already so to see it with a bit of animation will be really mint.

Everyone needs to come and see this show to be honest, all the secondary school kids across London, the aunties in Peckham, everyone who has ever moved to a new place, theatre buffs and even those who don’t really engage with this type of art. The story is one many will be able to relate to. Caleb and Lex are giving us that bit of visibility we need.

Goldfish Bowl previews at Canada Water Theatre on Thursday 5 & Friday 6 October.

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Kathy and You: Consequences of a Stunning Wig

‘I like your outfit: you look gorgeous!’, ‘What is this all about? Why? Why the wigs?’, ‘Look they have Barbie in their legs!’, ‘Your hair is so fuzzy’. These are some of the comments and questions that resonate around Kathy’s Parlour and that as a performer of Kathy I am addressed with in the midst of camera flashes. There were five of us in the afternoon on Mountsfield Park, welcoming the adults and children who were enjoying the music, food and joyful atmosphere of Lewisham People’s Day on Saturday 8 July. As a Kathy I wove through the crowds and smiling in my gargantuan wig, swaying on high hills, upright in my shoulder pads and proud of my flashy necklace.

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After the first group meetings of the new Albany Young Creatives team with the Levantes Dance Theatre trio Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I still could not grasp the actual relevance of this experience. Those of you who have followed our Move Shake Mango journey know that as Albany Young Creatives we created and produced a show from scratch, with the Albany stage as our main setting. The space carried its own clarity in setting roles and boundaries between performers and audience and we were also the authors of the message we chose to convey. In contrast, with Parlour nothing could be set or controlled completely. The costumes, the colours, the shape of the parlour, any little object and detail, all had the potential to provoke a reaction from unknown people happening to pass by and from ourselves as Kathy. This could only be discovered in the moment of the encounter.

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The process of making the piece seemed to me like a guessing, a hypothesizing and made me feel confused and sometimes useless. I tried to add pieces to the vision of Bethanie, Eleni and Foteini, I immersed myself in the art and craft, enjoying the specific aspects of the project but with the same questions as we encountered from the audience in mind: why the wig? Why the pastel colours? Why the flowers? Why Barbie in the legs? Then, I had a first glimpse of understanding when in charge of photographing the first Kathy group walking around the Hilly Fields Summer Fayre, and it all came together when I sat down and begun spreading foundation and glitter on my face. Since then, I painted the Parlour with a new enthusiasm, curious to discover how something as small as that little cloudy touch on the blue would contribute to the interaction.

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The interactions we had as Kathy on the shadow of the Parlour were incredible. It feels safer than in normal encounters: I wave and say hi naturally as I wish I could do in my everyday life without being frightening or disturbing. People trust Kathy, they want to have a hug and a picture with Kathy and peer into her life history. It almost feels like giving people a gift by throwing them for a minute into a world they do not know, into a story that could make them imagine and dream, and they reciprocate with curiosity, smiles and comments. The same questions like ‘why the wig?’ can be answered in multiple ways and the story is layered and variable, but what matters is the feeling that brings someone – the desire to ask why and to listen to the answer, it is about that precious moment of exchange.

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For these reasons, I will not tell you, reader, who Kathy is and why she is there and what she is doing: follow her around London and ask yourself because as Camilla writing I am not sure. I can say that Kathy and all the Albany and Levantes team have brought me a step further in my journey, as anthropologist and performer in understanding the magic and infinite aspects of encounters.

By Camilla Sollecito

Click here to find out where you can catch Parlour this summer!

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My experience of working with the Albany Young Creatives

I’d been looking for more creative opportunities in theatre so when I had the chance to be part of the Young Creatives group at the Albany, I snapped it up! Upon arriving at the theatre, we learnt that Levantes Dance Theatre (run by Bethanie Harrison and Eleni Edipidi) were teaming up with the Albany to devise a piece. The only limitations were that the main theme had to be about hair, it had to be an outdoor piece, it had to be targeted towards children and the budget was £10,000. I’d never done anything like this before or been involved at such an early stage in a theatre project so it was really interesting to see how it all worked, and how everyone’s ideas were incorporated.

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We split up into groups and got to know each other while we brainstormed ideas for the project. A lot of people immediately thought of Rapunzel and other fairy tales as they were the most synonymous with a children’s play about hair. However, a lot of other groups had completely different ideas involving aliens, cults and other original concepts! The group of Young Creatives was then streamlined from the first session as the Albany and Levantes really wanted a selection of creative individuals that genuinely got along well and bounced ideas off each other. As a person of 25 in the older end of the ‘Young People’ spectrum, it was really exciting to meet youths from all walks of life that were talented in many aspects of production and performing arts, with a variety of skillsets in the room.

Next we got stuck in with designing the stage that the play would take part in, which Bethanie and Eleni visualised as a small shed-style building that was painted and decorated to be twee and pastel. This became known as the ‘parlour’, and we all sketched our ideas for how it would look, as well as creating the props that would go inside it. This was really fun and a great chance to do some art and crafts, which a lot of us don’t do in our day-to-day lives, but is very relaxing and meditative. Every week we would present our ideas to the whole group, as well as the Albany and the Levantes team for feedback.

Finally we had decided on the concept of a group of people looking the same but being different. The character of ‘Kathy’ was created, a woman of unusual style (to put it mildly) who wants everyone to look exactly like her. She brings people into the ‘parlour’ to have a makeover, which actually involves them putting their heads into a cut-out hole to have their picture taken, like on Brighton Pier. Unbeknownst to them, they actually look like Kathy when they do this as the costume is attached to the other side of the wall. They write down their address and the picture is sent to them in the post, when they finally realise they have become a Kathy.

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I had my first performance as Kathy yesterday, and getting into character as her is very surreal. She wears a reversed dressing gown with 80s shoulder pads, tucked into a long white skirt with tights including dismembered Barbie dolls stuck to them. The pièce de résistance is the hair, which is made up of two huge white fluffy wigs stuck to each other and piled high on our heads. By the end, we look like people from the Capitol in The Hunger Games. Our performance at Lewisham People’s Day was extremely fun, with lots of people being curious about us and wanting to have their picture taken with us. Kids are particularly interested and we get a variety of questions like “is your hair made of candyfloss?” and “what are those things on your legs?” It’s very fun to become Kathy, and ‘perform’ to the people around you. As you are playing such a provoking character, it’s very easy to confidently approach people and ask what they think of your outfit or wave to them as they pass by.

Overall I think that this year’s Young Creatives project has been key in learning new skills and improving my existing skills in performance and production. It is a realistic look at the world of theatre, and offers insight into the industry which allows you to decide if you want to follow this path. We were involved from inception to actualisation of this project, and we can all take the experience with us to future theatre projects.

By Helen Monaghan

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