Making Opera With Young People

Every two weeks, director Elen and musical director James lead a session in Cranmer Primary School. We chatted to Elen about what they’ve been working on.

Baseless Fabric Theatre workshop with primary school group – Wimbledon Foundation

Tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to at Cranmer.

Since January, James (the musical director) and myself have been working with year 5 and 6 students from Cranmer Primary School. We’ve been devising scenes. We’ve written and composed music. We’ve used improvisation techniques to adapt the characters from Die Fledermaus.

It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, not just because we’ve facilitated these young people in creating their own performance, but we’ve also witnessed their confidence grow and creative ideas flourish.

Students from Cranmer Improvising a Scene from Die Fledermaus

What can an audience expect at the end of the process? How is it connected to Strauss’ opera Die Fledermaus? 

We have been particularly keen to focus on many of the themes of the original Die Fledermaus. We’ve been looking in greater depth at the piece through improvisation, scripting and music writing, and thinking about the ways in which we can creatively present aspects of the production to an audience.

Many modern references from Die Fledermaus have arisen from our sessions and as such have helped to inform the overall production. After we’ve scripted it in greater depth, we hope that the audience will experience a high energy and relevant performance drawing on the ideas of the young people.

What have the students learned and what have you learned from them?

Ha! I think that we have learnt a fair bit from these young people and they have most certainly influenced the final production!

From us, they have learnt key skills in performing in front of an audience, creative ways of presenting character and scene, and understanding the importance of working together as a theatre company to achieve success.

Aside from learning to ‘floss’, I think that we have learnt that the most vital part of working with young people in creating performance is listening to and drawing upon their ideas and suggestions. That has certainly added spark to the overall performance.

Elen leading a script-readthrough for Die Fledermaus

What has been your favourite moment so far?

Oh, there are plenty! I have really enjoyed creating our own song together through writing lyrics, and the enjoyment the students had in seeing their song come to life through music.

Alongside this I have enjoyed watching all of the young people build in confidence and building a performance together. It’s great to see it beginning to fall into place and I can’t wait for the rehearsal week.

Elen and James will continue working with the students from Cranmer Primary until July, when they’ll spend an intensive week working on the production, before performing it in August.

Making friends at the Puppet Olympics!

Beatboxing Workshop

Mitcham Library Beatboxing Workshop

Click the video above to play it!

Easter already feels like a long time ago but before eating too much chocolate we had a fab week with nearly 70 brilliant young people aged 12 – 16 and 5 different professional theatre practitioners creating great stuff in Mitcham Library’s Merton Arts Space!

Beatboxing, stage combat, puppetry, theatre design and of course drama! Each of the workshops was fully booked with a waiting list and from our post-workshop feedback forms sent to parents, 64% of respondents said their child had never taken part in arts activities before, and over 70% said their child gained new friends, new skills, more confidence and a desire to take part in more arts activities in the future. In fact, 100% said they would like to take part in the future so I think we can say the workshops were a resounding success!

Theatre Design Workshop

Theatre Design Workshop at Mitcham Library

90% of the young people gave a 5/5 rating to the set design workshop. One commented that: “My favourite part was when we made our own rainforests since we were able to explore our imagination and creativity”. While in puppetry everyone rated it either 4/5 or 5/5! They enjoyed “making the puppets and making new friends” – with a particular favourite part being “using the wooden poles to create puppets” to compete in a “puppet Olympics”!

And we loved hearing that two boys enjoyed the beatboxing and stage combat workshops so much that they practised all the way home on the bus and now every time they meet up!

Hugest thanks to the Santander Foundation for funding this project through their Discovery Grant!

And thanks to Mitcham Library Merton Arts Space for having us. Here’s to the next one!!

A New Face at Baseless Fabric

Hi! My name is Leo, and I’m delighted to have been chosen to join the Baseless Fabric team. I’ve been working with them for just less than a month so far, but here are 5 things I’ve already learned:
 

ENGAGEMENT IS AMAZINGLY REWARDING

Beatboxing Workshop in Mitcham Library

Opera sounds beautiful, but then so does the sound of a roomful of young people buzzing as they take part in a theatre design workshop, or parents waxing lyrically about how grateful they are that we’ve been doing work in areas that might not normally offer arts activities like stage combat or puppetry. It’s been a pleasure to see how seriously Baseless Fabric takes its community engagement projects – from school groups visiting Wimbledon Tennis, workshops in Mitcham Library – and I’m excited to start playing a role in making these things happen.

 

SOUTH LONDON IS BEAUTIFULLY DIVERSE

I’ve come down from Manchester to work with Baseless Fabric this summer. South London is quite new to me, but luckily, I’ve been preparing for a half-marathon at the end of this month, which has given me a great excuse to run all around the Mitcham and Merton area. It’s been a great way to get a sense of the local area, and the sheer diversity as the urban geography and landscape shifts every couple of minutes. The fact it’s been so sunny lately does not hurt at all.
 

TWO LEOS ARE BETTER (BUT MORE COMPLICATED) THAN ONE

One of the great advantages to being called Leo is that there’s not so many of us, so you always know if someone’s referring to you. But in Baseless Fabric’s small and wonderful team, there’s two of us now, the composer / MD Leo Geyer, and myself. That’s going to get very confusing!
 

THE WIMBLEDON FOUNDATION ARE INCREDIBLE

Wimbletech, where I’ll be working over the next few months.

There are some wonderful perks of having committed backing from the Wimbledon Foundation, not least that the school pupils we’ve been working with got to go on a private tour of the Wimbledon Tennis grounds, and most importantly, compare their shoe size with famous tennis players. And guess who got to tag along?

 

BASELESS FABRIC ARE TRULY COOL

I come from a background of wacky arrangements of classic operas, and in a world where people can be quite traditionalist about opera, it’s been lovely to find a company of kindred spirits who share the sense that operas can be made relevant not merely by changing the staging, but also going right back into the libretto itself. I can’t wait to see the production of Die Fledermaus take shape over the summer.

Lunchtime Opera: Different Perspectives

Recently we took our Die Fledermaus adaptation into local community centres so that elderly lunch club groups can hear a professional opera singer and pianist perform live and chat to them about what it’s like to work as a professional musician.

We asked our session leaders to tell us what their favourite moment was: Read more

Die Fledermaus first road trip!

So after the excitement of our young people’s workshops and our two school parallel productions for Die Fledermaus getting underway, we’re now pleased to tell you about our sessions for local elderly groups across Merton and Wandsworth!

Because our unique street opera concept means that audience members need to be able to stand for most of the performances and walk around to follow the story of our characters around the high street, it means it’s not suitable for those less physically able. So this means that we also go into local elderly organisations and run sessions for them so that they can also engage with our work.

We’re thrilled that shortly we’ll be running sessions at old friends including Merton & Morden Guild and Friends in St Helier, who we previously worked with for Drifting Dragons and A Secret Life as well as going to new organisations including the Alzheimer’s Society.

Our brilliant singers Claire Wild, Abigail Kelly and David Horton will sing a couple of arias for the groups accompanied on piano by Juliane Gallant and Giles Kennedy, talk to them about their work as professional opera singers and pianists while Astrid will talk about the company and show edited filming of the Die Fledermaus Research & Development and our previous Cosi Fan Tutte Street Opera.

We’ll be back in touch soon to let you know how the sessions go and our plans to run further sessions later on in the year! Read more

Do you like performing?

We are thrilled to be running some drama workshops at Mitcham Library, Merton Arts Space during the Easter holidays. We have some brilliant professional practitioners running these workshops, so if you are aged 12-16 sign up now!

CLICK to check out our brilliant workshop leaders!

 

Aged 12-16?

Interested in Beatboxing, Stage Combat, Puppetry, Theatre Design?

Read more

And the word was FUN!

We asked Elliott, our workshop leader for the St John Bosco College Parallel Production to give us an idea of what the groups are getting up to….

St Marks Primary School Workshop

In the beginning was the word, and the word was FUN! Toward the tail end of 2018, I was lucky enough to lead taster workshops for both our prospective primary and secondary school cohorts. The plan, to take Baseless Fabric’s modernised version of the classic, ‘Die Fledermaus’ and go wild with it; adding characters and scenes or doing them in new and different ways, learning to sing with correct operatic technique, acting, song and script writing and of course we play games! As you can imagine the reception was fantastic and our taster sessions were so much fun, we had scenes set anywhere from a hilarious family dinner, just after Eisenstein had gotten in trouble with the police, to a party at the top of a mountain and a marriage counselling session between Eisenstein and Rosalinde on the moon. Read more

Want to get involved with our work?

Baseless Fabric Theatre is looking for enthusiastic and skilled people to join our Board of Trustees.

What will you be doing?

Our dedicated Board of Trustees oversees the strategic direction and governance of this performing arts charity. We are looking to further strengthen the sustainability of the charity, developing existing and creating new revenue streams, and increasing our network of supporters and partners. The Board offers strategic guidance, creative ideas and support as required.

What are we looking for?

Read more

2018, what a year…

What a year 2018 was for Baseless Fabric! We began the year with the thrilling news that we were the first recipient of the Wimbledon Foundation’s prestigious new Arts and Community Engagement Fund for our new street opera project Die Fledermaus!

This project, with the additional support of Arts Council England, Merton Council and the Samuel Gardner Memorial Trust, encompasses the creative adaptation of an opera for the high street, the free professional performances, workshops for both schools and elderly lunch clubs and two school parallel productions! So while the project has similarities to our previous street operas Drifting Dragons and Cosi Fan Tutte, it is also bigger and better than ever! Read more