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A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

How we animated #Pantoverse with My Pockets

By | Blog, Panto, Shows, Uncategorised

Middle Child have asked me, Peter Snelling of My Pockets, to write a blog post on what it is like to create the digital content for their Christmas show, Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse. They have also said that what whatever I write, to be honest.  They have, to be honest, asked me this more than once. In fact, it might even be eight times. I don’t really know why I am resisting doing it. I don’t always like unpicking a creative process: I’m sometimes a bit lazy and sometimes I feel weird about putting things on the internet that will be there forever, like the terrible photo of me taken in 2004 that never goes away.

Anyway, I am going to do it now. I’ve made a cup of tea, I’ve got a salted caramel Hobnob snack bar, I’m going to keep writing until it’s done. Hello, if you are still reading; this is everything I know about making a piece of digital content for a Middle Child panto.

Animator Peter Snelling holds up a hand drawn picture of Pattie Breadcake

First of all Paul [Smith, artistic director] rang me up. I think it’s weird how people get to a point where they ring each other up. I met Paul at one thing somewhere, then somewhere else, then saw a Middle Child play and emailed to say I liked it, then asked him for a favour on something, then he rang me up to ask if I could animate a panto.

Over the years as an organisation that only wants to make creative work we have had times when we’ve been on the brink of running out of money. So I find it almost impossible to say no to creative projects. As My Pockets has become more established it’s something I need to address. I know that Elvis had the same problem with food. He’d been hungry once and so when he reached a point in his life where burgers were freely available, he found it impossible to not eat them all.

Not that Middle Child is just another burger that Elvis is stuffing into his mouth. Paul ringing felt more like an invite to a gastro pub. So we started to think about how to turn the panto into something that would work online. Our animations at My Pockets take ages to make. We create about 10 seconds a day. The conversation was in November and the panto needed to be the length of a play, so there was no way we could make it in the normal way. This year we have been experimenting with software that tracks your face and moves a kind of animated puppet along with it, then you wiggle the arms and legs with a mouse and the animation is made. It’s much quicker than the conventional way of doing it and felt like the perfect solution.

A pen in a hand, drawing all of the various panto characters on white paper

Next we needed to design the animated puppets. For me this is the fun bit. I’ve always loved drawing; I like the way it is so quick, that you can do it anywhere, that it needs no technology.  I also don’t think I’m very good at it, which is liberating. I think wanting to be good, or thinking you are good can be really limiting to creativity. It can get in the way of just saying what you want to say. Why is it that those blokes that joined Oasis after Bonehead left are much better at playing guitar, but somehow can’t make the same noise?

I think it’s because being good is not as important as… I’m not sure what it’s not as important as, but I know that if you ask me to draw a vase of flowers with a 2B pencil, the results are always very disappointing. But when I drew Pattie Breadcake in 10 seconds after reading the script I was like, “Yes, that’s her!”

In fact almost all of the characters were drawn first time in seconds, immediately after reading the script. I felt guilty about it and drew each one a few more times afterwards to try and justify my fee, but the first ones were all the best.

A finger points at an illustration of Cinderella on a computer screen

I know that the Middle Child panto is loved by lots of people and that it has this kind of anarchic energy. It’s alive and so the quick drawing seems right. It seems like a performance.  We made a few adjustments. Cinderella went from being in a pink princess dress to a tracksuit with headphones, while her face also went from being pink, to green to orange. But really I think that the spirit of the drawing and the spirit of the panto were so well matched it was pretty easy. I think finding creative people who share your spirit is the key to making things that work.

So the fun part was now over. Now I had to bring in the drawings, colour them in Photoshop and make them work with the animation software, against the backdrop of Natalie Young’s set design: photographs of an actual model box! Then I had to perform the whole panto, wiggling my head around in front of my webcam to capture all the movement, lip syncing to the audio files recorded by the actors over Zoom and mastered by Ed Clarke, with music composed by James Frewer. And then export it all, which took a whole weekend of checking the blue bar creeping across my laptop screen. Don’t waste your life watching the blue bar.

A screenshot of the animation software, with a picture of the Evil Queen being motion captured by Peter Snelling in another image box

I’ve finished my cup of tea. I’ve eaten my sugary snack. Now I’ve got to do some terrible Zoom call on a project that I’m not entirely sure I really want to do. Maybe this will be the one I’ll say no to. Maybe now is the time to make a break for freedom.

Working with Middle Child has been a real pleasure. It’s been fun and creative. And they have been so supportive, it’s a breath of fresh air. I can see why their shows are so great; it’s because the people and the company are great. I hope that our animated show helps to plug the 2020 gap of panto anarchy that people will be missing. I can’t wait to see what people think of the Pantoverse.

A snowy winter scene with a young person on a sled, another person in a wheelchair and a dog.

Christmas theatre in and from Hull

By | News, Panto, Uncategorised

We finally get to share Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse with you from tomorrow, but we’re not the only Hull-based company making work this Christmas. 

We’ve pulled together a round-up of all the excellent shows that theatre makers in the city have been working hard to bring to people over the holidays.

An invitation to watch Prince Charming on a snow background, with toy soldier figurines.

Prince Charming’s Christmas Cracker
Hull Truck Theatre, 22 Dec-4 Jan

A festive fairy-tale adventure sprinkled with surprises, sparkle and a hint of magic, free to stream into your own home, thanks to the support of Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council.

This year, Prince Charming is once more throwing open the palace gates and invites you to attend his annual Christmas ball, the eagerly anticipated ‘Christmas Cracker’. The hottest ticket in town, it is a ‘do’ like you’ve never been to before, and the Prince certainly knows how to party!

From festive music to Karaoke, unexpected guests and lashings of humour, the Christmas Cracker has it all. But this year, everyone, especially Cinderella, is in for a big surprise! There is more to this Christmas Cracker than originally meets the eye.

More info
A snowy winter scene with a young person on a sled, another person in a wheelchair and a dog.

Winter Wonderland
Concrete Youth, 18 Dec

It’s winter: the days are shorter, the trees are looking bare and the temperatures have plummeted. But…there’s no snow! The Snow Machine in Winter Wonderland has broken and, if it can’t be fixed, winter will be ruined forever!

But all is not lost. Jack Frost and the Snow Queen have heard that you, the winterns at home, can help them.

Can you work out why it’s broken? Will you help Jack and Snow mend it and save winter? And does yellow snow really taste like chicken?

Following their 5-star, online production, Shebaa’s Adventure to Jopplety How, the multi-award winning, Concrete Youth, in partnership with Hull New Theatre, present a brand new, pre-recorded multi-sensory show for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

Packed full of frosty sensory moments and fun, Winter Wonderland is the perfect, snowy show to get you in the holiday mood.

More info
Photo of one of the Roaring Girls in Christmas pyjamas laughing and pointing at her laptop

The Roaring Girls Christmas Parties

Christmas is just around the corner and after a year of working from home and closed pubs, let The Roaring Girls into your Zoom waiting room for a fun-filled 90 minutes this December.

Say goodbye to overpriced drinks & overcrowded pubs. In 2020, let the party come to you. 

The Roaring Girls are waiting at the end of their internet connection to provide you with an evening of festive entertainment, perfect for staff parties or friends who are looking for something different.

Just remember – A Roaring Girl is for life, not just for Christmas!

To book your exclusive Roaring Girls Party, or to find out more, email Rachael on hello@theroaringgirls.co.uk.

Christmassy image that says 1Upstarts presents DeliveRudolph

DeliveRudolph
1Upstarts, 19 Dec

DeliveRudolph is 1Upstarts’ specially designed, socially distanced Santa visit service, created exclusively in response to the ongoing Covid crisis. 

The company understand that a lot of people will really struggle with a large proportion of Christmas services being disrupted by Coronavirus. As such they wanted to create a safe and simple way of keeping a timeheld Christmas tradition for a lot of people, visiting Santa.

Their exclusive service will see us bringing the Santa visit to you. 

Once you have booked, their professional Santa will make his way to your house on the day of your choice along with any additional giftbags you’ve purchased and give you and your family a five minute personalised visit.

What better way to maintain the magic of Christmas than having your very own Santa on your doorstep!

More info

Spirits of the Season
Smashing Mirrors, 23 Dec

“It’s Christmas time in Hull. Nearly Christmas Eve. And strange things can happen on Christmas Eve don’t you know…”

Smashing Mirrors Theatre have linked with Hull New Theatre to bring you real-life tales of hauntings in Hull. Settle down for classic local ghost stories over the festive period, with this brand new exclusive short film.

Supported by Hull City Council.

Facebook Live. 8pm. 23rd Dec

Pattie Breadcake and four animated panto characters are sucked into a vortex, against a pink background. Text: "An Interview with Finn (Age 5)"

An Interview with Finn (Age 5)

By | Blog, Panto, Uncategorised

Five year old Finn, the son of Middle Child’s general and production manager, Emily, is a regular fixture behind the scenes at our annual, rock’n’roll panto.

You can often find him sat in the middle aisle during tech rehearsals, making his way through a bucket of pick and mix while his mum works on the show.

Finn is as much a part of our panto as having a dame is these days, so we’re missing his beaming little smile as we work on an online, animated Christmas show this year instead.

Who better then, we thought, to speak to ahead of the release of our panto-inspired YouTube production this Saturday – Pattie Breadcake: Into the Pantoverse.

Give Finn a listen, right, as he’s interviewed by his dad, Matt, or read the transcript below.

An Interview with Finn (Age 5)

Matt: What’s your name?

Finn: Finlay

Matt: And what do you do?

Finn: Go to school and play with my friends and play with Lego.

Matt: What’s your favourite thing about Middle Child panto?

Finn: Watching shows.

Matt: Why do you like watching the shows?

Finn: Because they’re funny.

Matt: Who’s the silliest character?

Finn: Pattie Breadcake

Matt: So you get to see behind the scenes, what do you like about that?

Finn: Playing with the light and sound. And playing with Paul.

Matt: Can you describe what Mummy does on panto?

Finn: Bosses people about!

Matt: What are you missing about panto this year?

Finn: Watching the shows.

Matt: Anything else about watching the shows?

Finn: Playing with the light and sound.

Matt: So if you could be any panto character, who would it be?

Finn: The crab

Matt: Why would you be the crab?

Finn: Because he’s funny.

Matt: What would you like to say to all of the children who might be listening to this?

Finn: Come to Middle Child, it’s good.

A collage of the nine associate writers

Next Up: Meet our new associate writers

By | Artist Development, News, Uncategorised
A collage of the nine associate writers

In May 2020 we invited writers across the country to submit their scripts to us, so that we could meet writers we had no previous relationship with and get to know some of them better. 

We are now delighted to announce the nine writers who join us as our new associate writers for the next two years: Deborah Acheampong, Natasha Brown, Gillian Greer, Tabby Lamb, Eva Lily, Sarah Middleton, Jessy Roberts, Emilie Robson and Sid Sagar. 

Each writer will benefit from:

  • A £1,000 payment for the writers’ involvement in our Next Up programme, to support attendance at workshops and readings, geared around the development of a new idea.
  • Participation in a number of writing masterclasses, led by world-class playwrights.
  • A day working on a piece of their writing with a cast of actors and Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, to hear it brought to life and to spend some time getting to know each other creatively. 
  • The possibility of writing a piece for Out Loud, our scratch night, in association with Silent Uproar.
  • Regular online meetings with the Middle Child artistic team and the other associated writers, to develop an idea to be considered for future programming.

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “Championing new voices is a key part of what we do, from our writers’ group and scratch night, to our producing of new work, such as Daniel Ward’s George Devine Award-winning The Canary and the Crow

“This new programme will build meaningful relationships with even more artists and offer genuine support that we are confident will lead to full commissions in the future.

“For a long time we’ve been searching for a better way to get to know writers between first meeting and full commissions and we’re excited that this new programme represents a vital change for how we build lasting collaborations.

“I’m really excited that within our inaugural associate writers we have a really diverse and exciting range of artists, from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, who will form a key part of our work for years to come. 

“The ongoing success of Daniel Ward’s brilliant first play, The Canary and the Crow, proves the importance of companies like ours for supporting new ideas and we can’t wait to get started creating the future with this incredible group of writers.”

Deborah Acheampong

“I’m totally looking forward to working as an associate writer for Middle Child, a company that’s edgy, bold and urgent. I love that! As a playwright, I’ve got a thing for stories that are deeply personal; angry, sad, happy, anxious, whatever it may be. Basically, things that grapple with what it means to be human. And in working with Middle Child, I hope that I’ll gain more confidence in exploring that; that I won’t feel afraid to express myself, to write something great or something terrible, all in the aim of becoming a better playwright.”

Deborah first got into theatre when she watched the most boring play ever. It was about the ups and downs in the life of an average couple, so, at first glance, she thought there couldn’t be anything truly remarkable in it. But after leaving, she realised that she had actually watched something that resonated with her, and with the audience, in a way that she hadn’t seen before. Soon she realised that what is most relatable is the most profound. So, she combined her love of the Big Topics; religion, sociology, feminism and politics, and realised that she could use the lives of average people as an accessible way of discussing those themes.

Deborah Acheampong

Natasha Brown

“I’m so excited to be an associated writer at Middle Child theatre. Having the opportunity to develop my practice as a theatremaker with a company that puts accessibility at the forefront of its mission is a privilege. I’m a huge fan of their work and the stories they tell. I can’t wait to skillshare with the other associated writers and to have a space to explore and play with some burning gig theatre ideas. After 2020, I’ve got quite a lot to scream and shout about!”  

Natasha Brown is an actor, writer, theatremaker and facilitator based in London. Her work interrogates power, identity and community. She has been part of the Soho Writers’ Lab, the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group and the Soho Accelerate programme. Her debut play I AM [NOT] KANYE WEST received rave reviews when it ran at the Bunker Theatre in March 2020. Her previous work also includes TORCH (Boundless Theatre) and Contradictions (Bush Theatre). As a facilitator, she has created workshops for schools, community groups, artists and young people, most recently working with the Yard Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break. 

Gillian Greer

“It’s incredibly exciting to be joining the Middle Child family as an associate writer. I have such admiration for the company, their work and their spirit and I’m looking forward to being inspired by them and exploring how to integrate live music into my style and storytelling in particular.”

Gillian is a playwright and dramaturg from Dublin who has seen her work performed in the Abbey in Dublin, the Traverse in Edinburgh and all manner of London fringe venues. Her debut play Petals was nominated for the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2015, and a radio adaptation won the Celtic Media Award for Radio Drama in 2020. Her second play Meat ran at Theatre503 to critical acclaim in early 2020, just before the world ended. As a dramaturg, she has worked at the National Theatre, VAULT Festival, Clean Break Theatre Company, the Mercury Theatre and many more. She is currently the literary manager of the Soho Theatre.

Tabby Lamb

“I am so excited to be part of the Middle Child family, as their shows are always exactly what I look for in theatre: fun, loud and politically sound. I’m looking forward to learning more about how they collaborate interdisciplinarily, especially when it comes to music. At the start of 2020 I promised myself I wouldn’t make any work that centred queer trauma, and would focus on radical acts of queer joy, so I’m looking forward to working with Middle Child to create some fantastic, complex, but ultimately joyous Trans characters.”

Tabby Lamb is a non-binary writer and performer based in East London and a graduate of Dartington College of Arts. Equally inspired by Carly Rae Jepson and Tennessee Williams, they strive to tell stories that explore the intersections between popular culture and politics. Their debut solo show Since U Been Gone, which Tabby wrote and performed, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019, after previewing at the Gate Theatre. The show was spectacularly received by audiences and garnered a glowing 4* write up from the Guardian who called the play “bold, honest and swollen with love”. They were part of the Soho Theatre Writers Lab and the LGBTQ Arts Review #RaisingOurVoices scheme for queer and trans writers, and are currently one of Oxford Playhouse’s Playhouse Playmakers. Tabby is also  currently under commission at the Unicorn Theatre, The Place, 45North & Pentabus Theatre. Alongside their passion for writing, Tabby is a facilitator and runs creative arts projects for young people from the LGBTQ+ community.

Tabby Lamb

Eva Lily

“I am so thrilled and excited to be joining Middle Child’s writing programme. As well as being able to learn from some other fantastic artists and writers, I would like to use this opportunity and space to experiment more within my work and embrace more surreal elements and styles. Recently, I’ve been interested in the concept of ‘story ownership’, particularly in relation to female narratives and so I hope to expand on this further in the work I develop with Middle Child.”

Eva wrote her first play, Bright, while studying English at the University of Exeter. After graduating with a first, she was a member of the Royal Court’s Introduction to Playwriting Course. In 2018, Eva co-founded Eve & Sea Productions and co-wrote their debut show Salmon which has since enjoyed sell out successes and received 4- star reviews. Performances include: Poltimore Festival; Drayton Arms Theatre; Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2019); tour of the South West and a week at Vault Festival in February 2020. Eva’s other previous works include Of Love Letters and Suicide Notes (Exeter Phoenix and Waterloo East Theatre) and The Reply (White Bear Theatre). 

Sarah Middleton

“I’m so happy to be taking part in the programme, and feel really lucky to have been selected. As I’m at the beginning of my journey as a writer, I’m most looking forward to getting stuck into the craft of playwriting. Working alongside a company as dynamic as Middle Child is a dream come true – and I’m hoping to take the opportunity with both hands, whilst exploring female-led narratives about women on missions who talk a bit too much and love snacks. I’m particularly wanting to work on a new idea involving each of these features, plus darts, karaoke and mullets. Can’t wait.”

Sarah Middleton is a theatre-maker and writer originally from Derby. Since 2011 she has worked as an actor, including work at Hull Truck Theatre, Royal Exchange Manchester, Orange Tree and National Theatre. Since 2018 she has been writing alongside acting. Sarah’s writing so far centres around coming-of- age stories and has largely been for and with young audiences. She is particularly interested in writing stories that put women centre-stage, and characters who are adventurous, driven and funny. Sarah’s plays have involved a teenager entering the world hobby-horse championship, a puppet who wants to become a real boy, and two teenagers who take over a barn in the Peak District to stage an enormous climate change protest. In 2019 Sarah was commissioned by Nottingham Playhouse to write an adaptation of Pinocchio for children aged 3-8, which played in the Neville Studio and toured to local schools. Sarah is currently writing and co-producing SHEWOLVES – a new play for young people – along with director Hannah Stone. SHEWOLVES is currently being workshopped with young people in the midlands and will soon go into an R&D, kindly funded by Arts Council England.

Jessy Roberts

“I am over the moon to be working with Middle Child as an associate writer, it’s been such a break in the clouds in 2020. I can’t wait to meet everyone, get to know them and their work, and develop my writing whilst being supported by such a cool company. My work is collage-y and gig theatre-y and angr-y and explores contemporary feminist issues and big questions. I’m excited by the universe and our place within it, and how we can explore that on stage in a theatrical, magical, audience-centric way.” 

Jessy is a theatre maker, playwright and director. She studied Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance at the University of York, and is completing an MA in Directing at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She is the Artistic Director of Teastain Theatre, Intern Director for the Rondo Theatre, and a script reader for various organisations. Recent credits as a writer, director and assistant director include: When They Go Low (the egg/Bath Theatre Academy), Messy Eaters (Teastain Theatre/SLAP Festival/York Theatre Royal), Constellations (TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Wild Thyme and Heather (Teastain Theatre/TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Lovely Special Best and Most Important (TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Horseshoes for Hand Grenades (Eric Loren/East Riding Theatre) and One Giant Leap for June (Open Barn Productions).

Jessy Roberts

Emilie Robson

“I am absolutely elated to be invited to join Middle Child as an associate writer. I cannot wait to begin working alongside their accomplished team, developing my voice and style and elevating my practice through this program. My writing typically places women at the centre of the narrative and endeavours to explore ‘little’, everyday stories but hopefully, in a bold and unique way. I hope to write theatre that makes full use of the medium, bends its boundaries and allows the audience to see and hear themselves on stage.” 

Originally from South Shields, Emilie Robson has spent the last ten years in Scotland, writing and performing in a mix of both Geordie and Scots. In 2018 she received the Scottish Arts Club’s ‘Bright Spark’ Award for Moonlight on Leith, a Dylan Thomas inspired love letter to Leith, co-written by Laila Noble. The play went on to be named runner up at Theatre Uncut’s Political Playwriting Award ceremony in 2019. She recently received a masters with distinction in Theatre Studies from the University of Glasgow. 

Sid Sagar

“I’m so excited and grateful to be part of Middle Child’s inaugural associate writers scheme. As an emerging creative in an uncertain time, it means a lot when an organisation actively seeks to develop, enrich and empower new voices. I can’t wait to learn from and contribute to masterclasses, workshops and conversations with the artistic team. I’m passionate about celebrating the comedy, drama and complexity of marginalised voices, and the associated writers scheme is the ideal platform from which to build on my interests and find new ways to make theatre truly accessible and relevant for all.” 

Sid is a London-based actor, writer and facilitator. He grew up abroad and has lived in England since the age of eight. He studied at the University of Bristol and trained with the National Youth Theatre, Identity School of Acting and the Writers’ Lab at Soho Theatre. As an actor, he regularly works on stage and screen. As a writer, his short plays have been produced at various venues in London, including Southwark Playhouse, Theatre503 and Rich Mix. His short play, Disruption, was commissioned by Small Truth Theatre for the Kensington Karavan Festival in 2019. His first full length play, Dark Faces in the Night, was shortlisted for the Finborough Theatre’s ETPEP Award and was one of the winners of Rose Theatre Kingston’s inaugural New Writing Festival. He was selected for The Mono Box’s PLAYSTART scheme in 2018 and his short play, Papa, was published by Oberon Books. He’s currently developing an ACE-funded audio drama, a commission for The Mono Box’s Reset the Stage series, a monologue for London Bubble’s Young Theatre Makers Programme, and a co-written sitcom with SLAM Films.

Sid Sagar

Middle Child to receive £98,003 from the Cultural Recovery Fund

By | Artist Development, Uncategorised

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has today announced that Middle Child will receive £98,003 from the Cultural Recovery Fund.

We are delighted and relieved to have received this support and recognise our continued responsibility to employing the freelancers upon whom our industry so depends, while responsibly reaching audiences with bold and progressive new work.

We remain aware of the challenges our industry continues to face and wish to express solidarity with organisations who did not receive funding this morning. We will do all we can to share resources and support both individuals and organisations in the continued fight for survival.

We remain a company committed to championing new voices unheard and unknown and will use this investment to continue to work towards a more inclusive and representative industry.

We are also delighted to hear that our local partners Hull Truck Theatre and Artlink were also successful in their applications, and have everything crossed for those in the city who are still waiting to hear.

We look forward to sharing full details of what we have planned in the coming weeks.

With love and solidarity,

Middle Child x

Rozzy Knox

#ExecutiveRealness: What I learned moving to Hull to run a theatre company

By | Uncategorised

Rozzy Knox, executive director (maternity cover)

July 2019: I left my job in London for a career adventure as the maternity cover for Middle Child’s executive director, Lindsey Alvis.

As my friends know, I LOVE London. I was dedicated to spending my twenties stumbling around Soho and Southbank. So, I faced a lot of shock at the statement I was moving to Hull: “Are you sure?”

“You love your job?!”

“You know it’s colder there?”

One friend even remarked: “My instinct tells me this is a bad move.”

Now don’t get me wrong, moving to Hull was a shock to a millennial Londoner. No Wagamamas? No Pret-a-Manger macaroni cheese? No Uber? All taxis need cash? CASH?!

But, I had claimed my aspiration was to “run a theatre company one day”. I preached that I agreed that “theatre is too London-centric”. I had told myself that I needed to work in the subsidised sector to understand the theatre industry fully. So, how could I turn away this opportunity with Middle Child?1

I packed my belongings into my Citroen C1 and drove up the M1. I traded my love/hate relationship with the Northern line commute for a walking commute which, three out of five days, smells like freshly baked bread.2

It is hard to summarise a years’ worth of experience into one blog post, but here’s an attempt to cover the main things I have learnt.

1) Hull’s sense of community is unrivalled


I thought I knew about community. But it wasn’t until I moved to Hull that I realised I hadn’t experienced community on this scale before. People from Hull, LOVE HULL. There are hundreds of volunteers who wear blue coats around the city and are met with adoration wherever they go. It sounds too twee to be real, but it’s true!

A staggering number of people who studied at the University of Hull have stayed in the city ever since. Equally, a huge number of people who moved there in 2017 for UK City of Culture have firmly rooted themselves in the city. I can’t express what it is about Hull that makes people love it. Maybe it has to do with the city’s growth over the last five years? Maybe it is rising above a negative reputation? Maybe it’s Hull Fair, the music, the festivals, the nightclubs, the museums? Maybe it’s a shared love of chip spice, white telephone boxes, Peter Levy and patties? 

The city feels like its own microcosm of shared experience, community and aspiration.

2) The strength of taking a chance on people


I was 25 when I took this job. I had never worked in subsidised theatre before. I hadn’t worked in theatre outside of London before. I hadn’t been a line manager before. I hadn’t been to a board meeting before. There are many other examples of things I hadn’t done, but we’d be here all day.

However, I am keen to learn and ready to tackle problems. Plus, I was already a huge fan of Middle Child, so not lacking in enthusiasm. I struggle to think of many companies that would have taken a risk on me like Middle Child did. But how are people to learn if not by giving opportunities and the chance for big leaps?

In a world of CVs and ‘essential experience’ criteria, I feel lucky to have had a year where I was given a chance to test myself and learn fast. How fantastic to have a company that is willing to invest that energy into supporting people early in their careers. It’s made me think about how people recruit; should experience and qualifications outweigh somebody the right mindset?

3) Leadership roles mean you have even more people supporting you


I had a vision of an executive director’s job which revolved around independent decision making, having to present myself as a leader and taking responsibility for the actions of a team. To some extent it is.

But actually, you have a whole team of people supporting you and involved in the decisions you make, including your board, your colleagues, Arts Council England, funders and other cultural leaders. The amount of support I have felt since starting at Middle Child has been unparalleled. When I moved to Hull, I had the leaders of other cultural organisations asking me if I’d like a coffee. People were going out of their way to introduce themselves and help me feel more at ease.

I’ve never been shy to ask questions when I get stuck, but it’s amazing to have people that you feel you can ask questions of.

4) Adelaide Fisheries do the best fish and chips.


Would recommend getting the gravy.

5) Help out the newcomer


Moving to a new city, solo, was quite intimidating. As I said before, the Hull community is very tight knit: they experienced UK City of Culture together, went to university together, raise families together. Whilst an amazing thing, it sometimes felt hard to fit into.

I was relatively well-weaved into the theatre community in London. Walking into a meeting, I would more often than not have a point of connection with somebody at the table. So, I never really experienced the ‘newcomer’ feeling.

The main thing I learnt was the importance of pushing myself into situations and looking out for other newcomers. A memory that sticks with me is when Middle Child board member, Fiona, watched me walk into Hull Truck Theatre for the first time and immediately left all her university friends so that I wasn’t alone and started introducing me to people. Note to self: always be a Fiona.

6) It’s ok to cry in the office.


“Some people say, ‘Never let them see you cry.’ I say, if you’re so mad you could just cry, then cry. It terrifies everyone.” – 
Tina Fey (Bossypants, 2011)

Here’s the thing: I cry when I’m frustrated. I’m not alone in this. Gloria Steinham, Roxane Gay and Rihanna are just a few of the famous women who have spoken publicly about crying with frustration at work.3

I think I’ve cried twice at Middle Child. Afterwards, I felt embarrassed – it’s not the vision of executive directing I’d imagined. But, I have amazing colleagues who immediately brought a cup of tea, said it was absolutely fine, sent a follow up text in the evening, then never mentioned it again.4

What stars. If you need to cry in the office, you should be allowed to cry in the office. You’ll feel better after. Feeling emotion is good. Showing you care about your job is good.

7) The industry relies on kindness and knowledge sharing


I had never worked in a team this small before. This meant that there was often nobody in the office who would know the answers to the problems I was trying to solve.

Previously I might have deferred to a line manager or relevant department head, but now I was often forced to problem-solve by myself or ask for help from outside the team. Often problem-solving for me was as simple as having to think who had the knowledge and would be willing to help me.

I presume that most people in their careers go through this period where they start relying on others’ support and kindness. I enjoy thinking that the industry is partially operating on a conveyor belt of free advice, guidance and support being passed around. Particularly with the challenges the industry faces in the imminent future.

8) The importance of job flexibility in the theatre industry


Whilst at Middle Child we joined PiPA (Parents in Performing Arts), an amazing company which helps arts organisations become family-friendly employers. Middle Child is a company which encourages their employees to work in the way that suits them best.

Whilst at Middle Child I had two weeks where I really needed to work from my family home.  In my previous jobs I would never have expected this to be easily agreed upon; there would have been negotiation, annual leave might have been deducted, it would have likely been a difficult and stressful process. Middle Child were fantastic, with a faith in my ability to work remotely and understanding of why I felt I had to be at home for two weeks.

I’m writing during the 2020 lockdown, where we have further tested the ability to work remotely. It’s difficult to have a family alongside long-term career ambitions in the theatre industry; theatre relies on evening work, long hours and often a physical presence. I have spent a lot of the last year thinking about what job flexibility means to me, not just for the present moment, but in how it speaks for an organisation’s values. It shows trust in employees and a recognition of commitments of individuals, and in return the organisation receives loyalty from employees and the ability to retain its talent.

So, to conclude….


I’m having an amazing time at Middle Child and I’m a big fan of Hull. I like working in theatre because I like working on project-based activity, but mainly because I like the people; they’re creative, outgoing, passionate, slightly eccentric and more often than not, very kind. It is sad to be seeing this amazing company have to cancel exciting projects because of the current situation in the world. However, as a voice from the inside, knowing what is ahead for them and how passionate they are to help re-build the industry, I could not be prouder to be associated with such a great company and for the year I’ve had with them.

Footnotes. Because I’m the kind of lass who writes a blog post with footnotes.

1) Actually what happened was, I told the co-founder of my old job that I’d been offered the role and he replied, “Well you should obviously take it, we can’t offer you an experience as good as that”, and the decision was made for me.

2) Spring Bank, Jackson’s Bakery, for the non-Hull locals.

3) Interview with Gloria Steinem

4) They also quickly learnt to suggest a Diet Coke break if I started to seem on-edge.

We’re going quiet now so we can make more noise in future

By | Uncategorised

Paul Smith, Artistic Director & CEO

No-one teaches you this, do they? There aren’t any Open University courses on running a theatre company in a pandemic. I couldn’t find any TedTalks on ‘how to smash socially distanced theatre’, or Buzzfeed articles on the ’55 Inspiring Things Artists of the Past Did During Global Health Crises’. It’s a thing we all say all the time – “I’m just making it up as I go along” – but it feels like it’s never been truer than right now, during All This

So what do you do when you’re lost? You follow your instincts, you listen to others and you try to make the best of things. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do here at Middle Child during the last few months, and what we will keep doing as we move forward.

Both organisations and individuals are having to make impossible decisions throughout our sector, treading the line between staying afloat and offering hope. Teetering between crisis and optimism. Imagining how we can change the world while trying to make sure we’re around to be a part of it. In truth, it feels that there are no right or wrong answers to be found, only choices to be made. 

As for us, we’ve made the difficult decision to furlough our remaining core staff from Friday 29th May until at least the first week of August, meaning a temporary pause on our public-facing activity for the first time in our nine-year history. We’re going to be going quiet for a bit so we can come back and make more noise long into the future. It’s not an easy decision and it comes with a sense of guilt and shame – should we be doing more? Should we be more innovative? More creative? Possibly. Or perhaps we should have gone quiet a long time ago, when All This first started. Then there’s the unavoidable question of privilege. There’s absolutely no doubt we’re in a privileged position, even being able to take a pause and take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme. Sadly, there’s a privilege in even being able to think about the future. We know that and we feel the weight of that. But the choice we’ve made is to use that privileged position to ensure we’re able to pay artists and employ freelancers long into the future. 

We have made this choice because what we do best involves people being together. Whether it’s the shows themselves, our artist development programme, our theatre library or our various social events, our reason to exist is to bring people together in a physical space to think about what it means to be human. We’ve always prioritised liveness at our events, seeing theatre as a social event – a rare opportunity to fully be together in an increasingly digital world. And naive as it may be, we’re not rushing to compromise on that just yet.  There are many brilliant companies who make incredible digital work. We are not one of them. And so we’re taking this privileged opportunity to stop. To think, reflect and hold. To not rush and to listen to what the world and the communities we work with need now. 

But I should be clear – this is not a complete stop for our company. For while our core staff go on furlough, Middle Child’s preparation for the future continues. We’re putting money into artists pockets and faith into their ideas, giving them time and space to imagine the theatre they want to make in future. Because we will come back. And when we do we’re going to make sure we’re taking risks on the new, the progressive, the unknown. Because where we’re going there’s no doubt we’re going to need ideas, we’re going to need fire and fight and passion and politics. We’re going to need artists, actors, producers, stage managers, designers, technicians, and all of the other freelancers that make this industry great. Because for us, right now, that feels like all we can do. Having lost our two major projects this year we’re reclaiming 2020/21 as a year to do what we can in the short-term in order to be able to take a breath and listen to what people need in the long-term. 

So what does this mean for us practically? What did we do in a pandemic? What are we planning to do next? Take a look at the below – presented without comment and see what you think, and remember we followed our instincts and made it up as we went along. Maybe one day in the future this blog post can be featured on a crisis management Buzzfeed article for ADs of the future to critique and contemplate.

Things We Did In The Short Term

  • We cancelled/postponed our new show There Should Be Unicorns.
  • We cancelled/postponed our tour of The Canary and the Crow.
  • We’ve setup this open access Dropbox folder containing useful resources for companies and individuals.
  • We pushed a 2021 project into 2022 but increased the commission size from under 70 minutes to over 70 minutes, increasing the scale and ambition.
  • We posted an archive recording of both All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Us Against Whatever.
  • We released Us Against Whatever on Spotify.
  • We created a DIY panto for people to do at home.
  • We setup a GoFundMe, inspired by Luke Barnes, which – thanks to the kindness of friends and strangers – raised £6,520 for Hull freelancers who’s income was affected by Covid-19. 
  • We scheduled eight free Zoom Q&A’s on various aspects of theatre making and production.
  • We honoured the contracts of freelancers, making sure we fully paid those who were already working with us.
  • We furloughed our staff and agreed to top their wages up to 100%
  • We created a Mental Health while on furlough policy, which made a number of pledges to furloughed staff
  • We cancelled our scheduled Acting Gym workshops, deciding to wait until we can do them face-to-face rather than putting them online.
  • We ran two online pub quizzes.
  • We carried on writing music for our new show virtually.
  • We moved our Concrete Retreat Writer Residency programme and offered everyone involved early payment in full if required, as well as giving them the option to use their £200 research fund to pay themselves if they were in need.
  • We posted Tom Wells’ brilliant writers exercises online for free.
  • We commissioned a number of writers to write a short 10-minute response to the current situation, to be performed in-person when it is safe to do so at an event called Our Radical Future.
  • We moved rehearsals for Out Loud our scratch night with our resident company, Silent Uproar – online, with the event being broadcast live on Radio Humberside. We paid all of the actors and writers to take part.
  • Along with Hull Truck and RTYDS we worked with Annabel Streeton on the first part of her directing placement, focusing on everything you do before you get into a rehearsal room.
  • We pondered digital output and decided that’s not what we’re good at.
  • We opened our submission window and asked writers to submit an existing piece of writing so we can get to know new people.
  • We hired a team of local artists to read scripts for us.
  • We put aside a pot of money as a development fund for people we meet through that submission window.
  • We invested time in the things we always say there isn’t enough time to do. 
  • We tidied the Google Drive.
  • We worked on an action plan and family friendly working policy with PIPA (Parents In the Performing Arts).
  • We contributed in a small way to the New Diorama’s brilliant North Star project, helping individuals with their first-time funding applications.
  • We developed our Mental Health Policy and our Working from Home policy.
  • We created a fundraising strategy for the future.
  • We finally became a charity.
  • We talked with and listened to local artists and freelancers.
  • We talked with and listened to our founding members as we do all we can to ensure Middle Child comes out of this okay.
  • We talked with and listened to other local organisations in the Cultural Collisions working group to share best practice and plan for the future
  • We talked with and listened to the Arts Council and our brilliant relationship manager.
  • We watched digital theatre and chatted about it with local artists and freelancers.
  • We commissioned writers to develop a treatment for a future idea.
  • We commissioned writers to begin developing a full show for us at some unknown point in the future.
  • We decided not to apply for the Arts Council’s Emergency Fund.
  • We had a board meeting on Zoom.
  • We welcomed a new board member from a finance background.
  • We re-forecasted each of our budgets for the next four years.
  • We paid the Roaring Girls a day rate to organise a Hull theatre-sector meet-up to discuss the ongoing situation.

Things We Want To Do In The Long Term

  • We want to listen better to understand how we can work together to build a better industry after All This is over
  • We still want to champion and commission the new, the progressive, the unknown
  • We want to continue to ‘take risks’ and not rely on the established or the traditional
  • We don’t want to close ranks
  • We want to adapt what needs to be adapted and protect what needs to be protected
  • We want to better serve our local community of artists and audiences, and listen to what they need now rather than make assumptions
  • We want to re-open our building but only when it is safe to do so
  • We want to relaunch our projects but only when it is safe to do so
  • We want to work out what our function is in the post-COVID world and how we can spend public money in the best way possible
  • We will check our privilege
  • We want to do what we can to support other arts organisations and individuals in need.
  • We will continue to fight for a fairer and more representative industry
  • We’ll make sure our audiences and artists are kept up to date with our plans to return, as we hope to be able to bring us back together with a collection of new commissions from a number of brilliant writers imagining Our Radical Future.
  • (We cannot wait for that day and to see you all again soon.)

So there it is. A list of what we did, and what we hope to do in future. There’s also an invisible list there somewhere of the things we didn’t do. 

I want to reiterate a few things. 

As a company, we’ve done what we think is right at this moment, and are in no doubt that the rest of our sector is doing the same. But it’s worth recognising that there are no easy answers here and we’re all having to hope that our best is good enough as we move into an unknown future. Our best is prioritising putting money in artists’ pockets and faith in artists’ ideas, because there’s one thing we’re certain of – we’ll be back, and we’ll be ready for the fight.

(While we’re away we’ve repurposed our What’s On page to include everything that’s available digitally. Check it out here)

Photo by Holly Robinson

Youth representation on the Middle Child board

By | Uncategorised

Fiona Hope, board member

Last year I was given the amazing opportunity to join the board of trustees for Middle Child. I had lots of chats with artistic director Paul and executive director Lindsey about what it means to be on the board and the kind of responsibilities that entails, but I still wasnt entirely sure what to expect walking into the first meeting.

Being only nineteen, with little professional experience, it was extremely daunting walking into a room of such incredible talent, but I was so quickly taken under everybodys wing and shown that my view as a young person was so important to the company. Middle Child are all about developing young artists in Hull and one of their target audiences is people aged between 18- 34, which is a demographic I fit into and can hopefully share insight to.

Over the past few years Ive begun to develop my understanding of how theatre works behind the scenes, as my ambition is to start a theatre company once I graduate from university. Previously I had only experienced the creative side of theatre, such as performing and directing. However joining the board for Middle Child has let me learn about running a company in a hands-on way, as well as mean I can give back to the company.

Conversations in board meetings have included talking about the goals and targets set by the company and what steps are being taken to grow and develop, such as how funding is applied for and used, and what they are doing to reach audiences and develop artists. These meetings have taught me about different bands of funding, audience engagement methods and how to not just keep a company running, but also be innovative and successful.

In particular, before attending a meeting I had no idea about finance and production but Rozzy, who is Lindsey’s maternity cover, went over everything so calmly and in detail, which was so useful and beneficial. Some of the things I have learnt about are fundraising, Arts Council applications, budgeting and cashflow forecasts. With Middle Child having been awarded NPO status Paul and Lindsey also explained what this means for funding and why the board is so crucial in maintaining this status.

Since joining the board, I have directed a show for a local theatre company She Productions, had a show at the Edinburgh fringe festival and completed some smaller projects at University. My experience on the board of trustees definitely helped me with these projects as I have a better understanding of the wider picture of theatre making and how to resolve some production issues should they arise, such as where sacrifices need to be made for the sake of the budget. I am still learning so much every meeting and am so grateful for the experience that I know I will use in the future to develop my career in theatre. 

Saucepan from Wikimedia Commons

Playwriting with Tom Wells #3: Dialogue and Scenes

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells, Uncategorised

By Tom Wells, associate artist

This week’s topics are Dialogue and Scenes. We’ll have a look at the way people talk to each other in real life, the way characters talk to each other on stage, and the way this can be shaped into a scene that feels sparky, energetic and alive. We’ll start gently, though, with a bit of Gogglebox.

Exercise One

Here is a clip of Giles and Mary from Gogglebox, talking about Clapping for Carers:

And here is a transcript of their conversation:

Mary shows Giles a film clip on her phone.

GILES: If I had known that I was allowed to bang a saucepan with a spoon, I would’ve definitely got a sauce-

Mary laughs.

Mary I would’ve loved to bang a saucepan.

Mary is crying a bit. She takes her glasses off, wipes her eyes.

MARY: Joseph said it was very moving.

GILES: Yeah, now, steady Mary. Steady.

MARY: It was.

GILES: Don’t… At this stage of the day don’t get upset. But if I’d known I was allowed to bang a spoon, Mary –

Mary blinks.

– against a, a copper pan, I would, just like Bez, there’s something very satisfy –

Mary laughs.

– satisfying about doing that. Especially if someone else is doing it at the other end of the village.

MARY: Yeah, yeah well we’ll do that next week, it’s going to be every week apparently.

GILES: Is it?

MARY: Yeah I think so.

GILES: What every week a…? Mary.

Mary sobs.

MARY: Yes.

 

The first exercise is to have a go at doing this yourself. Record a conversation, a real-life conversation, just a short exchange (ten lines or so) between two people, and do your best to write it down accurately. Don’t be tempted to correct it or change it to make it clearer or to give it different grammar. Just write it exactly as you hear it. If you don’t have a way of recording people at home then try doing it with a clip from Gogglebox. There’s lots to choose from on their Twitter feed.

This will take a while, but it’s really worth doing. Listen to the exchange a number of times as you go along. Pause it and restart it. Do your best to record all the little details of their speech.

Once you’ve finished, have a read. Look closely at it. Look at the pauses, the repetitions, the strange punctuation, the rhythms and the music of it, the way mistakes and mispronunciations – and silence, things unsaid – add a warmth and depth of meaning to real-life speech. Those are the things we are doing and hearing all the time, they’re the things that make dialogue feel alive and characters feel truthful when they speak. They’re the things to bear in mind when you’re writing dialogue of your own.

Exercise Two

The idea behind this exercise is to understand the difference between two people speaking to each other in real life and two people speaking in a dramatic scene. In real life, two people talking can be funny or truthful or to the point or beautifully observed, but it can often feel as if nothing is actually happening. Two people talk, but everything stays the same. Dialogue between characters on stage is quite different to this. It’s most interesting if it’s active, if it feels like there’s something at stake or something might change, if one of the characters wants something, and the other character can help them get it or get in their way. It’s useful to have a go at writing this.

So, to begin with, we’ll revisit the lucky dip objects from last week. Pick one of these:

  • a key
  • a phone
  • some chilli flakes
  • a pound coin
  • a box of juice
  • some painkillers
  • a screwdriver
  • a stamp
  • a condom
  • a safety pin
  • a Kitkat

and give it to Character A. Imagine it is the thing that Character B needs more than anything at this moment. Have a go at writing the dialogue between the two characters as Character B tries to get the thing from Character A. Think about the sort of strategies which Character B might use to try and get it. Write an exchange where they have three separate gos. You can give them names if it makes things easier. Don’t overthink it though. Just have a go. Spend about ten minutes writing it. And, once you’re done, have a read of it.

It’s just a quick exercise, and the truth is it might not be a very realistic set-up (it’s not often a person will try three different ways of convincing someone to give them a safety pin). But hopefully, in its simple way, it shows you some of the differences between talking, which passes the time, and dialogue, which is always trying to make stuff happen. Hopefully you’ve started to feel the need for dialogue to be an active thing, to have the potential for changing the situation between characters on stage. Fingers crossed that’ll be helpful in this week’s last exercise.

 

Exercise Three

This exercise is about balance. The first thing to think about is to crafting a scene that feels alive and exciting for people to watch, with one character trying to get something from the other, while things keep getting in their way, like you did in Exercise Two. The second thing to think about is making sure the characters speak in authentic-sounding, believable dialogue, a bit like the detailed real-life transcripts you made in Exercise One. It’s worth spending a bit of time on balancing these two things. Once you crack it the writing properly sings.

Think of two characters you’re interested in writing. Think about something one character might want from the other. It might be as simple as a Kitkat, like the lucky dip objects, but it might also be something that can’t be held in their hand – forgiveness, for example, or to be listened to, or to be left alone, or a kiss. Think about the things stopping them or getting in their way. They might be obstacles caused by the other character or the outside world, but they can also come from within – it’s a very human and recognisable thing for a character to be their own worst enemy, because of stubbornness or shyness, hotheadedness or self-doubt.

Now you have a sense of the workings of the scene and who the characters are, spend a bit of time thinking about the way the characters speak to one another. Do they find it easy? Are they a bit hesitant, or do they overshare? Are they scared to ask for the thing, worrying about potential conflict? Are they a bit demanding, quick to argue, not very good at keeping calm? Do they avoid talking about the things they really want to talk about? Do they miss out words, or get them wrong, or lose momentum so their sentences trail off? Do they speak before thinking, lash out a bit, interrupt each other? What else do they do alongside talking? Picture the situation in your head.

Now, have a go at writing the scene. It doesn’t have to be long. Show one character trying to get the thing they want from the other. Try to make the dialogue sound truthful and authentic. By the end of the scene, even if it is a tiny thing, something should have changed. Compare it to the transcript you wrote of a real-life conversation. You will start to get a sense in your own writing of what it is that makes a scene dramatic.

Feel free to share your writing with us on social media: simply tag @middlechildhull on either Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Out Loud Darleys

Applications open for our second Hull scratch night

By | Uncategorised
Out Loud Darleys

After a hugely successful first scratch night last month, held in partnership with Silent Uproar and supported by Richard Bean, Out Loud returns on Saturday 9 May.

This time the sharing will take place upstairs at Hull Truck Theatre, as part of this year’s Grow Festival and ahead of our homecoming performance of The Canary and the Crow.

Free tickets for the night will go on sale nearer the time, but in the meantime we need writers and, once again, we are looking for four fifteen-minute excerpts to perform script-in-hand.

Anything goes form and content-wise, but we are particualrly interested in stories about Hull and the north. We can only accept scripts that can be performed by no more than four performers.

How to apply

Please send a sample of no more than 10 pages of your script to jamie@middlechildtheatre.co.uk before 10am on Monday 23 March.

Names will be removed from scripts and passed to Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, and Silent Uproar artistic director, Alex Mitchell, to be read anonymously.

All applicants will hear whether they have been selected or not by Friday 24 April.

EN PL