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An excitable seated audience bathed in pink-red light, in front of giant lit-up letters that spell NSDF

National Student Drama Festival 2022: a “utopia that theatre could be”

By | Artist Development, Blog, Uncategorised

Middle Child company member, Marc Graham, writes about his experience of attending this year’s National Student Drama Festival as an associate – and why the festival matters so much

This was the first National Student Drama Festival back in-person since 2019. In the time between then and now it went digital, winning a Digital Trailblazer Award at the Digital Culture Awards and continued to do what it does best: working with young people and allowing a space for the future generation of theatre makers to flourish.

I first came to NSDF as a student in 2009. I straightened my hair for the show and was mainly carried around on the shoulders of my mates, while we reached for stuff in the distance.

I came back to do another show with the same mates a few years later, after we had graduated and were at the start of our careers, this time with curly hair and this time I shouldered their weight, whilst reaching for more stuff in the distance.

I became an associate in 2019, after having worked with that year’s festival director, James Phillips, in 2017, on Flood. I sacrificed my body by jumping into a freezing cold body of water in an old dock in Hull that winter, while a heavy set, boats and fire swirled around me. That was the job interview. They took two years to get back to me, but I got it.

So, April 2022. NSDF is back for its 66th year, it’s survived the pandemic, it’s a digital award winner, back in Leicester at the Curve and I arrive for kick-off. That in itself is a remarkable achievement and all down to the tireless effort of James Phillips, Lizzie Melbourne and Ellie Fitz-Gerald. JLE.

Under team JLE, NSDF has shifted from a competition to a festival that celebrates and cultivates great work.

This year the festival was free to attend. This year the festival also had access at its heart.

An excitable seated audience bathed in pink-red light, in front of giant lit-up letters that spell NSDF

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

First show, DJ Bazzer’s Year 6 Disco, from Chewboy Productions. As I sit down for this I realise that I haven’t seen any live theatre since the pandemic began. I was feeling a little emotional about this, but then the year six tunes began, I settle in, I’m a little too enthusiastic on the audience call and response stuff and I’m just enjoying a night out at the theatre. Then I get really sucked into this world, this character, the performance, the sound design, lights, everything. The show is great, see it if you can.

My first workshop, “Creating a Character from Very Little”, was the next morning. I was led to the space by one of the many incredible NSDF management team, who had forgone writing her dissertation to be at NSDF, a decision I wholeheartedly approve of.

The workshop basically uses some rehearsal techniques that Middle Child use today and some from our early years – before the police fines for disturbing the peace (not joking).

The session ends with me asking the performers to “take their characters for a walk” around Leicester on a sunny Sunday morning, before coming back to partake in a group improvisation. No one gets fined and they all approach the workshop with such drive and passion. Of course they do. They are all excellent.

Next I’m on a panel discussing “Is Theatre Shit? And How Do We Fix It?”

Topics discussed include de-funding the Royal Opera House and subjects of heavier weight, and a lot of this came from students themselves. That’s the best thing about these. Young theatre makers are unafraid to ask the big questions, the necessary ones. They’re inquisitive and it’s needed.

One of the big things here was, where are the routes for emerging theatre makers now? Edinburgh is unaffordable and Vaults has been shut down again. From 2020 we have lost two years of crucial development for emerging companies and, unfortunately, we have lost many companies completely. We didn’t have a specific answer for this right now.

Two performers on stage in front of a multicoloured kaleidoscopic background.

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

In between the scheduled programme, films are filming, emerging critics are critiquing, tech teams are teching. Conversations are happening: in the bar, in cafes, in outside venues, in the toilets, between associates, emerging theatre makers, students, professionals, writers, designers, academics and the people of Leicester. This is the real value of NSDF.

Ali Pidsley and I are treated to a viola rendition from Chris Thorpe. Without the viola. He declines every request I make. It’s fine, another show is starting and we’re gonna be late.

It’s also here where you meet emerging theatre makers of NSDF past who have now emerged. I meet the brilliant Definitely Fine Theatre, here with another show. I saw Ezra at Edinburgh uni pre-pandemic. They’re a company finding their voice, experimenting and it’s wonderful. We say hi, they tell me I’m the reason that they’re here, I play it down but only half-heartedly. I discovered them first okay… no I didn’t. But, you know, I sort of did. No, I’m joking. But also yeah, it was me.

RESERVATION. DaDaFest x NSDF. Box of Frogs. A group of young disabled, Deaf and neurodivergent performers having FUN on stage, sometimes at each other’s expense. Is some of it uncomfortable to watch? Absolutely, and that is the point. It is genuinely one of the most joyous experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre.

At the Q&A I’m buzzing and say things really loudly about how I just wanted to join in and dance with them onstage at the end. I later raise a second point which is basically the same as the first because I’m just so pumped up.

This show must have a further life.

It’s captioned, audio-described and BSL-interpreted – as is every show this year. #PissOnPity

An audience invades the stage to dance with their hands in the air under various coloured stage lights

Reservations. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

After their last show, I meet Nickie Miles-Wildin in the bar, on the way to hosting the spoken word night. She says she encouraged the audience to do what I suggested in the Q&A and they joined the performers on stage. She said she got in trouble, something about the Curve’s health and safety protocols. That’s rock’n’roll. I’ll take responsibility for that.

Nadia Emam and I host the spoken word night. It’s on the purpose-built NSDF stage in the bar at Curve. The mic is live and ready to go. Nickie Miles-Wildin is now halfway through a bottle of champagne and is trying to heckle me from the front row, but unfortunately for her 11 years of being a panto dame means I shut her down without giving it a second thought.

The standard is phenomenal. We have actors, producers, technical staff, NSDF alumni, management staff all standing up in front of 100 people and speaking their words. Then we have Viktor. Viktor asks me at the side of stage if they can perform, I say absolutely. Viktor is second from last, Viktor steps up to the mic. Viktor says:

“I’ve never performed my work in front of anyone before. I’m a dentist from Leicester. I don’t know what this is. I’ve been out drinking and was passing by and saw the lights and heard the noise. Sorry, I’m nervous. This poem is Untitled. Thank you.”

It was about how they thought they could never be loved, that they didn’t fit in, in a strange body and a foreign land.

It was one of those true moments of magic.

The day after I ran a second workshop on drama school auditions, with a last-minute offer of help from Hannah Miller, head of casting at the RSC. The second panel discussion was also about drama schools. The main takeaway from that: schools are not doing enough to push for access. It must start there, they could be the industry leaders, if they step-up.

A group of people chatting with drinks in hand at NSDF 2022

NSDF 2022. Photo by Beatrice Debney.

NSDF is partly about the shows, but it’s more about the conversations over coffee, the sharing of experiences, providing a safe platform to experiment and discover.

It’s a place where theatre professionals meet student theatre makers as equals. I mean, many of us were all them at some stage. And if we weren’t students, we had to learn somewhere.

This does not happen in this industry enough. Some of the professionals I met 13 years ago I still work with today. I always say: find the people who share your values and opinions and hold on to them tightly. NSDF is a place where this happens.

It is the utopia of what the theatre industry could be. Every year that goes by in this career I get a little more jaded, a little less hopeful, but each year the next generation of theatre makers at NSDF revitalises that. It may only last a week, but I take the values of NSDF with me for the rest of the year.

On my last morning I’m sitting with Chris Thorpe at breakfast. We both have our phones in hand. He looks at me across his plate of hash browns, he slumps his phone down after losing to me at chess online and says:

“The reality is, is that we probably get more out of this than the young people do.”

Rehearsal photos from There Should Be Unicorns

By | Uncategorised

Rehearsals for There Should Be Unicorns, our new hip hop family musical, are well under way, with just one week left until we premiere in Hull.

Last week photographer, Tom Arran, nipped in to our rehearsal room to capture the action and give you a taste of what to expect at Stage @TheDock, from 7-8 May.

Tickets are sold out, but follow Middle Child on social media for updates on any returned tickets.

If you were lucky enough to bag a set of free tickets, don’t forget to prepare your fancy dress outfit for the big day!

Book free tickets for There Should Be Unicorns

By | Uncategorised

Free tickets are now available for There Should Be Unicorns, our new hip hop family musical, coming to Stage @TheDock in Hull over the weekend of 7-8 May.

Check out our show page for more details about the production, or head straight to the ticketing page by clicking one of the links below.

  • Saturday 7 May, 11am (SOLD OUT*)
  • Saturday 7 May, 2pm (SOLD OUT*)
  • Sunday 8 May, 11am (BSL interpreted) (SOLD OUT*)
  • Sunday 8 May, 2pm (BSL interpreted) (SOLD OUT*)

Please note that we are aware of issues with the Safari browser when attempting to book tickets.

If you have any problems, please try an alternative browser, or call the box office team at Hull Truck Theatre on 01482 323638 to book over the phone.

*Sold Out Performances

As a free ticket show, we expect there to be a small number of tickets returned prior to the performance.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for updates about any tickets that become available.

A white woman with long dark hair, in lilac dungarees, yellow jumper, gold party hat and pink cape makes a superhero pose, against blue background with white clouds and text that says "There Should Be Unicorns"

There Should Be Unicorns to open in Hull

By | Events, News, Shows, Uncategorised
A white woman with long dark hair, in lilac dungarees, yellow jumper, gold party hat and pink cape makes a superhero pose, against blue background with white clouds and text that says

Flutter your capes and zhuzh up your rainbows – we have a new show coming to town!

There Should Be Unicorns is a hip hop family musical coming to Stage @ The Dock in Hull from 7-8 May, made in association with Beats Bus.

Join 11-year-old Jasmine on an adventure to make the world a better place, powered only by her imagination and a belief in unicorns.

Come dressed as the superhero version of yourself and help Jasmine take on the bullies, villains and ideas that shape the world around her.

There Should Be Unicorns is inspired by the story of Beats Bus co-founder, Steve Arnott, who was the subject of Sean McAllister’s 2018 documentary, A Northern Soul.

Steve stars as Jasmine’s dad, alongside Beats Bus co-founder Kobby Taylor, who you may also recognise from The Canary and the Crow and The Little Mermaid.

In the show Jasmine’s dad inspires her to rebel against the pressure to conform and put herself first as she gets ready to move to senior school.

We’d love to see families from across Hull turn out in fancy dress to support Jasmine in her quest and free face painting will be available all weekend, from Fantastic Faces.

A Black man applauds a white boy on a microphone. In the background lots of children watch.

Kobby Taylor leading a Beats Bus workshop

Free tickets, available 30 March

Free tickets have been made possible thanks to the support of Wykeland Group, Without Walls and Freedom Festival Arts Trust.

They go on-sale through the Middle Child website at 12 noon, Wednesday 30 March.

For the first time at a Middle Child show we are providing integrated audio description in all performances, alongside BSL interpretation on Sunday 8 May.

The venue also opens an hour before the show and you’re welcome to bring in food from the many independent shops and cafes around the Fruit Market.

There Should Be Unicorns premieres in Hull, before heading on a national tour of outdoor festivals, including a return to Freedom Festival, so come join us for a kick-ass opening weekend!

There Should Be Unicorns is supported by Wykeland Group, Without Walls, Freedom Festival Arts Trust, Hull City Council, Foyle Foundation and Garfield Weston.

Fantastic Faces logo
Panto Dame Name Generator

What’s your panto dame name?

By | Uncategorised
Panto Dame Name Generator

Ever wondered how we came up with the name of our panto dame, Pattie Breadcake? With our patented Panto Dame Name Generator!

Simply take the title from the month you were born in, alongside two names from the lists below and voila! Instant panto celeb-dom.

Birth month

January-March: Lady
April-June: Queen
July-September: Dame
October-December: Our

The first letter of your first name

AB: Pattie
CD: Marina
EF: Ferry
GH: Welly
IJ: Fishy
KL: Larkin’
MN: Tiger
OP: Chippy
QR: Mafting
ST: Tenfoot
UV: Croggy
WX: Gravy
YZ: Humber

The first letter of your last name

AB: Breadcake
CD: Turbine
EF: Gristle
GH: Codhead
IJ: Foreshore
KL: Trawler
MN: Headscarf
OP: Oss Wash
QR: Ave a Skeg
ST: Spiders
UV: Big Wheel
WX: Chip Spice
YZ: Dead Bod

Am I a writer? – Retrospective thoughts from Tom Wells’ writer’s group from Jenni

By | Uncategorised

There’s something humbling about reading the words on a page you had just madly written down minutes prior during a 2-minute freewriting exercise. I can still hear my voice tripping over the phrases and my cheeks burning. I was so confident of the short story of a man driving home from his sister’s Christmas meal and facing the consequences of what he had done that morning when marking it on paper that I hadn’t steadied myself for an entire room of people to hear it. It was terrifying.

I’ve been forced to ask myself, am I a writer?

This was a question I was asking myself the entire time I was contemplating applying for Tom Well’s writing group with Middle Child. When I had first heard of the opportunity, I didn’t think too deeply into it honestly, I just knew I wanted to be involved, but when I read the application, imposter syndrome smacked me in the face.

To backtrack, anyone who reads my experience with writing would be confused as to why I wouldn’t consider myself a writer. I’ve written about uncountable short-stories, poetry pieces, short-film scripts, articles, blogs, reviews, lyrics, essays for my short-lived YouTube career, alongside copywriting for social media and various company websites, and I’ve probably overlooked many other examples, but most of these surprisingly isn’t for the sake of writing.

Despite myself, I applied and I got in. Over the course of the weeks we met in a room, I poured my brain onto the page for the first time and when reading that first piece, I panicked. Everyone else was so funny, so quick, so clever, and I felt I was wading through a clumsy chunk of an idea. After I had read out loud, I analysed the room and the reactions, and honestly, there could have been a million positive comments, but they would never have shined through a twitch in a mouth corner which I had translated into shame.

a woman writes in an A5 notebook with a silver mechanical pencil on a wooden desk

Creative writing, an idea from your brain, is very personal. Compared to well-researched essays, reports or even an album review, for me, it feels like a world away. I can spend hours of energy constructing an incredibly insightful piece for a company blog and happily stand in front of a crowd of hundreds and confidently read aloud. My heart is safely tucked behind my ribcage and nowhere near my sleeve. But then I reach into myself and pull out something fictional, explorative, use my imagination, my knees give way at the idea of letting another person see.

The thing about practice, surprisingly, is that the thing you practice generally gets easier. Over the weeks sat in that room with the brilliant group of writers, sharing our ideas and our work throughout Tom’s exercises, something clicked. I wasn’t consistently confident, but I noticed that feedback that was constructive and useful no longer felt like an attack on my soul. You’ll be happy to hear, by the last week, I was volunteering to go first in sharing my ideas, and with a smile on my face, I shared my thoughts around where I wanted to take my final piece. I feel I am prepared to hear my own writing performed by another on stage in front of an audience, not only that, I think I’m thrilled by the concept.

As most of the past attendees of Tom’s writing group will say: If you have any consideration of trying out the writer’s group, then bloody well apply.

Jenni Harrison, Events/Media Producer and Manager (and writer)

New merch: 10 Years of Middle Child poster by Joseph Cox

By | Uncategorised

Fresh new merch line just dropped.

To celebrate a decade of making a noise, we commissioned Hull designer Joseph Cox to create a print featuring illustrations of 15 shows from the first ten years of Middle Child.

The artwork features imagery from shows such as The Canary and the Crow, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Weekend Rockstars and is available as an A3 giclee-printed poster.

The poster is available to buy now through our online store and can be either collected from our rehearsal space in Hull, or delivered via Royal Mail.

The Canary and the Crow - Roundabout 2019 - The Other Richard

Stream The Canary and the Crow from 25-31 October

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The Canary and the Crow - Roundabout 2019 - The Other Richard

As part of our 10th birthday celebrations we are thrilled to be able to share a digital recording of our award-winning production of The Canary and the Crow.

Written by Daniel Ward, the semi-autobiographical play about a working class Black kid accepted into a grammar school earned Daniel the George Devine Award, for most promising playwright, and a Writers’ Guild Award, for best play for young audiences.

The Canary and the Crow features a hip hop, grime and classical soundtrack by Prez 96 and James Frewer and also earned two Off West End awards for its run at London’s Arcola Theatre in 2020.

The show premiered at Hull Truck Theatre in 2019 and went on to wow the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before touring with the Paines Plough Roundabout that autumn, where this 360° video recording was captured.

The video, shot by LIVR in the Roundabout at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2019, will be available on our website, from 25-31 October.

You can decide whether to pay £5, £10 and £15, depending on how many people watch with you. Or how generous you feel!

No pre-booking is necessary – simply return to the listing on our website when the stream is available to access the video.

  • Catch the cast of The Canary and the Crow reunite to play songs and scenes from the show in our 10th Birthday Party, at Social on Humber Street in Hull, on Thursday 4 November.
10th Birthday Party artwork

Celebrating 10 years of making a noise

By | Uncategorised
10th Birthday Party artwork

Middle Child turned 10 years old on Wednesday 6 October.

That’s a full decade of making a noise from our home in Hull, since a group of University of Hull graduates decided to return to the city in 2011 and start a company.

To celebrate the landmark anniversary, we’re doing what we do best – putting on a good night out, with a big old birthday party down at Social on Humber Street in Hull.

Performers from past shows, including The Canary and the Crow, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Us Against Whatever, will reunite to play scratch-style songs and scenes from previous performances.

There will also be a fundraising raffle, the obligatory speeches and sets from the Make Noise Collective DJs.

Doors open at 7pm and the entertainment kicks off at 7.30pm, running until late.

Tickets cost £15 and are on-sale now.

Michelle stands pointing off camera, standing behind a screen during our Recover, Restart and Reimagine project

Paradox, permission and play – a reflection by Michelle Dee

By | Uncategorised

by Michelle Dee (she/her) – writer and performer

This piece was written in June 2021 as a reflection on our Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme

As I look back on the past three weeks participating on Middle Child Theatre’s unique Recover, Restart and Reimagine programme, an initiative unique to this city and perhaps to the sector, that recognised the precarity of being a freelancer not just here and now in 2021 as we try to emerge from a global pandemic, but at any point in a career, and decided to do something real and meaningful about it.

Picturing the twelve artists in a space – an empty shop unit in the city centre – some known to each other, others not so, I am struck by the paradoxical nature of having a bespoke place to play, indeed the emphasis on play was one of the things that prompted me to apply back in May, but not to interact in a pre-pandemic way.

Within RRR we felt like family one day, comrades the next, freedom fighters the third. Somewhat shielded from the reality of the outside world we were given time dedicated to the important things like thinking, dreaming, planning, growing. Within our bubble of creative sparks and personal revelations and breakthroughs we felt completely safe, freed from the pressures of everyday processing of the impact of the pandemic, despite the four-day covid testing regime; strict adherence to social distancing; mask-wearing while moving in the space, and the ubiquitous hand sanitising.

Over time all these behaviours become normalised. What never does though nor should it, is the lack of human touch, the desperate feeling of wanting to reach out knowing that you cannot, when the person beside you needs a hand to hold, or a supportive shoulder: crossing your wrists over your chest like some bemused cartoon superhero doesn’t cut it.

During one of the yoga sessions, I remember the accompanying music took on a Lynchian quality think Twin Peaks ‘Roadhouse Singer’ Julee Cruise, as the moment and the music moved me, transported me I lay quietly sobbing, at the beauty of the music and at the sudden and rapid decline of my body over the last two years as it succumbs to the rigours of rheumatoid arthritis. I lay there weeping for all the things I wanted to do post-pandemic but now seemingly will not. And little did I know in the immediate future I would experience a flare-up in my left hip that would leave me struggling to walk, to sit, to do anything really: so it hasn’t all been a jolly old time.

When people ask me what it was like I will say that it has been tough, for myriad reasons, but that I am so grateful to Middle Child for inviting me to take part. Needless to say the theatre company’s response to seeing my struggle was to offer every support they physically could, and warm genuine words of support… I have never met a more caring organisation, I’m not sure if one could even exist.

Likewise, my RRR family offered support to, lifting and carrying for me during the peak of the episode.

One more thing on Middle Child’s approach to working: never have I been invited to share my pronouns quite so much as I have done in the last three weeks. Middle Child do this as a matter of course, not to jump on a gender identity bandwagon, but just as a matter of course, as a sign of respect, to show that they actually care about who they are talking to, working and interacting with.

It hasn’t been all heavy sessions reflecting on traumas and pain pandemic related or not, there was much joy in the room and laughter, lots of it coupled with a luminous spirit of sharing and openness, not in a wanky way but in the way everyone had the opportunity to be heard – some more than others, being shut in your flat for a year will do that to a person – and how each speaker, workshop deliverer gave of their knowledge and insight so generously. We all have a little bible now filled with notes to reflect upon in the coming weeks as we search for clues, answers and solutions to better deal with the challenges to come.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the shutter’s starring role during Zoom sessions and the bemused look on the screen, as they try to work where the hell we are, announcing they have never done Zoom when the ‘audience’ are all together in the one-room: neither had any of us up until three weeks ago.

Before I leave you with a few notes to scroll through below from my now bible, that will hopefully lend an insight into the experience. I’d like to call on all disciplines, not just theatre, but dance and music and visual arts who work with freelancers to learn from Middle Child, and devise a programme that shows you recognise and value the work they do to keep your sector alive.

Michelle stands pointing off camera, standing behind a screen during our Recover, Restart and Reimagine project
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