Whether we know it or not, I think everyone is a born storyteller. After all, we tell ourselves stories every minute of every day. When we walk down the street our eyes are telling our brain a story. We can't possibly take in everything we see, so our imagination fills in the gaps. We see three people walking together, one of them is a child, we might tell ourselves the story that they are a family. We see two people sitting on a bench at a certain distance from each other, we might tell ourselves the story that they are strangers, or that they are a couple who have just had massive row.
I think that the best stories are told in such a way that allows individual imagination to fill in the gaps of what is presented to us. Because then they become our stories. They become unique to us and our life experience. As a result they come to mean more to us and they become part of our individual culture. In essence, I think stories make us who we are.
I like to tell stories with music.
When I was young my Dad decided that he wanted to learn to play the guitar so that he could play songs to me and my brother at bedtime. I don't remember being particularly fascinated by the guitar back then or by the singing, but interestingly enough I remember all those songs that were played to me. And it's not so much the melodies I remember, but the stories they told...
So when I eventually started writing songs, I suppose I was always more concerned with the story than with a melody or a style. Because I think that melody, harmony, rhythm and lyric are storytelling tools rather than the heart of a piece of music. We are, first and foremost emotional, irrational beings. The research has been done, that's literally how our brains work. The instinctual, emotional part of our brain (or the lizard brain) operates at an impossibly fast rate. Before our thinking, rational mind can blink, our lizard brain has told us what to do and we're already primed to act on it.
In other words human beings are programmed to feel before we think.
I think that a good story should reflect that hard-wired programming. After all, it's what our audience are programmed to react to. If we want our audience to really think about the rationale of what our story is trying to say, we better make sure that they are FEELING it first. This isn't to say that we should all write work that stands on the top of a building and shouts "FEELINGS! Look at all these FEELINGS I have! LISTEN TO MY FEELINGS!" But that we should tell stories that engage our emotions.
As a company, we at Paper Balloon tell original stories for young people. We don't do adaptations of existing work. There are plenty of companies out there in the world adapting work and doing it very well. We wanted to do something different. We wanted to create new stories for a new audience and in order to do that we have had to learn about how to build stories. We don't believe that we've nailed it yet. We've learnt a huge amount about it, we know alot of the theory and technique that goes into story making and we've put that theory into practice in the creation of our work... but we're not done with the journey just yet.
Having said that I thought I'd share with you three of the things that I've learnt about story building over the years... I hope you find them useful... and obviously, being a storyteller, I'm going to use a big fat metaphor to do it.
1. Find the heart of your story...
Step into the trees. Don't worry if you don't know exactly where you're going immediately. Don't let that stop you from beginning your journey. The journey through the woods will teach you everything you need to know, and you'll only find the real heart of your story when you sit down in that beautiful sun dappled glade halfway through the forest. When you do find it, that uniquely shaped piece of wood, half hidden amongst the bluebells, pick it up. Take a good long look at it, admire it. You're going to be spending a fair bit of time with it in the future... and don't forget to take it with you when you leave the glade. If you drop it somewhere along the way, make sure you pick it up. If you finally get out of the trees and realise it's fallen somewhere along the path, turn back, retrace your steps and find it. You won't regret it.
2. Learn the tools of your craft...
When you looked at that strangely shaped piece of wood amongst the bluebells you saw something there. Now that you look at it again you can see it still, an image in the unique contours, the nooks, the twists and turns of the grain. You can see it but other people need to be able to see it too. Take your whittling tools... hone and refine the edges, the corners, bring out the curves and smooth down the rough surfaces. But careful not to try and reinvent it into something that it never was. Your job is to bring that rough image into focus. To make it beautiful so that other's may see what you can see. Learning how to use the tools of your craft will not diminish the magic of creation, it can only ever enhance it.
3. Trust your audience...
That unique piece of wood that you found in the glade in the heart of the forest is finished. The images that you saw when you first looked at it all those years ago have been brought into sharp relief by careful refining and honing. The carvings are beautiful, you have hollowed out the centre, you have bored holes upon it's length at careful intervals. You have made a musical pipe. The strong structure is there, the potential is there... but it won't truly be finished until your audience blows the air of their imagination into the pipe. Trust your audience to do some of your work for you. Your job is to give them the opportunity to feel. Their job is to take that opportunity.
Everyone is a born storyteller, all we have to do is decide what story we want to tell and tell it.
Paper Balloon began life as a disparate group of people brought together to help Katie Boon with her dissertation for her MA at RADA, a piece for, with and partially by a group of young people. We rehearsed where we could (in flat gardens, religious buildings and even ocassionally a rehearsal studio), when we could (usually late into the evening and on weekends - we all had full-time jobs) and we were all paid the grand total of absolutely nothing.
But, the important thing was that we had fun. We became friends... and we decided that we should keep doing this...
We made another show, Katie was working at the New Diorama theatre at the time and managed to get us programmed in the children's fringe near Camden. People who had no connection to us came to see us perform and they brought their small ones.
Years passed and we kept on building, we were each other's therapy, we got alot wrong, relationships in the group could become tense and some fractured, but we kept on making things. We began to learn how to work together best, what sort of stories we all liked to tell, what our different strengths were, how to not get on each other's nerves so much.
We also started building a company structure with artistic directors, performer associates, composer/lyricist associates, producers. Of course we were all still paid absolutely nothing.
Then we reached a critical mass in our little group. We decided that this was what we wanted to do. Not only children's theatre and not only working with Paper Balloon but for most of us, we wanted a life in the theatre. As the real jobs slowly slipped down to part-time and then gradually drifted away into almost no time, we were able to begin applying for grants and residencies and full-time work making theatre with other companies. We engaged with the worldwide communities of theatre making for children collaborating with experts in writing and shadow puppetry from Australia and Russia. As we each got more work on other shows our individual networks grew and as a result our group networks grew exponentially. We no longer rehearsed in the evenings, we began to pay ourselves properly from the grants that we were awarded and most importantly we kept on building the shows.
At some point we found ourselves in the position of being asked advice by young companies on how to make it in the world of theatre for young audiences. It was surreal... even now we remain a small company working on smaller scale productions, but we are working, we are paid for that work and the work is seen by a good number of audiences throughout the UK.
Over the years, the group has changed, people have moved away and moved on to other things as life is want to do. We all remain friends but the core of Paper Balloon theatre is now Alex Kanefsky, Darren Clark and Dorie Kinnear. We are fortunate to work with a lot of brilliant regular collaborators who help us do things that we cannot.
The one thing that has not changed has been a desire to make original, exciting work for young audiences and their families...
What's the key to a good piece for younger human beings? I'm not sure we've entirely cracked it but a good portion of it is respecting the fact that children are complex humans, capable of feeling and understanding a huge range of emotion and humour. Children are built for the theatre because, unlike some adults, they like to be challenged and they are masters of the imagination. They can see things that adults can only dream of seeing. In the expensive world of big budget theatre making, a child's imagination is an absolute gift and you'd be foolish to ignore it.
So when making theatre for younger audiences remember that. Try not to talk down. Make your work a conversation rather than a lecture, you'll be surprised at what you might learn...
Paper Balloon has now toured three professional shows around the UK with one travelling to Russia and are working on our fourth piece, Faerie Cakes.
Stay tuned for more information...
By Darren Clark
Composer/Lyricist and Co-Founder of Paper Balloon Theatre Company
ACTOR MUSICIAN CALL OUT
Paper Balloon Theatre are seeking an actor musician for our upcoming tour of new production for families: The Boy and The Mermaid.
Paper Balloon produce original theatre for young people and their families. The Boy and the Mermaid is our 3rd touring production, on its debut tour of the South East and London.
We are looking for a third performer to join our team in this new musical production, with music and lyrics by Darren Clark (These Trees are Made of Blood, The Scarecrow’s Wedding).
Rehearsals: 6-24th February 2017 Inclusive (London and Folkestone)
-Highly skilled accordion
-Any additional instruments not essential but desirable
-Strong character actor
-Movement/physical theatre experience
This role is open to applicants of all genders and all ethnic backgrounds.
The actor-musician will be lead musician on the piece, joining an ensemble cast of 3, playing mutli-roles and puppeteering
Saturday 25th Feb
Horsebridge Arts Centre
Sunday 26th Feb
Cornerstone Arts Centre
Sunday 5th March
Tuesday 4th April
Friday 7th April
Monday 10th April
Arlington Arts Centre
Saturday 15th April
Colchester Arts Centre
Saturday 27th May
Sunday 28th May
Watermans Arts Centre
Tuesday 30th May
Wednesday 31st May
Friday 2nd June
Fee: (above equity minimum) £3150
Accommodation and Travel outside of London provided
Friday 27th January 10am – 1pm
Venue: near London Bridge
Please prepare one instrumental accordion piece, and one song accompanied on accordion that shows off your voice.
The music in the show is inspired by sea shanties. A sea shanty piece is not necessary, however please bear this style in mind when preparing your piece.
For additional instruments, please prepare one more instrumental piece on your preferred instrument.
You may be asked to respond to direction from the Musical Director.
Call backs for the afternoon (12-1pm) will be a workshop audition.
Please wear clothes you are comfortable moving in. You may be asked to improvise puppetry with found objects.
It’s not necessary to prepare anything for this section.
Please send CV and covering letter along with any Spotlight/Web Links to Alex and Darren email@example.com
Please see web page for further details
Applications Close by 12pm Wednesday 25th Jan
Unfortunately we are only able to respond to applicants successful in reaching audition.
We look forward to receiving your applications.
ACTOR MUSICIAN WANTED
Paper Balloon Theatre Company are looking for an actor-musician for our family Christmas production of Once Upon a Snowflake at Pegasus Theatre this December.
You will be live scoring and performing music in support of two performers in this original musical production for families (age 3+)
We are looking for a skilled multi-instrumentalist who is happy improvising and performing in front of a live audience, with the following skills and instruments:
- strong singer
- Preferably should have knowledge of looping and own mac laptop with logic pro x.*
*these are desirable but not essential: we are happy to discuss possibilities with alternate instruments and equipment
You will be required to learn and perform a score, support songs and provide music/sound effects for an improvised section.
In particular we are looking for fun collaborators who will enjoy working on this fun project and would be interested in future collaboration with the company.
This role is open to performers of all ethnic backgrounds and genders.
from 5th - 24th December inclusive.
1 week of rehearsals (Oxford)
Daily performances (with day breaks) from 13th-24th December @ Pegasus Theatre, Oxford
pay is above Equity minimum (£1350) for entire engagement
We are looking for performers with access to an Oxfordshire base as we are unable to provide accommodation and relocation costs for this engagement.
Please contact Alex & Darren with a covering letter and CV/ websites/ testimonials via firstname.lastname@example.org explaining why you'd like to take part in the production by 29/10/16
Please view the show trailer for a feel of the production.
Auditions will be held on Monday 14th November at Pegasus Theatre, Oxford.
Please note that as a small company, we will only be able to contact those successful in reaching audition, by no later than Friday 4th November.
We look forward to receiving your applications!
If you are in the area then why not join us at...
Horsebridge Arts Centre, Whitstable, CT5 1AF
Saturday 30th January 2016 (2pm-3.15pm)
Free, fun, one-off family workshop exploring the underwater world.
Learn about songwriting, traditional sea-shanties and hear some fishy tales!
Sing songs with our award winning songwriter Darren Clark, play games and help us find the Sound of the Sea.
You can listen to some of Darren's music at his website www.darrenclarkmusic.co.uk or below: