Jen’s Lens ~ Taking the Rat on the Road!

Playing with the parachute in Kingsland

Playing with the parachute in Kingsland

This week, I and a team of circus skills experts took out in to the depths of Herefordshire, bringing The Tapscrew circus from Philip Pullman’s ‘I Was A Rat!’ out to the sticks.

Under the leadership of Pink Elephants circus group, members of The Courtyard visited the parish halls of Kingsland (April 9) and Moccas (April 10) to spread the word about this story, and get lots of people in Herefordshire exploring and practising some circus tricks.

On arrival, children were sent to the “rat stations” where they were face painted, given noses and thought about the physicality of being a rat.  Once successfully whiskered and clawed, the rats then made their way over to the sensory box station, where they felt around in dark spaces if they dared, and smelt various containers to see if they could use their animal instincts and guess what the naughty Courtyard crew had put in them!  Once taking the plunge and putting their paws in slime was too much, the children congregated and learnt to embrace their inner circus performers with a range of activities.rat2

Starting the circus show was playing cat and rat using a parachute.  Cats would carefully tread their way around a waving parachute in a desperate attempt to locate a naughty, wriggling rat which was underneath.  The rats then learnt to juggle with scarves and the rags which they had gnawed from Bob and Joan’s house, watching them float in the air.  The morning session was full of top class balancing acts, who managed to walk our tightrope with peacock feathers balanced on parts of their body, they showed their pace and ability to wriggle as they ran as fast as they could through the rat run of hula hoops and even managed to cut up the cheese they stole from the market with a string – using a Diablo!  Every child worked hard at becoming the perfect rat through using these skills, (and it wasn’t just the little ones either?!)

the diablo - or a cheese and its string!

the diablo – or a cheese and its string!

Thanks to everyone who came along and participated in the activities.  Now you will all be able to go home and say, “today, I was a rat!”

Also, for those who didn’t make it to our workshops, we also have an exciting competition to take part in for ‘I Was A Rat!’

‘I Was A Rat!’

Writing Competitionrat1

 This May, a stage adaptation of Philip Pullman’s classic children’s novel ‘I Was A Rat!’ will be performed at The Courtyard.  The story is about a young, scruffy boy who is dressed as a footman arrives at the house of Bob and Joan one night exclaiming “I Was A Rat!”  Bob and Joan are unsure of what to do with this boy, try taking him to City Hall, the Police Station, the doctor’s and to school to try and get him used to the human world and to also try and find his real parents.  But they can’t, because he is a rat that has been turned into a boy.

Bob and Joan name the boy Roger and try to help him, but Roger becomes confused by the human world and runs away, and is captured by a menacing circus ring leader who turns him into a freak show.  After escaping from the circus Roger is described to other humans as a monster who all want him to be gone forever.  But there is a Princess who is called Aurelia that wears glass slippers and remembers Roger from her old life (when she was an ordinary girl called Mary-Jane) and rescues him back into the arms of Bob and Joan.

Does this story sound familiar?  A mouse turned into a footman with a girl who is turned into a princess and wears glass slippers?

What we want you to do is write a story like Roger’s.  Think of all the main characters and their story, but also think about their friends, their enemies or their families and write a story about one of them.  For example, you could write a story about one of Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers, or you can tell us about what the White Rabbit does when Alice is not in Wonderland.  The choice is up to you!  The competition is open for all school children from Year 3 to Year 11 in school and will be judged in two categories: Year 3 to 6 will be judged in the Primary category and Year 7 to 11 will be judged in the Secondary category.

Your story should be no longer than 2 sides of A4 double spaced, and we need to read it by Friday May 24th to be in with a chance of winning.  Please send your story to Jennifer Booton, Press and Marketing Officer to FREEPOST SWC5263, The Courtyard, Hereford, HR4 9ZZ.

The winning storyteller will win a signed book from Philip Pullman, a family ticket to ‘I Was A Rat!’ and will also have their story printed in Herefordshire Society magazine and in every programme for ‘I Was A Rat!’ during its run at The Courtyard.

It’s your chance to give the smaller characters a bigger story of their own!

 ‘I Was A Rat’ runs at The Courtyard from Thursday 30 May until Saturday 1 June, with performances at 7pm, and a matinee on the Saturday of 2pm.  To book tickets or for more information call the Box Office on 01432 340555 or visit


Dave’s Fave: Fire in the Blood (film screening and discussion)

Our programmer David Gillam gives a bit of thought to this eye-opening documentary. Hear his thoughts:

And come along to the screening this Friday and join in the short discussion afterward with Concern Universal:
Fire in the Blood, 22 March, The Courtyard

Arts & Older People’s Project Update: Alice’s Diary

It has been an exciting very few weeks within the Arts and Older People Project at The Courtyard, with our Networking Event, the Dementia Action Alliance and probably the thing most people have been talking about – the guest night for Finding Joy.

The networking event brought together those interested in using the arts to engage older people in participatory activities. It allowed a platform for like-minded people to meet and share experiences so they can start their own projects and partnerships. It was great to see freelance artists exchanging numbers with those already working with older groups. The event attracted a real mix of people, from health care professionals to dance teachers.

The Garrick Singers, a partnership project with The Music Pool, is still going strong. Last week again it attracted over 100 people. The Garrick Singers is a new choir on a Monday for those aged 60 and over or retired. The Music Pool and The Courtyard and both thrilled that the choir is appealing to so many people – it is attracting people from all across the country, some attendees coming from Longtown and even Gloucestershire.  Participants of the Garrick Singers don’t need any prior knowledge of being in a choir, they don’t need to be able to read music; they just need enthusiasm for singing. Those who are attending are now staying for lunch and it seems to be becoming a real social event for those at the Courtyard. Why not come along and see what all the fuss is about?


Garrick Singers

Garrick Singers

As lots of you will already be aware, The Courtyard has become the first arts centre to join the Dementia Action Alliance (DAA). This is a really exciting step for The Courtyard and in particular for people and their families living with dementia across Herefordshire. I have spent the last few weeks visiting the memory cafés across Herefordshire, and working with groups who are affected by dementia to gather their feedback on what they would like to see happen, to  enable them to engage in the arts. It’s created a lot of discussion and some really interesting things have come up, that will help us shape our commitment to working with people with dementia. Our front line staff will be receiving dementia awareness training during March; this is a key aspect of our future plans, to enable people to feel safe and supported to visit the venue.

March will see the start of our ‘Red Suitcase’ project, a partnership between Hereford College of Arts (HCA) and The Courtyard’s Arts and Older People Project. It is the vision of Penny Allen who is a student board member at HCA and a third year degree student studying Contemporary Applied Arts. The project will take 12 second year degree students on six week placements in residential care homes across Herefordshire. Each group of students will be taking a red vintage suitcase with sample quilts and inspiration items in to homes. The students and residents will work together to create new quilts  which will then be entered into the Festival of Quilts ‘group quilts’ category (an annual international quilt festival at the NEC in August). The craft of quilting has a history of bringing together groups of people from across the generations to exchange skills and knowledge. It is hoped that this project will allow students and residents the opportunity to exchange ideas and stories and allow all to participate, residents don’t just have to sew to be involved. The students will aim to capture the stories from the residents within the work and over the six week period residents will play a key part in creating these quilts.

Finding Joy by Vamos Theatre

Finding Joy by Vamos Theatre

And finally last but not least the truly amazing Finding Joy. I watched Finding Joy on the opening night and it’s a wonderfully humorous, yet heart-warming piece. What the performance does so well is show us that living with dementia isn’t all doom and gloom. Yes it is a terrible condition, and yes it can affect families in terrible ways, as I know from my own experiences. But what the piece does so well is put a positive spin on one family’s situation, it provides hope for all those families out their who are living with dementia, that along with the bad times, comes the good. This performance doesn’t just allow those who have a connection with dementia to relate to the performance, so many people can relate to different characters on different levels. Coming out of the performance you can hear people saying ‘I was that daughter’ or ‘I was that grandson’. If you haven’t seen it yet and you’re only going to see one piece of theatre this year – make it Finding Joy!

Finding Joy continues to tour after it’s stellar launch night here at The Courtyard:

Written By: Alice Saunders, Arts & Older People’s Project Coordinator

Just Another Day: Celebrating youth performance at The Courtyard

Youth Theatre Intermediate - Little Foot

Youth Theatre Intermediate – Little Foot

It’s easy to forget in the day-to-day running here at The Courtyard, all the stuff that goes on in the building every day, some of it just the cogs turning to keep things running; coffees served, tickets sold and acts on stage, but there’s also a great plethora of work being done behind closed doors, that you can’t see on your casual walk through the Cafe Bar, or when you pop in to pick up a film guide.

Youth Theatre Intermediate - Little Foot 2

Youth Theatre Intermediate – Little Foot

I had the privilege of stepping in to see one of the final performances for the Roald Dahl Sharing Days we held here this week in the Main House, and it was pretty awe inspiring to see the glee and confidence of these cheeky, young whippersnappers from schools all round the county, getting up and turning some of Roald Dahl’s most beloved characters on their heads and giving them a modern twist, with short sketches such as ‘I’m a Twit, Get Me Out of Here!’ As you can imagine, chuckles ensued from the audience all round.

Moments later in another room, the Year 10 Intermediate Youth Theatre were dropping their daily cares to immerse themselves in rehearsals for Little Foot. With boundless energy and despite them still working on blocking and getting to grips with characters, I was spellbound by their dedication, curiosity and ability to take direction.

All in all, a refreshing reminder of what youth are capable of and in the best possible way, ‘just another day at The Courtyard.’

Written by Toki

Roald Dahl Sharing Day

Roald Dahl Sharing Day

Arts & Older People’s Project News

Upcoming Networking Event

On Tuesday 19 February, 10am, Alice Saunders is organising a networking event for those who are interested in the delivery of arts with older people. The Networking Event will be an invaluable opportunity to make contact with other service providers and practitioners in Herefordshire, an informal morning of conversation and the sharing of experiences between those who aim to enrich the lives of older people. We hope it will ignite new partnerships and collaborations in elderly care and arts delivery across Herefordshire.

Human stories on film

We are pleased to announce that our guest speaker for the morning will be Alex Casey, the co-director of Suffolk Artlink. Suffolk Artlink has a long history of delivering arts projects with older people and this talk will explore the way they have developed their programme of work. It will look at how the work is responsive to different community’s needs and the importance of developing cross sector partnerships.

For more information on the programme or to book onto this event please contact Alice Saunders. EMAIL:  TEL: 01432 346514

Freelance Filmmaker Opportunity

Alice is also seeking a freelance filmmaker with a keen eye to produce a documentary and other short promo videos. The person appointed will be working with elderly people who are currently taking part in participatory arts projects. Could this be you?

Person Specification:

  •         A high level of experience in filmmaking
  •         Experience of, or interest in, working with older people
  •         Experience or interest in working with a variety of community groups
  •         Flexible, friendly, reliable and willing to learn
  •         Committed to equal opportunities

To find out more and read the full project brief take a look on The Courtyard website.

Closing Date: 31st January 2013

Writing Poetry with Older People and those with Memory Loss

Sue Roberts has been working for Hereford Courtyard Theatre’s Arts and Older People’s Project as part of an initiative placing poets and writers into nursing homes working with people with a range of dementia, as well as elderly people who need care.

Words by ashley.adcox via Flickr Creative Commons

Words by ashley.adcox via Flickr Creative Commons

Since October 2011, Sue has been visiting two nursing homes in the West of the County (The Garth in Kington and Glendaph in Kingsland) working with approximately 40 residents and producing over 100 poems. Through informal conversations, memories and thoughts are stirred on a wide range of topics; then using residents’ own words, a poem or series of poems are created. When presented back to the person, the gift of such personal poems can reaffirm a sense of self, of a life lived, and valued. Beyond this, the poem belongs to the writer, to give to their families, friends and staff at the home; it is theirs to keep and is named.

95 year old poet, Ivor Holloway says: “It helps with my memory – I read the poems and they revive my memories”.

And Brenda Robinson of The Garth states: “Sue Roberts has demonstrated such empathy, compassion and skill…. It is truly ‘person-centred’ which is not forced, but gentle, natural, hilarious and sometimes sad. What Sue has done though the medium of poetry is truly amazing. Our residents have often been able to recognise familial things about themselves, though the text and the expression of joy and delight has been priceless.”

Sue is still working at The Garth; she has found immense warmth, support and enthusiasm for the project from all members of staff and particularly Debbie Todd, the Activities Officer. Sue says:

“I love working at The Garth. Each visit reveals some new insight and listening to residents gives me a vivid window into their lives which spurs me to write – but it’s more than about the poems – the writing is a celebration of individual lives, loves and losses as well as being a ‘mouthpiece’ for residents which validates their experiences, however great or small. Memories are often surprising, sometimes deeply emotional, occasionally a crie de cour revealing a little nugget of truth, a current concern, a moment in that person’s history, inevitably about close relationships, but one never knows; also the time spent listening and talking so intimately has profound value in its own right. The insight gained through the poems is incalculable for staff, and family; we all learn more about the person, beyond their memory loss or other difficulties associated with ageing. The project promotes strong friendship, huge respect and interest; in some individual cases it has produced a whole body of work, a collection of poems charting a person’s life.”

A shortlist of the poems can be downloaded here. Read on for the shortened selection…

Gillian’s HandsPoem

Look at her hands:
Gentle hands
Kind hands
Capable hands
Strong, long artist’s fingers
Hands that held babies
Hands that helped mothers
Hands that cared
that worked
were always busy
nursing the sick.

Hands that now
Rest on her lap
nothing to do
asking to be held
in comfort and kindness.

She takes my hand
places it to her lips
and softly kisses.
We smile
No words.

Gillian June 2012

My World in a Room

My world is reduced
To one room now
A nice room
But just a room

A few personal belongings
Adorn the room

I ride around the countryside
With my son-in-law
I read the books
My daughter brings
I lunch with them on Sundays
Friends and family visit
All good.
I am very fortunate

But my world
Is reducing daily
To one room

with a view
Two windows
The hills beyond
The street beneath
My memories reach into the far distance
And I have that old world in my head
Far outside of the room

Caroline November 12

The Parcel circa 1942Poems

The platform at Plymouth
En route to Glasgow
thence to Scapa Flow
and the Orkneys

A mother gives
a brown paper parcel
to her son
I see he leaves it on a station seat
I retrieve and give it to him

At Bristol, Temple Meads
The same thing again
I run and give it to him

At Glasgow, we change
For the onward journey north
He leaves the parcel
Once more!

I pick it up
Think: “Bugger it!”
And this time
Don’t return to the man

I open the parcel
And there – some lovely
ham sandwiches!
I eat them
It’s a long way from
Plymouth to Scapa Flow…
A welcome surprise
I’m hungry
And tired
We are at War

Ivor May 2012

Laugh-in the New Year, live the healthy life… … and raise money for charity!

Did you know? Laughing for just 15 minutes can burn up to 40 calories.

So kick start your 2013 diet plans and book some tickets to see the brilliantly funny Roisin Conaty – star of BBC Three’s Impractical Jokers – who’s bringing her new stand-up show to The Courtyard for one night only on Friday, January 18th.

“Conaty, oddly, has shades of early Russell Brand, but with less misogyny, including a charming flamboyance and a turn of phrase that proves she’s a verbal gymnast as well as a pretty face.” ~ Kirstyn Smith, The List

Roisin Conaty, comedienne

Roisin Conaty, comedienne

Not only will you be doing yourself some good, you’ll be raising vital funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, a cause close to the heart of organiser Melanie Denning who’s been a business development manager at The Courtyard for the last six years. ‘Our 12-year-old son Owain was diagnosed with CF at seven weeks old which was a massive shock. But his dad Chris and I picked ourselves up and decided we were going to do our utmost to keep Owain as well as possible and not let CF dominate our lives. We’re also determined to do what we can to raise money to help find a cure and Chris has done so many mad things, including three marathons, a zip wire at Man United and a tandem skydive while I’ve stuck to organising things like this comedy night, our second at The Courtyard.’

Over 9,000 people in the UK have CF, one of the most common life-threatening inherited diseases for which there is no cure, although much genetic and treatment research is going on, funded mainly by charity fundraising such as this comedy night up and down the country.

The Denning family

The Denning family

Each week five babies are born with CF and two young lives are lost to the disease although improving treatments such as antibiotics mean average life expectancy has been steadily increasing.

Melanie says she can’t wait to see Roisin, a previous winner of Best Newcomer at Edinburgh Comedy Festival, along with young Welsh comedian Dan Thomas who’ll be supporting Russell Kane later this Spring. ‘I’ve also asked Phil Pearcy, our front of house manager, to compere for us… he won our Comedy Festival’s Open Mic competition last year and is very funny so all in all, it should be a great night out for an even greater cause!’ says Melanie.

Book online or get your tickets from The Courtyard’s Box Office on 01432 340555, £15.