Monday, 19 May 2014

Relaxed Performance: An Introduction for actors

Here is my final artefact for my professional inquiry! All the hard work paid off to achieve a First Class Honours and even more important than that a career path in which I am passionate and driven to achieve great things........making theatre more accessible to more children regardless of ability, culture or background, paving the way to theatre for everyone!  I hope you enjoy, any feedback will be greatly received.  Good luck everyone.  Hollie xx

Monday, 11 November 2013

Experience = Passion

I am a very passionate person and the driving force behind my inquiry is my belief that:

                                            Theatre should be accessible to everyone!

I started to think about where this passion came from.  It is in direct relation to my professional practice and experiences along the way:

Theatre visits as a child

I adored our yearly family trip to see a musical in London every Christmas.  Coming from a small village in Sussex in opened my eyes to a new and exciting world.  This is where I fell in love with theatre.  Fully aware of how cheesy it sounds I really do believe theatre is magical.  It has the power to transport us, inspire us, educate us, make us laugh or cry and see things including ourselves in a new light.  These feelings I experienced as a child instilled a belief that everyone and anyone should be a part of this magic, why wouldn't they. 

My training

It turned out I wanted to be a part of creating this magic so much that I committed endless hours of after-school, weekends and holidays to training to be an actress.  Then eventually five years of full-time study at The Brit School and The Urdang Academy.  Even then I remember that every application form I wrote started with 'I want to make a difference....' I wanted to be the one to stand on the stage and create magic for the audience and I suppose I still do.  My experiences of working with inspirational teachers, practitioners and fellow students only increased my drive to be a part of this world for the rest of my life.  I also began to understand that there was a certain 'snobbery' around the type of people that went to theatre.  As I grew up grasping the concept of money I understood why, theatre can be so expensive! Yet in my naivety I just saw is as unfair that not everyone got to go to theatre even if it was only once a year.  The 12 year old in me still thinks it's unfair.  

Teaching performing arts

I taught performing arts in a variety of settings including after-school/weekend club ands workshops in schools.  This is where I built my passion for creating the audiences of the future.  I found it hard to understand that children were coming to theatre classes having never seen a piece of live theatre.  Their associations came from television programmes and film.  I worked in schools where children showed great interest and talent yet theatre was just not a part of their lives.  Whether that be for financial, cultural or simple lack of exposure, the reasons made me want to know more and be a part of do something about it.

 My jobs as an actress

Unintentionally most of my jobs as an actress have been in children's theatre.  This allowed me to see the power of theatre for children and young people.  I have always held a strong belief in letting children be children for as long as possible exploring their imagination and possibilities life has to offer.  Theatre allows this possibility.  I have been a part of audio-described performances for those hard of hearing, touch tours for the visually impaired and specific shows for those with learning disabilities.  All of these experiences have built my passion and interest in learning how theatre can be accessible for everyone.

Visiting Africa

When volunteering in an educare centre in a township my eyes were opened to a world very different to my own.  But I connected to the children here through song, dance and role play (acting) - the features of my experiences in theatre.  A trip to the theatre is unlikely to ever be an option for these children but in creating theatre for them (I dressed up as a pirate for a day among many different roles) these children got to escape from the unimaginable realities of their daily lives.  The got to be kids even just for an hour and be inspired, be transported, laugh uncontrollably and learn new things.  Then as a 6 year old child they went and picked up their 6 month old baby sister for the long walk home to responsibility.  It was life changing to be a part of allowing those children to be children through the power of theatre.  The poverty of Africa exists on some levels underneath our noses in London.  According to Kids Company 350,000 children in London are living in severe poverty.  I want to let these children and all others be kids and escape just as adults need too through the power of theatre.

Working with children with autism

Working with children with autism is inspiring, rewarding and challenging on so many different levels.  I learn something new about each child every day and the journey never ends.  The children I work with are mostly non-verbal so find other means of communication.  In my eyes theatre has always been a form of communication.  It tells a story, conveys emotions, invites us into another world.  I therefore felt myself always thinking theatre could be great for the students but it would need to be adapted and formulated in the right way.  I didn't know what this way was, I couldn't comprehend how theatre could become accessible for them in a way that would be successful.  This leads to to my inquiry!

My experiences have led me to my inquiry........

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

5,4,3,2,1 kissing has finished it's time for elephant!

Out of context the above statement is very random I know, but working with children with autism spectrum disorder I hear things like this everyday.  Just incase your wondering, one of the children kept kissing another on the cheek while we tried to keep focus on an activity about animals being performed by the lead teacher. 

As I begin to look at my key findings and start the scary task of writing my inquiry project it is important to remember what is driving my inquiry:
  • Inspired by the amazing staff and students that I work with.
  • Longing to build a deeper understanding of ASD.
  • A desire to understand how the magic of theatre can be accessible to children with ASD.
It is easy to loose sight of my drive when I am overwhelmed by all the different aspects of the inquiry process.  I am beginning to look at my key findings and the tools I have to support them:
  • Literature.
  • Interviews.
  • Show visits/reviews.
  • Conference visits/reviews. 
  • Personal experiences/diary extracts.
I have highlighted my last bullet point as it is easy to forget the importance of our own practice, feelings and experiences as we look to what I sometimes see as a 'higher power' of knowledge.  I need to remember that my practice is important and integral to this inquiry too.  I plan to share some of my experiences in my inquiry in order to support key findings.  This was inspired by an accessible piece of literature that shares personal experiences.  It was clear, informative and relatable, this is what I want from my inquiry.

I was planning to tackle all my literature before embarking on starting to write my inquiry project but have had a change of heart.  In having a tendancy of wanting to finish one aspect before starting another I am loosing time.  I need to accept that different elements can work alongside each other and I can still be in control.  I plan to approach my literature when I have time to read on London's transport (I spend a lot of time there) while also starting to write.  Then write when I have assigned quiet study time.  This allows me to feel a sense of progression as well as creating quality work that is not just rushed. 

Are others using a similar approach too?

Thanks Hollie xx

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Summary of my inquiry

The purpose of my inquiry is to investigate and understand how autistic spectrum disorder can affect a child's experience of a live theatrical production.  To investigate and understand what provisions are in place to formulate and adapt a theatrical experience for children with autistic spectrum disorder.  To evaluate if there is sufficient provision out there for those new to the field to learn from and in turn develop their practice.

My main questions are as follows:

What are the key dimensions of a child's experience of a live theatrical performance?

How does autistic spectrum disorder effect a child's experience of a live theatrical performance?

What practices are in place to formulate and adapt a theatrical performance for children with autistic spectrum disorder?

Is there sufficient provisions available to those new to the field to learn from and develop their practice?

Please let me know if this summary and my questions are clear? It is easy to get caught up in my own work and processes and I would appreciate any outside opinion.


Hollie x

Here we go....

So here we's module 3 and I can't quite believe the end is in sight.  I feel like I have been hibernating in the world of my inquiry project!  The recent campus session I attended highlighted the need to come out of hibernation in order to see out of my own practises and workplace and enjoy this process.

I am enjoying this process but it's a little stressful too.  I feel I am becoming an informed practitioner that is giving me a new found confidence in my professional and personal life.  At the recent campus session we mentioned how our work had become a from of therapy helping us to understand ourselves and our work in a new light.  I have discovered career paths that I didn't know existed that I plan to pursue - this is a huge for a girl who has been a 'drifter' the past few years, always unsure of a career path, craving a sense of direction.

 My main worry is time there never seems to be enough of it.  After talking to others on the campus session it became clear that this was a worry for us all and I soon realised that managing those worries is all part of the process.  We can't beat ourselves up about the things we are struggling with, managing those struggles is how we learn.  So I am trying to manage this by staying positive, believing in my work and not setting myself unobtainable goals.  It is the worst feeling when I do not achieve what I set out to do in a day so while I have a plan I have learnt to make it realistic so the work I produce is of quality and not just squeezed into a self given time frame.  I have also come to trust my judgements, I am not a great decision maker at the best of times and I feel this is a skill I have developed (and am still developing).  With literature I have found it hard to STOP reading and make choices.  I have come to terms with the fact I am never going to be able to encompass and read all the literature out there related to my topic it is about making informed choices otherwise there really will be no time.    

How are other people managing time worries?

I am in the stage of analysing my research findings as well as collecting data.  When tackling analysis I struggled with thinking was this the right way?  I have come to terms with the fact that everyone has different ways and my way is the right way because it works for me!  I have also found myself worrying about the quality of my notes but in realising they are only for me I have progressed at a faster and more productive pace.  These are my current processes:
  • Working through my chosen literature focus pieces making bullet point notes on the computer.
  • Colour coding my notes for myself in relation to each of my questions. 
  • Written my questions out on a large piece of paper as a constant reminder to stay focused on them.
  • Kept a diary constantly in my bag to write notes and ideas formulated in a way that can be shared as evidence.
  • Going back - looking at where I started from has given a new found focus to my work.  I have a few key words on a large piece of paper as a constant reminder.  Inspire, experience, access, engage, enhance.
In relation to the notes I make on literature (a lengthy process by the way) does anyone know if these could be an appendix to my work or do they need to be referenced and formulated in order to appear in my piece?

Before I go if you haven't used the library then do! It is amazing and well worth the trip, I also plan to have study days there ( it is pretty hard to concentrate sitting on my bed or the sofa in my tiny flat).  It is amazing how much more work you get done.

Stay positive (telling myself that too)

Hollie xx

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Critical Reflection on Professional Practicioner Inquiry

This module has allowed me to examine and engage in social learning to formulate a holistic approach.  It has provided me with inherent tools and principles to develop into an informed practitioner.  

Developing lines of Professional Inquiry

In questioning the territory of my current practice (Smith, 2012) (1), deciphering uninhabited areas of interest and recognising my objectives (Smith, 2013) (2) (3), I was able to create a relevant topic base from which to build my inquiry. Actively engaging within my BAPP network SIG's allowed me to draw from informed opinion (Morall, 2012) (4) and discuss my ideas in a reflective manner (Smith, 2012) (5).  In sharing lines of inquiry with professional associates I developed further scope for ideas (Smith, 2012) (6) as well as clarity and direction (Smith, 2012) (7).  In collation, social learning tools gave me the knowledge and skills to evaluate and refine my ideas.  This encouraged me to take ownership of my critical thinking and make informed decisions about my lines of inquiry.  

Professional Ethics

I transformed my surface relationship with ethics (Smith, 2012) (8) to a place of deeper understanding and practice (Smith, 2012) (9), taking the important step from a personal to a professional perspective.  This was achieved through looking at opinions and frameworks of academics, exploring my workplace codes of practice (Smith, 2012) (10) (11) and applying these findings to my inquiry proposal.  Involvement in discussion surrounding ethical practice shaped and affirmed my new found knowledge application (Smith, 2012) (9). This development allowed me to identify potential areas of ethical concern and specify my approach in dealing with them. 

Tools of Professional Inquiry

I developed my practice regarding tools from a generalised idea (Smith, 2013) (12) to a base of structure and definition.  Academic framework and the pilots of fellow BAPP students (Ahmet, 2012) (13) provided an insight into the different approaches and methods.  By piloting these theories in the tool of observation and drawing from extensive workplace experience of interview I gained confidence in the strength of my research tools.  Literature provided an invaluable source for gaining direction in my inquiry.  From the outset a recurring theme of inspiration arose that led me to look at what inspired me (Smith, 2013) (2).  In exploring these publicly available ideas and information I began making decisions for my proposal.  Three literature reviews (Smith, 2013) (14) (15) (16) developed key themes, questions and sources that my final inquiry will include.

In summary the module has given me the skills and insight to move forward with my inquiry and professional practice.  Investigating a new field that draws from my past experiences has initiated my move into pursuing a new career path.  The development of my knowledge and approach has allowed me to create sufficient argument and confidence in applying to work that I previously had little or no awareness of.  I am moving into a place of informed practice with the tools to conduct an effective inquiry in module 3.  

Middlesex University, Reader 4 (2012) BA (Hons) Professional Practice in Arts, WBS 3630, Reader 4: Developing Lines of Professional Inquiry, Print 

Middlesex University, Reader 5 (2012) BA (Hons) Professional Practice in Arts, WBS 3030, Reader 5: Professional Ethics, Print 

Middlesex University, Reader 6 (2012) BA (Hons) Professional Practice in Arts. WBS 3630, Reader 6: Tools of Professional Practice, Print

Maguire, T and Schuitema, K, (2012) Theatre for young audiences a critical handbook, PrintA Trentham Book, Institute of Education Press, London

Reason, M, (2010) The young audience exploring and enhancing children's experiences of theatre, Print, Trentham Books Limited

Smith, H, (2012/13), Eblogger.  Hollie Victoria Smith's Blog, Available at

Unicorn Theatre and Dr Thompson, C (2012) Capturing Imaginations, Available from:


Hollie xx

Friday, 10 May 2013

Literature review - Unicorn Theatre Capturing Imaginations

I have started looking into the particular theatre companies that I would like to investigate.  After being inspired by their work at the STEP conference I attended I have decided that the Unicorn Theatre will definitely be on my list!  When looking at their website I came across an invaluable source of information - a project report on one of their programmes.  This is exactly the sort of literature I am looking for so I got a bit excited upon finding it!  This report and others like it are a source I intend to study at great depth for my inquiry.  This review covers my initial thoughts and feelings.

Entitled 'Capturing Imaginations' the project report is an investigation into how the Unicorn Theatre's InterACT programme is beneficiary to a child's learning and the impact it has on participating teachers and their classroom practice.  This report answers the how? that I am so keen to gain an understanding of.  It outlines the content of the programme, how it is carried out and looks to understand the effects it is having.  There is a focus on learning and participation within the report and these are words that I keep coming across as I research this area further.  Having previously spoken to fellow students about the importance of the correct terminology I think this is one that I need to incorporate and understand as I move into this field.  The job roles I have been looking at have this in the title so I feel the discovery of this recurring terminology will help me as I progress.

The InterACT programme focuses on the Unicorn's close partnership with schools.  Catherine Greenwood the Learning and Participation Director at The Unicorn describes this relationship; 'The theatre's work with schools help us to reach children who may not otherwise get the opportunity to access theatre, and work with children from all across London and beyond.  We believe that by working closely with teachers we can make the most of these children's live experience of theatre.'  I have fore mentioned in my blogs about looking at where this form of work has come from and Greenwood has got me thinking about how it stems from relationship building.  Although it is not my main inquiry focus in order to enforce tools that enhance a child's experience of theatre they have to have access to it and this does not lie within their control.  So whether that be a teacher or a parent they are the gatekeepers to enhancing a child's experience of live theatre, InterACT is tapping into that and for me it has highlighted another factor to investigate in terms of where this work is stemming from.

The programme aims to go beyond looking at theatre in education to demonstrate the value of the actual theatre visit and engagement with it as an integral form of learning not just a 'treat or extra'.  This is what the programme sets out to achieve and the project sets out to prove.  InterACT works with over 25 schools in London with a lot of children who would have never visited the theatre before, it looks to support children and teachers through this process so that both parties get the most out of the experience.  This is done through:
  • The theatre experience.
  • Offering Continuing Professional Development sessions to teachers.
  • Providing resources to teachers, which deepen and extend the theatre experience and create links to other curriculum areas.
  • Schools based workshops which involve teachers and children.
In my eyes these elements combined together create such a strong programme.  There is support from A to B and the project goes above and beyond to create and enriching experience for the children involved.  The child's visit to the theatre is 'at the heart' of the programme which is where my interest lies and it provides a central focus for the teachers and children involved.  There is mention in the project that the programme draws on Education and Process Drama Theory - Pioneered by Dorothy Heathcote and Gavin Bolton from the 1970's to presented day and developed by Cecily O'Neil.  This again relates to my interest in knowing where things came from in order to know where it is going.  Having looked into it further Cecily O'Neil has literature available that may be of use to me.  It is summarised as promoting 'the use of drama for learning; providing dramatic contexts where children are able to think, feel and take action from inside the situation.'  Outside of this the Unicorn focuses on giving the children a 'strong sense of ownership' which is of great interest to me, I believe that in giving 'ownership' the experience is enhanced as it becomes the personal magic journey that I am all about promoting.

In terms of the project six schools were followed through the InterACT programme to gain a hold on the effects of it's work.  Teacher's were integral in the research project with their expertise being made the most of.  Led by Dr Charlotte Thompson teachers reported on child observations, they were a part of interviews, questionnaires and also provided samples of children's work.  Key findings of the work were that the children were;

  • Highly able to access, discuss and comment on live theatre.
  • Positive impact on children's learning and engagement.
  • Improved writing ability.
  • Speaking and listening skills improved.
  • Improvement among under-achievers.
  • Retained ideas and themes.
These findings are inspiring to me and affirm my passion for this work as it is clear it is working.  It makes me hungry to know more!  The project goes onto to prove these findings from teacher's interaction and observation with students as well as the teacher's personal perspectives. Comments that are relayed provide great insight into the power of the theatrical experience for a child.

'When you use your imagination it makes you feel like you're in completely different world and for me it makes me dream - it makes me feel like I'm dancing in a blue dress.'  InterACT participant, Year 5, St John's Primary.  What beautiful words!

There is a wealth of information within this project report that has motivated me and given me the push I needed.  It has got me thinking about the wealth of information out there to support my inquiry.  It has affirmed my thoughts regarding how to look at the work of the theatre companies I wish to explore.  I want to look at where their work originated from and the theories behind it in order to understand where they are and question where they are going - past, present, future.  It has highlighted that I may need to choose particular programmes to explore in order to gain clarity in my inquiry and it will be important to look at the programme of events and picking carefully when taking the next step.  I am also aware that on reading what the Unicorn do and the success stories I am very positive and maybe a little bias as I am enthusiastic about the field.  I can see that actually being able to witness this work first hand would be of great benefit in creating informed opinions.  I do not feel this is essential but it would be a bonus - I need to get through the gatekeepers!  As well as being a great tool in terms of content it has been informative to see the format of the project report and its clarity that may be useful to relate to when formulating my own project. 

The summary of the reports findings are a great testament to the work of the Unicorn:

'The findings in this report seem to point very strongly toward a case that drama can be powerful as a tool in communicating with children at a deeper level, creating new and imagined worlds in which a child can engage with meaning and debate on terms he or she is able to determine.  Empowering children to learn, by teaching the whole person rather than the intellect alone, is clearly a tool that today's education system and it's children desperately need.'

Hollie xx