Zebras, festivals, gospel singing, opera, bow ties and Radio Glee!

Liz Leck is the theatre’s Education and Audience Development Manager.  Here is a chance for you to find out about the work she is doing in the community as she writes about a typical week at the theatre.

Pupils rehearsing for The Song Contest of The Birds and the Beasts

Monday 5  July – 120 Birmingham primary school children descend on the Hippodrome ready for a week of rehearsal for  The Song Contest of the Birds and the Beasts  a joint project with Welsh National Opera.   We spent the morning sorting costumes – over 100 pairs of trousers,  shirts and t shirts, head-dresses including two moose, a polar bear, 4 lions, 3 zebras, 10 owls and a Zim Zim bird.   So beautiful!    The day was spent rehearsing and costume fitting, in addition to me drinking copious amounts of coffee!

Tuesday 6 July – no children today!    Just spent the day trying to catch up from not being in the office all day on Monday.    Had a fantastic meeting with Ruth Greenaway from the Drum about the Simmer Down festival on 17 July.  In our capacity as Arts Champions for the Perry Barr constituency, the Hippodrome is  involved with organising the festival and my role is to programme the children’s events. This is the second year this event has happened – last time we offered mask-making and story telling. This year  we’ve upped the ante and are planning a children’s carnival around Handsworth Park! The Drum’s young people group are going to help create a flash mob carnival.  Just praying for good weather.  It could be a bit soggy in all the gear.

Wednesday 7 July – Started the day visiting Age Concern in Perry Barr to discuss future projects working with the elderly.  Really pleased to know that our Birmingham Hippodrome Good Companions Choir is not only still going but about to get some T shirts! We are preparing for their next concert on Older People’s day in October.   Talked about a project teaching the dance techniques of Alvin Ailey to a group of elders in Handsworth and possible gospel singing as part of the Arts Champions fund,  as well as a day of Musical theatre songs here at the theatre! Lots of ideas and hopefully there is money to do them.

When I got back to the theatre the schools had arrived and I found myself surrounded by children  and a 65 piece orchestra in one of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studios for a ‘sitzprobe’ (opera speak for the first music rehearsal involving both singers and orchestra). Up until then, the children had been singing with Colin, the pianist and then all of a sudden, as if the penny dropped they realized that they were going to be accompanied by this huge orchestra. They were up close and personal with tubular bells, timpani drums and a conductor wearing a bird of paradise head dress! What was astonishing was that they all seemed so unfazed by the whole event. Unlike me – I just cried. Not a good omen for the next day! I ended the evening by watching WNO’s Rigoletto!  Loved every minute of it.

Cast of The Song Contest of The Birds and the Beasts on stage for the first time

Thursday 8 July – Another early start at 8am. I went straight to the stage to see the set of The Birds and Beasts.   It was just amazing. Having been in at the beginning of the design brief, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it had turned out. It was just like I had thought and better!  All that was missing was the children – who turned up later! After a morning of rehearsal, the children had their lunch in our restaurant! The catering team had even prepared them menus – which they have all kept! Then the children in all their costumes went on stage for an afternoon of full dress rehearsing and technical run-throughs. It was wonderful to see their faces as they saw the stage for the first time. I still get excited whenever I walk into the auditorium and see a set at the beginning of a run, so I can’t imagine how they felt knowing they were going to be on it, performing for their families, friends and the general public! 

At 7.15pm, all the children were dressed and raring to go.  I was in charge of tucking in shirts and straightening bow ties! The children seemed so calm. We led them to the stage and ran into the auditorium and then sat in awe until the final standing ovation!  And then it was all over. Lots of emotion as the children said goodbye.

Friday 9 July – tidying up! A mamouth task. But finished in time to have a meeting at the Drum to plan in more detail for the Simmer Down festival! It will be fantastic – just fingers crossed for the weather. I spent the afternoon planning a radio project for Lordswood Girls School. They have a radio station that isn’t used and I am working with a radio producer on a project to create a ‘soap’ opera to be written and acted by the whole school. We got very excited about it – a sort of Radio Glee! Now we just have to see if the school will go for it!

Had a down the line live radio interview with Insight radio to talk about our Access performances. When I had finished – realized that the whole of the office had been listening! Very embarrassing!

Monday 12 July – Went to Rookery school to see all the schools who were part of the Song Contest. We wanted to do an evaluation of the children’s feelings. Along with Claire Marshall, the producer of the Song Contest, we worked with small groups of  children and it was wonderful to hear their very honest answers. It was a very useful exercise as the children talked about the confidence they had gained, the friends they had made and the costumes they had designed.

Tuesday 13 July – worked from home until 3pm trying to catch up on emails. Then I went to London to see probably one of the most amazing pieces of theatre I have ever seen in my life. An Israeli theatre company of actors who are all deafblind. The show started with them all on stage kneading bread and then telling their stories through sign language and surtitles.  Half way through the performance you could smell the bread baking and at the end of the show – you could actually eat the bread and meet the actors. And then – as if that wasn’t enough – I saw my grandson!

Wednesday 14 July  and here I am back at work! In 45 minutes the curtain will go up for the Sound of Music… and tomorrow – we have a school choir singing in the foyer, a dance workshop and on Friday I am leading a maths day.  And of course – still checking the weather for Saturday!

For further information on the theatre’s Education work and how you can get involved please go to: www.birminghamhippodrome.co.uk

For information on the Simmer Down Festival please go to: www.the-drum.org.uk

You can follow Liz Leck on Twitter @LizLeck

Huge thanks to Martin Pickgard for images of The Song Contest of The Birds and the Beasts.

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