Anyone can do it…

…if they try. Ok, not everyone can do everything superbly – as it says in one of my poems, I’ll never be any good at basketball – but people surprise themselves, all the time, when I work with them.

The week started at the school, where I am now working with year 3s (7-8-year-olds) on journalistic writing. They’re quite young for this, and all I’m doing, really, is trying to get them to understand that journalism means basically finding information and then writing about it in an interesting way. By the end of the sessions, they were just getting the idea, and we’ve got two more weeks to develop it. I tok some children’s newspapers in with me, to add to the ones they have in school, and the reaction was surprising. All three classes fell upon the papers with excitement and joy, and they all wanted to read them. I don’t think most of them had ever seen a newspaper before. What are their parents thinking of – and the school, for that matter? All this enthusiasm with no outlet.

My two days at the prison this week were amazing. With one group I worked on plotting for short stories, and even the guy with ADHD got on with it and worked hard, just like the others. They told me the next day that they were all still buzzing with it – It takes your mind to a different place, they said. We didn’t think we could do anything like this. No, well, nobody has ever helped them before. Again, what were their schools doing? The small group the next day – only two of them – started badly; they were both feeling pretty low, with body language to prove it. But again, they became really engaged, and part way through they told me that this was the best part of the week, that no matter how bad they feel, the writing session makes them feel better – and so on. And what’s more, they produced some cracking poetry. One of these guys is the villain I mentioned in a previous blog, and I thought he was incorrigible, but perhaps if this creative urge could be harnessed in some way… I don’t know; perhaps I’m kidding myself, and I know I’m working with small groups which makes it all much easier, but the effects of working creatively do seem remarkable.

Rehearsals are going well – I’m off in a moment to the tech and dress rehearsals, which will take all day today and be very tiring. Early in the week I put together a display of Edwardian artefacts in a display case in the local library. I’m really not very good at this sort of thing, so it was gratifying to see someone come and look at it just after I’d finished. Hooray! Perhaps that will be an extra audience member.

My own play, Once this was a poet, suffered a little drawback this week – the supporting actor said he couldn’t commit to all the possible dates. He did this in a very responsible way – he will do the first one if we want, because he said he would, and he’s given me plenty of notice, so I have no complaints about him. And I think I may have a replacement already; he’ll let me know today.

On Friday it was off to Birmingham for a meeting of Poetry on Loan – lots of library staff gathered together to think about ways to promote contemporary poetry in the West Midlands. I’m the co-ordinator. It’s not the easiest job in the world, because libraries have priorities and demands, and I have to shout and push to make sure that the voice of poetry is heard, but the meeting went really well – lots of good ideas and even some decisions. And my son was home in the evening, so we spent some happy hours sorting through the junk that had been in the room I’ve just decorated. Two bin bags full, and there’s still a lot left. Where does it all come from? Well, I know, really – in this case, mostly my son.

The weekend. Huh. I spent all yesterday working, and I’ve still got loads to do before Tuesday, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to do it. Pygmalion is taking up a lot of time that I can’t really afford, and I’ll be glad when it’s over from that point of view. One of my jobs yesterday was helping the guy who is playing Doolittle. He has never acted before, and has some horrendous long speeches (Shaw needed a good editor, if you ask me); and he came into the cast late, as a replacement. But he was getting better and better as we went
along, and is now quite keen on the idea of doing more. Like I  said, anyone can do it; people just need help and encouragement and a bit of guidance; and importantly they need to be helped to see what could be better. Unremitting praise doesn’t work – and most people don’t want it, because they recognise that it’s false.

Oh well. Off for a day of hard work, tedium and anxiety with set-buildng and rehearsals. No – it will be fun, really. I’m not a great stage manager, but I’ll do my best, if only to prove my theory (see title).

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