At Durham’s Gala Theatre, theatre director Ruth Mary Johnson asks the audience of 400 under 8s and their families to help her friend Izzy to build an injured crow some new wings. Izzy is a child inventor, and she finds it very hard not to get cross when things go wrong.
Mending the crow’s wings isn’t the only thing that this audience has helped with. As part of Durham Book Festival’s Little Read, Ruth and musical director Jeremy Bradfield have visited five community centres in the former mining villages of County Durham to read the story of Izzy Gizmo, written by Pip Jones and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, to groups of children and their families. Each group created a song that illustrated a part of the Izzy Gizmo story: you can see them here.
The band of actors and musicians who put together Izzy Gizmo: A Story Gig includes Ruth, Jeremy and Calum Howard, along with Phil Davids as Grandpa and Tamara Camacho as Izzy. The band told the story of the picture book in gig format, featuring songs written by the children in the audience. From Grandpa’s chilled Paul Weller-ish groove, as he suggests Izzy should ‘breathe in, breathe out’ in When I Get Cross, to the punky uproariousness of Squark Song, these were sing-a-long tunes that children, parents and grandparents could enjoy. And the queue to buy the book afterwards suggested that it’s also a great way to get kids excited about reading! As part of the Little Read, each of the participants in the Izzy Gizmo workshops received a free copy, as did every primary schools in County Durham.
Ruth came up with the idea of a Story Gig while she was directing New Writing North’s theatrical adaptations of children’s books, and associated reading development programmes, as part of Durham Book Festival. Speaking about the project, Ruth said:
This has not only been an exciting experiment but has also had some surprise outcomes. The relationship between artist and audience becomes deeper in co-creation as boundaries between art-maker and art-receiver are broken down. As the participants took on their role as artists they engaged with the book as readers more deeply. Now they had a job to do!
The songs created with the groups also created a bond that could be felt during the live event – that we made this together. Groups helped in the writing of the script and directorial decisions about how characters should be presented to the audience. Horden Community Centre, for example, came up with a whole backstory for Grandpa that not only flavoured the song that was created (a chilled and laid-back croon), but they had the brilliant idea that he should keep falling asleep mid-song, that he loved biscuits and had a biscuit-pocket-mug.
Performing for the audience felt much more like performing with the audience. The atmosphere for the Story Gig was so special and was a real career highlight for me; I hope our co-artists that formed the audience found it just as special.
Also at Durham Book Festival, Sunderland’s own Field Music knocked it out of the park with a specially commissioned ‘My First Gig’ for small children and their families. The gig featured renderings of classic kids’ TV songs, with an intricately arranged Go Jetters theme tune being a particular highlight! Some children chose to draw while the Mercury Music Prize-nominated band played; others stage dived or played inflatable saxophones on the dance floor. Whatever the activity, great fun was had by children and parents alike!