Friday, 18 October 2013

Unit 1 part A - arts practice

Bertolt Brecht's use of masks in theatre

Brecht (1898-1956) was one of the most influential twentieth century playwrights. Brecht's approach to theatre was unusual for its time. He believed that theatre should not attempt to portray real life but instead to represent life. Over a period of a few years Brecht developed Epic Theatre which was a theatre style which produced distance between performers and the audience viewed a performance in an objective way. Brecht's aim was to prevent the audience from becoming attached to characters so that they would focus better on the storyline. The audience were constantly reminded that the actors were not the characters by getting the actors to use techniques such as breaking the fourth wall where the actor would speak directly to the audience. Actors would also come out of character to update the audience on what was about to happen, and would often deliver their lines in the third person.

The use of half masks were common in Brecht's performances as a method of preventing the audience from feeling empathy for the characters. Their presence reflected his acting style themes which focused on separation, alienation and social change.

History of masks in theatre

The Ancient Greeks used masks in theatre as a way to worship and depict mythological gods. They used exaggerated and over large masks which were fitted around the actor's mouth and aided him to project his voice. It was the Ancient Greeks who set a route for the making and use of theatrical masks. The easily recognisable comedy tragedy masks that still represent theatre today originated with the Ancient Greeks.

During the middle ages of 12th and 13th centuries in the time of the mystery plays masks were used in performances to exaggerate a character. As mystery plays were frequently written by church priests and focused on getting a message across to the public about the wickedness of sin and the ways to redemption the masks were usually grotesque depictions of Satan and his workers. They were usually made out of papier mache and were highly detailed.

In 15th century Venice during the height of the renaissance period Commedia dell Arte was created as an art form and consisted of improvised comedy which included characters wearing extremely ridiculous and grotesque masks. Half masks were used by actors performing Commedia dell Arte whose main themes revolved around fear of life, death and everything.

Unit 1 part A - arts practice

My main art form -

These are some examples of my current art form.  I like to use a variety of  different styles in my illustrations.

My new art form - 

These are some mask designs I created for when I attended the felt masks workshop

My new arts style - 

These are the finished masks.  They were created with felt and I used two of the sketches above as inspiration.

Unit 1 part B - the wider arts sector

When I started the Gold Arts Award I was unsure if I wanted to pursue art or drama as a career.  I hoped that doing this award would help me to decide and also give me an in depth look at both the career paths.  I visited two colleges - Manchester College and Stockport College.  I was shown what students do in the art and design courses and also examples of work from the students.  I was also shown around the drama departments and saw samples of the students work.  I saw one video of a performance that some students had put on in one college and then saw a live performance from students at the other.  I found that I was impressed by the drama department at one college but not as impressed by its art department.  I also found that at  the other college I was impressed by their art department but not their drama department.  This made my choice of college a lot easier.  I found that the artwork I saw did not seem to give the students  much room to expand or experiment.  I also found that the art styles used were all so similar it was hard to tell one student's work from another.   I decided to pursue drama as I did not like the idea of my art being restricted and controlled.  I decided to continue spending my free time drawing what I want, enjoying it and improving my styles in my own way.  I applied to Manchester College to study drama on the Acting BTEC level 2 course. I had an interview and an unexpected audition but  luckily I already had a monologue prepared from my drama GCSE course.  I found that the interview was very strict and it made me realise that there would be no room for slacking on the course.  I started the one year course in September at the age of 15 because they accepted me onto the course a year early. I plan to go on and do the Drama BTEC level 3 next September and then my aim is to attend RADA or another drama school.

As well as studying the BTEC level 2 I am attending other classes which are relevant to a drama career. Once a week I attend Urban Stage drama classes for children aged 12-16. We are in the process of rehearsing for a production of Animal Farm by George Orwell which we will be performing next Easter.

I have also started attending latin and ballroom classes for adults once a week with Heather Durose Dance. I am enjoying learning jive, tango and waltz but I find the samba and cha cha cha very hard. I definitely prefer ballroom dances. The dance classes are hopefully going to give me a better chance of getting parts in productions in later years as it is definitely a useful skill to add to my CV.

I also attended a second willow weaving course where I made a vulture. I found this a lot easier the second time and think I improved my skills greatly because I was able to use the skills that I had learnt in the previous workshop.  I had already researched plague masks and found them useful in designing my willow weave vulture.

I am constantly improving my art and design skills with online tutorials.  Here are a few tutorials I have found very useful.

The information on the course that I am currently doing can be found here

The information on the course I am starting in September 2014  can be found here

The information for the degree course I am working towards can be found here

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Unit 2 - arts project leadership

Project report

In total 40 children created some wonderfully imaginative masks. Each child was working on their mask for 30-60 minutes. As each child completed his or her mask another child would take the available space. All of the children were extremely well behaved and thoroughly engrossed in what they were doing. All of the masks were unique with the exception of two yellow chick masks produced by two children sitting next to each other. I was surprised that this did not happen more often but the children on the whole showed that they had great imaginations.

Feedback from participants
As the children were mostly 5-6 years old I had to keep the questions that I asked them brief, simple and easy to understand. Most of the children would not stand still long enough to answer the questions and ran off to play with their new masks. I asked a few of the children several questions:

1) What did you like most about this workshop?
I liked that there was a theme so that I didn't have to think of something to make.
I like the feathers.
I liked being able to make an animal in any colour I wanted.

2) What did you like least?
The fact that I had to use human shaped masks.
I had too much choice. I would prefer to be told to make a particular animal – perhaps a choice of two different animals.
I wanted to use scissors to cut my mask into a different shape.

3) What could have been done differently?
To be given a choice of animals rather than any animal would have made it easier for me to choose.
I wanted to make a horse mask but didn't have the right equipment to change the shape on the mask.
I needed more space to work. I think there were too many kids working at one time.

4) What other equipment would you have liked to have available?
Sequins, glitter, drinking straws, scissors.

How could I improve this workshop
I could have used a larger work space or have fewer children working at one time. Six children at a time would mean I could pay more attention to each child's needs. I found that I was running around from child to child rather than spending more time with each child in order to give encouragement and advice.
I had a helper to supervise the children but I needed at least one more helper, although there were not any around at the time. With only six children participating this would not have been a problem.
I think I coped well with the children. They were quite demanding but happy and the fact that they were engrossed meant that they behaved well.
I was intending that the masks would be worn for the end of play scheme party but the children took the masks home and did not bring them back today. I should have kept the masks at the work space and handed them out at the party.

Unit 2 - arts project leadership

Children's play scheme animal mask workshop

On Thursday 28th August I hosted a workshop for children aged 5-11 at a local charity-run play scheme where I had worked as a volunteer helper for three weeks. I set up the work table before the children arrived because it would be easier to get all of the equipment needed set up and in place without them being around.

As soon as the children arrived the 12 available spaces filled up. The children had been told about the workshop the day before so that they could start thinking about what kind of animal mask they wanted to make.

To start them off I told them that if they needed any other equipment or help that they must come to me. I deliberately did not include scissors in the available equipment and told the children that they could rip tissue paper and craft paper rather than cutting it as it would create a more authentic look to their animal masks. I made it clear that if anybody misbehaved their place would be taken immediately by another child as I had many others waiting to make masks.

I gave them a very loose brief as to what to do. I talked them through the equipment, paints and decorations available and told them that they could create any animal in any colour, either realistic or fantasy, that they wished.

Despite having quite a large group of children at the workshop and only one helper I was able to spend brief amounts of time with each child and was available to answer questions and help them if there was anything that they did not fully understand or were unable to do. My instructions were delivered in stages. I gave the children one instruction at a time. I did find that they all worked at different paces and so some of them were ready for the next instructions before others. Instead of waiting for them all to catch up I let those who were ready move on to the next stages so that they were able to finish their masks, leave the table and make space for those children who were waiting to take part. I did not find that any children had a problem deciding what kind of masks they were going to make and once their decision was made they were eager to begin. They were all able to follow my step by step instructions easily although some needed help with gluing. I also had to constantly tidy up the paints, water, glue, etc on the table so that tools and equipment were easy to find.

The group leader was very positive about my idea for a mask workshop and when I gave him a list of materials that would be needed he bought them straight away. I have worked with him for three years now so he knows me well enough to understand that I am capable of keeping the children under control and focused. One of the younger volunteer helpers chose to come and help with the workshop and I explained how it was going to progress before the workshop began so that she knew what to expect and what would be required of her. She was very supportive and helped me to keep an eye on the children's needs as well as making sure that none of them left the table unnecessarily before they had finished their masks.

I did not experience any unexpected situations during the workshop other than the fact that so many children wanted to be involved. I had expected only a handful of them to be interested enough to take part. I explained to them at the beginning of the workshop what their finished masks may look like and suggested various ways of decorating them. They all listened carefully to me and were quiet and attentive while I was talking. They were animated and talkative but well behaved while they created their masks and a few of them appeared to be helping others with ideas.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Unit 2 - arts project leadership

Play Scheme Mask Making Plan

I am currently working at local children's summer holiday play scheme as a volunteer and I have been given permission by the scheme leader to run a mask making workshop with a group of around 12 children. The age range of the children who attend the play scheme is 5 – 11. I will be able to accommodate a maximum of 12 children as this is the number that can fit around the table safely and comfortably. If the uptake is considerably higher than 12 children I can repeat the workshop on the same day with a second or third group of 12 children. I plan to run the workshop in the play scheme space on 29th August as the following day is the last day of the scheme when a party takes place where the children will wear their masks.

The theme for the workshop will be animals. I feel that if I limit the participating children to a choice of just a few selected animals their imaginations will be restricted. Similarly if I offer them no theme at all the end products would be very disjointed as a collection.

For this workshop I will need to get:-

mask bases (full or half face)
coloured feathers
animal print paper for detail
tissue paper
plastic fake gems.

I am able to use some materials that are part of the play scheme supplies:-
PVA glue
poster paints
full face mask bases
tissue paper in limited colours.

Documenting and feedback
I plan to record the workshop by taking photos of the children making their masks at various stages and will also take photos of them wearing their masks in a tableau at the end of the workshop to show off their creations and the animals' characteristics.

After the workshop I will briefly interview each child to get feedback and to find out what worked well and what could be changed and how. Questions will be as follows:-
How well did I explain each stage?
Would they have liked other materials to use which were not available?
If yes, what other materials should be included?
Was there anything they did not understand?
If they could choose a theme for making a mask what would that theme be?
What part of the making process did they like the most?
What part of the making process did they like the least?

Health and safety assessment
Health and safety regulations are already in place for the play scheme which is funded by BBC Children in Need.
There is at least one qualified first aider present at all times.
The helpers and the children all know what to do if the fire alarm goes off and the fire doors are unlocked at all times.
The work table will be around 5 metres away from the fire door.
If a child needs to leave the table for any reason there are other helpers available to take them to wherever they need to go, enabling me to be present at the table at all times.
The materials that will be available to use during the workshop have been carefully selected.
I will not be using glitter because it it hard to monitor the children when they use it and they often end up throwing it at each other rather than using it constructively. I have also observed some of them trying to eat it, which is a health and safety risk.
The children will be supervised at all times and I can call on other helpers to intervene if required.

I had planned that once the masks had been made they would remain overnight at the play scheme. The following day was the end of play scheme party and the children were going to be allowed to wear their masks and be in character for some of the time, acting out their particular animals. However, other play scheme workers were not aware of these plans and so they allowed the children to take their masks home the day they made them and despite me telling the children that they would be wearing their masks to the party none of them brought them with them the following day to the event.

Some of the children who were involved in the mask making workshop went home early before I had a chance to interview them so as to gain feedback. I was able to collect feedback from some of the children who were available. Their responses were simple and direct because of their young ages. They were all enthusiastic and positive. I collected feedback by asking them questions and writing down their answers.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Unit 1 Part C: research and review

The Package by Tam Hinton

On 17th June I went to see a small company perform The Package by Tam Hinton in The Studio at the Lowry in Salford. The performance was restricted to over 15s and the audience consisted of around only 20 people in a space that would hold 150. The cast consisted of six actors including two women and four men. The props were minimal. There was a magazine which was used throughout the play but with a variety of magazine covers. There was a record player. There were two tables and six chairs which remained on the stage for the whole performance. Unrequired props were removed by the cast. There were no costumes as such but all of the men wore comical socks with suits whose trousers were slightly too short. The two women wore ordinary black dresses, one of which was ground length but was pinned up to make a mini skirt when required.
Each actor had several characters to play, each one offering the challenge of producing very different accents. On occasion this got a little confusing if one of the actors forgot to apply the correct accent or to change their body stance according to their character. One of the female actors had to play the part of a very young woman who was in love with a record player and could not form relationships with humans, but she also had to play a very old woman. Her body language, facial expressions and pitch of her voice demonstrated the age of her characters.
All the actors forgot their lines at least once but each of them had different ways of covering up their mistakes. Some attempted to make it seem natural by moving on quickly. This was a good way of covering up their mistakes but they forgot their lines so many times it soon became obvious what they were doing because there were always pauses that were a bit too long before they applied a cover up technique. Another way of covering up their mistakes was to stammer and mutter as though looking for a way to describe what they were trying to say. I think that this was a good way to cover up their mistakes because it seemed natural and normal but once again it happened too many times not to be very noticeable.
The acting in the Package was not the best acting I have ever witnessed. It was a confusing play that included many long words that were hard to say and even harder to remember for the cast. I think that the complex language used may have lowered the standard of the acting although with more preparation it could have been greatly improved. The play left me feeling rather confused and with more questions than answers. It was an extremely surreal play that was hard to follow. The writer was constantly attempting to shock the audience by pushing moral boundaries and I felt that the audience were not comfortable with some issues raised. I think that the play was well written at the beginning but as it progressed the writing became almost careless as though the writer wanted the play to be finished. The convoluted language tapered off towards the end of the play creating an imbalance because the main aspect of the characters' personalities were the words that they used. So the lack of complex language being inconsistent prevented their characters from continuing to be the same.
From watching this performance I realized how important it is to know your lines and those of the other players more than perfectly. I also observed techniques to use if and when I do forget my lines and I intend to use them where necessary. 

On reflection I think that visiting various local art galleries and being present at some rather unusual theatre performances has definitely influenced the way that I look at art and performing arts. By visiting galleries I have been able to look at some of the most famous Pre Raphaelite paintings that are recognisable to many. They have been reproduced as posters, prints, postcards and greetings cards. By looking at the original paintings I have been able to see the brush strokes, the subtle finer details that would hardly be visible on a reproduction and appreciate the true colours. I have been surprised by the sizes of some of the paintings I have seen. Some are much smaller and others much larger than I had imagined them to be. I have also been to exhibitions by artists who are not well known in this country but who are big in their own countries. I have been to small theatrical performances with only a handful of actors who have also written, produced and performed in the plays. These are the productions that really appeal to me. I prefer them to the huge and lavish expensive to produce plays and musicals such as those that reside in the West End of London. I feel that these productions are so expensive to put on that the ticket prices are exorbitant and restrict a lot of people from being able to enjoy them.

Having attended exhibitions of famous paintings as well as those of lesser known artists I much prefer the less mainstream shows. I find the art more interesting and more experimental. I can say the same thing for the theatre performances that I have attended this year. I find that not only is the writing more dangerous and boundary pushing but also the performances are more exciting and electric. As well as this, the audiences at these small venues create a more intimate and inclusive atmosphere which I find more enjoyable.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Unit 1 Part B: extend your own arts practice

Recently I attended a willow weaving workshop. The workshop took place in a huge greenhouse in a small garden centre out in a Cheshire village. Before I attended the workshop I was asked to choose which animal I was going to make and to bring a photo for reference to the event. I chose a hare because I love them and it seemed like an interesting animal to make. The 5 hour workshop was run by a willow weave artist called Juliette Hamilton. My mother had discovered her when she had attended a basket making class and when she told me about it I was eager to try my hand at willow weaving. There were 10 of us at the workshop. I was the only young person there. I seemed to grasp the technique fairly quickly unlike some of the others and because I got a few steps ahead they were actually coming to me to see what to do next.

Juliette had soaked the 4' and 5' long willow withies for a few days. She told us that for every foot in length they had to be soaked for a day. The first step was to create the base for the legs. We were given a wooden board with four holes in it. This was for holding our creatures until they were stable and also for getting the legs in the right place and all the legs to match in height. We all chose around 12 willow withies and rammed them into each hole making sure they went right to the bottom of the hole. We repeated this till all four holes where filled. We attached a cable tie around an inch from the bottom of each leg to hold the withies in place. We then tied another cable tie further up the withies where we wanted the top of the legs to be.

Next we took one willow wisp from each side and shaped them to create the side of our animal. We wrapped them together making sure they did not spring undone and then repeated for the other side.

To create the middle and the shape of the back we made a circle using two willow wisps. To do this we gently shaped one of them into a circle and then we gently wound another willow wisp around the first one. This strengthens the circle so it can hold the willow that will be weaved around the base in later steps.

Next we had to create a chest and a bottom for our animals. To do this we took four of the willow wisps from the legs and crossed them over themselves. We did this at the front and back of the body. This is a hard step as you have to make sure they stay in place and do not move. You can hold them together using cable ties if you can't keep them in one place. The cable ties will be removed later.

Next we started weaving the spare willow wisps from the legs. They do not have to be neat or go in any direction. They can be as random as you want them to be. We had to leave around three willow wisps on each side where we wanted the head to be.
To create the head we had to make two small circles again - one larger circle for the main structure of the head and a smaller one for the nose. To attach the head we took the left over willow wisps from the legs that had not been used and weaved them onto the head. This holds it in place and also starts to shape the head and neck. To fill in the gaps we weaved in more willow wisps. To make the ears I followed the same steps as creating a circle but instead of a circle I formed the shape of my hare's ears. This is done twice but being careful to leave some ends loose so that I could weave the ears into the head. The same is done for the tail. I chose to over-emphasise the ears, making them larger than they would be in real life.

Now for the last step. I had to remove my animal from the board. Once I had done that I wrapped a willow withy around the base of each foot to keep the withies together and for an attractive finish. I also trimmed the feet to make them all level and to ensure that the hare would not fall over. My hare was now completed. You can weave in more willow wisps to the body, head and tail if you think that they are not full enough. You can also remove the cable ties. The cable ties were only there to keep things in place while we made our animals.

I am really pleased with my hare. It stands at around 4'6” and I am using it as a bedside table. It is sturdy and looks fantastic. I plan to take this willow weaving technique and apply it to my mask making project.

You can see some of the artist's work on her website here:- 

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Unit 1 Part B: Work experience - employer's feedback

Unit 1 Part B

Work experience - employer's feedback

I ran a pop up shop for 5 weeks in a suburb of Manchester from 4th March - 6th April and knew that I would not be able to put in the hours required every day due to professional commitments. I considered asking one of the designers who were stocking the shop to help out but then realised that this would be the perfect opportunity for my daughter, Demitra, to gain some much needed work experience. As a home educated student she is missing out on the work experience opportunities offered in school. Demitra has helped me run stalls at craft fairs and street markets before so I knew that she would be able to do the job.

I found Demitra to be extremely efficient at her work. We took on different roles in the shop, no longer being mother and daughter, but now becoming employer and employee and this did not cause a problem. Demitra's creative ability means that she understands the processes involved in the various crafts stocked in the shop. She followed instructions immediately, volunteered her own ideas and suggestions about how to display items according to craft and colour schemes. She was punctual 100% of the time when arriving for work, was organised in making lists of enquiries from potential customers or crafters that had dropped into the shop and was completely reliable and trustworthy.

I feel that as an artist and actor Demitra learnt many new skills as well as a better understanding of how small businesses are run. She recognised immediately that being a sales assistant is all about performing or acting in a certain way and was able to adapt and alter her performance depending on whether she was dealing with an outgoing or a timid customer. I believe she learnt a lot about presentation as well as acquiring a greater understanding of what makes artists and crafters tick.

Unit 1 Part B: Getting involved in the arts world – work experience

Unit 1 Part B

Getting involved in the arts world – work experience

As part of my work experience for the Gold Arts Award I have recently helped to run a pop up shop in Manchester for 5 weeks. The shop stocked handmade arts and crafts produced by over twenty local designers. Handmade items included paintings, jewellery, cards, soft toys, baby clothes, hanging wooden plaques, soaps and lotions, hand felted gifts, craft kits and embroidered books. I was thrilled to have my handmade greetings cards on display and even more thrilled to sell a few of them.

I helped to display the items and dress the window before the shop actually opened. I then worked alone in the shop for 15 hours per week over a period of five weeks and have found this to be a useful experience for me with respect to working in the creative arts.

As part of my work duties I have not only interacted with customers but also the artists and craftspeople who stocked the shop. I have learnt to see issues from all sides – that of the retailer whose aim it is to sell, of the designer who wishes to be portrayed in a positive light and who wants their creative story told, and of the customer who is hesitant to part with his or her money but who can be encouraged or persuaded by pointing out the uniqueness of each handmade item and the time and skill that has gone into its creation.

My job in the shop has been to get the customer to understand the lengthy processes taken to produce the handmade items and the labour-intensive techniques used. To be able to do this I have discussed at length with some of the designers the creative process involved in making their items. I have discovered that not only does a customer want to own a unique piece of work but also wants to know the story behind its production or even the story of the artists' journey to becoming a designer. If I have not known this information I have been able to improvise to an extent. For example, I knew that one of the artists lived on a narrow boat but did not know where she was currently moored and because her paintings are mostly of sheep I was able to apply a bit of creative thinking. This, in a way, is a form of improvisation which is a useful skill to have in the performing arts.

My work experience has helped me considerably when producing and attempting to sell my own greetings card designs. Being present in the shop has enabled me to offer my own story to any customer who shows an interest in my designs. One customer who had bought one of my cards when I was not actually present in the shop returned the next day especially to meet me. I found this flattering and it was extremely encouraging to hear the buyer's comments, giving me encouragement to create new designs. I have also made sure that I have given praise and compliments to other designers involved in stocking the shop.

I realise now that to work in retail involves a certain amount of performance skills. You have to come across as friendly, eager to hear the customers woes and problems, seem enthusiastic, repeat your lines to each customer as if it is the first time you have spoken them, make the customer feel comfortable, at home and relaxed, and above all to be persuasive without being pushy.

In addition, I have learnt basic time management skills as well as how to deal with cashing up sold items and improving or altering the shop layout. The experience has given me confidence especially as my work has been displayed next to that of established designers not to mention being bought by customers who did not realise that it had been created by a 15 year old.

Unit 1 Part A: extend your own arts practice

Questionnaire – Carol Mowl, owner of Beetle Felt Workshops

Following the fascinating and informative felted mask making workshop at Beetle Felt studios I asked Carol Mowl a few questions about her business and how she had achieved success.

How and when did you first get into crafts?
When I was four years old. I made clothes for my dolls on the sewing machine.

What career path did you take to get where you are today?
Art GCSE Embroidery, GCSE Dress, GCSE art and fashion and textiles A levels, and Art Foundation course, Fashion and Textile B.A.(Hons) Degree. Placements and I worked in lots of textile artists' studios.

What made you decide to start running textile workshops?
It was a dream I always had but was prompted by a sweat lodge vision.

What was the first workshop that you ran and when?
I used to run jewellery workshops when I was 12 years old with my friends and neighbours. I have taught textiles especially weaving at the Manchester Craft And Design Centre in 1987.The first one at Beetle Felt studio was in 2007.

What is your favourite craft and why?
Weaving. I love making order out of chaos.

What is your least favourite craft that you teach and why?
Sock monsters as it holds bad memories.

What advice do you have for anyone wanting to go into the creative industry?
I did masses of training and courses on all sorts of bookkeeping and how to run a small business workshops etc. Just do it.

How do you finance your workshops? Are there any organisations that support you? If so, how?
I am supported by my customers who invest in the workshops by attending them and coming back for more quality teaching. I supplement them by living quite frugally and the overheads are low.

How do you continue to develop your skills?
I regularly go to Friday Frodsham Feltmakers and learn new skills all the time.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Unit 1 Part C: research and review

Questionnaire for Sarah Evans, art director at
(author/actor 'Secret Diary of a Teenage Queer')

What inspired you to go into a career in performance art? How old were you when you became interested in performing arts?
When I was young my Mum had to work numerous jobs to send me to dance and drama lessons so from the age of 5 I was involved in performance. I went to ballet, tap, modern and jazz lessons until the age of 16 but at the age of 14 I had met a Drama teacher at a Saturday school who inspired me. She encouraged me to work hard and believe in myself. She made me feel that I could make my dream a reality. My drama teacher at high school was really unhelpful and uninspiring so if it hadn't been for those mentors outside school I don't know if I'd have had the courage to be where I am now. It took until I was in my early twenties to meet another person, a director who really gave me the courage to realise that I wasn't only a performer but I could use my skills to write and produce too.

What kind of training did you have?
I did GCSE drama, Theatre Studies A-level and then went on to do a BA Hons Media and Performance degree at Salford University.

How has your performing technique changed since you began?
It's changed a lot. I have always been interested and moved by Edward Bond's work. I first read his play 'Saved' when I was at school after coming across it in a library and knew from that moment that I'd found something I understood. I continued to be curious about his work and feel that his theories on drama have influenced me to become the artist I am today. I learnt about other theorist's work at college and university but it wasn't until I read some of Bond's work and was able to see him speak about drama that it all clicked into place for me. I cannot urge people enough to read his work and hear him speak.

How do you prepare for a performance? Do you have any warm ups, routines or rituals?
It usually involves me worrying and triple checking that all my props and costume are in the right place. I do a vocal and body warm up before I get in my costume but once I've checked everything I tend to just smile, remind myself of how lucky I am to be here, doing what I love and focus on the story. I always like to do a group hug with my team before the first performance. Oh, and I like to brush my teeth before a performance too!

What do you do if you forget your lines?
You should ALWAYS know your lines and I always make sure that I know them well enough that I can play music REALLY loudly and say my lines over the top of the music, in a different rhythm than the song. When you have to think about your lines you're acting, when you know them well enough to say them over music and can do something else at the same time that's when you can really be in the site, and in the drama. Don't get me wrong, I have forgotten them before but you should know your lines, your fellow actors lines and the story so well that you can improvise until you're back on track. When I get a script I NEVER highlight my lines because doing that focuses on what I'M saying and not what WE, and the STORY are saying.

What was your first performance job and what did it lead to?
I've worked in a few different forms so there are quite a few 'first' performances for me. Performing my own work pushed me more than anything else and gigging in stand up comedy lead me to write and perform much more freely and feel more comfortable putting more of myself into whoever I am playing.

As a not for profit organisation how to you finance your performances? Which organisations support you?
In the early days I funded myself. I worked hard in other jobs to fund performances, props etc and lived a very frills free life! Now that I have built a reputation for myself and my work I am thankful that it has led me to have my work funded by a few organisations. The largest and most recent being Arts Council England. Without funding from many sources the arts would be a very different place, and not in a good way! With funding being so hard to secure because money is so tight there is also a new wave of funding which, I haven't done myself but organisations are using more and more called 'crowdfunding'. You upload your bid to a site and the public can directly give to your idea to get it off the ground. It just shows you the power of the public and how much we all need arts to understand and challenge our world.

How do you develop your skills?
I work with a lot with different people who are skilled in similar and very different things. I talk a lot to others and attend workshops and meetings. Skill sharing and support from other artist is so important.

Do you have any tips for an aspiring young actor?
Believe in yourself. Take advise but only from people you trust, you value and who challenge you. Work hard. Be prepared for ups and downs. Only work for free if you're getting out the same as you're putting in. Enjoy it!

Thanks so much for your time.
No problem! Thank you for seeing 'The Secret Diaries of a Teenage Queer' :)

Unit 1 Part C: reserch and review

The Secret Diary Of A Teenage Queer.

On 7th February I attended the matinee performance of 'The Secret Diary Of A Teenage Queer'. It was one of only two showings performed by the Art With A Heart company at Contact Theatre, Manchester. Performed in a small studio theatre in front of an audience of approximately 40 people the three actors were almost close enough to touch. Although at first I thought that the play would be boring and uncaptivating I found it to be enthralling throughout.

At the start of the performance the house lights went down and there was around a minute of silence before two characters stormed onto the stage, yelling at each other. This immediately grabbed the attention of the audience. As she pretended to read out her diary entries our eponymous heroine looked into the audience, breaking the fourth wall, an acting technique developed by Brecht which forms a bond between character and audience.

The props where kept to a minimum. There was a table with three mugs, a tatty settee, a large black bag and a few cardboard boxes containing the main character's childhood belongings including her teenage diaries. The actors used on stage costume changes to represent going backwards or forwards in time from the present day to the main character's teenage years. I did not think that with such basic and simple set and props the performance would be good, but I was wrong.

All the characters were portrayed as having selfish attitudes, being completely self absorbed and unable to see the points of view of the others. The actors used suspense throughout the performance which created an atmosphere of tension. There were times when they talked over each other, overlapping their dialogues and creating a sense of realism. It was evident that occasionally the actors had forgotten their lines creating a pause, but this came across as natural, as it does in real life.

Throughout the performance there were moments that made the audience cry with laughter, immediately followed by an extremely serious and poignant moment that would have us crying with emotion. We all experienced a roller coaster of emotions in a matter of seconds. The way that the play was performed the audience would feel one very strong emotion and would then be feeling the opposite emotion only seconds later. There was no apparent technique used to achieve this effect other than the fact that with only two actors ever on stage at any time they were completely focused on each other and their timing was perfect.

My personal opinion of 'The Secret Diary Of A Teenage Queer' is that although it is about the struggles of being gay and a teenager anyone who has been a teenager can relate to the subject whether they are gay or straight. Each of the three characters had very strong and unchanging attitudes towards homosexuality. The main character was confused and tried to conform to society's idea of 'normal'. Her father accepted her being a lesbian but did not accept that she and her civil partner wanted to have a child together. Her best friend at school was convinced that she would grow out of her gayness and become like her. The acting was outstanding and although there were only three characters and very basic props the actors showed that a big budget or large cast is not necessary in order to make a performance effective.

Before watching this play I was reluctant to sing with confidence in front of an audience but after seeing the energy of the actors as they sang, danced and made fools of themselves on stage I am now aware that I can not afford to be self conscious if I want to become an actor and that an actor needs to learn to laugh at themselves. In addition I learnt from this performance that if an actor forgets a line they can easily cover up with an ad lib. The use of overlapping of speech over the top of another character's conversation creates a realistic effect and I thank the cast of 'The Secret Diary Of A Teenage Queer' for helping me to get over my shyness and fear in this area.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Unit 1 Part A: extend your own arts practice

Felted mask workshop

On 11th March I attended a felted mask making workshop with Carol Mowl, a textile teacher, at her studio at Beetlefelt in Manchester. Prior to the workshop I drew a few mask designs to follow during the workshop, in which I included colours and some detail that I could base my mask designs on.

First I discussed my designs with Carol to see if it would be possible to create them in the way that I pictured them. There were mask bases with different facial features and expressions to chose from. I chose a feminine mask with subtle features for one mask and a more masculine mask for the second mask.

The process for making a felted mask is as follows. I covered the table with plastic sheeting, with a towel on top, then a layer of bubble wrap, and a piece of thin nylon material similar to fine net curtains. For the lion mask I chose a base colour of off white and covered the nylon with a thin layer of wool tops with the fibres facing horizontally I then applied another layer of the same colour this time with the fibres facing vertically, and a third layer facing horizontally again. For the fourth and final layer I added different colours to detail light and shade, eyebrows, nose and whiskers, with several strands of curly unspun wool to create the mane.

Then came the hard work. I covered the wool with another sheet of nylon, poured lukewarm water over the top, flipped it over to add more water on the back, massaged soap into both sides. Then I massaged the fibres quite vigorously on the upper and lower surface in order to felt every fibre and strand of wool into place. This process took around ten minutes and I kept checking to see if the wool was felting together and to pin point which areas needed more massaging.

The hardest part of the whole process involved rolling up the two layers of nylon including the felted piece and towel into a sausage which I then rolled backwards and forwards with a lot of pressure. I then unrolled it, turned the two nylon pieces by 90 degrees, repeating the process of rolling and turning by 90 degrees another two times until it had gone the whole 360 degrees and completely felted together.

Next came the messy part. I carefully removed the nylon sheets and put my mask into a large bowl of diluted PVA glue until it had soaked through the felting. I then placed the mask over the mask base, manipulated the material until in the right position, moulded it into the mask base shape and added details such as wrinkles, cheekbones and eyes. I pegged the wrinkles to hold them until the piece had dried which takes up to a week.

For the second mask the same process was used, but the mask was left unfinished until it had dried so that I could trim it down to size and add elastic to make it ready to wear.

Unit 1 Part A: extend your own arts practice

Plan for gold arts award Unit 1

I have named my project 'The use and history of masks in performance arts'.

My primary art form is illustration and visual arts in general. I enjoy working in pencil, watercolour and using digital software such as Paint Tool SAI, Photoshop and Paint. I like to illustrate fashion designs such as evening wear, fantasy wear and decorative wear with an underlying Gothic and punk tone. I like to design role play characters and their outfits and weapons. I am currently focusing on drawing the human form and experimenting with monochrome pastels. I like to draw mis-shapen humans because I find them more interesting than the 'perfect' body.

The different types of visual art that I enjoy and which inspire me include the Japanese cartoon form of Anime which has its origins in Manga. Manga are a type of comic that are drawn in a style that was originally developed in the late 19th century. They cover a wide range of genres. It was Manga that inspired me to start drawing, practising and to take it seriously.

My new art form is drama and acting. I plan to research the use of masks in performance arts and their historical use. I will research Brecht's use of masks in his performances. The artistic challenge that I have set myself is to work with a local drama group, Stage Directions, attending acting workshops with a view to creating a series of masks in a variety of mediums. The different mediums will include a felted mask. I will be attending a felted mask workshop with a local practitioner. I will also produce paper mache masks. I am fascinated by the use of performance masks and I aim to also explore the use of tribal masks and their meanings. I will be working with the director of Stage Directions who is a professional actor and drama teacher.

I aim to collect evidence of the drama masks via photographs and sketches. I will record the process via a blog. After researching the historical use of performance masks I will create designs that are influenced both by the masks I have researched and their use in performances including the meanings that they represent. I plan to share photographs of the finished items on my blog along with a video of the masks being used in a drama workshop. I will gather feedback on the workshop by asking participants and the audience to fill out questionnaires which I will then post on my blog.

One of my weaknesses is that I tend to start many projects but I find it hard to finish them or know when to leave them and call them finished. Another weakness is that I find it very hard to leave my comfort zone and will avoid leaving it if I can. For example abstract paining is very much out my comfort zone so I tend to avoid creating abstract pieces or I will find a way to change abstract into a figurative piece.

I include as my strengths the fact that I am happy and willing to apply many hours a day to working on any visual art project. This means that I am constantly learning to new use new mediums and new techniques.