Musarat, Maya and I have been working with the wonderful participants from Richmond Hill for the past 5 weeks, exploring the theme of circus and clowning. Our theme has been created based on the current exhibition at Cartwright Hall in Bradford, where a selection of circus inspired costumes and installations are on show. We are very excited for our upcoming trip to the gallery to see the exhibition in real life.
Session 1: Getting to know you!
We were thrilled to receive such a warm greeting from the staff at the centre, we felt ready and excited to meet the group. When they arrived we introduced ourselves by passing round a huge fluffy ball – David told us that he enjoyed gardening, and Chris said he liked doing all sorts of things! Robert was transfixed on the ball, feeling its fluffy fir and squeezing its sides. We moved onto playing a walking game and I introduced statements about myself, such as my favourite colour, food, or a memory. If any of the adults had this in common with me they jumped to their feet and found another seat in the circle to sit. We made this more challenging by changing the way in which we travelled across the circle, using different weights and heights. When we asked the group to pretend that we were travelling across clouds, Florence suggested perhaps we should move on our tip toes.
After lots of moving around the space, we decided to sit down and look through some images Musarat had brought us from the Cartwright Hall exhibition. The images were full of colour and patterns. We spent some time together absorbing the images and discussing the various characters we could see.
After a quick coffee break we moved onto mask making. Musarat handed out the masks and we began making shapes and swirls – like the patterns that we could see in the images from Cartwright Hall. We then introduced vibrant paint colours. There was lots of focus and concentration in the room.
Session 2 – Patterns and clowning
We started this session with a washing line. Musarat and I pegged the photographs from Cartwright Hall above the table – ready for the participants to join us. There was lots of interest from the group, both David and Gale quickly joined us at the table and looked up to the images.
We searched for patterns in the photos and Musarat helped us to translate these into our sketch pads. Gale created interested curves and appeared deep in thought.
We then added some of these patterned details to our masks, using glitter and coloured feathers.
Later we made a circle and began exploring movement activities using the parachute – playing various height games and looking over and under. We rolled shaky eggs to each other and played with movement patterns. Robert became very animated in this activity and instigated his own game of rushing under the parachute as we counted backwards, then quickly scurrying back out as we lowered the fabric!
Session 3 – Fabrics
We started this session with the textured ball we used in week one. We sent the ball around the circle, creating waves using high and low actions. Florence giggled through this – pushing her arms as high or as low as possible! After our warm up we moved our chairs into two lines and brought out a long stream of fabric made up or various textured scarves. We made a web by weaving and winding the fabric around ourselves using our hands. We practised raising the web high, low and at mixed levels. One by one, we took turns passing through the web by step over and bending under the lines. I was thrilled to see Gale, Florence, and Robert quick on their feet to have a go! Chris followed suit – smiling as he stepped over the fabric web.
We later continued with our fabric theme and moved onto Batik – a textile technique using fabric, dye and wax. We layered up the wax and dye to create intricate patterns. Musarat showed us some examples and explained how the process worked. The group confidently started their pieces using a bright yellow dye, Gale used bold strokes of dye to her fabric. Each of us had a go using Tjaniting tools, which slowly release a flow of wax from a tiny spout. Both David and Chris focused deeply on this task, carefully moving the tool around the fabric to create swirls, lines and patterns.
Session 4 – Character Building
After a group check in and a physical warm up, we turned our chairs towards the television screen. Maya had compiled some photographs and film footage to show us, it was wonderful to see how much we had achieved in just a few weeks! Robert squirmed and squealed with delight and he saw himself playing with the parachute!
After this, we started playing a memory game together. I placed a heap of clowning props onto a soft blue fabric for us to explore – we had hats, bow ties, red noses, fans and scarves. I asked the group to close their eyes and as I took one item away, I explained the group needed to guess which one was missing. Gale was quick to cotton on that the props left an outline on the fabric, almost giving us a clue to the missing item! We took turns in taking objects away and guessing which one was missing. Robert developed the game even further by placing his own tie on the table to use! We closed our eyes as he sneakily took it away.
I placed the participants masks on the table – there was a scramble to find which one belonged to who. Once everyone had their mask we began matching them to one of the props. Chris chose a skeleton glove, David picked a bow tie, Florence found a green scarf, Gale picked a fan and Robert chose a hat. We looked at our characters in the mirror before creating verbal stories and character descriptions for our masks.
After we had explored our masked characters we moved back to the Batik activity. We added more layers, filling the fabric with vibrancy and patterns. The group were even more confident this week and began making bold choices about their designs. Chris was quick to finish and had completed a wonderfully complex piece. Robert spent lots of time picking the right colour to add to his piece, carefully adding the dye in selected places.
Session 5 – Storytelling and Sewing
This week’s session was an exciting one – we focused on free machine embroidery and appliqué. Gale was first up with Musarat and after a quick run through the machine she was ready to go. She confidently added a range of threads and cording to the fabric. One by one each of the participants spent time with the machine to add their details and embellishments. Chris had used a sewing machine before and smoothly guided the piece using his hands, he appeared relaxed and calm. Last up was David and he was excited to share some memories with Musarat about his mum and her sewing machine, it was lovely to see David chatty and animated in this session.
In the other half of the room we began building stories using guided drawing, based on the characters from last week. I started by telling the group about an empty circus that came to town which needed various acts and performances – which circus act would your character perform? We explored various ideas using props gestures and action. David became the Strong Man, Gale was a hula-hoop dancer, Robert became a clown and Chris was a trapeze act. We took some photographs of our characters to experiment with still images and mime.
Using different guided drawing tasks, we generated the start of our circus stories. Including our first impressions of the circus tent.
“I can smell hot dogs, perfume and donuts! I can hear cars outside in the car park, I can hear people in the audience” – David
“There’s a cat in the circus tent. I can smell perfume, donuts and I can hear birds” – Gale
“Robert’s character can see another clown in the circus. He can hear chattering. He can smell flowers, hay and nacho’s!” – Robert
“I can see animals in the tent. I can smell food from vendors. He’s lying on the trampoline” – Chris
Our project so far has included a range of different activities, from physical movement games to intricate sewing. It has been a pleasure getting to know the participants over the past few weeks and we’re excited to see where the rest of the project take us!
Ellie, Musarat and Maya