children's masks

Book Festival Fun: or 5 ways to cope with the crowd -2/5

2/5

Gusto

Wow, Gusto is a great guy. What do you mean you've never met him? Oh man, he's the best; gregarious, confident, nothing phases Gusto.

Gusto always looks at the upside of any predicament, never wavering in his focus to brighten up any situation. He's the master of his own destiny, king of confidence, duke of daring deeds, chancellor of cheer....you know what I mean, you get the idea.

Faced with a crowd of people, all staring at him, waiting anxiously for him to begin, he strides out before them like a demi-god, an unswervingly confident, lucky sod.

No hat too silly, no shirt too garish, always smiling, always swish. He dons his curly wigs with flair, he doesn't care about his hair.

You may know Gusto has a twin, though no one likes to mention him.

Oh dear, here comes Meeker now, come on Meeker take a bow.

He shuffles up to the plate, makes excuses why he's late.

Mumbles his lines, drops his script, over his laces he has tripped.

Getting up, he bangs his head, apologises, face turns red.

Stumbling back onto the stage, “what's my line?”, “where's my page?”

He clears his throat, he sounds quite hoarse, he's lost his audience now, of course.

Oh dear, why? Where did they go?

They've wandered off to see Gusto.

 

-Trevor Young, Tapocketa

 

We realised we needed Gusto for all our public appearance, and did our best to lose Meeker along the way. Worrying about making mistakes, we found, is more disabling than the mistakes themselves. Throwing yourself into your performance with gusto takes people along with you.

 

The odd mistake is all part of the show when done with flair of the Great Gusto.

Book Festival Fun : or 5 ways to avoid public humiliation -1/5

'I'm ready for my close up' - Eleanor helps frame this little character

'I'm ready for my close up' - Eleanor helps frame this little character

1/5

Prep

When it comes to preparation for a book festival reading, there are probably people who are a lot more self-confident than we are who would just turn up and see what happens. If you do this, take a well deserved bow; probably to the three people that turned up and slow clapped you as you left after your half-baked performance, away with you!

Ok, some may smugly recount the the time they “didn't prepare at all and it went fantastico”; well I'm not listening -la, la, la, la. You played with the proverbial children's festival bumper box of matches one time and didn't get burnt, lucky you, smarty pants! What? You've been doing it for years? Oh right, yeah, that's the exception, I'm just talking about those who are new to this, on your way please.

So, our prep regime was tough; up at dawn for vocal exercises and smile practice, rigorous silly gesturing rehearsal and, being true method actors becoming absorbed by our characters King Galdo and Brendara and the rest, months in advance of the big day...

...or alternatively, we may have just had a quick run through the day before. Yes, I think it was that last one.

Eleanor and myself holding on to our last shreds of dignity

"Why is everyone avoiding us?"

To be fair we had already performed a number of times at a local school, so we had an idea of what we were going to do. We knew we were going to use cardboard masks of our characters (actually, I managed to persuade Eleanor to do all the mask wearing, me wearing them would have creeped the children out). We knew we were going to get the audience to join in by helping us with the sound effects. We also knew that we needed to prepare our performance based on what we had learnt from that school booking.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, other prep stuff: we had posters made up (beautifully designed by a talented designer called Eleanor) which went up in the local bookshop a week before the event.

poster design by Eleanor

Our friend and all round pr guru, Emma, rallied round beforehand getting us a mention on local mummy blogs and an hour or so before the performance we walked around in silly hats handing out flyers and stickers and pleaded with anyone who would listen to come and see the show or risk seeing me, a grown man, break down to a shell of my former self before their eyes. At which point many people told me that would not be necessary as they were already coming anyway as they already knew about it -the power of prep.

School Results

Eleanor and Trevor losing whatever remaining dignity they ever had

There is no hiding anymore, time to step into the spotlight and sink or swim.

A collection of harsh little critics file into the school hall and sit down and deliver their finest harsh critic gazes towards us. This is just the first of seven sessions presenting our book to the children of Commonswood Primary School.

Snail sketch

Now, something we had created from scratch, will be laid out for children to see, and critique.  We came armed with big colourful images and big colourful masks. I would narrate and Eleanor was to act out all the characters.

Eleanor slapped a cardboard crown on the front of my Velcro'd head and we were away.  There followed a slightly awkward, ad-hoc rendition of the book., with the children helping us by providing the sound effects such as fanfares, sword-swishing and booing (now, hold on there -we had asked them to boo, it was part of the story, honest!).  We'd given ourselves a lot of mask-swapping and prop manipulation and it was quite a challenge.

Making it in the world of kid's lit takes nerves of steel

Making it in the world of kid's lit takes nerves of steel

I can't claim that our first performance was a finely polished masterpiece, but we had given it our best shot.  This was our first time after all.  I was happy we had made it through.

snail small

Then we showed them the trailer and explained how we created some of the characters from bits of card and showed them some of our models.  Then we answered some of their questions (thankfully no 'why are you here?'), handed out activity sheets/feedback sheets (more about those in future blogs) and they filed out to make way for the next class.  This was exhausting and we had only done one.  Six more to go.

However, as we went from performance to performance throughout the day, we got better and started to realise where to put our focus, involving the children more and spending more time showing them the models and the process.

A few of the children had their photo taken wearing the masks and holding the props and they loved it.

A couple of masked heroes

A couple of masked heroes

In a future blog I will detail more of what we learnt and the feedback we got.  Safe to say it was a very valuable experience and I'm glad we stepped out of our comfort zone to do it.

 

Blast Off

Evil Eleanor as Brendara, ready to blast some blood-sucking bats to bits

Great we've managed to book up a number of public presentations of Galdo's Gift.  That's fantastic!  Woo hoo!  Go Tapocketa, yeah!

---pause---

'Yay.  Good.''

---pause---

'Yeah, it's going to be good.'

....

'Er, have you had any thoughts as to what we might do?'

'I dunno, you?'

Well, thankfully, ideas and elaboration are our strong point; our problem is time.  We need to find some way of presenting our book to a whole bunch of heckling children that is fun colourful and inventive and relatively quick.  We decided the best idea was to blow everything up.

That is to say, we would take the illustrations directly from the book and blow them up to human size so we could perform the story at full scale.  We would just need to work out how we could attach the character heads to ourselves and be able to switch them quickly.

 

Ingredients:

A whole bunch of illustrations

A bemused local printing shop

A lot of thick card

Tonnes of Velcro

A huge loss of dignity

 

With a skull cap made from Velcro (which looked fine on Eleanor but for some reason on me gave the air of someone all prepped up for the electric chair, 'sorry, kids') and its Velcro counterpart attached to the back of each character mask; we had our quick-change system ready.

some of the card masks and props ready for the school presentation

Child's Play

Our first 'gig' would be Commonswood Primary School in Welwyn Garden City.  We had initially asked if we could 'perhaps, kindly have a quick session talking to a few children about the book, if that would be to much of a problem, thank you'. 

Cut to: booked for seven half hour sessions each with thirty children (the last session would actually be sixty children) aged from seven to eleven, all on the same day.  -'Oh, *gulp*, thank you, that sounds great'.  Oh God.

Ok, so no hiding, time to step up...

5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

(to be continued...)

 

 
Ready for battle

Ready for battle