Blog

theatre, Things To Do

Review: Discover Dance

Last night (Friday 9th February 5pm) we had an after school theatrical treat, discovering dance with National Dance Company Wales at Sherman Theatre. I was accompanied (as ever) by my 11 year old stepdaughter and 9 and 5 year old sons. None of them go to dance classes but they all enjoyed the event. Even surly Nine who didn’t want to join in the first half “no way”.

NDCWales’s Discover Dance production is a game of two halves. We kick off with an introduction from the effervescent Lee Johnston, the company’s Rehearsal Director which she explains is like being the coach. We’re taken through the dancers’ warm up routines with a chance for everyone who’s up for it  to join the dancers on stage.

It’s a credit to the team and the welcoming, open tone they set that so many of the children in the audience were keen to have a go. Eleven and Five threw themselves into the opportunity. As Five said:

“It was really fun to go on stage. I’ve never been on a big stage like that. Sometimes I get nervous but the dancer made me feel happy because they showed me the moves. I think all the other children enjoyed it too.”

We swiftly move on to some exercises and sections of Folk, the production we’re treated to in the second half. Again, we’ve got the chance to join in and one of the exercises in particular fired up my boys:

Nine: “It was really satisfying when they did the crackling out of the ice. That’s the kind of movement game I’d like to play at home or school.”

Five: “Also Mum I liked the bit when they were doing hurricane bits. I liked the bits where he finished one of them, he keeped quiet for a little bit then he said loudly “Crazy crazy! There’s a tornado! Then you can just feel the snow melting and the ice in the water.””

We get to wave at the techies at the back of the seats as Lee tells us about the lights and sound that play their parts in a show. It’s a great way to highlight the whole range of skills and roles that are needed to pull a production together.

Nine: Charlie was the boss of the music and Adam was in charge of the lights.

Five: They did a really good job.

Half time comes and we break for an ice cream from the mid-refurb Sherman foyer, wees and a chance for the dancers to get changed and ready for their performance.

The second half is a half hour dance piece called Folk which absolutely flew by. Choreographed by Caroline Finn, it’s a perfect choice for a family audience with characters that feel both otherworldly and recognisable and a beautifully striking set designed by Joe Fletcher.

Nine: “Folk was quite cool because the tree was hung from the roof. This woman was randomly speaking Italian and it was quite funny. It was quite witch-like when they were doing the witch circle.”

Five: “It was spectacular! I liked the show when it was nearly at the end because I like imagination. And I liked the other bit when there was a teensy bit left to the end because it was just like a made up language and it was really funny.

It was great because I like puppet shows, they were making them look like puppets because they were copying. (*Nine demonstrates the moves we learnt in our seats during the first part of the show*).

The whole thing used up lots of funny imaginations. Whoever’s imaginations they were, I like their imaginations.

The music, it was good because I liked the one where it was sort of harmony like sort of calm. The beginning sounded like they were definitely in France and then there was some music that made me feel in the jungle and then Tokyo, is that the capital of Japan?”

Eleven: “It was really fun. I thought the show was really good and I loved the music.”

After Folk, the dancers return to the stage to answer questions from a buzzing audience. “Where are you from?” “When did you start dancing?” “What’s your favourite type of dance?”

Nine: “It was great because you could ask questions at the end so we could find out where they came from and how they started dancing. They were from lots of different countries, even America.”

Watching dance is a fabulous way to inspire keen dancers but it’s also brilliant for kids in general. There’s room for imagination, the chance to weave your own story, to laugh at something because it tickles your funny bone without words or slapstick.

Wales should be very proud of their dance company. They’re presenting beautiful work and stirring a love of dance. Discover Dance is an ideally relaxed way to introduced new audiences to contemporary dance and gives young people a chance to interact with the professionals.

Five: “I’d like to watch more dance because it’s funny sometimes and you get to do lots of different moves and when you dance it’s kind of like doing exercise and it’s good for you because it helps you stay healthy.”

Nine: “I’d like to watch more dance because it can be strange in certain ways and funny. It was very weird because usually you’d have a tree on the ground and you wouldn’t use a brush to sweep leaves, you’d use a rake.”

We were also intrigued to get a sneaky peak at the developments in Sherman Theatre’s foyer, which got a thumbs up from hard to please Eleven: “I LOVED the redecorating, it feels cosy but big too.” We’re big fans of the venue, their range of family friendly productions and the utterly awesome Sherman 5 scheme that has genuinely opened up the doors to so many people.

Discover Dance is touring the UK this spring, heading to Huddersfield, Brecon, Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Newtown, Mold, Newport, Swansea and Derby. Full tour dates on www.ndcwales.co.uk.

Carved Halloween Pumpkin
Thinking Out Loud

March of the Mummies

Today, at noon on Halloween in six cities around the UK the March of the Mummies made a stand against pregnancy and maternity discrimination. If you follow Pregnant Then Screwed you’ll know all about it. If you don’t, go find @PregnantScrewed on twitter. Sadly, I couldn’t make it in person because of work but it got me thinking of my own experiences.

I’m not preggers or on mat leave nor do I intend to be so ever again but I do remember the stress and frustration first time around when I met with inflexibility to my requests for reduced hours. I broke through the barrier eventually with a presentation (the idiot’s guide to job sharing) and some much appreciated support from my maternity cover (who is still doing ace things for women in the workplace).

Second time around I got wound up enough to write a blog post so in the spirit of raising mummies from the dead, I’ve resurrected a couple of blog posts from my first foray into the blogosphere as Moody Mum in 2013:

Trapped Part Time Workers

Nine Months In (my womb) Nine Months Out (to work) – in which I bemoan returning to work before my youngest turns one

If you want more information on what the March of the Mummies was for and why it’s important, head over to marchofthemummies.com.

theatre, Things To Do

Christmas Show Overload

A trip to the theatre is a real festive treat. I know I go to a heck of a lot of live shows all year long because of work but there really is something magical in dragging the entire family to watch a classic children’s story or fairy tale come to life. It feels decadent and wholesome, charming and silly. It doesn’t have to mean panto and it doesn’t have to mean spending shedloads of money.

Family Friendly Shows in Cardiff and the Vale this Christmas

Sherman Theatre

Wind in the Willows / 1 – 30 December

£16 – £26 Range of prices. Previews (1 – 3 December) are cheaper so worth checking out. Under 25s are half price.

We’ve loved the annual Sherman Christmas show for many years and this sounds like it’ll hit the spot again. The classic Wind in the Willows story by Kenneth Graham will be brought to life with live music. There’s a lovely option to have a letter from Father Christmas for your child on their seat when you arrive. There are also accessible performances including Relaxed Performances.

The Magic Porridge Pot / 3 November – 30 December

£9. Recommended for ages 3-6.

Perfect for under 7s this show is overflowing with songs, music and fun. It’s a classic fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, retold by the very funny Alun Saunders.

Chapter

The Giant Who Had No Heart in his Body / 22 – 23 December

£5. £17 family ticket. Aimed at ages 7+ but a comedy show for all ages. (Wins the CHEAPEST TICKETS award from me.)

A warm, funny show with original music, puppetry and a sprinkling of magic. Likely Story Theatre bring their unique story telling style to this classic Norwegian fairy tale. A story of friendship, courage, adventure, an umbrella cow, a giant’s heart and a silly duck.

Wales Millennium Centre

The Bear / 12 – 31 December

£10. Babes in arms tickets £2. Recommended for age 3+.

Based on the Raymond Briggs storybook this is a really lovely theatre show for children and their families. It’s only 55 minutes long so perfect for younger kids. It’s in the Wales Millennium Centre’s smaller studio space, the Weston Studio rather than the huge auditorium. The Centre are holding free Christmas crafting activities too so you can spend longer in the building. I walked through the building this week and it’s looking amazing with all the decorations.

Second Star to the Right  / 30 November – 2 December

£9. Under 6s are £6 and under 2 year olds are FREE. Recommended for everyone, all babies welcome.

A cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and pupils from Woodlands High School restore hope to Neverland in this new production.

The Gate

Hansel and Gretel / 2 December – 16 December (Fridays and Saturdays only)

£8.50/£8 for adults and £6 children.

The classic Grimm fairy tale is brought to life with puppetry and music from Black RAT. We’ve seen a fair few of this company’s Christmas shows over the past 7 years and the songs and humour have been a hit with the children.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Cinderella / 3 – 5 December

£10. Under 16s are £8.

For something a bit different, try out this introduction to the orchestra for an age old fairy tale. Cinderella as you’ve maybe never experienced before with music, film and illustrations.

St David’s Hall

Tiddly Prom: Bert and Cherry’s Christmas Plum Pudding / 16 December – 19 December (10.30 and 12.30 each day)

£7.50

Ideal for under 5s, you can expect lots of silly songs to sing along to, a lively festive story and a large helping of musical plum pudding.

Ballet (3 different shows: The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake) / Cinderella 19 – 20 December / The Nutcracker 21 – 24 December / Swan Lake 27 – 31 December

Ticket prices vary. Lowest is £8.25 for under 16s and £16.50 for adults at the 2pm matinees with a family ticket (2 adult and 2 children) for £46.50.

The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake are also all at St David’s Hall in December. The Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia bring these 3 classic and enchanting ballets to Cardiff. There are lots of offers on including a multi-ballet saver. If your child is into ballet and has never seen a live performance, this could be a really special experience watching a popular ballet with recognisable music. The Nutcracker is set at nightfall on Christmas Eve and is perfect for this time of year.

*

If you’re really gagging for a full on Panto experience, here you go, these are for you. Oh no they aren’t. Oh yes they are.

New Theatre

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / 9 December – 14 January

Cheapest standard ticket is £13. Family Offer 4 tickets for £79 (only some shows). There are about a billion different ticket price options so check with the box office what’s best for you.

It’s panto as you know it, big costumes, big sets and big names. This year’s includes Gareth Thomas, Mike Doyle, Samantha Womack and Chico!

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

Snow Queen “A Frozen Tale” / 14 – 17 December

£13. Children £11. Family group £45.

Barry’s amateur dramatic drama company BillBoard Ensemble are back at the Memo with panto. This year’s is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the Snow Queen featuring songs from Disney’s Frozen.

Paget Rooms, Penarth

Beauty and The Beast / 7 – 10 December

£10. Children £8.

Penarth Operatic and Dramatic Society return with their annual family pantomime.

Jack and the Beanstalk / 4 – 10 January

£14. Children £8. Family £42.

Owen Money heads up this panto from Rainbow Valley Productions. It will be in Penarth following a tour of South Wales.

 

Let me know what you think of these if you get to any of them and if I’ve left any out!

 

 

theatre, Things To Do

Sci-Fi Treasure Hunting in Blackwood – Project: Oggbots

Today, I went hunting for a professor and a crazy artist while dodging shady agents on the streets of Blackwood on a mission to save some aliens.

True story. I took my nine and five year olds to help with the mission. They flipping loved it. They’ve seen more theatre than most kids could shake a stick at but this interactive intergalactic family adventure made a huge impression on them.

We started in the library, getting the back story and some essential training in observation and evasion tactics. Over an hour later we were working on circuit boards in a secret location. The boys were thrilled with the extra-terrestrials and electronics..

“I hope we get to go to another one like that soon!” – the nine year old said at bedtime.

Project: Oggbots is a show for 7-11 year olds by Root Experience. It’s only on for one more day but with plenty of times to choose from. Book your tickets with Blackwood Miners’ Institute:  Blackwood Miners’ Institute website or go old school and phone the box office 01495 227 206.

pregnant woman
Thinking Out Loud

Nine Months In (my womb) Nine Months Out (to work)

Another vintage blog post, this one from March 2013, in which I bemoan returning to work before my youngest turns one.

Having never been one for the ‘live to work not work to live’ mantra it will come as no surprise to learn that I was hardly cockahoop about returning to work following maternity leave.

While I’m sure some women delight in the chance to spend ten hours of their day commuting and in paid employ with no chance of being asked to wipe any bottoms (let’s assume I’m talking about office work before I hear the cries of “well, I’ll have you know that I wipe bottoms for a living and I’m BLOODY GOOD AT IT”) there are also some women who balk at the suggestion that they should have to work at all. “But who will bring up my children?”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not sitting on the proverbial fence here. I would far rather be caring for my children. Physically, emotionally and practically AT THIS STAGE in their lives it would be the most sensible situation. My youngest is 10 months old. I have been and still am breastfeeding him. On the plus side, when I am not in his company, my breasts magically grow to impressive proportions. On the down side this means that I must pump my milk out in a random tiny room. I am not and never have been a militant member of the breastapo. It’s free. I’m not one for making bottle feeders feel rubbish or defensive about themselves. Let’s not dwell.

So, physically my breasts are still in the ‘we are the mammaries of a mammal with an infant so we will produce milk’ zone and when I am with my amazing baby I am in the ‘I want to feed my baby for free’ zone. But the world of work says “you have done your time woman, put down the baby and get back to your desk.”

On the emotional side of things I don’t think I sound like a crazy banshee saying “I love my children”. I carried both of them inside me. INSIDE MY BODY. (It is still weird. You were once INSIDE someone. Not a random person, granted. But I digress.) We created these little people to be involved in their ever changing lives, and when they’re less than a year old they change more quickly than they ever will again. I don’t want to miss that. Maybe I can miss a bit if it makes me feel sane and worthwhile but sometimes work makes me feel a bit bonkers and pointless.

I work in an industry where I enable other people to LIVE THEIR DREAM. I never said “when I grow up I want to be a Participation Officer”. I didn’t know what one of those was. Most people still don’t. Which is embarrassing, deflating and devaluing. Wait. I must shake the You Should Have Done Teaching imp from my shoulder. “You would’ve been on thirty grand a year by now, imagine that, it’s the same as you earn as a couple now”. Shut up and bugger off Teaching Imp.

Maybe if I LOVED my job I’d feel differently but, quite frankly, I don’t. It’s a means to an end and the end is money. And I don’t earn much. Let’s just say I’m not paying back my student loan yet. I would like to love my job. I need to win some bread, sing for my supper and provide a positive, productive role model for my children. Just not yet. At ten months old neither son asked why mummy was a lazy Jezza Vile watching housewife while daddy worked his arse of at the docks. I can readjust that patriarchal rubbish when they’re both in school.

On a practical level, working is a logistical nightmare/challenge. My four year old and 10 monther have different schedules and needs. Granted, they’re not very complex at the moment and I’m lucky to have grandparent help for two days, more than that and I feel that I’m taking the mickey. They’ve done their time.

The current government has paid lip service to the notion that women are entitled to a year off from work after giving birth. Well I’ve got news for you Dave, those last three months of unpaid maternity leave do not and cannot work for most families’ finances in the current economic mess. Better maternity packages come higher up the ladder and in better paid industries, widening the gap between the women at the top and those struggling at the bottom. Statutory Maternity Pay, while utterly amazing compared to the seventies and America, is, to be blunt, rubbish. Forward thinking companies and those who give a monkeys arse about retaining staff have varying maternity policies better than SMP. Not where I work.

Babies aren’t expensive. Your income dropping from £355 per week to more like £117 (rough figures for my salary in 2008 when I had my first son) is what hits you hard. The Camerons’ annual income is approximately one thousand times more than that of my household. ONE THOUSAND! Out of touch with the needs of most families with young children? Probably.

 

Thinking Out Loud

Trapped Part Time Workers

(This blog post was originally written in July 2013. Thankfully I’m now in a much better place with my career but I’ll save that for another time.)

Today the Guardian published an article entitled “Part-time workers ‘trapped’ in jobs with no chance of promotion”. The article focuses on professionals and despite it seemingly assuming that all part time workers are office based it did speak to the frustrated part-time worker in me.

I work in the arts as an officer in a participation/education/creative learning/whatever-the-deuce-we’re-calling-it-this-week department. A potted history: I returned to work three days a week after my first maternity leave as part of a job share. Eventually I stopped job sharing and instead had a full time assistant. I returned after my second maternity leave to a situation where I have no job share and no assistant but am still working a three day week. Have I received a pay rise to acknowledge the fact that I’m delivering a full time position on part time hours? Hahaha! This is the arts darling, we do it for love.

I have tried finding other work. The part time opportunities that get advertised on the Arts Council Wales jobs list are short term, not well paid (which is saying something coming from me) or not in my area of expertise. I don’t want to jump from this particular frying pan into a fire that could only last 9 months and leave me in a worse situation than my current poorly paid stagnant career. This is what makes me feel trapped. There is nowhere to move in the organisation and no way to move out of it.

I know of at least three skilled and experienced female arts professionals who worked for well known arts organisations who were forced into leaving their roles through the utter inflexibility of their employers. I know another who was made redundant and is now struggling to find part time, relevant work. It’s such a waste of talent. Three of them are unemployed and the other is working in another sector. All have children under the age of 5. They are incredibly jaded, having been spat out and spat on by a sector that too many people see as people friendly and passionate.

In the final throws of my degree, with the big wide world looming, I did consider (and was approached with a recommendation that I pursue) training to be an actor. But then I thought about what was important in my life and my dream of a house, partner, children, dog and car was incongruous with the nomadic, penniless actor I could see myself becoming. So I went for a ‘proper job’ (full time, permanent) but in the arts. Now, at thirty years old I am content that I have achieved my big life goals but my career and pitiful income is a niggling little pain in my derrière. Maybe I should have followed my heart rather than my head back in 2004.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2013/jul/08/part-time-workers-trapped-jobs?INTCMP=SRCH

School Days, Thinking Out Loud

To my children on the first day of school

Enjoy! I won’t cry, you won’t cry. That’s not our thing. No severe case of stiff upper lip, just a case of being a totally normal thing to happen at the start of September. I love that you love school, that you’re bright and a good friend.

You’ll get up to all sorts of exciting things this year. All of you. Trips and projects, odd crazes and funny stories. You’ll pick up fodder for anecdotes in your adult years. You’ll learn and you’ll grow.

I’m getting soppy. I should probably have started the school year as I mean to go on by laying out your uniforms and preparing your packed lunches but we’ll muddle through somehow.

And a special extra note for my step daughter: I hope you have a better first day than your dad did.