Guest blog: Stephanie Jalland talks about Hoodwink’s ‘A Winter’s Trail’ – commissioned by Salisbury Cathedral with support from Arts Council England.

Stephanie Jalland, Artistic Director of Hoodwink, company in residence at Salisbury Arts Centre, has been creating original and inventive performances and events for almost twenty years; indoors, outdoors, touring at home and abroad, in response to specific sites and both with and without participation from communities across the age ranges. A delightful and magical body of work driven by the desire to create high quality, thought provoking and innovative work accessible to all.

The focus of the company’s work has shifted over the last few years from touring to venues and festivals to work that is more engaged with non-arts partners, which enables us to reach a more diverse audience.

Salisbury Cathedral commissioned Hoodwink to create ‘something magical and secular’ for families of all ages to enjoy together in the cathedral for December 2016. A theatrical experience that would encourage people into this public space who may not normally go or feel that they can at this busy and significant time of the year, and with a particular desire to include an elderly and often isolated audience for whom this can be an emotional time.

A challenge. But also a gift. What a site to respond to, explore and celebrate.

However, a non arts venue has its own very busy agenda and any ideas had to fit around the schedule of services and many functions of the cathedral but such restrictions of access help to define how and what is possible.

“Loved this show. Such a beautiful harmony between the performance and the space”. audience member.

I am often asked how I create shows, how do you come up with the ideas?

It is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle of impressions, emotions and experiences. A Winter’s Trail offered a fresh perspective and experience of the cathedral as we took the audience on a journey through it after dark, but also a journey through a life looked back upon. Each setting and stopping point along the way reflecting a wintry memory from our central character Jean’s life, coming into focus as the lights and sound revealed them.

“I remember waking in the morning to a world turned white and holding its’ breath”

Hoodwink Theatre - A Winter's Trail Photo by Ash Mills

Hoodwink Theatre – A Winter’s Trail
Photo by Ash Mills

 

The girl we met on a swing in the cloisters at the beginning, shared fragments, impressions of her life with us as we moved from place to place, and became the elderly woman who collected her gift from the tree at the end. We were reminded throughout not to forget. A celebration of ordinary life, the moments that make us, made extraordinary by the extraordinary setting.

 

Diversity and inclusivity are about making sure that everyone’s stories are told and to make sure everyone’s stories are told it’s necessary to make them both part of the process as well as the production.

The epic scale of the cathedral is reflected in the army of volunteers and staff who make it work and I wanted to include them in this production as well as the wider Salisbury community, to offer the opportunity to put their skills knowledge and experience to use in a very different context.

“It is winter and snow is expected. As the audience make their way along the North Cloister, a girl in white appears on a swing in the Cloister Garth. Swans fly overhead and the wind whistles, daily doses of rosehip syrup are administered before we are ushered inside past milk frozen and bursting from the bottles on the doorstep. The medieval space is transformed evoking winters past and present. What is ordinarily a small side chapel became a living room, lit by a familiar standard lamp. We made paper chains and jelly was served at a gigantic table by bustling matrons, and a boy on skis hurried up the Nave Aisle to ask his sweetheart out.

For a breathtaking moment a ballerina, 17-year-old Emily Harper from Forest School of Dance, held the stage – then the spotlight shifted to a figure in evening dress, who serenaded participants from high above the Spire Crossing. In the Trinity Chapel a blizzard of fairy lights and paper pom-pom snowflakes, each made by volunteers with a handwritten winter memory inside, greets the audience, who are asked to lie down and contemplate the scene. A brass band played gently in the distance as we listened to winter memories. Children sang unseen in a chapel as we passe by. Old time music by the piano, dancers waltzing down the nave to the unusually jaunty sound of the Cathedral’s famous Father Willis organ, and a happy gaggle playing with a gigantic ball, lit up from inside. And just before we left, no one wanting to go , everyone received a gift from beneath the Christmas tree. A silver bell…”

A Winter’s Trail.

Hoodwink Theatre - A Winter's Trail Photo by Ash Mills

Hoodwink Theatre – A Winter’s Trail
Photo by Ash Mills

In addition to the performance there was a request for a visual presence in the building for the duration of the shows to be enjoyed by those who wouldn’t get to see it. The snowflake installation for the Trinity Chapel allowed many hundreds of visitors to share in the simple but stunning beauty of white tissue paper pompom snowflake hung with care by the cathedral floral arrangers.

I worked with elderly care home residents bringing them together with Year 6 primary children. As the residents taught the children how to make tissue paper pompom snowflakes they exchanged memories and thoughts of winter. Each snowflake in the installation contained a written winter memory hidden inside. They listened to music for the show and expressed what it reminded them of or what it inspired them to imagine. All these memories and thoughts became the material for the show and the audience were led through a series of wintry impressions of past experiences. Cathedral visitors, staff and volunteers also made snowflakes in drop-in workshops held in the cathedral.

“Wonderful, gently lit moments, carrying us through time and the dark cavernous Cathedral. A single ballet dancer, paper chain making, stories and songs, the sound of swans flying overhead. Haunting, like entering a parallel dimension populated with other people’s memories.” audience member.

“Rosehip syrup downed, thanks for making new memories from poetic storytelling of those past.” audience member.

“Haunting. Immersive. Memory brought alive.” audience member.

The performances sold out a month in advance and the audiences ranged from 4 years to 90 years +. The care home residents were the star audience, turning out in the dark and cold in December takes great effort and reflects the sense of pride and empowerment being involved in this production had generated. Care home staff have reported how animated residents were both during the workshop process and before and after the show itself,

“It gave them something to look forward to and talk about to everyone who came near”

Hoodwink Theatre - a Winter's Trail Photo by Ash Mills

Hoodwink Theatre – a Winter’s Trail
Photo by Ash Mills

Individuals who would normally shuffle around the home had journeyed through the whole cathedral, making use of chairs on the way when necessary, and had even sung and danced at the piano with performers. Relatives, staff and other residents had gone to see the snowflake installation, which became a huge cathedral draw in its own right and its presence was extended until 6th January.

To have created something, a paper snowflake, which hung in Salisbury Cathedral, was of huge value for the participants,

“I’ve looked at the cathedral nearly every day of my life and now I’m in it, my snowflake’s in it, I feel very privileged ” Dorothy aged 92 years.

The primary schoolchildren also attended with relatives, many of whom had never been to either the cathedral or a theatre production before.

Hoodwink professional cast were supported by local ballroom dancers from Wellington School of Dance, members of the cathedral youth and junior choirs, Mind The Gap performance group for the over 55+’s and with great delight the cathedral organists, who surprised and delighted the audience by playing Fascination by Nat King Cole.

“It was wonderful to take part in something which brought together such diverse performers of all ages and backgrounds to entertain many hundreds of people in a show that appealed to all ages. It is not often that an amateur group of ballroom dancers would have such a chance to develop their dance and performance skills by waltzing down a Cathedral aisle in front of a paying audience. It definitely improved our abilities and did wonders for our confidence!!! This rare opportunity to develop local amateur involvement into a major arts performance and supported so ably by professional theatre folks is something which should definitely be encouraged and progressed.”  Ballroom dancer feedback.

Salisbury Cathedral embraced the notion of inclusivity by bravely opening it’s doors to the creation of A Winter’s Trail. Hoodwink experienced a ‘yes let’s’ attitude to all suggestions which is a rarity even within arts organisations.

To address diversity and inclusivity in all walks of life demands we step out of our comfort zones, our cosy slippers and bravely try on other people’s shoes.

Arts organisations and non arts organisations working together learn from and enhance one another.

I have often been told when working with elderly people “you have made me remember I have memories to remember”.

There is always something new to be found in the oldest setting, whether an 800 year old cathedral or the memories of a 94 year old. We have to remember to include them.

“As for so many people from Salisbury, the Cathedral is a really important space for me, and your performance opened up totally new imaginative dimensions within it. The incorporation of people from Salisbury, the incredible visuals, and your gentle and kind treatment of your audience- it was truly magic.” audience member

If you would like to know more about “A Winter’s Trail”, watch a taster video, see more images please follow the links:

and or get in touch.

Stephanie Jalland Artistic Director

Photographs and video by Ash Mills Photography.

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